And so So You Think You Can Dance kicks off proper, with the best performance show ever in the history of time and space—at least if the judges are to be believed. While last night’s performance show had a ton of spectacular highlights, which I’ll get to in a moment, I do feel that the judges were being a little forgiving of certain dancers and routines. Then again, it is the first week, so perhaps it’s a little early for nitpickery.
One advantage to having such an outstanding first performance show—besides, you know, getting to watch outstanding performances—is that it’s very easy to spot the weak links. That’s convenient this early on, before anyone gets too attached. There was no doubt in my mind that Tony was getting the boot after last night’s performance: Failing to bring it is one thing, but failing to bring it in your own genre—in this case, a Tabitha and Napoleon hip-hop routine—is like painting a big red target on your stupid black vinyl vest. Combined with a high-school-talent-show-caliber solo, that was a no-brainer of an elimination. Sorry Tony, you were adorable and reminded me of my high-school crush—but I got over him pretty quickly too.
Paris’ departure was a little less obvious, but only just. She got props from the judges for keeping up with Tony despite not being a hip-hop dancer—but as we’ve seen, Tony might not be that hard to keep up with. Her and Tony’s routine was definitely the worst of the night, but she could have redeemed it with a spectacular solo—instead, like last night, she was just good, not great. Paris, if you want to see a great solo, look over in Asuka’s direction. Ballroom dancers always seem to flounder with solos—there’s just not a whole lot to do without a partner besides shimmy and cha-cha-step. But as Nigel said, Asuka is a “little star,” and her solo was exciting, naughty, and effortless. Compare that to Paris’ strained “sexy-face” and it’s obvious who should be sent home. (Karla fell firmly in the middle ground of the bottom three girls, not blowing anyone away, but showing off well enough with one leg extension after another. Same thing with Jonathon, whose lack of experience definitely showed tonight.)
I think Asuka could redeem herself as the competition continues, but only if Vitolio gets the boot. The man can definitely dance, but there is zero chemistry between those two—evidenced by the way they managed turned a goofy romp of a Tyce Diorio Broadway routine into a big ol’ snoozer. Their poor pairing was highlighted during the first-week montage that opened tonight’s show. All of the other couples were goofing off, flirting, and generally establishing the rapport that grows between partners throughout the season. The few glimpses we got of Asuka and Vitolio established nothing but awkwardness and perhaps thinly veiled contempt. I don’t know why I suspect Vitolio is the cause of their tension, but I definitely do: There’s a certain stiff, almost angry staidness to him when he dances that doesn’t mesh with the whooping, joking front he put on for the audition cameras. Remember what Mia Michaels said to Brandon last week? That’s basically how I feel about Vitolio. Unless this is just nerves and he settles into a likable person really soon, I’ll be happy to see him get the boot and have Asuka paired with someone more worthy.
Okay, enough of that. Let’s focus on the good parts of last night—and there are a lot of goodies. Good, nay, great thing the first: Bollywood! Last year’s Joshua/Katee Bollywood routine was far-and-away the highlight of season four for me, and I suspect for many other people, judging by the way it was trotted out so early in the competition. I kind of hope they don’t do it too often, because I think much of its appeal is how exotic and fresh it feels amid the contemporary/ballroom/hip-hop axis. But as Nigel said, Caitlin and Jason definitely did good by Jushua and Katee’s legacy, and firmly established themselves as competitors. Caitlin definitely seemed like a dark horse during auditions, but she totally redeemed herself tonight with that handstand. There is no doubt in my mind that Bollywood is hard to dance, and they both made it seem effortless. Except for when they accidentally kissed, whoops!
