"It's gonna be a good night," hostess Cat Deeley declared at the top of Wednesday's "So You Think You Can Dance" episode, in what was surely the understatement of the season. This was in fact the best episode of the season. And it wasn't just must-see TV this week because of its very special guest judge (Lady Gaga, who did an amazing job), or the other guest judge, illustrious Chicago/Nine director Rob Marshall. It was because THE DANCING WAS INCREDIBLE.
No, that was not a capslock error. There were some truly wonderful, Emmy-worthy routines this evening, soundtracked by some gorgeous music and executed by some very gorgeous dancers. An episode like this was a perfect example of why "SYTYCD" is one of the most envelope-pushing, pulse-pounding, high-quality talent shows in the history of television.
The two terrific hours were packed with a dozen dances (eight by the contestants with allstars, four with the contestants dancing with each other) and, unsurprisingly, lots of colorful commentary. So let's get to it. Here's how everyone did tonight...
DANCES WITH ALLSTARS:
Sasha with allstar Pasha Kovalev - Quickstep
Oh no! The dreaded quickstep! I feared for my gurl Sasha, who was also dancing first in the "kiss of death" spot...but Sasha and Pasha (that's fun to say, huh?) made a strong enough impression with this quirky quickstep to last the duration of the two-hour broadcast, not to mention break the curse usually associated with this tricky genre of dance. Choreographer Jonathan Roberts really created a routine (to Terry Snyder's "Puttin' On The Ritz"--hey, why not the Taco version?) with plenty of personality, which played to Sasha's warrior-princess strengths, and overall the number was a delight. Rob Marshall raved, "Sasha, you are astonishing. Every time I see you, you're so beautiful and elegant and classy....You're one of my favorites, for sure." Mary Murphy said, "You have a magnificent stage presence. From the minute you take one move, it just creates this vision that's fantastic. Mary also said Sasha's upper body positioning was the best she'd seen among any quickstep in "SYTYCD" history. Nigel Lythgoe went so far as to declare Sasha his favorite dancer this season ("by a hair's breadth"), even though he disagreed with Mary and thought Sasha's upper body was a little too stiff. Lady Gaga disagreed with Nigel's criticism of Sasha's upper body, saying, "I think the choice to be a little bit strange in your approach to such a stoic stature was interesting" (well, of course Gaga appreciated the strangeness!), then summed it all up with: "I think you are as shiny on the outside as you are on the inside; I think you are beautiful soul and spirit." This was a great way to start a truly great "SYTYCD" episode.
Caitlynn with allstar Ivan Koumaev - Lyrical Hip-Hop
This was another "hip-hop" routine that wasn't all that hip-hoppy at all (a growing complaint I've had all season), so I was glad that Gaga later called the show out on that, saying, "It's a hard thing to do, this lyrical hip-hop, and sometimes it can feel a little bit dated." (It did have a sort of David Silver/"90210" vibe to it.) But Caitlynn worked with the material choreographer Marty Kudelka gave her, and she came across as sweetly sexy, if not exactly fiery. Playing a woman fed up with her current boyfriend who gets swept off her feet by new suitor Ivan, she grooved with Ivan to Mario's "Let Me Love You," and the effect was cute. Just cute, though. I didn't sense a huge amount of chemistry between these two, and this was ultimately one of the less memorable routines of the night. Mary loved the number, but seemed mostly just excited to see Season 2's Ivan return. "Was it brilliant for me? No--but you really hung in there with Ivan!" Mary said. Nigel called Caitlynn a "lovely dancer" and praised her for staying in character and not acting like a "competition girl," but he said she failed to match Ivan's "cool swag" and ability to "sit down in that pocket." But of course, when he suggested Caitlynn open her legs a little bit more, Gaga could not resist retorting, "Oh, I'm sure he'd like you to open your legs a little bit!" (Ha.) Then Gaga said, "Sometimes Caitlynn, you rely in your center in a very certain way, and you STOP--what I liked about Ivan is he moved through the movement and kept the story." So it seems Ivan really stole the show here.
