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‘So You Think You Can Dance’: The Sweet 16 Compete

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Tonight marked the first time this sixth season that actual viewers were allowed to cast their votes on So You Think You Can Dance, now that the stupid World Series that no one cares about (who won again?) is over and no longer mucking up Fox's schedule. This return to our regular scheduled programming unfortunately came too late for the likes of Brandon Dumlao and Bianca Revels--who were eliminated by the judges, not the public, in recent weeks due to the preemption of the last two results shows. But for the remaining 16 dancers on this show, tonight was especially important. Tonight was the first time they were under pressure to dance dynamically enough to inspire viewers to pick up the phone. And the fact that that the season 5 cast--in town for this week's Los Angeles SYTYCD Tour gig--and SYTYCD/America's Best Dance Crew Dominick alum were sitting in the studio audience probably only added to this pressure.

In the words of Tyce Diorio, season 6 is here. HELLO!?!

That being said, some of tonight's couple rose to the challenge more readily than others. So here is my ranking of this week's eight dances, in order from my favorite to least favorite:

Ashleigh & Jakob - Jazz/Contemporary
My all-time fave routine in SYTYCD history is Sabra and Neil's Eurythmics/"Sweet Dreams" boardroom-table tour de force, choreographed by Mandy Moore in season 3. And as judge Nigel Lythgoe pointed out in his dead-on critique tonight, this sharp and snazzy Mandy routine to Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" brought that classic SYTYCD moment to mind. Sure, Ashleigh and Jakob shimmied in their spandex to the clean radio-edit version of Frankie's randy '80s hit (no "when you wanna come" to sully conservative viewers' tender ears), but otherwise this dance was so edgy, it almost cut marks in the stage floor. Brandishing a vaguely S&M-esque polished brass cane and jerking like Sprockets robots, the two were a pair of sexy jazz-handed androids, Ashleigh teetering on a pair of lycra-sheathed hydraulic legs, almost looking like a Patrick Nagel painting come to life, and Jakob, resplendent with a Kurt-from-Glee waistcoat and haughty sneer, working that shiny pimp cane with more authority than the most blinged-out rapper around. Jakob later said the cane was the "hardest prop ever," but he and Ashleigh made wielding it look effortless. I admit Jakob outdanced Ashleigh--she was certainly lucky to pull his name from Cat's hat this season--but she more than held her own and looked fierce, fierce, fierce. "Man, do you belong on this show," judge Adam Shankman raved to them both, calling the routine "elegant and mature and studied, but fiery." (Why he felt the need to point out some supposed minor flub of the cane, which I failed to detect after repeated DVR rewinds, was beyond me; but I'm sure it will have no effect on the votes, since apparently this couple's "mistakes" are better than most other couples' finest work.) Judge Mary Murphy called Jakob and Ashleigh a "perfect partnership" and cackled, "Relax, don't do it? Do it all you want!! Wooooo!!!" And Nigel even compared Jakob to the great Joel Grey, no faint praise indeed. Surely Jakob's BFF, season 5 winner Jeanine, was proud as she watched from the audience tonight.

Noelle & Russell - Afro Jazz
After their lame tennis-themed routine failed to score any points with me last week; Noelle sat out week 1 due to a knee injury; and Russell inexplicably landed in the bottom four his first time out...well, I admit I was deeply worried about this pair doing Afro-jazz this week, especially a routine in which apple-pie Noelle had to portray an African princess and krumper Russell was cast as a "frog spirit guide." But all my worrying was for naught. Choreographed by new SYTYCD staffer Sean Cheeseman, this was no cheesy routine. Noelle was regal (and STRONG--she fully supported burly Russell's weight in a crazy double standing somersault!), and the frenetic pacing played to Russell's krumping strengths. Adam said the "relentless" routine was filled with an "enormous amount of joy, character, and story," and that the dancers were "totally committed to characters" and "totally filled with the spirit" of Afro-jazz. Mary called it "crazy good," described Noelle as "fierce," and declared Russell not the frog prince but the KING of Afro-jazz. (Then she put Russell on the Hot Tamale Train, of course.) Nigel went even further and called Russell the "star of this season," and added that he was delighted that the previously injured Noelle, who was in the bottom four last week, "squeaked by" so she was able to do this number and redeem herself. Noelle ain't going anywhere, after this stunner.

