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‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Top 8: The End Is Near

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

The sixth season of So You Think You Can Dance quickstepped its way closer to the finish line tonight, with the finale only a week away. It seems weird to me that next week's finale will feature six finalists, not the usual four, which I fear will make the whole countdown to the winning moment seem a little anti-climactic and confused...but I suppose the folks at Fox want to wrap up production before the holidays. It's too bad. I personally feel like this season has only just begun to find its footing, so to speak, and now it's almost over in a rush.

One person for whom the season might already be over is Ashleigh, who was sadly sidelined this week with a shoulder injury and unable to dance tonight. Earlier this season, Noelle had to sit out the first competitive week with a knee injury--and though some found her automatic advancement to the next round to be unfair, as judge Nigel Lythgoe explained later, the show's rules state that an injured contestant is given one week's grace. However, at this stage in the competition, to give Ashleigh one week's grace would be to essentially grant her a free pass straight to next week's finale. And that didn't seem quite right.

Of course, Ashleigh had worked very hard all season long, dancing excellently and starring in some of the season's most memorable routines, so it wasn't like she hadn't already earned her place or proven herself. So to send her home so late in the game also didn't seem very fair. The compromise was that Ashleigh followed doctor's orders and didn't dance tonight, but she was still up for the public vote. That means viewers will be voting for Ashleigh this week based on her previous good impressions, her established popularity, and undoubtedly some audience sympathy over her plight (exacerbated, naturally, by a begging speech by her teary-eyed husband/castmate, Ryan). Is this fair to Ellenore, Mollee, or Kathryn, who will presumably have to earn their votes based on their specific routines of the week? I don't know. This is a toughie. I'd hate to see Ashleigh lose her shot, but it's hard to judge her tonight against the others, since she simply did not dance.

Another contestant who certainly had an unfair disadvantage tonight was Russell, who was supposed to be Ashleigh's partner until she had to bow out this morning. Russell was also Noelle's partner during the week when Noelle busted her knee, and back then Russell had to perform a foxtrot with a replacement, choreographer Melanie Lapatin. He ended up in the bottom four that night, despite his best efforts to adapt to the awkward situation. Now, at this crucial pre-finale stage in the game tonight, he found himself in the same predicament, forced to dance not one but two routines with unfamiliar stand-ins. This was going to be a bad break for him as well, unless it earned him sympathy votes or he really rose to the challenge.

But as such movies as Save The Last Dance and Flashdance have taught us, the world of dancing is not always fair. So with all that back-story drama out of the way, I will now rank the couples (with new compound names, of course) from my favorite to least, then do the same with the seven solos performed this evening. I can only imagine how great Ashleigh's solo might have been...

COUPLES:

Legacy & Ellenore - Contemporary & Hip-Hop

Leganore got lucky tonight. Not only were they an incredible pairing, but they were paired with the two best choreographers of the night: season 2 alum Travis Wall and hip-hop masterminds Tabitha & Napoleon. For their first number, a contemporary Travis routine to Portishead's menacing "Machine Gun," Legacy and Ellenore played a feuding couple a la War Of The Roses or Mr. & Mrs. Smith (hostess Cat Deeley's astute observation), and it was a vicious, malicious, downright dangerous routine. Legacy and Ellenore strangled each other and climbed all over each other like rabid spider monkeys and brawled and battled all over a "Sweet Dreams"-reminiscent banquet table...man, it was almost like watching a snuff film. So You Think You Can Maim, maybe. As Nigel noted, they really did seem like they were fighting, UFC-style, for a place in the finals. Judge Adam Shankman loved how the number demonstrated the similarities between "dance and murder," adding in a rather Ellen DeGeneres-like manner, "And you guys murdered it!" Fellow judge Mary Murphy praised their fearlessness and willingness to take such huge risks, and Nigel thought this routine was so good, Travis Wall might be up for an Emmy nomination next year. Travis, sitting in the audience, looked stunned when he heard that, but I think he better get over the shock and start drafting his Emmy acceptance speech now. It was that good.

