Wednesday night on "So You Think You Can Dance," the process of whittling down the 160 dancers who made it through the first audition rounds began, as the Vegas Callbacks took place at the Planet Hollywood Theater. Main judges Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and Adam Shankman enlisted the help of guest judges Tyce Diorio, Debbie Allen, Robin Antin, and Jason Gilkison to help with the arduous task, and they all had their work cut out for them, with so many amazingly talented contestants to choose from but sadly only 20 that would be left standing, or dancing, by the week's end.
And so, these judges were ruthless, people. In fact, many early standouts whom I'd expected to go very far were cut in Vegas, including button-cute Irish stepper Mary Kate Sheehan, swag-laden B-girl Patty Anne Miller, wacking superheroine Princess Lockeroo, grumpy krumper Hollow Dreams, four-time auditioner Arielle Coker, personality-plus Chyna Smith, Speedo boy Chase Thomas, and even Hero McRae, a girl who actually won "America's Best Dance Crew" with We Are Heroes not too long ago.
There were some other sad and surprising cuts--like Rebecca Hart, who, like Arielle, had also been to Vegas a total of four times. Rebecca was paired with Jeremiah Hughes, a temperamental jerk cut in Season 4 after having an onstage hissyfit in front of a none-too-pleased Mia Michaels, for a Broadway routine. And while it was Jeremiah who was totally off rhythmically, the judges inexplicably gave him a second chance, but let Rebecca go. My heart broke for her as she begged for an opportunity to "dance for her life," but was denied. Poor girl.
Season 8 is going to be tough.
One contestant who did get to dance for her life was--speaking of poor girls--Alexis Mason. Why "poor girl," you ask? Because no matter what Alexis does, she will probably never escape the looming shadow of her older sister, Jeanine, who won "SYTYCD" Season 5 by the skin of her rose-clamping teeth. Alexis basically looks like Jeanine's twin, but she doesn't quite possess the same talent Jeanine did at age 18, so Alexis Mason is to Jeanine Mason as Jan Brady was to Marcia Marcia Marcia. Anyway, after a lackluster jive number, Alexis redeemed herself with her dance-for-her-life contemporary solo, but she didn't make it much further, let alone all the way to the winner's circle like Jeanine did: Alexis was let go later on in the episode. But the judges told her to come back in a year, so maybe she will taste "SYTYCD" glory someday. Just not now.
Other contestants, doing both solos and Nappytabs/hip-hop, Diorio/Broadway, Gilkison/jive, and Travis Wall/contemporary routines, hit the jackpot in Vegas. Among these standouts was repeat auditioner Iveta Lukosiute, a coltish, endlessly leggy blonde whose "hot cop" burlesque routine had every man in the theater howling and one man, Nigel, reaching for his heart pills. Her dance could have come off as crass and stripper-ish, but somehow she turned it into something sophisticated, with just the right amount of sex appeal. If she'd done this in past seasons, she might've made it through earlier.
Sadly, Marlon Pelayo's equally skintight outfit--a hand-painted unitard created by his mother--didn't make quite as positive an impression. I personally dug his sense of style, and thought he had the potential to be this season's Kupono or Kanemura, but Debbie Allen, in her sternest Fame-speech voice, griped that his Darkness-worthy catsuit was "distracting." (Hey, unitards did wonders for female contestant Randi Evans in Season 5! This is sexual discrimination!) And so, Marlon and his several yards of spandex were sent home.
Moving on, the wonderful Mallory Sisters, Natalia and Sasha, wowed with their ferocious duo routine to Adele's "Rumor Has It." But then they ran into all sorts of difficulties--first during their jives, when Sasha had trouble keeping her legs together (scandal!) and Natalia had trouble finding a male partner strong enough to lift her heavier-set frame. Luckily both made it through, bringing their undeniable sense of joy with them, but then Natalia suffered another setback when she collapsed on the set and had to be seen by a medic and given an IV.
The doctors cleared Natalia to dance in a group number alongside other favorites like sexpot Jordan Casanova and B-boy D.C. Chapman--but it turned out that Natalia's health scare wasn't that group's only setback, as D.C. threw some sort of temper tantrum, for reasons unclear, during their rehearsal. But they all got it together and made it through, delivering a stellar performance to Bruno Mars's "Grenade" that somehow directed all their crazy emotions in the best possible way. But D.C. ended up pitching another fit, this time with tears, when he eventually got cut ("Man up!" barked Debbie)...and Natalia's problems were also far from over, when she suffered from low blood sugar and was dispatched to the hospital, leaving Sasha behind to dance alone.
I started to wonder if Natalia was cut out for this competition; if she was already struggling physically in Vegas, how would she handle the hours of grueling practice if she made the top 20? She proved she was a real fighter when she returned to do one last solo, followed by an emotional speech...but I still had my doubts, and I'm sure the judges did too. But for now, Natalia was safe, as was Sasha.
Natalia wasn't the only one dealing with medical problems, either. B-boy Wadi Jones's debilitating leg cramps sent him to the sidelines for a while, and golden girl Ryan Ramirez feared she'd actually broken her tailbone, although a hospital visit revealed it was thankfully only a bruised coccyx. Both contestants went on to dance again, nobly pushing through their pain, and survived. But just barely.
Like I said, Season 8 is going to be tough. How on earth will the judges ever decide upon a final 20? I'm not sure, but we'll find out Thursday night. So cue music. Dramatic, suspenseful music.