Reality Rocks - Archive

‘So You Think You Can Dance’: The Top 8 On Episode 99

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Well, I didn't think watching So You Think You Can Dance could get any more awesome. Until, of course, I watched it IN PERSON.

Considering how obsessed I am with SYTYCD, I can't beileve it took me 99 episodes to finally attend a live taping. But let me tell you, it was worth the wait. Besides it being a very special week--the week of the series' landmark 100th show--beloved dance enthusiast Ellen DeGeneres was the special-guest fourth judge, bringing her layperson's appreciation of dance to the panel to balance out Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and Mia Michaels' more seasoned expertise.

And I of course developed a whole new appreciation for the top eight dancers--as if I could appreciate them any more!--once I witnessed their gravity-defying feats of fleet-footed greatness right in front of me. How did they jump so damn high? How did they seemingly unhinge her joints from their sockets doing those twisty-bendy moves? How did they manage to have only about 1 percent body fat on their impossibly lithe frames? My mind boggled, and my heart soared. There was nothing as thrilling watching the likes of Brandon, Kayla, or Ade dance onstage, in the (well-toned) flesh.

Actually, yes, there was: Watching all eight dancers trip the LED light fantastic in an opening group number choreographed by returning season 2 alum Travis Wall, all looking like Lite-Brite boards with legs as they executed a cyborg-tastic "rave from the year 2300" number that would not have been out of place at a Lady Gaga mega-concert. It was an amazing start to the show, and as much as I love me some Benji Schwimmer (season 2's SYTYCD champ), Travis demonstrated such genius in creating this routine that I almost wanted to stand up in my seat and demand a season 2 recount.

Witnessing such a spectacle, with all eight finalists at the top of their game, made me realize what a tough decision Ellen and the regular judges would have tonight critiquing the contestants, and what a tough job America's voters would have deciding which two dancers to ultimately send home. I certainly had trouble finding fault with them while witnessing them in a live setting, so caught up was I in the pure rapture of simply sitting back and marveling at their performances. But of course, eventually I did the job this blog requires me to do, and ranked the four couples' eight routines (two apiece--I'm going to concentrate on the duos here, rather than the solos).

So here goes, in order of entertainment value, in my sometimes-humble opinion:

Ade & Melissa: Contemporary
Okay, I'm probably going to tear up just writing about this number. This was a monumental SYTYCD moment that had everyone in the auditorium, even the normally hard-hearted Mia, bawling like newborn infants; after this, there was an extended break while Ellen, Mia, and Mary pretty much had to have their completely ruined makeup re-applied from scratch.

A Tyce Diorio routine set to Maxwell's heartstring-yanking "A Woman's Work" Kate Bush cover and inspired by Tyce's ailing personal friend, its theme was breast cancer, with Melissa playing a cancer victim (complete with scarf tied around her "bald" head) and Ade taking on a supportive role. It was so sad it was almost painful to watch, and yet, I didn't dare look away. I was particularly impressed with how someone so strong and athletic as Melissa could also manage to portray fragility and illness so convincingly. She is the oldest and wisest dancer on the show, and therefore this routine was meant for her. I don't know if any of the other females this season, as gifted as they are, could have danced it as poignantly. And the fact that Melissa was reunited with her original partner Ade, with whom she shares such an obvious strong bond, made it all the better.

The judges were so moved they literally had trouble critiquing this through their choked sobs. Said Nigel: "That has shown me why I love dance. It can express so many emotions without words. I have just witnessed one of the most memorable routines [on this show ever]. I can't think of a better couple to have danced it than you two." He then predicted another Emmy nomination for recent nominee Tyce (who was in the audience, also crying). Said Mia, displaying her rarely seen soft side: "What an important piece of work. Tyce is my closest friend, and I know how hard this was for him." She then praised both dancer's strength and added: "I wish I'd had this strength for my daddy," sobbing for her cancer-victim father. I sobbed too, and instantly forgave Mia for anything mean she ever said on this show.

Insider note: After the show I was standing next to Tyce in the VIP area, and I could not help but tell him how personally moved I was by this routine. He thanked me sincerely, and even gave me a little one-armed hug. I will never forget that moment, and I am so glad I had the chance to express my emotions to his face, and so glad that I was in the theater that night. Thank you, Tyce.

Insider note #2: During the commercial break while Mary's makeup was being retouched, an audience member asked Ellen to dance--which she did, gamely, to Beyonce's "Single Ladies." This lightened the studio mood considerably, thus making it easier for Jason and Kayla to take the stage afterwards for a completely different, much more upbeat and FUN number...

Jason & Kayla: Hip-Hop
Mia Michaels teased choreographer Shane Sparks for casting pretty blonde Kayla as a sexy zombie schoolgirl--but I'm sure America's male viewers didn't mind that one bit, and the outfit certainly worked for this freaky-deaky routine. It was so very "Thriller," and considering that the proposed SYTYCD Michael Jackson tribute seems unlikely to ever happen due to Sony licensing reasons, this was a nice consolation.