Next up, Leganore did a totally bizarre Nappytabs "alien" hip-hop number to a remix of the Doors' "People Are Strange," in which they started off wearing eerie masks on the backs of their heads that reminded me of either the Jabbawockeez or, more creepily, The Carver from Nip/Tuck. Obviously such a routine played to Ellenore's trademark quirkiness, and I really enjoyed it, although the judges were less enthused. Adam thought the routine didn't push the dancers hard enough--although, to be fair, they were pushed plenty hard during their ferocious Travis Wall dance and probably needed a bit of a break to nurse their wounds. Mary was disappointed too, and Nigel said it was all too much style over substance, although he seemed to blame Nappytabs for that more than he did the actual dancers. I personally had a good time visiting Planet Ellenore during this dance (I agreed with Adam that it wasn't the best dance of the night, but it was still very good), and I hope these two take the Hot Tamale Spaceship straight to the finale.

Jakob & Mollee - Viennese Waltz & Broadway

Jakelee were a real power couple tonight. Jakob is my favorite dancer this season--and one of my faves in the series' history--and any contestant lucky enough to be paired with him benefits as a result. He really brings out the best in any dancer. But Mollee was already awesome enough without him, so when these two got together, it was off-the-charts amazing. I normally don't get all worked up over a Viennese waltz, as most waltzes are kind of ho-hum to me, but as Mary put it, Jakelee's Jason Gilkison-choreographed waltz to Vanessa Carlton's "Ordinary Day" was not ordinary at all. The theme was all about Jakob trying to help Mollee "get her mojo back" (as if she ever lost it), and it was exquisite, just one gorgeously gliding spin after another until I was dizzy. Dizzy in a good way. "I could've watched that for two more hours," Adam gushed, and I too didn't want this to end. It was just lovely.

For their second dance, a Joey Dowling Broadway number to a Samantha Ronson remix of the Annie song "Easy Street" (no, I did not make that up), the couple portrayed get-rich-quick schemers, Jakob as the brains of the operation and Mollee as the easily led ditzy blonde. The two embodied their roles perfectly, as they always do. All the judges were stunned by Mollee (Adam even compared her high-kicks to those of Ann Reinking, not exactly faint praise), and Nigel said this was the routine that had officially turned Mollee into a "professional" dancer (recommending that Mollee actually go to Broadway). Nigel also once again compared Jakob to the immortal Joel Grey. Again, not faint praise.

Russell & Ashleigh (Stand-Ins) - Hip-Hop & Bollywood

Poor Russleigh. They were split up before they even had a chance to dance, due to Ashleigh's injury. So while a frustrated Ashleigh watched from the wings tonight, Russell danced his first number, an old-school Shane Sparks hip-hop number to the perennial rump-shaking classic "Too Much Booty In The Pants," with Shane's assistant, a woman named Rachel. Considering that Rachel was only enlisted this morning, giving her and Russell very little time to rehearse, she did great. But of course she was not up to par with a in-season competitor like Ashleigh, and it showed. The routine suffered a bit. The choice of song additionally only brought to mind Benji and Donyelle's amazing Shane Sparks routine to the same track back in SYTYCD season 2 (Nigel remembered this too, somewhat annoyingly and unnecessarily mentioning that Donyelle "had a lot of booty to shake"). But Russell smiled brightly and just made the most of the situation, and Adam praised Russell's energy and rightfully called him "superhot." Said Mary: "You just give it all and lay it all on the line...nobody does it like you!"

For his second Ashleigh-less routine, Russell went Bollywood with the help of choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan and Nakul's fantastic assistant, Alicia, who was his partner. And incredibly, this krumper, grinning radiantly throughout despite his troubles, managed to somehow upstage Alicia, a Bollywood expert (Nigel was especially impressed by this unexpected turn of events). Adam called it "an exciting and fun routine that was just pure dancing," and told Russell: "You blew joy out of every pore...You just showed the incredibly positive power of the art form of dance." Mary had one word: "Magnificent." Which it was. And I have another word of my own: "Likable." Look it up in Webster's and it'll say: "see Ferguson, Russell." Everyone just loves this kid, and with good reason. He just may be America's favorite dancer.

Ryan & Kathryn - Disco & Cha Cha

Sorry to be mean, but I expected Ryryn to the most boring couple of the night. While I find them both to be talented, and worthy of being in the top eight, I would have preferred Ryan to go home over Nathan last week, and I haven't enjoyed Kathryn as much since she was separated from her original partner, Legacy. So I was not all that enthused when I learned that Ryan and Kathryn would be coupled up tonight. I must say, this opinion wasn't changed much by the duo's first effort, a Doriana Sanchez-choreographed disco to Donna Summer's "Last Dance." Doriana's lightning-quick, whiplash-inducing, high-speed disco numbers usually leave me (and the dancers) breathless, but somehow this particular routine did not wow me. Brawny Ryan was certainly good at all the challenging lifts, and he pulled off the cheesy outfit ("Real men can wear sequins," Adam pointed out), but I dunno...something was just...missing. Adam raved about the dance, saying the style suited them both well, and Mary exclaimed, "If the two of you keep dancing like that, it's certainly not gonna be the last dance, that's for sure!" But I agreed more with Nigel, who said it didn't have enough "bounce." I didn't agree, however, with Nigel's complaint that Ryan didn't look good in sequins. There's no such thing as too much sequins!