Jordan with allstar Ade Obayomi - Jazz
Tyce Diorio wanted to create a hot routine about a "secret rendezvous," and while I worried if the petite Jordan and towering Ade could pull off such a dynamic between them, it turned out they were well-matched. Shimmying to Tina Turner's stormy "Nutbush City Limits," Jordan was a tiny dynamo, and she blended the sexiness of her first PCD-inspired audition with some Lauren Froderman-like athleticism here. The moment when Ade dragged her across floor should have earned her a ticket on the Hot Tamale Train, for sure. "Is there anything that little body can't do?" howled Nigel. "You're only a small girl, and yet those legs go on forever!" Added Gaga, "Honey, you give me so much hope, because it's no surprise that I am quite short"--she then lifted one of her famously platform-shoed feet as evidence of this--"and you are so fabulous and all I could stare at was your legs! And my favorite part was when you looked right into that camera like you were saying, 'Baby, I'm a star!" Rob chimed in: "You are what I love. You did it with such abandon. you throw yourself into it! If I could scream like Mary, I would." Mary didn't dole out a Hot Tamale ticket, sadly, but she most certainly did scream, probably rendering Rob deaf, as she raved, "You flourish under these strong female roles, and it just keeps getting better! You have amazing extensions from God!" I am not sure how long Jordan can continue on this show--she's been in the bottom many times--but if she goes home this week, she will go home with her little head held high. Gaga called her a star!
Melanie with allstar Neil Haskell - Contemporary
Oh man, this worked on SO many levels. The combination of Melanie Moore with stunning choreographer Mandy Moore was amazing enough (Moore 'n' Moore for the win!), but then put Neil in the mix, add a classic "SYTYCD" storyline about a troubled relationship, and set it all to Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart," and of course the result was pure brilliance. This is the kind of routine that earns "SYTYCD" Emmys--and just might earn Melanie the grand prize in two weeks. For the time being, it earned her a standing ovation from all four judges, and even got Lady Gaga to take her hat off in respect. "You are my favorite in this competition, and I would hire you to dance on my tour around the world! You were the first dancer tonight when I didn't watch the monitors. I couldn't keep my eyes off the stage. I didn't need the cameras, I just wanted YOU." (Wow.) Rob called Melanie "poetic. Just watching is like magic. You fill this room. It's exquisite to watch you." Said Mary, "Every single week we sit up here, I don't think there's a single time that we haven't said 'brilliant,' 'amazing,' every single adjective under the sun that just says how wonderful you are!" Then fickle Nigel, who'd just declared Sasha his favorite dancer, said he'd changed his mind and now Melanie was his new favorite. Nigel was in for a real treat later on, though, when Sasha and Melanie would...wait for it...DANCE TOGETHER. Gasp!
Ricky with allstar Anya Garnis - Jive
Ricky has been my favorite male dancer this season, but I'm not sure if this Jason Gilkison routine did him any favors, and now I'm fearing that, after being in the bottom two of three for weeks now, Ricky will be in danger again this week. The jive, set to Celine Dion's version of "River Deep Mountain High," just didn't show off Ricky's quirky personality (which, on the plus side, we've gotten to see every week when Ricky has solo'd for his life), and ballroom tigress Anya upstaged him a bit. Rob was kind, telling Ricky his smile lit up the room and raving, "You dance with such joy! You are a star!" Mary, the panel's ballroom expert, however, said Ricky had problems in the beginning putting his weight into the dance--but said he improved as the music sped up towards the end. Nigel said Ricky was "too tall" and needed to get a little more into the floor ("a little river deeper than mountain higher"), and he criticized one "meat market"-style, labored lift in the middle. Gaga, however, really saw the glory in Ricky: "I have a sweet spot for you. I love that you're high, that you're up there, because that's you!" She even said Ricky came across as cooler than Anya: "I think it was the styling, but something about it felt a little 'Dancing With The Stars,' and it didn't feel as modern as what you were giving. You feel like a young, modern, honest dancer who's worked his tushy off." I have a sweet spot for Ricky too, so I am worried about him. "River Deep Mountain High" was Pia Toscano's undoing on Nigel's other show, "American Idol"--will it be Ricky's undoing too?
