Tonight's So You Think You Can Dance top 14 episode marked the return of the always controversial Mia Michaels to the judging panel. But thankfully, she seemed in much better spirits than she was during Vegas Week, when she pretty much ruined contestant Brandon Bryant's big moment by telling him he "bugged the sh*t out of her" when delivering the otherwise good news that he'd made the top 20. Not nice. However, tonight's episode began with the closest thing to an apology that I've ever heard come out of Mia's mouth, when she somewhat blushingly and sheepishly announced: "Without naming names, my opinion has changed for the better about a certain contestant."
It was pretty obvious who she was talking about: Brandon, one of the best male dancers on the show this season (or any season). It was also pretty obvious that this was some sort of ploy--either to help Mia re-ingratiate herself with the SYTYCD audience after alienating much of America with her rude remarks, or to help create some sort of triumph-over-adversity comeback story for Brandon. (Because we all know not everything on "reality TV" is in fact reality.) But whatever the reason, calculated or not, I was just pleased and relieved to see Brandon getting his due, so I chose to accept Mia's semi-apology.
And thus, the tone was set for an especially upbeat episode of SYTYCD--which also included a lovely segment about the Dizzy Feet Foundation, a charity for under-privileged young dancers founded by Nigel Lythgoe, SYTYCD judge/choreographer Adam Shankman, Dancing With The Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba, and Katie Holmes. Longstanding rumors of Katie appearing on an episode of SYTYCD were also confirmed, when hostess Cat Deeley announced that Mrs. Cruise will dance on the show's 100th episode on July 23 to further celebrate the Dizzy Feet Foundation. Yep, good vibes all around.
And speaking of good vibes, there were many amazing routines tonight, ranging from the sublime (a Romeo & Juliet classical ballet) to the sublimely weird (an alien queen impregnation--yes, you read that right). So here are my personal assessments of tonight's seven couples, as usual listed in order of awesomeness:
Kupono is my favorite male dancer on the show this year--his dark theatricality and Hawaiian exoticness remind me a bit of my fave male from last season, Mark Kanemura--so I would have been excited to see him dance under any circumstances. Then I found out that he and his lovely new partner Kayla would be working with Mohican-headed mad-genius choreographer Sonya Tayeh this week, and I got even more excited. And then Sonya told them, "We are doing some dark, dark stuff," and revealed that the routine she'd masterminded for them was a vampiric number seemingly inspired by Twilight, True Blood, Interview With a Vampire, etc. This was a routine that Kaypono (as I lovingly call this couple) could really sink their teeth into! (Heh heh.) So I knew I was going to LOVE this routine, in which Kupono was cast as a veteran vampire trying to entice frightened newbie bloodsucker Kayla to join him in the underworld. Of course, by the end of this thematic dance to Blue Foundation's "Eyes On Fire," not only had Kupono successfully lured innocent blonde corseted Kayla over to the dark side, but as a couple they'd jointly cast a deliciously dark spell over the entire audience as well. Their routine was violent and vampy, in the best possible way, and I could not take my own fiery eyes off of them. I'm so glad these two ended up together after losing their respective dance partners a couple weeks ago, because they're such a dynamic duo, a real sum of two fantastic parts. Judge Nigel Lythgoe agreed: "It's so good to see the pair of you reaching your true potential on the show...you're like bread and butter." Added Mia: "Aesthetically, you guys are so gorgeous together!" And apparently these two are especially gorgeous when they're playing undead vampire lovers! Bloody good stuff.
Hip-hopper Phillip Chbeeb has been out of his depth during a couple recent routines on this show--most infamously, his two-left-footed tango a couple weeks ago. But his existing fanbase and established popularity (after auditioning several times in the past and guesting on last season's finale) has kept him in the competition thus far. He's never even been in the bottom three yet. Some people might say this is unfair, since none of the other contestants on the show have Phillip's following or previous history on the show, and some of the dancers who've already gone home have danced circles around him. But this show is subtitled "America's FAVORITE Dancer," after all, and clearly America loves Phillip. And America must have especially loved him tonight, when he was finally in his element, doing hip-hop as choreographed by the astounding Tabitha & Napoleon. This was a routine that reminded everyone, supporters and naysayers alike, of Phillip's greatness. It was a highly challenging chained-at-the-ankles number to Kanye West's fittingly titled "Love Lockdown" (married couple Tabitha & Napoleon joked that they keep chains all over their apartment, to which Nigel shouted, "Too much information!"), and in it Phillip was a force of nature. Yet his partner Jeanine--a contemporary dancer who has yet to dance in her specialty genre on this show--impressively kept up with him. These two were so in sync and really looked like they belonged together; the conclusion of their dance, when Phillip offered Jeanine a key so she could unlock herself, but she rejected the key and chose to remain chained to his side, was touchingly symbolic. "If you guys keep dancing like that, you should be chained together for life!" raved Nigel. And I concurred. Maybe Phillip ought to do "chainography" (Mia's wordage) every week.
This was a first for this show: a classical Romeo & Juliet ballet routine, choreographed flawlessly by Thordal Christensen. Like Phillip with his aforementioned hip-hop routine, this was a perfect fit for Melissa, a trained ballerina--and although Ade had trouble getting up to her level, his attempt was still commendable, as his "carriage was beautiful," according to Nigel. Moreover, Ade's tenderness and sweetness towards Melissa was 100 percent believable: He really embodied the role of her Romeo, gazing at her so adoringly that I almost wondered if these two were a real-life offstage couple. Honestly, these two did more with their eyes than most dancers do with their feet. Their dance was a fairytale come to life, and Cat Deeley put it better than any of the judges when she said, "Millions of little girls have asked their mums for ballet lessons because of you." Kudos to SYTYCD for introducing this dance form not just to countless little girls, but to much of America.