Channing & Victor - Contemporary
Two contemporary specialists newly paired up after losing their partners last week, doing a contemporary dance by Stacey was a recipe for SYTYCD awesomeness if I ever heard of one, and of course these two did not disappoint. Portraying a couple trapped in a "toxic relationship" (let's face it, all contemporary duo routines on this show are about that), the two dragged each other around the floor with abandon, flopping about like broken dolls (I mean that in a good way, of course) to a Rachael Yamagata weeper. It seemed clear they'd clicked right away, and Adam, who loved their "quality of movement and emotional rise and fall," observed: "This new partnership will reinvigorate you in this competition." Mary also celebrated this "great new partnership," although she and Nigel were not as impressed as Adam. Both Mary and Nigel pointed that it was no surprise to see two contemporary dancers dance a contemporary dance well (they had a point there), and that while Channing and Victor were technically flawless, they "didn't quite touch my soul" (Mary) and they didn't get "emotionally carried away" (Nigel). I sort of disagree--my soul was touched, a little--and I do think this was a nice introduction to a promising new couple. But it will be interesting to see what they can do if they get some out of their element like Viennese waltz or (gulp) Russian folk dance next week.

Kathryn & Legacy - Broadway
Legacy was perfectly cast in this number as a football-watching, armchair-dwelling, blue-collar husband ignoring his hottie wife except when demanding that she fetch him a brewski. Legacy--now amusingly nicknamed "Legs" by Adam Shankman--is one of the more macho males on the show, after all, despite his deceptive lightness on his feet. Surprisingly, it was his partner Kathryn who didn't quite embody her character as a feisty '50s housewife. In this otherwise fun and supercute routine set to the Jungle Book classic "I Wanna Be Like You," Kathryn was supposed to battle for Legacy's attention, swiping his crown (fedora hat) and kicking him off his throne (La-Z-Boy), but she just didn't quite bring the fire like she usually does. Adam said she needed to be more of a "maneater" and "tiger"; Mary said Kathryn was lacking the last of the "three C's" (character, choreography, and chemistry); and Nigel called Kathryn's dancing "slightly juvenile" and "a little childish." But the judges were positively bursting with praise for Legacy, with Adam loving the reformed B-boy for "dancing like a long person" (B-boy dancing is usually more tight and compact, the opposite of what Legacy's been asked to do lately) and Nigel oddly saying, "It's like So You Think You Can Dance has got some sort of alien transmogrifier that turns street dancers into real dancers!" Nigel also offered some sort of analogy about a "little sausage machine" that made Legacy's eyes bug open in shock, so I'll leave that one alone--but it was a compliment, I assure you.

Karen & Kevin - Disco
After sex-on-legs Karen revealed in her pre-dance interview that she's recently divorced (and red-blooded male viewers across American subsequently rejoiced), she and her partner hit the stage for a hot hustle choreographed by Maria Torres. This was not quiet the warp-speed, whiplash-inducing type of disco usually choreographed by SYTYCD go-to disco gal Doriana Sanchez, and it was kind of nice to see an elegant disco couple let it simmer for a change, to borrow a phrase from Michael Jackson. (Adam likened their dance to "quiet fire." Nice.) The idea of the number was that Karen was (type)cast as a seductress, trying to get Kevin to dance, and Kevin was supposed to ignore her advances. ("Yeah, right," all those red-blooded males watching at home thought to themselves. Karen is irresistible!) But Kevin did a pretty good job of staying in character during what Mary called this "Sadie Hawkins hustle," and Karen certainly did a good job of taking charge of the situation. Adam called this pairing an "incredible partnership," adding that he was "seeing Kevin for the first time" (not an easy thing to do when Karen is burning up the stage). Mary kept the couple on the Hot Tamale Train (woo woo!) for another week, and Nigel marveled at Kevin's growth, raving: "A street dancer that does double pirouettes!" (I suspect that, like season 4 winner Josh, Kevin may have more formal training that he's letting on. He's just too good.)

