In my SYTYCD elimination blog last week, I focused a great deal on the unfair aspects about how this show is set up: how the contestants are randomly and forcibly paired off, how they're obligated to dance in unfamiliar styles right off the bat, how they're so dependent on the choreographers they're assigned. But I realize now that focusing on the unfair aspects of this competition was, ironically, unfair of me. Because there is one thing that is exceedingly fair about how this show operates, and that is the way it is judged.
See, some reality shows, like American Idol and Nashville Star, are decided solely by non-expert viewers, thus turning the competition into little more than a popularity contest and sometimes resulting in promising contenders like Michael Johns slipping through the cracks. Other reality shows, like America's Next Top Model and Project Runway, are decided entirely by a panel of expert judges--which seems like a more foolproof process, but viewers never really know if a program's producers have a sneaky agenda. (For instance, I'm still convinced that Tyra Banks, after her whole unflattering-swimsuit tabloid scandal and "kiss my fat black azz" tirade last year, was determined to have a plus-sized model, any plus-sized model, win ANTM this season.)
But SYTYCD is one of the few shows on which the outcome is determined by a combo of viewers' votes and judges' expertise, which seems the right way to go. Sure, the public gets its say, but the professionals possess ultimate veto power--and therefore can rescue any of the undeserving bottom three on those shocking nights when America gets it very wrong.
For instance, last week the judges were able to save two of this season's most talented hoofers, Kourtni and Will. The judges' well-trained eyes were also able to detect flaws in Raven's disappointingly demi-pointe ballet solo (a routine that a layperson like myself thought was adequately impressive), and thus send Raven home over Kourtni or Jessica. Without such last-word authority, it might have been a more deserving dancer who went home instead.
Imagine how differently certain seasons of American Idol might have panned out if Simon, Paula, and Randy had had such veto power on those nights when Tamyra Gray, Jennifer Hudson, Constantine Maroulis, or Chris Daughtry were in the bottom three. The mind boggles...
OK, now that that's out of the way, on to tonight's rightfully remaining 18 dancers, or nine couples. Things got off to a rocky start with Chelsea and Thayne's weirdly clownish king-and-his-concubine contemporary routine, during which they minced about like Alice In Wonderland wannabes decked out like deck-of-card Jokers. What a joke, indeed. Mandy Moore, the choreographer, really stumbled here (a shocker, since the office-table "Sweet Dreams" dance she orchestrated for Sabra and Neil last season one of my all-time fave SYTYCD moments). The show's wardrobe stylists misstepped here, too--yo, what was up with all those ruffles? Those lacy strangulation collars almost reminded me of those protective cones that self-mutilating dogs wear around their necks so they won't chew their stitches. Not a good look. Anyway, Chelsea and Thayne didn't have much to work with here, obviously, but they stumbled as well. They simply weren't at their best. The whole routine was just unimpressive all around. The judges certainly weren't impressed with this pair tonight: Mary Murphy practically revoked their Hot Tamale Train tickets right then and there! Hopefully this couple can get back on board next week, if they make it through.
One of my favorite couples--Mark and the other, differently spelled Chelsie--were up next with a sizzling, seductive, sinister tango that had just enough darkness and quirkiness in it to showcase Mark's fabulously freaky-deaky talents. Mark certainly looked the Latin-lover part, too, with his slicked-back ebony hair and smoldering Rudy Valentino stare. Meanwhile, Chelsie looked like a Grace Kelly ice-queen goddess (emphasis on "grace"). Nigel Lythgoe thought Chelsie's coolness didn't quite work for a hot style like the tango, but I personally liked the contrast between these two partners. Anyway, Mia Michaels dubbed their performance "fantastical"--and she should know from fantastical--and Mary seemed pretty much ready to hand over that Hot Tamale Train pass to this yin-yang couple. Woooo!!! Let's just hope America doesn't put this couple in the bottom like they did with last week's tango dancers, Jessica and Will.
Speaking of Jessica and Will, they were saved by the judges last week, thankfully, so this week they were back dancing in a very different style: hip-hop. With chairs. Oh boy, this was going to be interesting. As usual, Will totally outshone his partner. Mia even advised Jessica: "If you've got a partner like Will, you've got to set yourself on fire." Hopefully she didn't mean that literally. But her point was well taken. Meanwhile, Mia called Will a "genius," which coming from MIA MICHAELS is a big, big deal.
I really hope Jessica doesn't drag Will down to the bottom again. But maybe it would be a blessing in disguise if she did: Then the judges could send Jessica home, they could once again save Will, and then Will could get himself a new partner. I just don't see these two gelling onstage yet. The chemistry is not there, and even a great dancer (like Will) can have trouble faking that.
