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‘SYTYCD’: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Tonight, So You Think You Can Dance hostess Cat Deeley made a most crushing announcement: After this week, when the finalists are whittled down to the top 10, the existing couples will be split up and everyone will dance with brand-new partners. I knew this switchup was coming, having watched every past season of SYTYCD, but I didn't realize it was happening so soon.

So yes, sadly, this will mean no more Kaypono. No more Branette, Evandi, Philline, Adissa, or Jaislin. I made up all those compound names for nothing! Such wasted mental effort is reason alone for me to feel dejected, but I've honestly enjoyed witnessing the strengthening bonds between all this season's couples as they danced together week after week. It'll be weird to see them dance in new configurations after tonight--almost like watching them "cheat" on their original partners.

But then again, if America is to accurately judge the individual dancers on their real merits, it's probably best to see them outside their comfort zone, trying something (or someone) new. So I know this development is for the best. And on the bright side, each of this week's six soon-to-be-separated couples got to dance two routines tonight, just to make it a nice long goodbye for themselves and the viewers at home.

So without further ado, below I have ranked the couples in order of my favorites, taking both their routines into account.

Brandon & Janette

The duo described by guest judge Tice Diorio as this season's "power couple" started off the night with a Miriam & Leonard-choreographed Argentine tango, a dance that, according to Brandon, was supposed to "exude sex." I of course had little doubt that hot-tamale salsa specialist Janette would exude sex all over the dang stage, but I had my doubts about Brandon's ability to pull off the Latin-lover shtick. But Brandon has never disappointed me before (not even in his darkest hour, when a pre-conversion Mia Michaels was tearing him a new hole in his tights, so to speak), and I should have known he'd deliver tonight as always. He managed to generate a whole lot of Argentine heat with Janette, and at the end of their passionate performance, judge Nigel Lythgoe did something he rarely does: He gave them a standing ovation. Tice screamed deliriously, "Unreal, unreal!" (this was a good thing), and fellow judge Mary Murphy screamed even more loudly, as she is wont to do, calling Janette "flawless, flawless, fabulous!" and letting one of her trademark "woooo"'s rip while poor, rendered-deaf Nigel plugged his ears.

Branette's tango was indeed entertaining and showcased both dancers' versatility, but the real showstopper was their second number, a Wade Robson-choreographed jazz-dance masterpiece in which the dynamic duo donned Clockwork Orange bowler hats, bugeyed shades, and mime uniforms to play a pair of plucky jewel thieves. Wade described the number as "cartoonlike," and there was a sort of Spy Vs. Spy vibe to it, very comical and lighthearted and high-energy. It was a sheer thrill to watch, and the dancers looked like they were thrilled to have the chance to take on such a creative routine. "You have shown all of us that there isn't anything that we throw at you that you don't do brilliantly," raved Nigel. "If you two don't get the biggest vote of the night, I'll be surprised."

And you know what? I'll be surprised too. They were brilliant tonight.

Kupono & Kayla

Ah, my favorite couple, even though they've not been dancing together too long (they were paired up mid-season, after their respective original partners were eliminated). I'll be so sad to see Kaypono splinter back into just Kayla and Kupono...especially after their first number tonight, which was my actual favorite single routine of the evening and one of my favorites of the entire season. A contemporary dance masterminded by the one and only Mia Michaels, its dark and disturbing theme was all about addiction--be it addictive love or something more literal, like drugs. The routine, set to Sara Bareilles's "Gravity," required Kupono to embody addiction--to portray someone, or something, with a deathgrip on his victim--while Kayla played the helpless addict unable to escape his power. In his pre-dance interview Kupono broke down in tears describing his difficulty with such a theme, because it hit so close to home for him (his family friend was a drug addict). But I just knew such crazy emotion would only help him dig into this routine, rather than hinder him. (All the best dances on this show are the emotionally unhinged ones.) And I was right. All I can say wow wow wow wow wow wow. AMAZING. This routine was so intense, so dark, so violent, so DEEP. Watching Kupono sneer mercilessly and viciously as he dominated and manipulated teary-eyed and frantic Kayla, I was so moved I felt a lump creeping up in my throat. I never saw such a side to the seemingly sweet and graceful Kupono before--he was so convincing, I almost feared for Kayla's safety at times.

Nigel described the routine as a "very, very powerful piece of choreography for anyone who's experienced addiction" and added, "Kupono, you were malevolent...that smirk was just horrible when you wouldn't release her from your grasp!" Mary agreed, telling Kupono: "From the very first second there was such of the best things you do is when you get a character, you latch onto it." And Tice said: "The best dancers are the best actors. I don't feel like I watched a dance; I feel like I had an experience." Even Cat Deeley chimed in, saying, "I think it's going to be one to remember from this season." I actually think it might be one to remember from the entire series, right up there with other Mia Michaels masterpieces like "Flowers" and "Park Bench" from past seasons. Do I predict another Emmy for Mia?

Of course, after such a high point it was hard for Kaypono to maintain their momentum during their second, Joey Dowling-choreographed Broadway number, a West Side Story romp about love at first sight. I did still love their adorable routine, though, although the judges were less impressed--especially Nigel, who, feeling a personal affinity for this era of dance, seemed almost downright angry over Kaypono's supposed lack of palpable emotion. I agreed it did not showcase either contestant at their best--Kupono seemed to have an easier time embodying an evil, S&M-like addiction character than that of a lovestruck '50s teen, oddly--but at least all three judges conceded that they technically executed it well. I am just hoping that their excellent, excellent first effort will get them through to the top 10.

