Well, So You Think You Can Dance, you were just full of surprises tonight, weren’t you? I come home expecting to cover a one-hour performance show, and there Cat Deeley is, telling me it will actually be a two-hour performance AND elimination show. (Thanks, World Series!) And then Nigel gives us the official word on the departed Billy Bell and his replacement, Brandon. (Thanks, unexpected illness!) And then, to top it all off, he throws in the fact that Noelle was injured and will sit out tonight, and possibly leave next week if she doesn’t heal quickly. (Thanks, fragile human body!) That’s a lot of reshuffling right out of the gate. Televised dancing competitions can be so confusing!
But they can also be so, so good, as was the case with tonight’s top-notch show… thanks, once again, to the element of surprise. Despite a couple of lukewarm reactions from the judges, I don’t think there was a dog among tonight’s 10 performances. Obviously, there were highlights and lowlights, but the choreographers and dancers all seemed to bring their A-game. But what made tonight’s show particularly spectacular in my mind were the unexpected moments of delight that were sprinkled throughout. Let’s review a few, shall we?
Russell has no box! You said it, Cat. I’ve obviously been a Russell booster from the get-go, but he cemented his place in my heart tonight. It would have been exciting enough to see him pull off a foxtrot—a foxtrot! For a krumper! On the first show!—based almost entirely on that elusive “it factor.” But the fact that he did it onstage with choreographer Melanie after Noelle’s injury forced her to sit out made his victory all the sweeter. The judges’ decision to put him in the bottom two was initially baffling—yes, he wasn’t technically that proficient, but, as Nigel said, let’s see Fred Astaire do a krump routine—but when Brandon was selected to join him, it became apparent what their game was. Oh well, at least we got to see his incredible solo… I suspect once the voting is in the hands of America, he won’t be back there anytime soon. Which brings me to…
Brandon: here today, gone today. Poor kid. His day-and-a-half-long run is probably the shortest tenure in SYTYCD history. I have to say, I kind of expected the judges to give him a pass, just to give him a week to catch up. But there is no mercy on this show (except when there is), and when he was pitted against Russell in the bottom two, his sacrificial lamb status was pretty much solidified. It’s hard to be too torn up about it, considering we’ve hardly seen him dance in his style (and his solo did NOT look particularly hip-hoppy to me), but despite Nigel’s catty “prom couple” comment, I thought he and Pauline were adorable in their slow waltz together. Yes, they looked a little amateurish, but in his case, no more so than fellow hip-hopper Kevin did in his cha-cha with Karen. (Theirs was the quintessential case of being carried by your partner… and in this case, her gyrating hips of mass destruction.) But Nigel’s offer of string-pulling to let him audition again next year was a nice mea culpa for what was a pretty shitty situation for a very sweet-seeming kid.
EAWTW? We may have lost Emmy Award Winning Mia Michaels this season, but Travis Wall looks like he might be gunning for her place. I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that Travis’ necklace routine was one, if not the standout of last season (sorry, Cancer Dance), and tonight he showed he has plenty more tricks up his sleeve… including, once again, some of the craziest lifts I’ve ever seen. The fact that Bianca danced it surprisingly well given her somewhat heavy-footed/shouldered technique made it all the more triumphant, though it was really Victor who carried the routine. These two are another adorable couple, though it’s hard to tell where their appeal ends and Travis’ choreography begins. I suspect that if he continues to participate in the show regularly, he might fill that Mia Michaels can-do-no-wrong niche.
Well-played, Legacy, well-played. Okay, I’m not the only one around here who’s been trashing Legacy, but I'm willing to entertain the notion that my assessment last week of him as a quick exit might have been a little off. Granted, he was the only one of the hip-hoppers to not get ballroom and perform in his own style, but he proved me—and the judges—wrong about him being nothing but tricks. His and Kathryn’s goofy Dave Scott routine blew away Ariana and Peter’s “androids in love” number (we get it, NappyTab, you’re in love!)—though, to be fair, Peter was surprisingly good given how far out of his wheelhouse he was. But, as Adam pointed out, Legacy and Kathryn “met in the middle,” feeding off of each other’s strengths: He benefited from her musicality, connecting his movements in a way we’ve never seen him do; and she hit it surprisingly hard for a girl who spirals off into silly crying jags at the drop of a hat. It’s too early to eat my words entirely—and as long as he keeps calling himself “Legacy,” I doubt I will—but I’ll bite, Legacy: Show me what you've got.
The veracity of Adam Shankman’s tenacity. It’s not really surprising that Adam Shankman is a great judge—we’ve seen him guest judge many times, after all. But his permanent place on the panel seems to have brought a nice energy to a judging panel that has grown increasingly manic over the past couple of seasons. He’s still silly and at times gushing, but he always throws down a technical note or two, which I think inspires Mary and Nigel to stay on topic a bit more than they sometimes do. Also, how great was his “Those of you who know me know that’s really not my thing” comment about Karen’s hips? For a show that features more sibilant “S”s and men in stretch pants than any show outside the Logo network, SYTYCD has always had a weird attitude toward homosexuality (lookin’ at you, Nigel), and it was nice to see such a blasé acknowledgement, even if it did get a tittering, scandalized reaction from everyone else onstage.
Will Paula Abdul ever take her place in that judge’s chair? Just kidding.
Other high points tonight: Mollee and Nathan’s heart-stopping disco routine. These two may look like Mousketeers, but holy shit can they dance, and as all the judges noted, their charisma and energy is off the charts. Same with Ryan and Ellenore, who managed to avoid being swallowed up by Sonya’s characteristically weird “fallen angel” routine (or their costumes’ feathers). Less exciting were Channing and Phillip, who managed to pull off the footwork of their jive, but couldn’t keep in character during some complicated floor moves. Not to mention they both made stinkfaces during their judging, and Phillip has an air of smugness about him that’s becoming more grating by the moment. And while Jakob blew the judges away with his technical proficiency (“You were put on this earth to spread the gospel of dance,” says Shankman, clearly missing having Billy Bell to gush over), he totally carried Ashleigh through their “sultry Broadway” routine: He seemed to spend a good 60 percent of the number hovering three to six feet above the stage, while she mainly strutted around and flubbed a stationary spin. But in the end it was Ariana who joined Brandon under the judges’ hammer. If tonight is anything to go by, though, there aren’t going to be many more easy-call eliminations this year.
• They finally seemed to figure out how to mic the tappers’ shoes correctly during tonight’s opening. I still don’t know how I feel about the tapping, though.
• Kevin’s braids are gone and now he’s a male model. Whatever, pretty-boy, give me Russell’s megawatt smile any day.
• Hey, it’s the rendition of “Push It” from Glee! Bet it wasn’t hard to get those music rights. Synergy!
• Really Brandon? You’re gonna call yourself a hip-hop dancer and then do a solo to John Mayer? You deserved to have Russell wipe the floor with you.