Next was another couple that hit bottom last week, Kourtni (my current fave female) and Matt. They were assigned a foxtrot this week, which may pose a problem for them again, since dances like that are never as popular with viewers as more modern, fiery styles. But these two really worked it. They were the epitome of elegance out on that stage: Cat Deeley even compared them to Gene Kelly and the recently, dearly departed Cyd Charisse. Nigel had a few problems with their contrived facial expressions and "veneer," but overall he appreciated their effort, as did Mia and Mary (Mia especially gushed for Matt this week). Let's hope this is enough to keep them safe this week, as I really want to see more of these two.
Next up, Mandy Moore (the choreographer, of course, not the singer) redeemed herself after that court-jester fiasco by creating a gorgeously goosebumpy contemporary (and very Mia Michaels-esque!) routine for Courtney and Gev. This was the first great dance of the night, and the chemistry between these two was palpable. (Gev admitted to haboring a little crush during his pre-taped interview piece, saying he thinks Courtney is "very pretty" and that it "sucks" that she has a boyfriend.) I was especially impressed that a b-boy like Gev could seemingly so easily adapt to this discomfort-zone dance style, and I hope America was impressed as well. I have a feeling there are plenty of female voters in America who are pretty pleased that Courtney is taken and Gev is still an eligible bachelor, so I suspect he'll stick around.
Next were my favorite couple from last week, Katie and Joshua. Now, this week these two did a hokey Broadway/vaudeville routine, complete with hobo costumes, prop canes, and lots of dorky OTT facial expressions. Normally, an old-fashioned routine like this would have me fantasizing about setting myself on fire, to loosely quote Mia Michaels. But you know what? These two were so great, I totally enjoyed watching them. They made corniess look cool! And they made Nigel LOSE his cool: He was so excited about this routine, his reaction even made Mary Murphy seem mellow by comparison. Never in SYTYCD history have I seen Nigel react so enthusiastically--the dude leapt from his chair so crazily, I thought he was going to break a hip. That's a very good sign. Katie and Joshua are going to go far on this show, for sure.
Susie (my least favorite female, I'll admit it) and Marquis followed with a decidedly deflating Latin routine. I would have expected Susie to shine here, because salsa is her specialty, but both dancers came across as tentative and nervous, and they shared all the chemistry of a 13-year-old boy dancing with his hairy-moled Aunt Agnes at a bar mitzvah. Plus, as the judges astutely pointed out, S&M's performance was also riddled with technical difficulties. Overall, it was really underwhelming, the worst of the night. Hot Tamale Train? As if. These two needed a pair of tickets for the Cold Tamale Greyhound Bus.
My other favorite couple from last week, "Twitchington" (aka Twitch and Kherrington) followed, doing a decidedly non-hip-hop style of dance: the Viennese waltz. This was going to be a real challenge for b-boy Twitch. But he had an incentive to rise to the challenge: This routine was dedicated to, and inspired by, choreographer Jean Marc Generaux's severely handicapped daughter. Twitch seemed to really put his heart and soul into this number, and I was delighted and surprised by how he pulled off a style that was pretty much the polar opposite of the herky-jerky, hard-hitting dancing he's so accustomed to. It was not technically the best routine of the night, but it came from a pure, joyous place and had some truly incandescent, lovely moments. It clearly packed a real emotional punch, since it was the one routine of the night that prompted real interjudge squabbling (Nigel and Mia argued bitterly over whether or not Kherrington smiled too radiantly throughout the routine, which seemed like an odd topic for debate) and it had Mary Murphy in tears (of joy). All I can say is, any number that gets people to smile, cry, and argue all at once is something that needs to be noticed and admired. And voted for in droves!
The ninth and final couple was a krumping Comfort and Chris. (How's that for alliteration? Say that 10 times fast.) I was pretty excited to see b-girl Comfort back in her Comfort zone, so to speak, with this Lil' C-choreographed routine. Whether or not Chris would be able to keep up with her would be a whole other issue, however. I must say, Chris looked a little skerred, but overall he pulled off a convincing krump. "Respectable," as Mary Murphy worded it. Or "pretty fly for a white guy," to quote Cat Deeley. Nigel hated Chris tonight, though: "My granny is more gangsta than you," he declared. But if that's the case, then man, Grandma Lythgoe is one badass grandmutha!
So...who is in danger of being up for elimination and having to throw themselves upon the mercy of the all-seeing, all-knowing judges tomorrow night? Well, Susie and Marquis have to be in the bottom this week; if they actually make it through unscathed, it will be a serious shock. Chelsea and Thayne ought to be worried too. I'd suggest all four of these dancers start thinking up awesome ideas for their "dance for your life" solos NOW. I'm not sure who the third endangered couple will be--possibly Jessica and Will again...although if that's the case, Will probably will be just fine. So I suspect the dancers going home tomorrow will be Susie and Marquis--especially Susie, since she did badly in her specialty genre, which is far more serious than a dancer doing badly in a style for which they have never trained (like Chris trying to krump).
Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right!