Along with Curtis, this week's other up-for-elimination contestants included Alexis Juliano, Alan Bersten, and Makenzie Dustman (all repeat showings in the bottom six), along with first-timers Nico Greetham and Jasmine Harper. Jasmine was a HUGE surprise to me: I'd always figured that Jasmine and her partner, Aaron Turner, were one of the Couples to Beat, and I'd never expected her to land on the chopping block before this season even got down to a top 10. Apparently not even Jasmine, who got the "dreaded quickstep" last week, was able to break the Quickstep Curse on this show.
The judges didn't ask any of the boys to solo, but they didn't save any of the boys, either — meaning that the judges had either made up their minds already, or they'd be basing their elimination decision entirely on the duo dances to come. (Let's be real: It was probably the former scenario.)
As for the girls, the judges saved Makenzie for the jillionth time (without asking to her solo), justifying their decision by pointing out that Season 9's co-winners, Eliana Girard and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, had to be saved more than once last year. (Despite her talent, I have my doubts that Makenzie can follow in Eliana and Chehon's pointe-toed footsteps after being up for elimination so many times, but clearly the judges steadfastly believe in her.)
Shockingly, Jasmine was forced to solo (as was Alexis). But that may not have been a bad thing: Her solo was FANTASTIC, with her bending all over the place in ways that would put even Gumby to shame, and she definitely proved that she deserved to stay.
But who didn't stay? That result was not revealed until the end of the night, after all seven couples danced. Here's how everyone did:
Jenna Johnson & Tucker Knox – Hip-Hop
Oh, poor Tucker. He's such a lovable dork, yet week after week he is forced to play some sort of tough, cocky sexpot or thug. His very DNA seems to reject such casting, but he always gives it the old college-nerd try. This Wale-soundtracked, Luther Brown-choreographed routine required Tucker and Jenna to "kill it in da club," but neither of them truly killed. Jenna filled out her pleather Matrix catsuit nicely, but she still seemed too cutesy and bouncy. Tucker fared even worse, as expected; I was actually a little embarrassed for him, especially at the end when he ripped off his shirt and tried to strike a gangsta pose. But, kudos to him to trying. There weren't many kudos from Nigel Lythgoe, however, who called the routine "unconvincing" and "unmemorable" and said Tucker was too upright and Jenna too sweet. Mary Murphy tried to be nice, saying, "Was this a slam dunk? No, not exactly. Does this style fit you like a perfect suit? No, not really," while still praising Tucker for really going for it and attacking the routine. Mary also somewhat over-reachingly calling Jenna "ratchet" and "fabulous." Guest judge Anna Kendrick, who did a much better job than last week's useless Carly Rae Jepsen, said, "It was a little cute, but I kind of didn't hate that, even if it wasn't what Luther was going for." I didn't hate it either. But I sure didn't love it.
Alexis Juliano & Nico Greetham – Contemporary
Before this routine even started, I knew it was going to be amazing. Sonya Tayeh chronicling an unraveling relationship — with Alexis playing the jilted lover in denial, and Nico playing the callous boyfriend trying to cut her loose — was bound to result in one of those classic push/pull, love/hate "SYTYCD" routines that brings in votes and Emmy nominations. And I was not disappointed. Both normally adorable, plucky, smiley dancers brought such unprecedented dark energy and intensity to the stage, and I had "Deeley chills" long before the routine was over. It was "definitely not picnics and puppies and rainbows," as Cat Deeley jokingly put it, but that's not what I would have wanted from Sonya anyway, and I was pleased to see this side of Alexis and Nico. So were the judges. Mary loved their "fearlessness" and "abandon." Anna loved their "range and complexity" and ability to effectively convey "contempt and sorrow." Nigel thought Nico showed new strength and Alexis showed new depth. If this evening's elimination decision had been based just on partner dances, Nico and Alexis would have both been safe, for sure.
Hayley Erbert – Argentine Tango
With Hayley's regular partner Curtis on the sidelines, she got to dance with none other than Leonardo Barrionuevo, from the esteemed team of Miriam & Leonardo that choreographed this number. This was definitely a blessing in disguise for Hayley. Not to be mean or kick a guy when he is literally down, but Curtis probably would not have excelled in this genre, and he might have dragged Hayley down with him. But Leonardo raised her to a higher level. Hayley seemed as much a pro as Leonardo and, according to Nigel, "nailed everything!" Mary called her "so impressive." Anna called her "so sexy and so cool" and told her, "Dude, if I could have your body for one day, I'd feel like I could do anything." Maybe Hayley can do anything, if she can keep up with Leonardo like this.
