Every season, I assume "So You Think You Can Dance" can't get any better, or the competition can't get any stiffer. Season 4 brought us the amazing likes of Katee Shean and Mark Kanemura; Season 5 stunned with talents like Brandon Bryant and Jeanine Mason; and then came Season 6's Jakob Karr and Ellenore Scott, and last season's brilliant Billy Bell and gone-too-soon Alex Wong. And now, as the live competitive portion of "SYTYCD" Season 8 kicked off Wednesday night, the talent elevated to an even more nose-bleedingly high level. This was obvious the moment the top 19 came out at the start of the show to do their intro solos.
Yes, top 19. Not top 20. Because speaking of bleeding, already injuries--something all too common on "SYTYCD," as evidenced by Alex Wong's heartbreaking disqualification last year--plagued the Season 8 cast this week. Poor Mitchell Kelly had to sit out the show this week due to an injured elbow, which means he'll automatically be in jeopardy on Thursday's results show, placed in the bottom three before ever even having the chance to dance for America's vote. The silver lining in this was that last season's remarkable third-place contestant Robert Roldan stood in for Mitchell (please, please, please let this mean Robert will be an allstar later this season!). But it was hard to get too excited evenabout that, knowing that Mitchell was sadly sitting on the sidelines watching the other 19 dancers compete for what could have been his spot.
But enough bummer news. The first live competitive "SYTYCD" episode is cause for celebration! And there was so much fantabulous dancing to celebrate this fine evening. Read on to find out how everyone did. (Spoiler: No one sucked. Really, no one ever sucks on this show.)
Executing a ferocious, frenetic-paced Shawn Cheesman-choreographed routine to "Riding The Waves" by Afro Celt Sound System (such cool, edgy music on this show!), sexpot Jordan and B-boy Tadd were surprisingly well-matched here. Jordan, who was celebrating her barely-legal birthday by dancing in the most grown-up way possible, proved she can be more than just a wannabe Pussycat Doll hottie. And Tadd proved he has the versatility needed to survive on this show (a problem for many past "SYTYCD" B-boys, like last year's Jose). This number got a little sluggish in the middle during a series of complicated lifts, but for the most part it was pure African fire. The leaps were especially magnificent--I could have sworn these kids had trampoline springs on the soles of their feet, they were so airborne. Nigel Lythgoe called the routine "sub-primal" and raved, "You exploded on the stage....that volcano erupted over the stage....everything was tremendous!" Mary Murphy howled, "The whole place was just shaking out there," and said she loved Jordan's "animalistic character" and was pleasantly surprised and relieved at how well Tadd handled a genre so outside his area of expertise. And guest judge Megan Mullally (yes, she used to be a dancer) raved, "Such precision, such power!" Yep, this was quite better than "Turn The Tub Around," wasn't it, Megan? (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)
Naturally, anyone who gets choreography from genius "SYTYCD" alum Travis Wall has a big advantage on this show, but Sasha sure made to most of it. In a sort of co-ed sequel to Travis's breakup-themed "How It Ends" Neal/Kent routine from last season, Sasha played a scorned woman, and she kicked butt literally and figuratively, beating her partner Alexander to a pulp throughout this routine to Sarah McLachlan's bitter, gritted-teethed "Stupid." Sasha had previously seemed so cute and bubbly and goofy, so it was quite cool to witness her being all fierrrce and beeyotchy, in full-on "warrior-princess" mode in her Rambo headband and Amazoniam tatters. Naturally, Sasha's aggressor role caused her toeasily upstage Alexander, who just had to stand there and take it...but I thought he played a convincing victim, especially in that one moment when he collapsed and let his knees dramatically buckle under him. Luckily there were no REAL injuries in this case ("I have insurance," Alexander joked in response to Mary's quip about "taking a beating at work"), but the overall feeling of risk made this routine very exciting. While all three judges mildly griped that they didn't see an intense Alexander/Sasha connection (hey, it's hard to connect with who's someone beating you up!), Mary exclaimed, "Sasha, holy smokes, you are so strong," and Megan declared Sasha early favorite ("You're an actress," the actress said). Added Nigel: "Sasha, I am scared of you! You have a right hand like Mike Tyson!" But Nigel came down the hardest on Alexander, warning him: "The guys have got to come up to the girls' level; I'm not sure you did tonight." Sasha is definitely a tough woman to keep up with, but I thought Alexander did a respectable job.