Pauline & Peter - Quickstep
Yes, they got the "kiss of death" dance--and after last week's elimination of two tap dancers, surviving tapper Peter must have felt like he had a giant target on his back. But this quickstep went over better than most, because choreographers JT & Thomas gave them characters to work with--Peter as an army man, Pauline as a comely island girl--and this cute storyline helped draw the audience in. And, as the judges pointed out, the plotline also distracted from the technical mistakes Peter and Pauline inevitably made during this always-difficult dance, allowing for their "adorable" (Adam's adjective) charisma to shine through. Mary didn't exactly put them on the Hot Tamale Train (an expert in this style, she criticized their clunky footwork and leg action and imperfect upper-body alignment), but she did optimistically point out that this was no trainwreck, either, and she praised Peter's "fire, life, and joy." Nigel agreed that the couple's fun personality and accessibility compensated for their lack of technical skill, assuring them: "You're not going anywhere."

Mollee & Nathan - Salsa
The judges gave this season's Cutest Couple a REALLY hard time tonight over this routine, and while I admit that it was not up to par with their last couple of numbers, it certainly was not as terrible as the panel claimed, and not the worst dance of the night. Choreographed by another SYTYCD newcomer, Gustavo Vargas, this salsa of of course demanded that button-cute, perky blonde Mollee go the Karen route and act like a mature hot mama, and I must say the one redeeming quality of this number was that she did embody that character quite convincingly. Maybe Mollee didn't quite smolder, but she did bring a little heat. Likewise, barely-legal Nathan looked pretty debonair in Ricky Ricardo slicked-hair mode. That being said, this dance was sloppy and awkward throughout, with many obviously over-labored lifts, and it was clear these two were deep in their discomfort zone. Adam called their salsa assignment a "bad luck of the draw" and an "unfortunate confluence of events" that "exposed all of your weaknesses." Said Mary: "Was it sexified? No, it was French fried!" I guess that means she didn't like it. Nigel said for the first time Nathan and Mollee's chemistry was missing, that they stepped off on the wrong feet at the start and never regained their footing, and that they were clearly not feeling the music. "You're not great at everything," he stated. Nathan seemed unfazed by such damning critiques, smiling and saying he felt "HOT!"--but it remains to be seen if voters agreed with Nigel or with Nathan. As Adam pointed out, these two are fan favorites, and this is the first time this couple's fans have had the chance to vote for hopefully they will be safe.

Ellenore & Ryan - Hip-Hop
Oh man, what a disappointment this was. I was so excited when I saw this couple in their TRON-like white spacesuits and found out they'd be doing a Lil' C routine, especially when Lil' C declared, "Welcome to the terrordome of hip-hop!" But I'm sorry, this just was not bucc. Neither "bobsy twin" (Adam's description)--not sweet and angelic Ellenore or golden-boy jock Ryan--exhibited the down 'n' dirty swagga needed for a Lil' C routine, although Adam was nice enough to diplomatically tell them: "Congratulations on yeoman's job." I guess that was better than outright telling them they sucked, right? (Adam also called Ryan the "most transformed dancer of night," which I suppose was true, since the ballroom man was SO out of his element here.) Mary was not as kind, rightfully calling their dancing "sluggish" (although she did throw in a "respectable"), and Nigel was unkindest of all, flat-out saying: "That. Was. Not. Good."

Soooo...who will go home tomorrow night? Well, despite their poor showing I suspect, as Adam predicted, that Mollee and Nathan will be all right thanks to their diehard fanbase. Ellenore and Ryan are definitely in danger and better start practicing their dance-for-their-life solos now, and I'm not so sure that Nigel was correct when he said Peter and Pauline have absolutely nothing to worry about. That's my guess for the bottom four, and I think if that's the case, it will be Ellenore and last-tapper-standing Peter who'll get cut by the judges.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right. No matter who goes, I'm sure the season 5 veterans who had to watch them tonight feel their pain, 'cause they were in their dance shoes not too long ago.

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