This week's top six "So You Think You Can Dance" showdown was admittedly a slight letdown after last Wednesday's episode, one of the best in "SYTYCD" history. But this week still continued the fine tradition of what guest judge Christina Applegate declared "the best season I've seen." And it was, as this week's other guest judge Lil' c put it, "bucc." And it was without a doubt the most important episode of Season 8 so far, as it determined who will make it into next week's big finale.
For weeks now, it has seemed like Sasha, Melanie, and Marko's finale spots have been pre-ordained. And while Wednesday's performances only seemed to substantiate that prophecy, dark-horse girl Caitlynn did put up a good fight, and Tadd and Ricky's battle for that one remaining wild-card spot in the final four was a real nail-biter.
All six seemingly superhuman contestants danced THREE dances apiece--one with an allstar, one with a fellow contestant, one solo--and since the judges did not officially critique the solos (other than gushing about Melanie's, because they simply couldn't stop themselves), I am focusing on the partner dances in my recap. But I do have to say, I agreed with Nigel Lythgoe when he declared Melanie's totally kinetic solo one of the best he'd ever witnessed; it was the dance of a champion, and yes, it was the dance of a "beast." Ricky and Tadd were delightful as usual, but the other best two solos of the night were Marko's (he literally dove head-first onto the stage, risking spinal cord injury for our entertainment), and Sasha's (she got down to "Show Me Your Teeth" by last week's guest judge, Lady Gaga, and if Gaga had been around this week I'm sure she would have thrown another platform shoe at Sasha).
Read on to find out how all six contestants did this week. Only four of them will be in next week's finale, but they're all winners in my book...
DANCES WITH ALLSTARS:
Melanie with allstar Twitch Boss - Hip-Hop
This Tabitha & Napoleon routine, which cast Twitch as the Big Bad Wolf and Melanie as a Little Red Riding Hood (or, as Twitch worded it, "Little Red Swagging Hood") who fights back, could have easily come across as cheesy and silly. But nothing Melanie does ever seems anything less than 100 percent legit, and that would be true even if she had to do the Hokey Pokey or Macarena. That being said, this was not my favorite Melanie moment. It required her to get really down and dirty (to "Roman's Revenge" by Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne, a song that Lil' C pointed out is a very difficult to dance to), and I wasn't entirely convinced here. With her Campbell's Soup Kid cherub face and little pixie cut and irrepressible adorableness, she still seemed too sweet and cutesy, not like the type who could really take on a hairy fairytale villain. But ultimately, she gamely showed a whole other side of herself and proved she can give anything a go. Judge Mary Murphy, in her critique, first likened Melanie to Shirley Temple, but then said: "Shirley Temple could never dance like you danced just now! You were on fire!" Concurred Nigel: "This was the first time we've seen Melanie's teeth and claws! Grandma, what a big talent you've got!" Lil' C told her: "I'm going to congratulate you for even getting through that routine. At the beginning it was shaky, but then I started feeling you." And Christina Applegate was the most complimentary, as is usually the case with "SYTYCD's" celebrity judges, gushing, "Watching you every week you gives me hope. You take us on a journey, like dancing is the only thing that will mend your broken heart, and we feel that. In this you were breaking hearts, you were so evil and so good!" I am not so sure I buy into the whole Evil Melanie shtick, but there's no denying how amazing this girl is, in any genre.
Sasha with allstar Kent Boyd - Contemporary
This was THE routine of the night. Sasha was already crying in rehearsal, she was so emotional, so knew it'd be special. And it was. In this Tyce Diorio number (hauntingly set to Me'shell Ndegeocello's "Fool Of Me") about two people who've hit a wall in their relationship, Sasha and Kent literally climbed a prop wall, defying both gravity and expectations. The passion was palpable, and it reminded me of Kent's fighting-married-couple routine with Allison Holker last year. But this time, Sasha was the star; I barely noticed Kent was even onstage, and considering his huge personality and talent, that's saying something. By the end of the dance, everyone was choked up--the judges, the audience, Tyce, Sasha's family, Sasha herself. Mary, a domestic abuse survivor, said through tears, "When Kent just threw you to the floor--so many of us have been there, and it's what you do when you get back up." Said Lil' C, who's usually a tough guy: "I'm actually trying not to cry, to be honest. I felt like you were speaking to me the whole time. It's all about not being ashamed of your struggle, but rejoicing in the fact that you can come out in front of people and talk about how victorious you are in coming through it. I love the way you dance, and I would give anything to have worked with you this season." Said Christina, "There have been girls in this competition who can developpé and do 20 pirouettes and land perfectly, and I don't care. You put your finger against a wall, and you break my heart. That's dance. Something hurt you, and I thank you for sharing with us what you've felt in your life." And Nigel summed it all up with: "This is something that so many dancers experience, and what draws them into dance--that they can put their emotions into their work. You do this brilliantly and passionately, and that's why you've gone back to being my favorite dancer." And Sasha may be America's favorite dancer--if she wasn't already--after this.