In a lucky (fixed?) break for musical-theater hoofer Jess, who proclaimed he'd "died and gone to heaven," this pair got a Broadway number choreographed by the one and only Tyce Diorio. Playing a pair of star-crossed lovers--Clarice the sophisticate, Jess the gung-ho boy in hot pursuit of her--these two tripped the light fantastic to Liza Minelli's "Me & My Baby" and were darn cute doing so. Cute, but not sexy. Clarice brought some somewhat Fosse-esque sex appeal to the number, but let's face it, "pocket Jess" doesn't really do sexy. He's just not the smoldering leading-man type. But man, he sure can DANCE, and he seemed SO happy to be on that stage doing what he does best. Said Megan, who compared Jess to a young Jimmy Cagney, "I loved everything about it; it was just pure joy on a platter served up to us." Mary called the routine an "amazing celebration of dance" and told Jess, "Tonight was just perfection; you couldn't have done anything in that routine any better!" Only Nigel was tough, directing his critique at Clarice as he intoned, "You're a beautiful girl, a beautiful dancer, but you will need to work hard to keep up with Jess....this vaudeville style is in every pore of his body....Jess outdanced you in that routine." I personally think Clarice held her own, and looked good doing it, but yeah, Jess was the star of the show here. I just hope America gets what he's all about. It seems to me he could be polarizing.
Dancing to the Lighthouse Family's version of "Ain't No Sunshine" to a routine crafted by the amazing LXD's Christopher Scott, R&R had one of the tougher dances of the night, in terms of acting. They had to depict a love story, with Ryan playing the ghost of a lost love and Ricky playing her left-behind ex remembering her, hallucinating that she is still there. This required some advanced thespianism, which is where the two fell short a little bit--mainly Ryan, who kept inappropriately smiling throughout. (She tried to explain the backstory she'd created in her head that would justify such mindless grinning, but her rambling explanation didn't make much more sense than something Christopher's LXD cohort Lil' C might say.) However, in terms of sheer dancing ability, these two had it going on. "Be careful with your facial emotions; I wasn't sure all the time what it was about," said Nigel. "But I loved the dancing! Ryan, you are a superb dancer, and in a sea of girls this year that are really good, you are outstanding. Ricky, you did it justice....and you should be very pleased." Mary also was confused by the routine's storyline, but she sympathized with Ricky and praised him for staying in character, telling him, "I think you're one of the most talented guys on this show." Megan called the piece "effective and affecting"--and coming from an actual actress like her, that was not faint praise.
Executing a thrilling Sonya Tayeh-choreographed, La Roux-soundtracked routine about fearlessness, the fearless Caitlynn dove into this dance despite having all odds against her. As I mentioned earlier, Mitchell Kelly, who was supposed to be her partner, injured himself this week, so last season's Robert danced with her instead. (Hopefully Mitchell's sassy interview piece will be enough to win over America, as he'll have some catching up to do once he's back in the game, if he advances.) Along with having to relearn the routine at the last minute with a new partner, Caitlynn faced the extra challenge of measuring up to a dancer as gob-smackingly amazing as Robert. I'm not quite sure she did at first--my eyes were so riveted to Robert, it was hard to look elsewhere--but kudos to Caitlynn for overcoming this setback with grace and poise and holding her own eventually. "Your legs are just spectacular....every girl wants to be you! You were BRILLIANT tonight!" shouted Mary. (And then she added mischievously, "I hope maybe, maybe, we can see a little more of Robert this season--that's all I'm gonna say!" Yes, Mary, yes! Make it happen!) Nigel praised Caitlynn for overcoming adversity and rated both her performance and her technique a "10." I wonder what kind of ratings Mitchell would have earned? Sadly, we may never know.
This time it was another Robert, Robert "Woo Man" Taylor Jr., one of my fave guys this season, who hit the stage. And he was absolutely chewing the scenery and spitting it out during a spirited Jason Gilkison jive set to "Runaway Baby" by Bruno Mars. Miranda played an unattainable bomshell out of Robert's league, but Robert was so charming, with his adorable Erkel spectacles and leaping-off-the-TV-screen personality, it seemed hard to imagine he couldn't get this girl, or any girl. Miranda, meanwhile, wasn't sure she could pull off a "sex kitten" role (she's no Jordan Casanova, or at least she doesn't think so), but once she put on her Mary Quant mod-girl minidress, she became a whole other sexy creature and was quite convincing. Overall, this was one FUN routine. Megan, who 'fessed up to a Robert crush, declared this a "sheer delight--you'd have to be in a coma not to like that one!" Mary claimed Robert "stole the show." But Nigel, a man who has always demanded huge personalities from this series' contestants, kind of contradicted himself by warning Robert: "You have the biggest personality of all the dancers this year. That could go for you, or you could lose people with that--they might get annoyed! This is not 'So You Think You've Got A Good Personality,' this is 'So You Think You Can Dance.'" For the record, I was not annoyed. Robert is awesome. And I think he can dance.