Makenzie Dustman & Paul Kamiryan – Jazz
More Sonya Tayeh awesomeness ensued with this sensational, sexy, Santigold-soundtracked routine. It was hot, it was fierce, and it was SO Sonya, and the crowd howled for it. If this doesn't save Makenzie in next week's votes, then I think her situation is just hopeless. Makenzie definitely proved her worth — if it needed to be proven, that is — with this stunner. "You were both brilliant in that. Makenzie, I don't understand what America doesn't see in you. If this was a competition for pure dance, you'd be in the top three every week, not the bottom three," Nigel said. Mary agreed that Makenzie has "never taken a wrong step" on this show. Let's see if America listens to the judges this time.
Jasmine Harper & Aaron Turner – Contemporary
This Justin Giles dance was based on the completely effed-up and depressing children's book The Giving Tree; hey, I love me some Shel Silverstein, but I always HATED that book from an early age, so I expected to hate this routine too. But I didn't. I should have given Aaron and Jasmine, one of my favorite couples on this show, more credit. They danced this beautifully, even with the extra challenge of having to juggle a slippery apple between them, and with her amazing legs, Jasmine was the prettiest, longest-limbed tree I'd ever seen. Mary called this dance "seriously interesting" (she meant that in a good way), praising Aaron's tenderness and Jasmine's ability to make the apple seem like "part of your body." Nigel said the lovable couple's partnership conveyed the "unconditional love" at the heart of The Giving Tree's narrative. I still loathe The Giving Tree — I think it's more about co-dependence than unconditional love, really — but I did love this routine.
Amy Yakima & DuShaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall – Hip-Hop
Christopher Scott's "hip-hop" numbers are never really very hip-hoppy, at least not in a hard-hitting, bucc, or ratchet sort of way. But his characteristically playful, jazz/Broadway-tinged, cutesy routine this week was perfect for the perpetually huggable Amy and Fik-Shun, America's Season 10 sweethearts. Respectively playing a comely waitress and a customer with a crush, Amy and Fik-Shun adorably, flirtatiously danced all over a fake restaurant, and even a momentary clumsy fumble when Amy knocked over a chair couldn't kill their bubbly buzz. (Amy may not be good with props, but props to her — pun intended — for rebounding from that incident like a true pro.) "Can I take you guys home with me? You're just so cute. Amy, you're not just my favorite dancer on the show, you're my favorite human being on the planet," gushed Anna. "If this show was based on cumulative points, you'd be so far ahead that no one could touch you," Nigel told the fan-favorite duo. Mary called them "cute as a button." The one problem was this was so similar to several other cute-overloaded routines Amy and Fik-Shun have danced in the past, but I have a feeling voters will still keep pushing their phone buttons for these two.
Malece Miller & Alan Bersten – Salsa
This number was choreographed by Season 5 contestant Jonathan Platero, who maybe was subconsciously trying to get revenge on "SYTYCD" for his early elimination that year, because he gave poor Malece and Alan an INCREDIBLY difficult routine. This salsa was one of the fastest and most athletic in "SYTYCD" history, according to Mary, and while both contestants fared pretty well, this was hardly the standout routine of the night. Alan was a solid partner, but Malece was a little too girlish (a criticism she received in early weeks this season, but not lately). Malece definitely wasn't getting a Hot Tamale Train ticket this week, not even a coach-class one. Nigel thought they "sold the routine brilliantly" but noted that Malece seemed out of breath and Alan didn't use his whole body. Mary, however, praised Alan's partnering skills, and Anna, admittedly not a ballroom fan, said, "That made me want to take ballroom lessons and have an affair on a tropical island." I agreed more with Nigel in this case. This salsa was mild.
After two group numbers — a smokin' Spencer Liff Broadway number with Spencer himself filling in for Curtis, and an emotional anti-bullying dance by "SYTYCD" newcomer Bonnie Story — it was finally time for (the unanimously decided) eliminations. And as much as it pained Nigel, a huge tap-dancing fan, to deliver the news, it was "Taps" time for two of the show's tappers, Alexis and Curtis.
Though this was the right decision, I think, it was still sad to realize that Curtis's final time dancing on "SYTYCD" had been last week, and that he hadn't had one more chance to fight for his place this week. It might not have made a difference, but still. We — and he — will never know.
As for the remaining 12 that will be moving on to next week, I think Jenna, Malece, and (yes) Makenzie will be in danger, and the bottom three boys will likely be Alan, Tucker, and Paul. All six contestants better have their solos ready, just in case. Cue music, and see you then.
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