Marko with allstar Janette Manrara - Paso Doble
This routine didn't click for me, at all, despite the welcome return of robbed Season 5 hot tamale Janette. Choreographed by former "SYTYCD" contestant-turned-"Dancing With The Stars" pro Dmitri Chaplin, it cast Janette as an animal activist trying to stop Marko from slaying a bull, and that was just a weird concept. Marko did fine, but he was not at his most memorable, aside from the part when he turned Janette into a human cape and flipped over his back. Mary, who has openly declared Marko her favorite dancer in the competition, was pretty kind to him, saying, "You lost your footing from time to time, but most of the time, you really nailed this." Nigel, like Mary, was thrilled with that human-cape trick, but was otherwise unimpressed: "It left me a little cold tonight, I'm afraid. For a routine going into the finale of the show, I wanted a little more passion. But Mary always says I talk a lot of bull, anyway." Lil' C and Christina then debated the merits of Marko's crotch. "It's all about the crotch!" said Lil' C. That was a little weird--come on, guys, Marko's mom was in the audience!
Tadd with allstar Ellenore Scott - Jazz
This had all the makings of an awesome routine: Sonya Tayeh doing the choreography, indie darlings Beirut providing the soundtrack with "The Gulag Orkestar," crazy and genuinely dangerous chandelier-dangling stunt work, and one of my all-time favorite "SYTYCD" alums, Ellenore, in a starring role. So why did it fall a little flat for me? I think it all came down to the chemistry, or lack thereof. A period piece about lovers in a conservative era who go crazy with lust when they finally get to touch each other's flesh, this was supposed to showcase "the dirtier side of Tadd." But the wonderfully quirky Ellenore carried the routine and completely upstaged him, and I was left feeling disappointed by their lack of shared heat. "I knew when Ellenore came back, and was with Sonya, we'd get something really interesting out of this routine. And wow, there were some interesting positions in that one, huh?" said Nigel. "But I think I would have liked to see a little more dancing. It needed to develop more. I was left hanging." (Nice chandelier pun, Nigel.) Agreed Lil' C, "When you guys were interacting, I felt like you were just going through the movements." The female judges were kinder. Mary told Tadd, "I think your ability is extraordinary. Last week when we had a discussion behind the stage about whether to keep you on the show or not, and some had felt that maybe you had reached your limit--no, you didn't. You're still growing." And Christina howled, "Get a room! I like the dirtier side of dance sometimes!" I do too--but this just didn't seem dirty enough for me.
Ricky with allstar Jaimie Goodwin - Contemporary
This was the second routine of the night that depicted a troubled couple, but this one didn't pack quite the emotional wallop as Sasha and Kent's. This Dee Caspary number, about a controlling boyfriend, required to Ricky to work with stick props throughout (the sticks symbolized the lines Ricky was trying to keep Jaimie within, or something like that, as they danced to Trent Dabbs's "Inside These Lines"). And I think the sticks tricked him up and required him to think too much, instead of feel. His face never showed true emotion--he danced no worse than Sasha, but the ache just was not there. (Those stupid sticks also made the dance seem like some sort of rhythmic gymnastics Olympic routine.) Lil' C praised Ricky's mastery of the props, however, raving, as only he wordily could: "What a magically magnificent puppeteer of physically rhythmic artistry you are!" Nigel and Christina's reviews were more mixed. Christina told him, "You are really a beautiful dancer, but the only thing I could ever say is sometimes you don't dance with the clearest intention. That would take you up another notch to extraordinary." Nigel said, "I thought you danced it really well, but you are such a high dancer. I wanted to feel the movement more down here." However, Mary practically predicted that Ricky, who has frequently been in the bottom three but squeaked through last week, will make the top four: "It was just really beautiful, free-flowing movement, as if you were bouncing off the piano keys in that song. I think you saved yourself again." I adore Ricky, so I kind of hope Mary is right--but I'm not so sure.
Caitlynn with allstar Pasha Kovalev - Samba
Dmitri Chaplin set out to create the sexiest samba ever to Kat DeLuna's "Drop It Low," joking, "This is not a family show anymore!" To accomplish this, Caitlynn had to "lose the cheesy grin," and lose her pageant-dancer mannerisms that the judges have found so off-putting. I do think Caitlynn came across as sexy, and she certainly danced well enough to prove she deserved to be saved last week, but some of her bad habits remained. "When a contestant gets a second chance to do another number, we expect it to be better. By God, that was better! Your bodies were melting together," Mary declared--but then she criticized her Caitlynn's face-pulling. Agreed Nigel: "You couldn't have gotten a sheet of tissue paper between your bodies during those samba rolls; they were that good. But Mary's absolutely right: You don't have to pull sexy faces. Let the routine and let your body do the talking!" Now we just have to let America do the voting.