Great thing the second: crash-test dummies! Wade Robson, you stinker, you’ve done it again! Robson’s been my can-do-no-wrong choreographer ever since season two’s zombie group dance to “Ramalama Bang Bang,” and it was great to see him fucking with the audience again. While I do think the judges may have overstated the number's avant-garde nature—it wasn’t really avant garde at all—it definitely made an impression. But Robson isn’t what made this number great—Kupono and Ashley are. Especially Ashley, who managed to shine through that white pancake makeup and give us personality even while embodying an inanimate object. Ashley hasn’t gotten a ton of attention up until this point, but I for one am definitely going to be watching her from here on out.
Great thing the third: Ade and Melissa. Speaking of dancers who have been flying under the radar. Other than being known as the “dirty balleriner” Melissa has been pretty anonymous up until now, and Ade has just been a name on a list. Both of them came roaring out of the gate tonight with a Mandy Moore routine that made Adam Shankman choke up (as it did the two dancer-types whom I was watching the show with, who were both entranced). Both of them had so much poise and grace, and Melissa’s beautiful 29-year-old face is just captivating. Ade was more the strong, silent companion during the dance, but he was totally goofy and entertaining during the judges’ comments, in a subtle, unaffected way that totally endeared him to me. I’m glad these two got their chance to shine. I’m curious to see how they’ll do in something further removed from their contemporary/ballet purviews, though.
There were other great routines tonight, but as I said at the outset, I think the judges were a little over-generous with some of them. Randi and Evan’s Tyce Diorio jazz routine was certainly steamy and well-performed, but they definitely did not get the height on those lifts that less, um, compact dancers would. And while Kayla’s overnight transformation into a ballroom dancer was impressive, she was helped out mightily by having an excellent partner, Max, who was dancing in his specialty. She kept up, but didn’t have quite enough lightness to her step for a samba. Same goes for Janette and Brandon, who made up for sloppy footwork on their foxtrot with some incredible, gasp-inducing lifts. (That final spin? Good lord.)
Nitpicking aside though, it was a great kickoff, though I’m skeptical of how well the quality of dancing is going to hold up. With a few exceptions, no one was thrown too far out of their comfort zone last night: both hip-hoppers danced hip-hop, and there was a lot of contemporary/jazz crossover. Let’s get that naughty ballerina krumping! And let’s see if Phillip can pull off a quickstep! Come on, SYTYCD, show us what you got!
Grade (both nights average): A-
• Cat Deeley is almost always impeccably dressed, but I could have done without her bedazzled number from performance night—though the coordinating, rhinestone-encrusted mic almost made up for it.
• More Cat goodness: “Stop shnooking!” “Caitlin is either heading over in this direction or Christmas is coming!” “Ew, stinky boys!” Taking snooty tango lady’s hand after the no-eye-contact tango during the elimination show. (She is a professional, Cat, not one of your babies!)
• Man, Mary Murphy was in rare form last night. The Botox thing was definitely funny, but lady needs to reign it in a little this early in the competition.
• Nigel wants to make sure you know SYTYCD brought us Bollywood before Slumdog Millionaire, thankyouverymuch.
• The side-cutout gowns are back! Why? Janette’s pink number was hideous—but it did obscure some of her and Brandon’s sloppy footwork.
• Mandy Moore gave us an excellent routine tonight, but she makes terrible music choices. It makes her seem really dated. Wade Robson, on the other hand: Goldfrapp?? Why you cheeky monkey…
• I didn’t get to say much about him, but Max is adorable, like Pasha 2.0. “The best thing about Kayla is she’s a really hot blonde chick.”
• Were you impressed by the opening Shane Sparks number for tonight’s show? I think I may have been biased against it by that damn Black Eyed Peas song.
• What is there to say about that Sean Kingston performance. Well... at least he was singing live! And that hook is pretty.... hooky.
• Nigel, you jackass, don’t make fun of Adam’s Twitter comment… you Twitter too!
• I'm glad to see some of you have taken my suggestion to start up conversation early in last week's post. I didn't read any of your comments over there yet, but I can't wait to check 'em out! Also, I will be out on a much-needed vacation next week, but someone will definitely be here in my stead. See you during week three!