Jason played a zombie terrorizing innocent schoolgirl-skirted lass Kayla, and while I had my doubts that babyfaced Jason could convincingly embody the role of an undead monster, such doubts were banished once he hit the stage in full Halloween facepaint and graveyard rags. No more Mr. Nice Guy--to quote Nigel!

Mary was as impressed as Nigel and I were, teasing puppydoggish Jason with "the puppy got rabies!" and screaming even more loudly than usual, like a bona fide horror movie heroine. (Let me tell you, her scream in real life is as shrill as it is on TV.) Mia declared this "Tim Burton hip-hop" (a perfect description, and as SYTYCD's most out-there choreographer, Mia ought to know) and she boldly said it her favorite Shane Sparks routine of all time; she also admitted, "I must be really twisted!" because she found the routine's ending, when Jason grabbed Kayla in a deadly chokehold, as "disturbingly hot!" Ellen, the least serious but obviously most amusing judge on the panel, just deadpanned: "You keep dancing like that and you'll have your own talk show someday."

Hey, that's good advice. I know I'd certainly set my TiVo for a season pass of The Jason & Kayla Zombie Hour!

Brandon & Jeanine: Pop Jazz
Laurieann Gibson is a new choreographer on the SYTYCD scene, and in her pre-dance footage when she was ordering Brandon and Jeanine around like a Lou Gossett Jr.-esque drill sergeant, she seemed meaner than Mia Michaels on a bad day. But it turns out that--as is also the case with genius Mia--Laurieann's tough love method GETS RESULTS. So how fitting it was that this couple decked themselves out in shredded Army fatigues and executed a raw, aggressive, violent routine to (American Idol cross-promotion alert!) Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield"!

This was just exhilarating. I almost agreed with Ellen when she quipped, "You two make it appealing to join some type of armed forces." Seriously, if the Army hired Brandon and Jeanine as spokesdancers, recruit rates would skyrocket.

Nigel was as excited as I was. "That's all I'm asking! Dance like this! It's gotta be exhausting! Dance should be hard!" His praise was so over-the-top that Laurieann, sitting in the audience, was crying again--this time tears of pure joy and pride. Mia then made Laurieann cry again with her equally gushing praise, then praised the couple in her own wonderfully weird way: "You embodied Laurieann Gibson. You took her soul and you ate it. You chewed her nails and spit blood." It sounded like a critique more appropriate for the aforementioned zombie routine, but I understood what Mia meant. And I was just happy to see Mia being so pro-Brandon, after their bumpy, bumping-heads start in Vegas earlier this season.

Mary also predicted that Brandon and Jeanine would be taking the Hot Tamale Train all the way to the finale after that impressive performance. Woo woo!

Evan & Janette: Jazz
As Mia pointed out, not incorrectly, in her Evan critique of this Sonya Tayeh-choreographed dance: "You're so adorable, you will never be the dark, freakish dancer Sonya requires." But even Mia conceded that supercute, "mushed-faced" Evan "made a step in right direction" towards being more aggressive and vicious during this dark, signature-Sonya routine in which Evan and Janette battled and tried to shut each other up. (Nigel later stole some of Sonya's cupped-handed silencing moves and tried to use them on Mary!) And I think Evan pulled it off surprisingly well.

Mary agreed it was "fun to see Evan outside his category [of Broadway dancing]," although she did say he could have been "gutsier and rougher...Janette, you hit it just a little harder. You can't take a wrong step." Nigel was overall pleased, expressing gratitude for "finally getting more out of Evan" and calling the pocket-sized couple "two little stars." Mia, on the other hand, singled out Janette for such rare high praise ("You are my favorite, favorite, favorite this season!") that Janette literally got weak in the knees and nearly collapsed on the stage floor. And who could blame her?

Jason & Kayla: Broadway
Another Tyce Diorio routine, albeit a much more light-hearted one, this dance cast Jason as a man caught up in listening to music and Kayla as the temptress trying to distract him. It was perfect casting, because what man WOULDN'T be tempted by a golden goddess like Kayla? I couldn't take my eyes off her in that molten, liquid-gold gown of hers, so much so that I sheepishly admit I barely noticed Jason was on the stage at all (though I'm sure he danced fabulously).

Nigel compared Jason to Gene Kelly and Kayla to Juliet Prowse, and called the routine "beautiful to watch, one of best of evening." Ellen amusingly invited the couple to come to her house to hang up pictures on the wall because "you guys are GOOD NAILERS!" Mary jokingly criticized Jason's unconvincing air trombone solo during this dance, but lavishly praised everything else he did. Then Mary got out a new prop--A TRAIN WHISTLE!--and rendered her hot-tamale siren call even shriller than usual in Kayla's honor.

Mia was a little tougher on Jason, telling him he needed to work on his upper body ("I want to take a hammer and smash your shoulders and open up your collarbone," she snarled charmingly), but diplomatically declared his performance "75 percent outstanding." Then she advised Kayla to go the musical theater route, career-wise, telling her: "You will take Broadway by storm! Tony after Tony after Tony!"

Hmmm...if Mia thinks Kayla can win multiple Tony Awards, does she think Kayla can win first place on this show as well? We shall see.

