Although this season of So You Think You Can Dance has been highly entertaining—I think it’s pretty much impossible for this show to not be entertaining, in the purest sense of the word—it’s been lacking in terms of tension, surprise, and yes, as Nigel put it, “star power.” Sure, it’s always fun to watch great dancers dancing greatly, but where’s the emotional roller coaster? Where’s the nail-biting, the suspense, the joy and sorrow that comes with being really invested in a show? Well, this week kicked that aspect of SYTYCD into high gear, turning in what might be the best and worst routines in series history, a genuinely shocking bottom three result, and a couple of very sad—if arguably deserved—eliminations.
Let’s get the big, controversial elephant out of the room first: the Russian folk dance, and the part it may have played in Phillip’s elimination tonight. While I will firmly maintain that this was by far my least favorite routine in the history of SYTYCD—and that’s speaking as someone who loved the Russian number Twitch and Joshua did last season—I don’t know how much I buy Nigel’s assurance that it was not a factor in Phillip’s elimination. During Nigel’s whole squirming over the blatant suckitude of the number—during which, you’ll note, no one ever acknowledged the choreographers—I wanted to scream, “You’re the one who gave them this ridiculous genre, you silly-haired man!” Sure, it’s cool that Nigel and the other producers try to incorporate new, unfamiliar genres into the show, and most of the time it works (see: Bollywood). But this concept was a stretch to begin with, and they go ahead and give it to the one dancer who has the most trouble working outside his own genre. Despite Tyce “I’m for the dancer” Diorio’s comments to the contrary, Phillip did not dance that well, because he doesn’t have the strength or training to make those leaps look like anything more than a peasant boy jumping around after a few too many vodka shots. And when those leaps and turns are really the only “wow” factor of the dance, well, there’s not much left to endear it to audiences.
That said, while I really enjoyed Phillip as a contestant, I think his dismissal—calculated or not—was warranted. He and Jeanine did pull it out for their second number of the night, the jive, but they only pulled it out in comparison to the sub-par work they’ve been doing all season. I admire Phillip for being gung-ho and growing as a dancer—and his farewell speech was super-sweet—but you can only give a hip-hopper a pass for so long before it starts to seem pandering.
Caitlin’s dismissal is a little murkier. I know she’s not a huge favorite around these parts, but I’ve liked her from the get-go, and I found her solo to be a lot better choreographed and danced than Jeanine’s. However, she hasn’t shown as much versatility as Jeanine has throughout the competition, and she and Jason have fallen into the bland middle ground too frequently—though I believe that falls more on Jason’s shoulders than hers. I think, had she gotten a chance to perform outside of that partnership—which, as Mary pointed out last night, was definitely lacking in chemistry—Caitlin could have exhibited that “star power” Nigel’s been looking for. Alas, it isn’t to be. We’ll always have the alien-impregnation routine to remember you by, Caitlin.
Tonight’s real shocker, though, was Melissa and Ade’s presence in the bottom three (over Kayla and Kupono, no less, though I think those two got a big boost over audience affection for Mia Michaels’ routines). While it was great to see both of their (incredible) solos—especially Ade, who was largely absent from the audition shows, and who we therefore haven’t seen dance solo before—this was the first voting result that made me genuinely upset. These two, along with Brandon and Janette, are my picks for final four, and I find it hard to believe audiences liked their stellar disco routine (did you see those lifts??) and captivating waltz less than K&K’s addiction contemporary and blah Broadway numbers. Perhaps they don’t have as much “personality” as K&K—“personality” in this case meaning dumb fucking outfits, Kupono—but their dancing is top-notch and I’ll take their sunny, dignified demeanors over Kupono’s hysterics and Kayla, whose personality seems to be mostly derived from how much makeup she is or isn’t wearing.
But let’s look on the bright side: Melissa and Ade soared through their solos, Caitlin and Phillip still get to tag along on the national tour, and last night we got an incredible Wade Robson routine to cap off the night. Brandon and Janette’s Argentine tango was admittedly spectacular, and confirmed that these two are the couple to beat, but the show-closing Robson routine was a season—perhaps a series—highlight. Yes, perhaps it echoed season two’s “Rama-lama-bang-bang” routine a little too closely, right down to the Roisin Murphy track and scaffolding shenanigans, but like that routine, it was memorable and told a story and looked cool as hell. That’s how you tell a story through dance, NapTab, not beating us over the head with chains and engagement rings—though I guess I should be glad the “pregnancy” routine they created for Randi and Evan didn’t include a peestick or plastic fetus or something.
(Though, admittedly, NapTab’s opening group routine tonight was top-notch, to the point I actually thought Robson had choreographed it for a minute. And you gotta love that they choreographed a hip-hop routine to a White Stripes song.)
Heading into the top 10, things seem off-balance: Brandon, Janette, Melissa, and Ade are leagues ahead of their competition. Brandi and Evan might be able to skate by on audience favor a little longer—though the fact that they fumbled a potentially great routine choreographed by longtime faves Pasha and Anya may have knocked them down a bit. My ambivalence toward Jason and Kupono has finally transitioned into firm dislike—stop dancing in jeans, Jason; stop hanging stupid shit off your neck, Kupono—and Jeanine’s sloppy solo tonight and Kayla’s aggressive blandness make me think they’re not long for this competition either. Things could change with the partner shake-up next week, but for now, the frontrunners seem obvious to me. How about you?
• Shutup, Tyce.
• Cat did the short-hair fakeout last night.
• Look at Disco Melissa, poppin’ it like it’s hot. That, combined with the way she pulled off her fall at the end of that dance and the cute little “what-what” move she did at the end of her solo convinced me that behind the tutu and pointe-shoes, Melissa's a pretty badass chick.
• How funny was Janette talking Spanish with Tony and Melanie, to the befuddlement of Brandon?
• Speaking of Brandon, his comment about how Janette has helped bring him out of his shell convinces me that the weirdness we saw from him in auditions and early on was just nerves and perhaps a little social anxiety. I hope he continues to come into his own away from her.
• Nigel told us a lot about how the sausage is made tonight: They couldn’t clear the songs for the MJ tribute with Sony, the judges know the final three ahead of time, the presence of “swing dancers” on the tour. Good on ya’, English Muffin, for not treating the audience like idiots. Now if you would just do away with the charade that the genres are randomly assigned.
• I feel like Joey Dowling is an awesome person and I want to go out for drinks with her or something—but neither of the routines she’s choreographed have soared yet. I hope she gets her due soon.
• Ade should always be flippin/jumping/levitating in some way.
• Mandy Moore and Sarah Vowell: separated at birth?