This was the week on "So You Think You Can Dance" that separated the men from the boys and the girls from the beasts, as the remaining top 10 competed as individuals for the first time and--also for the first time--danced with incredible "SYTYCD" allstars. And they danced TWO routines apiece (one with an allstar, one solo). And on top of all that, they had to try to not be upstaged by adorable guest judge Neil Patrick Harris (no easy feat). So this was an entirely new game, here.
Since the judges only commented on the contestants' partner performances with the allstars this week, I've chosen to focus on those routines as well. But I must say, it was thrilling to see all 10 dancers do solos in their specialty styles, since many of them (the ones who'd never been up for elimination this season) hadn't had the chance to solo since Vegas. All of the solos were superb, of course...but my personal favorites were by Sasha, who flitted about the stage like an incredible, otherworldly insect; Melanie, who was so perfect she almost seemed CGI'd, not real; and most of all, the always remarkable and ridiculously good Ricky, the finest soloist of the season in my not-so-humble opinion. I also have to give many of the contestants props for their wonderful leftfield music choices: Jordan danced to Swedish songbird Lykki Li, Caitlynn to Florence & The Machine, Clarice to Crookers & Roisin Murphy, and Ricky to unsigned singer-songwriter Cassidy Haley (hopefully "SYTYCD" can do for Cassidy's "Daylight Breaks" what it did for Christina Perri's "Jar Of Hearts" last year). You won't hear music like that on "American Idol," now, will you?
Anyway, here's how the top 10 fared in their allstar routines...after stellar dances like these, I expect to see some of these contestants become allstars themselves in future seasons:
Marko with allstar Chelsie Hightower - Samba
Former "SYTYCD" Season 4 contestant-turned-"Dancing With The Stars" pro Chelsie returned to "SYTYCD" for this hot Jason Gilkison routine, and when she did so, Marko ran the risk that all current "SYTYCD" hopefuls fear most: the risk of being utterly upstaged by a proven expert in the genre. This routine, in which Marko played a photographer and Chelsie played his attention-seeking muse, was a little too true to life, since Chelsie was definitely the star of the show here. I admit I kind of missed Marko's old partnership with his "SYTYCD" soulmate, Melanie. But that's not to say Marko didn't keep up with Chelsie; he most certainly did, once again proving his versatility and stamina (this routine was so fast-paced, even Chelsie was winded by its end). "You haven't lost any of your chemistry," said Nigel Lythgoe of Marko's new partnership. "You lost a really good partner [Melanie], but hey, now you're dancing with the stars." Mary Murphy was so excited by this pairing, her earring flew off mid-scream. "You are the real deal out there!" she howled as her jewelry went flying and she told Marko, "It's not going to surprise me at all if you're in that finale." And Neil raved, "Wow, a heckuva way to start the show. That was so dirty! I think you're kind of the guy to beat." Apparently this one-half of Season 8's "power couple" is still powerful completely on his own.
Jordan with allstar Brandon Bryant - Contemporary
Oh, Brandon, my favorite contestant of Season 5. How I have missed him, and how I have long longed for him to be an allstar. Jordan was lucky to get such a great partner this week. But when it came to her performance, luck had nothing to do with it. She was pure elegance in this Jessie J-soundtracked, Dwight Rhoden & Desmond Richardson-choreographed routine about the ups and downs of a complicated love affair. I admit it was at times difficult for me to peel my eyes off the brawny Brandon, but when I managed to do so, Jordan totally impressed me with her grace and poise. The judges were impressed too. Neil said Jordan took his breath away. Screeched Mary, "You were just fearless tonight! If there was anyone who didn't quite understand how talented you are, Dwight and Desmond just gave us a lesson. You are fighting to take this next position, and I can see it!" And Nigel echoed Mary with: "Wake up dance fans, and keep this girl in the competition!" Will the fans listen to Nigel? Jordan has been up for elimination before, more than once, so we shall see.
Tadd with allstar Comfort Fedoke - Hip-Hop
Choreographer Chuck Maldonado set out to craft a "hardcore" hip-hop routine, not lyrical hip-hop like most of the Christopher Scott/Tabitha & Napoleon contemporary-crossover routines we've seen this season. And I appreciated that very much. This was a style that suited B-boy Tadd well. He took Chuck's instruction to be "gutta sexy" (another way of saying "ghetto fabulous," apparently) to heart, and he was so smoldering, he actually managed to upstage his partner. The song here, Chris Brown's "Look At Me Now," could not have been more fitting, because all eyes were on Tadd. "You out-hip-hopped Comfort!" exclaimed an incredulous Neil. Agreed Nigel, "I think you outdanced your allstar, there." And Mary raved, "Tadd, you're something special. This routine was fire right out of the cannon!" Mary also praised Tadd's "unbelievable musicality" and "swagger for days." At this rate, maybe Tadd will be an allstar on "SYTYCD" Season 9.