Brandon & Jeanine: Waltz
Probably THE most physically demanding waltz in So You Think You Can Dance history (masterminded by Hunter Johnson), by the end of this number even ship-shape Brandon was panting and wheezing. ("Waltz is hard!" he gasped.) Nigel didn't like the slllloooooowwww music, describing listening to it as "like pulling teeth," although that was hardly the dancers' fault and I felt that critique was unfair (I booed along with the rest of the audience). Nigel also griped about there not being enough rise and fall, flow, or control during this snail-paced number, and he disturbingly compared Brandon's one-armed hold of Jeanine as him being like a puppeteer hoisting up Miss Piggy. ("I'm not sure where you hand was!" Yikes.) Mia nastily described the dance as having "so many hiccups," but Mary judiciously called it "respectable."

I concurred with Mary, mostly.

Ade & Melissa: Cha Cha
This Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin routine wasn't nearly as memorable as this couple's brilliant "cancer dance," as red-hot sexiness doesn't come as naturally to pristine ballerina Melissa as it does to, say, salsa hottie Janette. Nigel in fact unfavorably compared this routine to an earlier, sexier cha cha this season featuring Janette, and told Melissa, "Don't try to be sexy." But I think she did look pretty hot-tamale-ish in that skimpy showgirl dress of hers.

Ade looked pretty red-hot in his red-hot tight pants, too ("God, I love those ballroom pants," Mia raved, to which Nigel hilariously retorted, "There's no ball room in them!"), although Mia was not as enthusiastic about Ade's actual dancing, telling him: "That was your worst performance this season." Then Mary made some dumb comments about Ade's "bum," telling him it was "perched up too high" and he needed to drop his hips...when if she'd checked out Ade's physique in those tight pants, she might have noticed having an especially perky bum is not something Ade can control or change. It's just the way he's built.

I appreciated Ellen's nice comment most of all: "Are you two carpenters? Because you nailed it!" I do think Ade and Melissa nailed their other routine of the night more precisely, but this was, to borrow a phrase from Mary, still very respectable.

Evan & Janette: Rhumba
Uh-oh. I think this routine, choreographed by Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin and quite pleasingly soundtracked by (American Idol cross-promotion alert!) Kris Allen's "Heartless" cover, might have signified the end for poor mushy-faced Evan. He just didn't take to this style quite as naturally as hot-tamale Janette, and Nigel was disappointed that Evan's "inner stallion" didn't come galloping out.

Now, Nigel's critiques along those lines were okay by me, but when Nigel started criticizing Evan's EYELIDS, I was peeved. Nigel complained that Evan had trouble being expressive and "passionate in the face" because of his supposedly droopy, drowsy eyes, which I thought was kind of a low blow and not at all constructive, since that's not something Evan can do anything about. No choreographer, no matter how talented, can retrain Evan's lids. nd besides, last time I checked, dancers don't dance with their EYELIDS, they dance with their feet and legs.

The other judges, probably feeling sorry for Evan, well-intentionedly scrambled to boost Evan's self-esteem (Ellen countered with, "I love your face, I love your eyes!"), but they kind of made matters worse. Ellen cracked jokes about how too many people in L.A. look the same due to plastic surgery (eye lifts, maybe?), and Mia (who sympathized, saying, "I have heavy eyelids and everyone think I'm stoned"), argued that "not everyone in this world has to be a sexpot or perfect," which seemed like a backhanded compliment to me.  But then Mia once again showed her soft side and told Evan: "We love you. There's not a lot of people that bring to stage what you do." And Evan was genuinely moved, to the point where his lovely heavy-lidded eyes brimmed with tears.

However, I don't think this was Evan's best number at all, and with two dances that required him to play waaaay against type (edgy and dark in the Sonya routine, fiery and passionate in the rhumba), he was at a serious disadvantage this evening. He also sadly didn't fully didn't redeem himself with his solo, which was charming as always but was marred when he tossed his hat in the air and failed to catch it. (Gasps of sympathy and disappointment filled the auditorium when he dropped it.) So I fear Evan will be the male dancer going home this week (Brandon, Ade, and Jason are strong competition, and are a little more diverse in their skill sets). However, if Evan does get voted off, I hope it's based on his actual performances and not on something stupid like, say, his eyelids.

As for which female will be eliminated this week, that's a much tougher call. Melissa has been on the chopping block before, but I cannot imagine her going home after her incredibly moving "cancer dance" this week. Jeanine was paired with arguably this season's best remaining male, Brandon (a "racehorse," as Mary worded it) and totally killed it on that Laurieann Gibson army routine. Kayla is a judge favorite, already predicted to move on to Tony Award greatness. And Janette is officially Mia's favorite, which ought to earn her many votes.

But that being said, I think Janette might go home this week due to her unpopular (with the judges) numbers with Evan. It would not be the first time on this show that a dancer was dragged down by his or her partner.

Of course, I don't want to see anyone leave, including adorable Evan. But as the SYTYCD exit song sadly states, someone's gotta go. Tune in tonight to see who it is...and expect even more crying to ensue.

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