"It's over to you, America," cooed Cat Deeley in her non-American accent at the start of tonight's top 10 So You Think You Can Dance show--the first episode to be judged solely by the viewing/voting audience, with no veto power from the judges, not even self-described "control freak" Nigel Lythgoe.
Another big change for tonight's episode was the dissolution of the regular duos, with the remaining dancers now paired up by pulling each other's names out of a hat. This would be a particular challenge for the top 10, some of whom might be control freaks themselves and all of whom had gotten familiar with one consistent partner over the past weeks. Now they would have to familiarize themselves with the unique techniques and quirks of brand-new dancemates.
And there was one final change this evening: Viewers would now vote for individual dancers, with each contestant getting an opportunity to do a solo; this meant that if any dancer did get mismatched with a non-compatible partner, he or she wouldn't be quite as handicapped as he/she would have been back when viewers were still casting votes for couples.
And so, that meant there were a whopping 15 routines tonight--10 solos, and five duo numbers, all awesome in their own way. But of course, some were more awesome than others. Below I have ranked first the five duos, then the 10 solos, in order of awesomeness (in my opinion). Let's get started...
Not to slag Phillip Chbeeb, the likable breakdancer who until his elimination last week was Jeanine's partner...but man, I was so happy to see Jeanine finally paired up with--to quote Nigel--"a partner who can keep up with her technically." I was even more thrilled to see Jeanine and her new partner Jason paired with season 2 runner-up Travis Wall, who choreographed this amazing routine for them (his first-ever choreography job for SYTYCD, and hopefully the first of many, many Travis routines to come). Travis's heartstring-tugging storyline involved two longtime childhood pals whose friendship is about to turn into romantic love, and his talented subjects made the theme come to life, embodying all the hope and wonder and fear and angst such a situation would entail. They were so believable and relatable; surely any viewer who's had a friendship blossom into love, or even dreamed of confessing an unrequited crush to a platonic friend, couldn't help but be moved by Travis's magical moves (set to Jason Mraz's poignant "If It Kills Me") as well as by J&J's incredible onstage chemistry. Jeanine and Jason were always friends offstage--when they found out they'd get to work together this week, they squealed with delight--and their strong bond was evident here. It almost made me wonder if this routine was autobiographical in a way, and that maybe their friendship would blossom into romance in real life (especially when they liplocked at the routine's conclusion). Who knew that boyish Jason--the cute "puppy dog," according to judge Mary Murphy--could be so downright sexy? Jeanine (and Travis) brought something out in him--he even tore Jeanine's dress during this routine! Yowsa!
The judges were as impressed as I was, all giving J&J a well-deserved standing ovation and beaming with pride over alumni Travis's tour de force. Guest judge Debbie Allen called Jeanine and Jason a "magical pairing"; Nigel praised Travis's choreography as "fabulous work that was only bettered by the two people that danced it"; and both Nigel and Mary said the pair "became stars tonight." Mary even let out a silent scream (perhaps only dogs could hear it?), which was her special way of showing she was at a very rare loss for words.
At first Ade was not my favorite male on this show, but week after week he continues to win me over. Not only was his solo tonight absolutely incredible (more on that later), but he really got his swag on during this white-hot Tabitha & Napoleon routine set to Ciara & Justin Timberlake's "Love Sex Magic." It was magic indeed, but of course Ade had a white-hot new partner, fiery salsa dancer Janette, who lent an entirely different vibe to Ade's dancing than his previous partner, ballerina Melissa. (That's a not a diss on Melissa; I'm just saying Janette has a totally different flavor and style, and it worked well with Ade's.) This fun and humorous Nappytabs number was enjoyably, entirely centered around Ade's signature hair-pick, which in this routine had the power to hypnotize innocent, hapless, nerdy young ladies. Janette portrayed one such innocent lass, starting off the song in conservative librarian wear but, thanks to the magic of Ade's comb and some SYTYCD stylist-supplied breakaway clothes, was wearing skimpy yellow hotpants by the song's end. (I suspect sales of Ade-esque hair combs will skyrocket among the male population tomorrow.) The routine took clever advantage of Ade and Janette's comical height difference (he's the tallest guy on the show, or the "gentle giant" according to Mary; Janette is the shortest girl) by casting Ade as a dominant ladykiller and Janette as his little victim, and the two dancers played their roles brilliantly.
Mary loved this number, screaming (of course): "That was FUNKY! Pure entertainment!" Debbie was also amused, raving: "These children wore me out! A pimp with a comb? Stay away from my daughter!" Nigel then made some joke about using a similar comb to "hypnotize Mary out of her clothes" later, which made Mary scream even louder than usual. But I was relieved that wasn't something that would occur on camera. No one needs to see that!