Mitchell with allstar Melody Lacayanga - Broadway
Old-school "SYTYCD" fans were probably thrilled to see the return of Melody, who was the first runner-up in the series' very first season. (Melody even predates Cat Deeley!) But this wasn't exactly the greatest homecoming for Melody, or the greatest showcase for Mitchell, since it was the weakest routine of the night. Choreographer Tyce Diorio had some sort of vague airline-themed idea for this number set to the All That Jazz ditty "Take Off With Us"--but it never quite took off. Tyce apparently wanted it to be sultry and sexy, a sort of dance version of the Mile High Club, but I just didn't see any palpable chemistry between Mitchell and Melody. Mary and Nigel felt the pair just tried too hard, with Nigel telling them they'd "over-egged the pudding" and Mary saying, "It was over-baked, especially in the facial [expressions]." Neil actually seemed the most disappointed by this routine. "I didn't get that much at all. I didn't get an airplane theme," he said. "It seemed very disjointed and not incredibly thought-out for me as a piece." While most of Neil's criticism in particular was aimed more at Tyce, not at Mitchell (who danced the routine competently), it's Mitchell--who's been up for elimination more than once, including last week--who will probably suffer for it. His solo this evening, which was amazing, may save him (his solos have saved him before), but Mitchell's flight on "SYTYCD" might come crashing down after this failure to launch.
Caitlynn with Pasha Kovalev - Argentine Tango
This routine was pure magic, and it was the first routine of the season that made me feel like Caitlynn could be a real contender. A hot, voyeuristic, film noir-inspired tango, this Leonardo Barrionuevo/Miriam Larici dance seemed custom-made for Caitlynn, who looked and acted the part of a femme fatale in every way. She and Pasha shared some red-hot chemistry on that stage, and the only reason Caitlynn wouldn't get through this week would be if America's female voters were too jealous of how close Caitlynn got to her sexy allstar partner. Mary, the ballroom expert on the panel, was amazed, giving the couple a standing ovation and gushing to Caitlynn: "That was really a treat on the eyes! You are just breathtaking doing this number. For the very first time, the passion that you showed tonight was more real than ever. Tonight, you were a complete woman. You just took your dancing to another level. I can't remember when I enjoyed something more!" Neil described the piece as "great theater." And Nigel told Caitlynn, "I've complained a number of times about your immaturity, but tonight you were a woman, and far sexier than ever before." Nigel even compared Caitlynn to another ballroom "SYTYCD" allstar, Season 3's Anya Garnis (the very first recipient of a Hot Tamale Train ticket) and the routine's own co-choreographer, Miriam Larici. If Caitlynn keeps this up, she may get her own Hot Tamale ticket soon, and ride that train straight to the finale.
Sasha with allstar Twitch Boss - Lyrical Hip-Hop
Although I appreciated Chuck Maldonado's more hard-hitting hip-hop routine from earlier in the night, this Christopher Scott number (set to Dorothy Moore's 1976 R&B classic "Misty Blue") was crazy-good too...thanks in no small part to the talents who executed it. I suspected that Sasha, one of the breakout superstars of this season, and Twitch, one of the biggest personalities in "SYTYCD" history, would be a match made in dance heaven, and I was so right. Portraying a couple in a rut who reignite their marital flame in the middle of a hot breakfast (a really hot breakfast, if you catch my drift), these consummate entertainers had such chemistry, I almost wondered if they're dating in real life and currently reenacting scenes like this in the privacy of their own kitchens. It was amazing what a difference it made when Sasha, who'd been in the bottom with her (soon-to-be eliminated) partner Alexander last week, got paired with a dancer better suited to her funky style. Nigel said this routine was as memorable as Twitch's "Outta Your Mind" routine with Alex Wong last year (though I assume/seriously hope that his comment that Ellen DeGeneres would be doing it at this season's finale was a joke). "This is the first time I've seen you with chemistry with your partner," Nigel astutely pointed out. "You nailed that routine from beginning to end." (Heck, she practically nailed Twitch, too! Just kidding.) Neil declared it the best routine of the night so far, and said, "I felt like you were a couple, like you'd been doing this for ages. You guys should dance every dance together!" And Mary said, "I need to call the sheriff, the fire department, and the paramedics! Sasha, you are an allstar tonight." I'm just trying to figure out why Sasha didn't get a Hot Tamale Ticket this evening. Don't be so stingy, Mary!
