But then allstar Mark Kanemura, a principal dancer for Lady Gaga, got his turn to choreograph. And after watching what he can do, I've got a feeling that he'll be in the running for Outstanding Choreography Emmys alongside Mia and Travis one day.
Oh my gawd, indeed. I still don't even know what to call this, besides AMAZING. Technically, this was a jazz routine, but judge Mary Murphy labeled it "new age funk." Mark described it as "an explosion of my head," "bloody," "raw," "not vegetarian," and, finally, "me." Basically, it looked like if Sonya Tayeh had choreographed an anime "Sprockets" musical. And cast it with Harajuku Girl cheerleaders. In outer space. In either the year 1982, or the year 3082. It was just so weird, so cool, and sooooo Kanemura.
"At a time when choreography is all starting to blend and look the same, it was fantastic to do a style that's never been done before," proclaimed Nigel Lythgoe, telling Mark, "You should not just be Lady Gaga's number-one dancer, you should be her number-one choreographer." Mark should be one of "SYTYCD's" top choreographers, too. I hope he gets asked back.
Unfortunately, Mark's very game and gamine partner for this dance, contestant Jenna Johnson, was in the bottom four yet again this week (along with Hayley Erbert, DuShaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall, and Tucker Knox). This was hardly shocking, though, considering that she'd been up for elimination several times before.
But I was a little taken aback to see Hayley in the bottom four (she was the one girl who'd never been up for elimination until now), and I was surprised that Tucker's highly emotional pimp-spot routine last week with a fellow accident survivor, allstar Robert Roldan, still hadn't been enough to keep him safe. I was also slightly surprised that Fik-Shun landed in the bottom four over Paul Karmiryan; both boys had always been safe before, but I thought Fik-Shun had a bit more of a fanbase than Paul. Apparently Fik-Shun's momentum may be starting to slow, as his lack of training and technique becomes more obvious compared to the other dancers still left in the competition.
But before the judges made their final elimination decision of Season 10 (after this, it will be totally up to America, since next week's episode determines who moves on to the finale), all eight dancers performed with allstars. We've already seen how awesome Jenna Johnson was with Mark Kanemura, but were the other contestants just as stellar? And did the other allstars have the same great choreo skills as Mark? Let's find out:
Aaron Turner with allstar Chelsie Hightower – Jive
This sassy "Great Balls of Fire" number was one great big ball of fun, simply because Aaron was in it. Chelsie, one of the first "SYTYCD" alums to cross over to "Dancing With the Stars," crafted a solid routine, but really, she could have made Aaron do the macarena and he would have attacked it with the same attitude and abandon. Anything Aaron dances, in any style, is always bursting with personality, panache, and pizazz. However…this was not his best work. Fortunately for him, his delightful, rubber-faced mugging detracted some attention from his footwork, but he did flub a few steps, and that didn't go entirely unnoticed by the judges. "Some of it was done well, and some of it didn't suit you," said Mary, pointing out a couple missed connections and Aaron's dreaded hunched-up shoulders. (Mary hates hunched shoulders on this show.) Guest judge Jenna Elfman, clearly a fan of Aaron's, talked a lot about his impressive "journey" on this show, but seemed to diplomatically avoid directly addressing this routine's shortcomings. Nigel admitted that he'd expected Aaron, a tap dancer, to do better in the jive style, but added, "I honestly think you can sit back knowing you've done your best tonight…I truly believe you've done enough to become a finalist this year." Aaron has never been in the bottom before, so it's quite likely that Nigel was right and Aaron will advance to this year's finale. However, if Aaron wants to win, he'll have to do better than this over the next two weeks.
DuShaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall with allstar Allison Holker – Contemporary
Fik-Shun, as the least trained male dancer left in the top six and a guy with a cutesy and boyish demeanor, faced a major challenge being paired with Allison, one of the show's best allstars and a very womanly, mature performer. Allison also created a serious, extremely un-cutesy routine for him, about a biracial couple meeting secretly in the dark, hiding from their disapproving peers. (Interestingly, Allison is engaged in real life to fellow allstar Twitch Boss, who is African American, although it was unclear if their relationship inspired this routine in any way.) I didn't expect Fik-Shun to be able to pull this off, and while there was one time when he visibly struggled with a lift, I think he did a pretty fantastic overall job here. He was very believable, 100 percent invested in the piece, and I felt a connection between him and Allison throughout. (Side note: The song for this dance, a cover of Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" by British teen songstress Birdy, was also just about perfect.) "Fik-Shun, you can do no wrong. You're already an allstar. You are just pure life-force," said Jenna (Elfman, not Johnson, of course). "It just makes my heart sing. I just want to scream and shout about the two of you," raved Mary. "There is a quality to your work that cannot be ignored," said Nigel. Unfortunately, though, the judges still spent more time praising Allison than they did talking about Fik-Shun — so she really did upstage him in the end.