These two got assigned a pretty high-concept Shawn Cheesman routine, all about them cracking open a Pandora's Box to reveal "demon clones" of themselves. Sexy demon clones, that is. Missy of course had no problem pulling this off, since she's so sexy Robin Antin is probably itching to poach her to be the next Pussycat Doll, AND jazz is her specialty. And sure enough, she got right into evil fembot character, demanding attention as she prowled the stage in her kabuki makeup to Lady Gaga's "Judas." She just flat-out attacked it. At first I barely noticed Wadi, the poor fellow, but when I later learned that he'd never partnered with ANYONE before, EVER, I was incredibly impressed and cut him some slack. "Missy, you are without question one of the best this year....You have it all, darling," Nigel began. "And Wadi, I don't think we've ever had such great hip-hop guys who are learning the different styles so quickly. You are brilliant, young man!" Mary, who said Wadi's partnering skills were some of the best she'd ever seen, added colorfully: "Shawn Cheesman opened Pandora's Box and opened up a whup-ass can of dance for us!" Well said. I have a feeling that could be Mary's new catchphrase.
This was my favorite dance of the night, and the first (and only) dance of the night to elicit a standing ovation from all three judges. It was a total dream team: dream partners, dream genre, and a dream choreographer, the always-amazing Travis Wall. Playing statues in love who become one entwined sculpture, Melanie (my favorite Season 8 girl so far) and Marko exhibited off-the-charts chemistry to Ingrid Michaelson's "Turn To Stone." I got Parker chills and promptly decided I wanted to prop up these statues, living works of art, in my house and stare at them all day long. "Every once in a while, a number comes along that is so magical, and everything happens like one with the universe," sighed Mary. "As Oprah would say, wow wow wow," concurred Megan. And Nigel summed it up with: "It's the first week, and this could possibly be the first Emmy-nominated routine of the season." He also told Melanie, "I do not believe we have had a better girl dancer on the show" and dubbed her "the queen of the beasts." This beast is a beauty too, though. She's the entire package wrapped in a leotard. I think I have a girl crush...
I expected this Christopher Scott number to Cee Lo's "Forget You," about a two-timing couple who find out they're both cheating on each other, to be electrifying--especially since Chris revealed he was drawing from real-life experience as he got genuinely teary-eyed during an emotional rehearsal. But it just fell a little flat for me--it was a bit too whimsical, too cutesy, no grit or anger here. But Ashley totally impressed me when SHE picked up CHRIS--this girl is strong like an ox! Nigel admitted it was a fun routine, but questioned if America would pick up the phone for one of the less technically complex, less physically demanding numbers of the night. But Mary just enjoyed the "pure, pure entertainment" of it all. And yes, I admit, this was entertaining. But was that enough? We shall see.
The quickstep is usually the dance of death on this show--but not for Iveta, a 10-time world ballroom champion who probably quickstepped her way out of the womb at birth, or at least made it seem like she had, since she did this dance so effortlessly. It's too bad she didn't get to show off her sexier side more, but even covered up and hopping around like a rabbit on Red Bull, she oozed charisma as well as technical precision. Nick, a tap-dancer, was more of a novice here, but I was completely wowed by how Iveta's "ballroom bootcamp" tough-love training worked--because onstage, Nick shockingly held his own. And the song choice, the Sweet's glam stomper "Ballroom Blitz," was inspired and lent the entire number hipness and edge. "Nick, you've got fabulous feet. You just danced with a world champion and you came up to scratch!" said Nigel. Mary also understandably "woooo-wooooed!" a lot. Short of a first-class ticket on her Hot Tamale Train, this was the best compliment she could dole out.
So now it is prediction time...and I REALLY don't want to even think about anyone going home already. Because no deserves to. Can't every week just be like last week's "Meet The Top 20" special, with no one getting booted? Ever?? But alas, no, that's not how this show works. So anyway, I think Ashley and Chris might be in trouble, since they, through no fault of their own, got stuck with an underwhelming routine. Caitlynn might get lost in the shuffle, and her sidelined partner Mitchell will definitely be on the chopping block and will have to depend on the mercy of the judges. And maybe Clarice and Jess should be a little worried too--they were fabulous, but I'm not sure if their Broadway-baby shtick will resonate with viewers.
Tune in Thursday to see if I'm right about any of these dancers being in jeopardy, and which two dancers f the top 20 get voted off. No matter who it is, it will be a loss for the show...but on the bright side, we'll still have 18 wonderful dancers to look forward to seeing next week.
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