Jess with allstar Kathryn McCormick - Contemporary
Jess faced quite the challenge here, as he needed to connect with his new partner in a routine, choreographed by Stacey Tookey and set to "The Lonely" by the aforementioned Christina Perri, that called for little to no direct eye contact. (Kathryn was playing a lost soul unable to recognize love, a role that almost made her seem like she was feigning blindness.) Jess, a boyish and extremely short dancer, also ran the risk of seeming immature next to the womanly Kathryn. He also had to do "more lifts than Joan Rivers' face" (Nigel's amusing turn of phrase), and he had struggled with lifts all season up until now. But Jess held his own here, in all regards. He put everything into the routine, so much so that he appeared emotionally spent at end of it. Nigel praised Jess's improved lifting skills, Neil praised him for not being too muggy with his face, and Mary was the most enthusiastic, saying, "That was extraordinary, and definitely my favorite piece that you have done. I loved the music, I loved the choreography, and I just really loved you!" I loved him too.
Melanie with allstar Pasha Kovalev - Viennese Waltz
This Jason Gilkison waltz cast Pasha as a man who's lost the will to live and Melanie as the "rock" who saves him (set to Tina Arena's lovely cover of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts"). And while I didn't quite grasp that storyline here--it certainly was subtle, at least until Pasha's final dramatic, despairing drop to his knees--Melanie definitely came across as a strong woman. There is seemingly nothing the unstoppable Melanie can't do on this show. "It seemed your feet never touched the floor, like you were floating across that stage. I honestly don't know how you do it," sighed Mary dreamily. Nigel described the dance as "a beautiful flow of movement" and "a master class in lifting and technique," and told Melanie, "Choreographers use you as the rock because you are a solid, absolutely brilliant dancer!" And Neil summed it all up with: "You look like you're from the '30s or '40s, and you dance like you're from the future. You're easily my favorite dancer on the show." So apparently with or without Marko, Melanie remains the woman to beat.
Ricky with allstar Allison Holker - Jazz
Like Sasha sans Alexander, Ricky was better off this week without his regular partner (Ryan, who went home along with Alexander last week). And this Tyce Diorio routine worked much better than the crash-and-burn airplane one Tyce created for poor Mitchell this evening. In this dark, demonic, Tori Amos-accompanied routine about bad dreams, Ricky was a Kanemura-esque revelation, and never once was he upstaged by Allison, despite the fact that Miss Holker is one of the best "SYTYCD" dancers ever. It almost seemed like Ricky helped Allison elevate her own game, as much as Allison helped Ricky; they simply brought out the best in each other, and the result was just the right precarious balance of good and evil, ugly and pretty, awesome and, well, even more awesome. Hostess Cat Deeley even likened this to something out of "Twin Peaks." Nigel told Ricky, "I think some of the competitors have outdanced the allstars, and while I can't say you did that, you certainly were there and I watched you too--and normally my eyes would only be on Allison!" Neil was impressed by Ricky's newfound maturity, explaining that his expectations had been low because Ricky "usually dances young. I was prepared to not quite get it, but I really responded to what you did!" And Mary, who gave Ricky one of the few Hot Tamale tickets of the season last week, raved: "Raw! Reckless! Passionate! Intense! Committed! Woo!" I couldn't have said it better myself.
Clarice with allstar Robert Roldan - Bollywood
Gone-too-soon semifinalists Nick and Iveta were felled by Bollywood earlier this season, but Clarice totally excelled in the genre this evening, aided by allstar Robert, whose Bollywood duet with Billy Bell was a standout last year. This intricate Nakul Dev Mahajan routine was very challenging, and also very sexy, but Clarice managed to be technically proficient and smokin' hawt at the same time. This routine earned the only unanimous standing ovation of the night from the judges, with Mary telling Clarice, "I don't think you could've done it any better"; Nigel describing the routine as "like a hand fitting into a glove--a perfect fit for you"; and Neil calling Clarice "a gorgeous dancer." Clarice seems like a shoo-in to advance to the top eight now...unless female voters get jealous of her too, due to her smoldering smooch with heartthrob Robert in middle of this dance.
So, now it is prediction time. Which girl and which guy will go home Thursday night? It's almost impossible to predict the bottom two girls and bottom two guys--with only 10 dancers left, and all of them being so talented, it could be just about anyone. But I suspect that among the male dancers, it will be Mitchell who goes, since he's been on the chopping block multiple times, and he received the ONLY negative critique this week. As for the girls, that's a much tougher call; on any other night I might have predicted Caitlynn or Clarice, but they were so on fire this week, it would be a shock to see them go right now. And it would be even more shocking if Sasha or Melanie went; I cannot for the life of me imagine that happening. So, by simple process of elimination, that leaves Jordan. Jordan is an excellent dancer...but someone has to go, and it's probably going to be her.
Tune in Thursday to see if I'm right!