For the duo's second dance, they did a Jason Gilkison cha cha, and this was a particularly difficult, "sweaty" cha cha (Gilkison, of Broadway Burn The Floor fame, said he wanted the floor to "boil" tonight). It was maybe Gilkison's toughest cha cha yet. In this case, I was MUCH more wowed by Ryryn. These two certainly reached their boiling point! Ryan was positively Astaire-like and Kathryn was smoldering in full-on Chicago mode, and their sexy, sizzling chemistry was so believable that Adam feared Ashleigh might get jealous. Adam also raved, "I never saw this coming!" Nigel's only criticism was, "The routine is now over--and that's bad!" This was indeed another dance that could have gone on and on and on. And this might be the routine that will get these two to the finale after all. It at the very least it got them two first-class tickets on the Hot Tamale Train, courtesy of an enthusiastically screeching Mary.

SOLOS:

Jakob - Like all the other judges, I too sound like a broken record when waxing poetic about Jakob. He really is one of the best dancers ever on this show. He could do the Hokey Pokey and it would be awesome. He's just perfection on legs, and this solo was additional proof of that, as if any more proof were needed. Team Jakob!

Russell - Okay, maybe it was gimmicky, but who can resist a krumping Santa? Nigel was right: Russell is no street thug. He's a big softie. And since it's Christmastime, so am I. Russell just came out in that red suit and visions of sugarplums krumped in my head. I hope Russell gets what he wants for Xmas: a place in the finale.

Legacy - Legs danced to Chromeo's "Fancy Footwork," but his solo was full of fancy headwork and legwork, too. He is thrilling to watch in his genre. He's adapted so well to other genres all season long that it's almost easy to forget he's a B-boy by nature...but then he kills it in his solo every time, and his other accomplishments only become that much more impressive.

Ellenore - My favorite girl this season got jiggy to James Brown's "I Got The Feelin'." And I got the feelin' she's going to be in the finale. How was this girl ever in the bottom two? More than once? She's [insert Tyce Diorio accent here] friggin' amazing! I've never seen anyone like her on this show, and I probably never will again. Ellenore is one of a kind. She's on her own planet, after all.

Mollee - Girl, you'll be a woman soon. Mollee, the little moppet from High School Musical, has truly blossomed before America's eyes. It's been like one season-long Bat Mitzvah: The Musical. Or something like that. Watching Mollee evolve, especially once she started dancing with partners other than the equally youthful and naive Nathan, has been a delight to witness all season long. As was her latest vigorous, take-no-prisoners solo tonight.

Kathryn - This was another solid solo from another solid (gold) dancer. I can't really find fault with Kathryn. She is one talented girl. But for me, she just doesn't have that "it factor" like the other girls. I'm glad she made it onto the SYTYCD tour, but I am not sure if I want her to go any further.

Ryan - I was more moved by Ryan's post-solo speech, in which he implored the viewing audience to vote for his injured bride, than by his solo. Sometimes this ballroom specialist just seems lost without a partner. Maybe I would have liked him better tonight if he'd danced to hair metal again. Motley Crue would have been a nice song selection.

So, who will stay and who will go? Well, I know who I would like to stay. In my perfect dreamworld, to use Jakob's own words, Jakob would win next week, with the top three rounded out by Ellenore and Legacy. As for the other two, although I have aforementioned mixed feelings about Ashleigh since she did not dance tonight, my heart went out to her because I saw how BADLY she wanted to perform (Cat Deeley was practically physically restraining her from breaking out of her sling). And based on the entire season, I prefer Ashleigh over Kathryn. And Russell excelled tonight despite Ashleigh's absence, and he's impressed me all season long, so I think he deserves to stay as well. So I suppose that means I'd prefer to see Ryan and Kathryn get cut tomorrow night--not because I don't like them (I especially enjoyed their smokin' cha cha), but because there are other dancers on this show I simply like more. I have a feeling America might agree with me, too.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right!

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