Tucker Knox with allstar Courtney Galiano – Jazz
There was so much emotional stuff going on behind the scenes of this number that Tucker and Courtney could have danced the hokey pokey and I would have still bawled my eyes out. I was already verklempt enough from Aaron's sad story about his best friend who died and Fik-Shun's warm words about his parents, but then came an adorable speech from Tucker's dad, a macho sports nut who completely and proudly supports Tucker's decision to be a dancer instead of a jock. And then there was Courtney's shocking revelation that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2011 (and that her MS caused her to go blind in her left eye earlier this year). Tears, tears, tears, everywhere. I also got choked up watching the "Romeo & Juliet"-themed routine Courtney choreographed to Zedd's "Clarity." There was a lot of joy and exuberance in it, and both dancers were just fantastic. Tucker was a perfect Romeo for Courtney's Juliet. "You are so special and you move me every time I see you, so thank you," Jenna told Tucker. "I'm really proud of you, and really proud of your father, too," Nigel told Tucker, before also praising Courtney's bravery and "indomitable spirit." Seeing how these two dancers were beating the odds (Tucker's above-mentioned car accident had almost put him a wheelchair) was truly inspiring. I really ought to stock up on more Kleenex before I watch this show.
Paul Karmiryan with allstar Comfort Fedoke – Hip-Hop
Paul may end up in the bottom for the first time this season, after this. He did his best, and he got the steps technically right (Comfort's choreography was great, by the way), but this Latin ballroom dancer looked like a such an uptight amateur next to a swaggery badass like Comfort. He just couldn't hit as hard as her, and his dorky facial expressions reminded me of "American Idol's" Stefano Langone, for some reason. The judges were inexplicably amazed, however. Mary raved, "Great job! You are one of the most versatile dancers on this show. This style could not be any further from your own. I think you're fabulous!" Said Jenna, "Not in a million years did I think I would see you doing this the way you have. It's so impressive!" And Nigel said, "This must have made you a bit uncomfortable at times, but you didn't show it." I actually thought Paul did show it; it was like his partner was Comfort, and he was Discomfort. I wish the judges had been a little more critical.
Hayley Erbert with allstar Dmitry Chaplin – Rumba
Dmitry came up with an incredibly sexy "dirty dancing" routine, about a cheating man and his angry girlfriend, that really brought out the best in Hayley. It wasn't a particularly advanced or traditional rumba, but it made her look great — hot, fiery, spicy, and passionate. All of the judges, already unabashed Hayley fans, loved this number. "There's nothing you can't do," marveled Jenna. "I don't think you've ever put a foot wrong in this competition," declared Nigel. "You got it right tonight. It was phenomenal," said Mary. Unlike other allstar routines of the evening, in this one the contestant was the star of the show; Dmitry (who's also a past Emmy nominee) really let Hayley shine. And that might help her going into next week.
Jasmine Harper with allstar Twitch Boss – Hip-Hop
Oh hell yes. I'd been wanting to see these two pair up all season. I just knew they'd be dynamite together. And they did not disappoint me. Portraying rival superhero street-fighters, both dancers brought playful energy to Twitch's cheeky choreography, executing Matrix-style slow-mo stunts and elbow-to-the-face sucker-punches with mischievous glints in their eyes and springs in their steps. They were cute and fierce. There were times when Twitch did outshine Jasmine — such is the problem with having such a charismatic partner — but for the most part, Jasmine held her own. "You could have been so intimidated dancing with one of the biggest stars this show has seen, but you absolutely weren't. You were firing on all cylinders. You are a superhero," said Mary. "You owned it," agreed Jenna. And Nigel confessed that with Makenzie Dustman out of the running, Jasmine is now his favorite dancer left on the show. I have a feeling that many voters will agree with him.
Amy Yakima with allstar Travis Wall – Contemporary
What a lucky, lucky girl Amy was this week, getting the most experienced (and most popular) choreographer of the bunch, Travis, as her partner. And of course, Travis gave her some amazing material to work with. Travis's dance about the early push-pull, teasing stage of a relationship, set to James Vincent McMorrow's lovely cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game," was the kind of routine "we're always going to remember forever and ever," according to hostess Cat Deeley. Amy's stunning performance was certainly memorable. "Amy, you're an angel. You're technically perfect, but you're also so full of heart and soul," said Jenna. "I think we've seen something very, very special; I really do," mused Nigel. "Most of your numbers have been cutesy, but tonight, it's gone to a different place; there was such a maturity and sophistication to your work," said Mary. Clearly, Travis brought out the best in Amy...but there was a lot of good stuff there for him to bring out.
In the end, the judges decided to eliminate Jenna Johnson and Tucker Knox, even though both dancers had been fantastic this evening; clearly the panel was taking past performances and voting patterns into account. But at least both contestants went out on a high note — especially Jenna, thanks to Mark Kanemura's inventive choreography. "You probably did the best routine of your life tonight," Nigel told her.
But who will go home next week, based solely on public votes without any judge intervention? It's going to be very close. Paul faltered, but was lavishly praised by the judges. Aaron did decently, but he danced first, and he gave probably his weakest performance of the season. Fik-Shun was great, for the most part, but his popularity seems to be on the wane. As for the girls, they were all amazing, but each of them has had one showing in the bottom now, so they seem neck-and-neck.
But based on this week's routines alone, I predict the two contestants leaving the competition next week will be Paul and Hayley. Tune in next Tuesday to find out if I'm right! Cue music.
- Allstars come out for Nigel Lythgoe's Dizzy Feet Gala
- Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman's Prancercise video
- More about "So You Think You Can Dance"
- Mark Kanemura
- Nigel Lythgoe
- Jenna Elfman
- Jenna Johnson
- Mary Murphy