Ade's former partner, ballerina Melissa, also rose to the challenge tonight and excelled with her new partner, while dancing a hippie-dippie, positively patchouli-scented, Tyce Diorio-choreographed routine to "Age Of Aquarius" from the musical Hair. It was a dawning of a new Melissa! Of course, her ballet skills worked for her here, giving her an ethereal flower-child vibe, but it also helped that she was paired with the always amazing Brandon, who shines no matter what genre of dance he's assigned (his strong gymnastic skills gave this routine real flower power). Together, these two staged a new love revolution on the SYTYCD stage. I certainly loved it.
Nigel subsequently got all nostalgic for the '60s; Mary cackled, "That was unbelievable! That was groovy, baby!"; and then Nigel and Mary staged some sort of weird Laugh-In "sock it to me" skit and things got mildly uncomfortable again. What's up with those two lately?
A great deal of yuks were made at the vertically challenged Evan's expense tonight, when he was "randomly" paired with the tallest female on the show, Kayla. (Their height difference seemed to be a bigger deal than the one between Ade and Janette, presumably because a short male/tall female configuration is less common among dancing couples and, come to think of it, among real-life couples.) I say "randomly" because I don't really think it was any accident that pocket-sized Evan got partnered off with the extremely statuesque Kayla. I even suspect that the hat he pulled the names from was packed with paper slips that said "Kayla," "Kayla," "Kayla," "Kayla," and "Kayla." I think the show producers wanted to create an onstage odd couple for comic effect (and then assign them a dance in which the height discrepancy would be the most problematic, a close-hold Viennese waltz). But Evan got the last laugh, because, as he put it, he "dances tall." The height problem was easily solved by putting Evan in some elevator-shoe cha cha heels and Kayla in flats, and it was soon obvious that height ain't nothin' but a number. I thought their routine, choreographed by Tony Meredith & Melanie Lapatin and soundtracked by Seal's "Kiss From A Rose," was pure elegance, and that these two looked great together, like a real Fred & Ginger-esque duo.
The judges, who at one time were huge Evan supporters and have aggressively championed Kayla all season long, were oddly less impressed. "The gloves are off this week. We've got to take it to another level. It wasn't good enough," Mary said bluntly. Nigel didn't think the waltz was "Viennese" enough, but that seemed unfair, as that was not dancers' fault; they simply executed the steps given to them, and if Nigel didn't like such steps, Tony and Meredith, not Evan and Kayla, were to blame. Mary said Evan lacked power in some of his turns and that he didn't glide enough, but she did admit: "When you lifted Kayla, it was as if you were 6 feet tall!" Debbie was the kindest of the three judges, calling their pairing a "wonderful unexpected surprise" and telling Evan: "You handled your big woman, baby! She was your woman, I don't care what kind of waltz it was!" She also called Kayla "white lightning," and when she compared Evan to the great Gene Kelly himself, Evan actually got a little choked up. And so did I. That was a sweet moment.
Oh no. I love Kupono. LOVE HIM. I also love Randi and her super-rad signature unitards. But together, I didn't think these two were a perfect match. Maybe it was the routine they were assigned: a particularly aggressive paso doble, also masterminded by Tony & Melanie. I was excited to see them do such a dance, as I know from Kupono's star turn as a malevolent villain in last week's Mia Michaels "addiction" routine that he's totally capable of doing the vicious/masculine thing. I also know that the guy knows how to do DRAMA. So I was convinced he'd be a fabulous matador. I was more concerned about how cutesy, plucky, freckle-faced Randi would handle a paso doble. But it turned out Randi did the unthinkable and outshone Kupono tonight. Perhaps her alter ego came out thanks to a long curly wig she was wearing, which pretty much rendered her unrecognizable. However, overall this couple came across as awkward, and the mood seemed somewhat forced.
"I'm not sure that dancing was as good as the choreography," sighed Nigel. He was harder on Kupono, saying Kupono didn't exhibit enough brute strength. (Nigel has always demanded virility and masculinity from the male contestants on SYTYCD; he's probably the reason Kupono sheared off his "effeminate" hair.) And speaking of hair, Nigel seemed overly distracted by Randi's wig, although I thought that was an unfair critique since what was on Randi's head had nothing to do with what she did with her feet. Mary was equally disappointed, complaining that Kupono and Randi didn't share enough chemistry, were "too cautious," and were "not authentic in any way." I agreed that it was not best routine of the evening, but still thought the judges were overly harsh: Mary said Kupono and Randi were "mediocre" tonight, and NO ONE in the top 10 is mediocre! That's why they're in the top 10!
OK, so now it is prediction time. I have a feeling tomorrow night is going to be tough, and we're all going to have to bid farewell to a truly amazing couple of dancers. Let's face it, they're ALL amazing dancers at this point, all worthy of making it to the end. My guess, though, is among the males it'll be Kupono and Evan in trouble, and among the girls, probably Randi and Melissa. It'll bum me out to see any of them go, but since I'm still rooting for Kupono and Randi, I suppose I'll reluctantly prepare myself mentally for the departure of Evan (who I think has kind of plateau'd) and Melissa.
Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right.