As I said a few paragraphs ago, only a show like So You Think You Can Dance could include a fairytale ballet AND a freaky-deaky Brian Friedman-choreographed routine to Santigold's "Creator" about a female alien predator looking to spawn with a hapless male earthling. This number was like Species: The Musical, and it was just out of this world. It was fun and unexpected to see sweet golden-girl Caitlin cast as an evil extraterrestrial (complete with latex-and-mylar unitard and spiky Godzilla-like headdress), fully taking on the dominant role in the dance instead of letting Jason lead. Much of the criticism the judges offered had more to do with Caitlin's odd outfit (Nigel said her rubber catsuit made her look like a "dancing condom," and Mia wasn't fond of the costumey tinfoil accents), and the judges (as well as Caitlin herself) further worried aloud that this "weird" routine might care off viewers. Mia, of course, was the judge who most appreciated and understood Brian Friedman's vision. Will the voters be as appreciative? I sure hope so. I don't want to see these two in the bottom again, like they were last week.
This was yet another strong razzle-dazzle routine from the show's cutest couple, although it wasn't quite the standout that Mia Michaels' "butt" dance was for them last week. Statuesque choreographer Joey Dowling (who appeared to be a foot taller than the petite Evan and Randi) did a good job crafting a Bob Fosse-meets-Pink Panther number for these two, and this always expressive couple was great at getting into character. However, the judges came down pretty hard on them--particularly hardass Mia, who said she expected more from Evan (Broadway is right in his comfort zone) and that Randi danced too "heavy," whatever that meant. Mia also made some comment about Evan and Randi's slight height being a problem when taking direction from an Amazonian choreographer like Joey, but as a petite girl myself I was annoyed by that criticism. Height ain't nuthin' but a number, Mia!
Last week, Vitolio--another one of my favorite males this season--was in the bottom, and the judges chose to send his partner Asuka home. So this week he was paired with Karla, who lost her original partner Jonathan last week. Switching partners mid-season was a challenge enough for these two, but then the dance style they got assigned this week was...the quickstep! Oh no! Even more difficult than the kiss-of-death Viennese waltz Vitolio got last week! Now I was really worried. But luckily, Vitolio and Karla (playing a museum robber and a beautiful statue, respectively) rose to the challenge during their Jean-Marc Generaux-choreographed quickstep routine to a Rufus Wainwright version of "Puttin' On The Ritz" (nice song choice--I love the music on this show). They were the epitome of elegance and grace--I couldn't believe how seamlessly and smoothly Karla switched dresses mid-dance (she tore off her breakaway black-and-white polka-dot frock to reveal a flouncy floral pink ensemble). Nigel and judge Mary Murphy were impressed--and the fact that this couple won over Mary was especially important, given that she's the ballroom expert on the panel. Mia was the only judge with anything negative to say, griping that Vitolio's week-to-week personality switches "confused" her. "At times you look like a wild horse that cannot be tamed," she began, before admitting that this week he was an entirely different, more genteel dancer. "Consistency, sir!" she demanded. This was another Mia critique that annoyed me tonight and made NO sense. I mean, last week Vitolio was assigned a crazy-rocker routine that required him to dance to Pat Benatar in a pair of skinny neon turquoise jeans. Of COURSE he acted like a "wild horse" for that, but took on an opposite persona for this week's quickstep. Isn't versatility a plus on this show? Come on, Mia--you just got back in my good graces by becoming Team Brandon. DON'T make me angry all over again!
Speaking of which...tonight was the night when Mia and Brandon went head to head, when Mia critiqued him on the live show for the first time. Brandon and Janette did a spirited, Jean-Marc Generaux-choreographed cha cha to the Pussycat Dolls' "Hush Hush, Hush Hush," which really allowed salsa dancer Janette's firecracker personality to shine. Brandon kept up with her, thankfully, and all the judges--including Mia--were delighted. "That was possibly the best damn cha cha I have ever seen on this show!" Nigel gushed, describing it as suitable for a "world championship stage." Nigel further told Brandon he had "paintbrush feet" and was the "Michelangelo of the dance floor." Happily cackling Mary bestowed upon this couple THE highest honor in all of So You Think You Can Dance: two FIRST-CLASS tickets on the Hot Tamale Train. Woo woo! And then, finally, it was word-eating Mia's turn to speak. "I know I have scared the bleep out of you, Brandon, but I will say that the ones that I am toughest on [are the best dancers]," she explained. "You have so much ability and potential...you're gonna love me and hate me on this journey because I'm going to just dig in and drag you to a place you've never been." Mia's back-pedaling justification of her past harsh critiques of Brandon--that it was all tough love, because she expects a lot from someone so talented--seemed a little contradictory to me, since in Vegas all she did was complain that Brandon was overhyped and that she didn't see in him what her fellow judges Mary Murphy and Debbie Allen saw. But despite her suspicious turnaround, I was pleased to see Brandon get some credit and respect from Mia, and he was so happy he actually burst into tears onstage. Aw. I just wished he hadn't had to do a quickstep--that's not the kind of dance that rallies the voting audience at home. But hopefully the Brandon/Mia reconciliation storyline will warm voters' hearts, and if Brandon does end up in the bottom tomorrow night, hopefully Mia will vote to save him.
And so, now it is prediction time. What a tough call! It never gets easier, with such talent on this show. But I'm going to say that the couples in trouble are probably Jason & Caitlin (because that bizarre alien-probing dance might weird out some viewers), Vitolio & Karla (because of the unpopular-quickstep factor), and maybe Evan & Randi (because they got one of the more negative critiques tonight, and they didn't demonstrate the off-the-charts wow factor they had last week). I will be very sad to see any of these dancers go home tomorrow, however. Thursday nights suck!
Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right.