Jess with allstar Lauren Gottlieb - Lyrical Hip-Hop
Jess played a cheater trying to win forgiveness, and Lauren played his scorned girlfriend, in this Nappytabs routine to Rihanna's "Take A Bow." And I must say, Jess pulled off hip-hop pretty well here. (Although, granted, this was not hard-hitting hip-hop, but the softer type of hip-hop that really isn't too far from just being plain old contemporary.) Jess did well, and showed off some acting chops, but in the end he didn't win Lauren back, and I wonder if this routine will win him many votes. Mary praised his week-to-week progress, saying, "I think that tonight was one of your really honest performances. I felt that it really came from your soul this time. You're opening up more every week to us." Nigel agreed, "You've matured significantly since we began this entire series. I hope you realized what you've learned, otherwise you'll forget it when you leave us!" (Uh-oh. Did that mean Nigel thinks Jess will be leaving soon, possibly this week?) Gaga told Jess, "I have so much respect for you, because I went to school for theater, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who comes from a place of Broadway dance." Gaga actually critiqued the choreography--something the judges are usually afraid to do--but had nothing bad to say about Jess's great dancing. And Rob, who it turns out has known Jess since Jess was a little boy and has therefore seen TONS of growth from Jess, gushed, "That was simple and pure and beautiful." I agree--but was it enough?
Tadd with allstar Lauren Froderman - Jazz
This was another dance with many levels of awesomeness, once again choreographed by the unimpeachable Mandy Moore. It had last season's winner, Lauren F.; it had Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" for a soundtrack; it had lots of sex appeal (little Lauren is all grown up!); it evoked old-school Michael Jackson, which is always a good thing; and it had a fun storyline (a pair of crafty burglars pulling off a huge heist). This was just hawt, and Tadd kept up with the reigning "SYTYCD" champ. "You will not be biting the dust this week, young man," Nigel predicted. Gaga called this "amazing! It's such an inspiration! You don't have to be boxed into anything! You can be anything you want to be as a dancer!" Rob praised Tadd for soldiering on despite dropping his hat and getting bonked in the face by Lauren: "You surprise us with every move! That's something that very, very special." And Mary told him, "You definitely put the C in 'cool' tonight. You look young Elvis Presley. You're going to land yourself in the finale, I just know it." Wow, maybe Tadd will soon be "SYTYCD's" reigning champ...
Marko with allstar Allison Holker - Contemporary
Whoa. There are no words. Really, I might as well stop typing now. This was BRILLAINT, and if this doesn't earn choreographer Sonya Tayeh an Emmy nomination next year, I'll eat Lady Gaga's hat. A haunting, emotional routine set to Jeff Buckley's cover of the Smiths' "I Know It's Over," about hurting someone and then feeling incredible guilt, this dance reduced everyone in the audience, and on the stage, to a collective puddle of tears and gooseflesh. A weeping Gaga cried out, "I am just so proud of you! I know your mom's here from Guam, and there were so, so many things I did wrong when I was younger, so many things I wish I could take back, and I felt every moment of that through your dance tonight." (Marko then apologized to his mom for being a "brat" as a kid, and the tears poured anew.) Said Rob, "Your technique is ridiculous, but when I watch you, it's what Lady Gaga was saying: We're all so moved by it, because you bring yourself to it." Mary fanned her eyes and said, "That was amazing. We use that word a lot, but we just can't use it enough with a guy like you. You are by far my favorite dancer on this show." And Nigel summed it up nicely with, "I think we've seen a moment here that is more than the competition. Just seeing how he's taken this opportunity to speak to his mother, who I know has supported him throughout his dancing, is a remarkable moment." Indeed. I'm going to call my mom right now.
DANCES WITH FELLOW CONTESTANTS:
Caitlynn & Tadd - Foxtrot
Jonathan Roberts came up with a classic, Fred & Ginger-inspired foxtrot for these two (complete with a classic soundtrack, Ella Fitzgerald's "Top Hat, White Tie & Tails"), and I wondered if a B-boy like Tadd could master the style. But he was so debonair in his tuxedo, and he danced like a dream. Caitlynn, too, was grace personified. I do worry still, however, that a genteel, simple routine like this will be enough to light up voters' cell phones; I imagine Tadd is popular enough to score the votes, but getting the foxtrot might lead to Caitlynn's downfall. "Will it go down as the most memorable routine of the night for me? No, I'm sorry," admitted Mary, although she did say the routine was "elegant." Rob called it "sparkling, from beginning to end...like a black-and-white movie come to life." Nigel joked that the "B" in "B-boy" now stands for "ballroom," and said, "I was in heaven just watching it." Gaga loved it too, but did call Caitlynn out on her competition-girl tendencies. We'll see how Caitlynn does in this competition, after tonight.