DANCES WITH FELLOW CONTESTANTS:
Sasha & Ricky - Wacking
Many "SYTYCD" viewers were introduced to the funky, '70s-spawned dance genre known as "wacking" via Princess Lockeroo, a standout early auditioner this season. Sadly, the Princess didn't advance past Vegas, but choreographer Kumari Suraj brought the style back for this fun routine set to Beyonce's "Schoolin' Life." I loved the old-school vibe here and the sense of whimsy, and I loved seeing two of my favorite contestants together, making such a tough and precise form of dance look so easy. But Mary could not help but compare their wacking skills to the wacking queen, Princess Lockeroo. "Was the wackin' slackin' a little? Yes, just a pinch," she said, before rightfully pointing out that Sasha's natural effervescence made her "wack a little better than Ricky." Nigel agreed that Ricky faltered a bit ("Ricky, you can relax more and not worry so much"), but "didn't think the wacking was lacking." Lil' C and Christina also gave mixed critiques. "This is such a funky style and it's so glamorous and it's so sassy, so I would have loved to see you guys enjoy it a little bit more, because I feel like you were really, really, really focused on the steps," said Lil' C. And while Christina enjoyed it, she did admit: "The only thing I can say is--and this is going to sound wrong--you could have wacked it harder!" Oh my. I guess this really isn't a family show anymore!
Melanie & Tadd - Contemporary
While Melanie was out of her element in her hip-hop routine, this Spencer Liff dance showcased her at her very best. Yes, Tadd was good too--but there's no doubt Melanie was the star here. This routine actually cast her as a star dancer who falls for her manipulative choreographer (Tadd, totally cast against type). It was a great storyline, very Black Swan meets A Chorus Line, and the soundtrack--the Love Story theme sung by Shirley Bassey--only added to the drama that Melanie, a natural thespian, brought to the stage. "Not only are you the original 'beast' in this season, you are a brilliant actress as well as an incredible dancer," raved Nigel. "You have gone back up to being my favorite dancer!" Nigel did give Tadd credit too, albeit a little begrudgingly: "Tadd, to think that you are in this routine with probably one of the best dancers we've ever had on the series, to say you didn't suck is a compliment! But the little things you did, like the cartwheel over the chair, you are outstanding in what you do as well." Christina also singled out Melanie for praise (very high praise), telling her, "You remind me of Donna McKechnie in A Chorus Line, but so much better! You've taken dance to another level to me." Lil' C praised Melanie's "quiet fire" and called her "extremely bucc," but told Tadd, "You are growing by leaps and bounds." And the always diplomatic Mary proclaimed, "The love story here is America has fallen in love with both of you." Aw. This is true, but I think Melanie got most of the love.
Caitlynn & Marko - Jazz
Yet another classic "SYTYCD" routine about a dysfunctional relationship. What is it about these choreographers and their skewed ideas about romance? Almost every dance on this show is about lovers fighting, breaking up, cheating--watching this show is like couples' therapy sometimes. Or scream therapy. And Sonya Tayeh is the best therapist of all. Sonya created an amazing routine to Florence & The Machine's "Heavy In Your Arms," about a girlfriend trying to escape a dominating boyfriend, and she FINALLY drew a truly gritty performance out of cutesy Caitlynn. Finally, Cailtynn didn't seem like a competition dancer, and finally she seemed really in the moment. It may be too little, too late--it's almost impossible to imagine Caitlynn advancing to the finale over Melanie or Sasha--but at least Caitlynn will go out on a high note. Frequent tweeter Lil' C dubbed this routine "double hashtag bucc...so reckless, so convicted, it was murderous." Raved Mary: "This was one of your best numbers, Caitlynn, ever. You just had a breakthrough, just when we thought that maybe it wasn't possible." Nigel told her: "Caitlynn, you came of age tonight. You showed how mature you can be. Please keep hold of that now." Not to discount Marko, of course, Christina pointed out, "They keep referring to the women as the beasts, but Marko, my friend, you are a beast. Your aggression was so beautiful and powerful and palpable." But Christina added, "And Caitlynn...finally! I'm so happy. That was your moment."
So now, it is prediction time. It doesn't take a genius or psychic to predict that, barring some sort of Pia-style shocker upset, Melanie, Sasha, and Marko are shoo-ins. (Pia Toscano is performing on this week's results show, by the way.) But who will snag that final spot? Ricky has been in the bottom before--but last week he escaped elimination, while presumed fan favorite Tadd was in the bottom four. Neither Tadd nor Ricky were at their best this week--Ricky didn't quite connect in his contemporary dance with Jaimie, and was upstaged by Sasha in his wacking routine; similarly, Tadd didn't connect with Ellenore in his first routine, and was upstaged by Melanie in his second--so it's still a toss-up. But Tadd's routine with Melanie was good enough to resonate with viewers no matter what, and he probably still has enough momentum to coast on from his insanely entertaining dance-for-your-life solo last week. So as much as I'll be sad to see Ricky leave, I think Tadd will edge him out this week and make it to the finale instead.
Tune in Thursday night to see if I'm right! Cue music.