Marko & Ricky - Hip-Hop
Marko and Ricky? Together? In one routine? Talk about being in dance heaven! Tabitha & Napoleon put together a really fun number for this duo, casting them as bad-boy janitors (or "supercool Mario Brothers," as Cat Deeley put it) sweeping up the floor to Diddy's "Bad Boy For Life." There was so much energy here, they were almost literally bouncing off the walls. I was glad to see a Nappytabs routine that was a little more aggressive, too, even if Gaga still thought "this interpretation of hip-hop was a little bit contrived." Mary was totally into it: "I loved it! Wooo! You just cleaned the whole place. If everyone could dance with brooms like that, this would certainly be a cleaner world." Nigel called it "a lot of fun," but singled Marko out for more praise, intoning, "Ricky, I've got reservations about whether you're going to be in the bottom or not this week. I think you might be." Gaga, as mentioned above, bravely directed her criticism at the choreographers, not the dancers (she didn't dig all the props), but told Marko and Ricky, "I did think it was modern in your approach." Rob actually loved the choreographers, praising them and thus softening Gaga's blow, then he declared both Marko and Ricky "stars." I am just afraid that Marko's star will outshine Ricky's on Thursday's results show.
Jordan & Jess - Rhumba
Jordan was a great actress playing a woman in a toxic, controlling relationship in this Jason Gilkison routine, and Adele's "Set Fire To The Rain" was a great song choice. But while I thought Jess was convincing in his earlier routine portraying a bad boyfriend, I was less wowed by him here. He just didn't come across as the "controlling" type, didn't seem quite that strong. Jordan really upstaged him here, though he technically danced very well and pulled off some very tricky lifts (one of which Mary called the best lift of the entire season). Overall, this was just not a standout of the night, and that means that probably both J&J will be up for elimination. "I didn't feel the chemistry in this routine at all, I'm afraid," lamented Nigel. Gaga once again criticized the choreography, sighing, "There was nothing wrong with it...but I just would have interpreted this song differently, from a choreographical standpoint. But given that you guys don't choose the songs and you don't choose the choreography, I think you did a beautiful job." Rob was the nicest, telling J&J they brought out the best in each other, and astutely pointing out, "People say, 'Oh, that's so Broadway'...but Broadway's FANTASTIC!" I just don't know if voters will think this is fantastic, compared to other routines of the night.
Sasha & Melanie - Jazz
Sasha and Melanie? Together? In one routine? Okay, to quote one of Gaga's songs, I was so happy I could die. This insanely awesome number by my favorite two Season 8 ladies had everyone howling--choreographer Sonya Tayeh sitting proudly in the audience (and Ellen DeGeneres sitting next to her), Lady Gaga (who paid the ultimate compliment by throwing one of her platform boots at the stage, then tossed her other shoe to Sonya), and all of the judges (who gave them a standing ovation). Sonya came up with a "beastly creation" for these "amazing robotic machines" and "warrior princesses," and she may have earned herself a second 2012 Emmy nomination with this. Mary not only called it the best number of the night, but the best number Sonya has ever done. This was a total thrill to watch, the ultimate definition of girl power, and after this, I wouldn't be surprised if Gaga offers Sasha (or "Sasha Fierce," as Nigel dubbed her) a job on her tour as well. "Everyone can pack up and go home, because that was the performance of the evening," said Gaga. And she was right. It might have been the performance of the SEASON. There's no way Sasha and Melanie aren't making it to the finale now.
So now, it is prediction time. I think this is an easy one to call. Sasha, Melanie, Marko, and Tadd clearly owned the night, so they'll be safe. As for which two guys, Jess or Ricky, and which two girls, Caitlynn or Jordan, will go, it's a toss-up. Jordan has been an obvious favorite of Nigel's, so she will likely be safe. I'm not so sure about the boys. Ricky has been on the chopping block many times (TOO many times), and tat is something the judges will surely not ignore. But he's saved himself over and over again with his dazzling solos, so he may get yet another reprieve this week. I certainly hope he does.
Tune in Thursday night to see if I'm right!