Evan & Randi

Aw, season 5's official Cutest Couple. These kids are America's sweethearts, and splitting them up after this week will be like splitting up Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello or something. Sigh. Evandi were especially cute during their first routine, surprisingly a Tabitha & Napoleon hip-hop dance. Yes, hip-hop. I didn't think they could pull it off either--Evan and Randi don't exactly seem like the types with gangsta street cred, you know? But Tabitha & Napoleon created a routine to Beyonce's ballad "Halo" that really played to the dancers' strengths, casting them as a happy couple expecting a baby (as Nigel wisely put it, "Tabitha & Napoleon didn't ask you to be urban, they just asked you to be you, with a hip-hop feel"), and so it all worked. Like Kaypono's "addiction" routine, this was another dance that required serious acting chops, albeit in a completely different way: This number was all sunshine and sweetness, and together this golden couple radiated pure joy. "I was expecting a trainwreck tonight," confessed Mary, echoing my aforementioned concerns about this darling duo's ability to convincingly pull off hip-hop. "But I think you guys did a great job."

Evan and Randi faltered a little bit during their second dance, a sexy samba choreographed by former SYTYCD contestants Pasha and Anya. Understandably, these button-cute dancers were less convincing when attempting the spicy/saucy/sexy thing--despite their racy leopard-print costumes--but I think they did all right, considering. Nigel was less thrilled. "Do I look at you as a hot samba king?" he icily and rhetorically asked Evan. "No, I don't. That was not as hot as I would like it, sorry."

Mary concurred that this effort wasn't real hot-tamale material, but said the routine had a "slow sizzle" to it, and both she and Nigel at least admitted that Randi looked pretty sex-kittenish in her cheetah unitard. Randi always fills out a unitard nicely! She's Unitard Girl! I just hope that's enough to get these two through to the top 10.

Jason & Caitlin

After their bizarre and somewhat polarizing "Alien Impregnation" routine last week, Jaislin did something completely, completely different tonight by starting off with a lovely foxtrot choreographed by Melanie Lapatin and Tony Meredith to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's "Minnie The Moocher." Nigel praised Jason's much-improved footwork and compared gorgeous Caitlin to Grace Kelly, calling her: "Smooth, cool, should have had a glass of champagne in your hand tonight, love!" I agreed that Caitlin seemed very much in her element this evening--although I liked her and Jason's alien dance last week, even I could see that Caitlin was more comfortable portraying a '40s glamour queen in a flowy evening gown than an evil space queen in tinfoil and black rubber.

Still, I much preferred this couple in a rawer form, during their second, contemporary dance to "Show Me Heaven" by Maria McKee, choreographed by another amazing SYTYCD veteran, Mandy Moore. While Nigel felt their chemistry was lacking, I couldn't have disagreed more. I thought they showed a real sexy, earthy connection while they were rolling around on the floor in their Greek toga-wear (Jason was even shirtless!), and I honestly didn't understand why Mary further griped that "it wasn't magic tonight" or why Tice thought they "played it safe."

What a bummer. Caitlin looked so sad, so dejected--in her pre-dance interview she'd expressed such giddy excitement over this routine, and the judges' overly harsh remarks just sucked the wind right out of her proverbial sails. I bet she was worried that tonight would be her last night; I was a little worried too, after all that. But if this was Jason and Cailtin's last night, then they will go out on a high note. I thought they were terrific.

Ade & Melissa

After wowing the judges with their Romeo & Juliet classical ballet last week, Adissa pirouetted a total 180 and for their first routine of this evening did a Doriana Sanchez-choreographed disco dance (a first for ballerina Melissa). The routine definitely drew attention to Ade's brute strength, as he pretty much bench-pressed Melissa in a series of high-difficulty overhead lifts. Her flipped her around so effortlessly, at times this number reminded me of the Saturday Night Fever parody in Airplane! He was dripping sweat by the dance's end, so apparently it wasn't all that effortless, but he made it look that way. Melissa had her moments too--this pretty ballerina unexpectedly morphed into quite a little sex bomb, and the mid-air split she did while being hoisted above Ade's head was quite astounding. But I do think the judges were waaaaay too easy on her; why were they so hard on Jason and Caitlin or Evan and Randi, yet they completely overlooked the fact that Melissa FELL at the end of this routine? Yes, she recovered well and with admirable professionalism, but the bottom line is she still fell. And I think in parts she looked nervous, unsteady, and unsure. But the judges just fawned and called her "absolutely incredible" (Nigel), "so much fun" (Mary), and "friggin' great" (Tice). Hmmm.

Adissa's second dance, a waltz to Mary J. Blige's cover of "Natural Woman" choreographed by Ron Montez, was just so-so for me. It was well-executed, but I didn't think it was anything truly special. But once again the judges slobbered and raved. Whatever. (On a side note, they also brought up Melissa's AGE again, a recurring theme that is really beginning to annoy me. The woman is 29, not 99! I wish they'd stop acting like she's overcome some great hurdle and has been dancing with a double hip replacement. Is it REALLY such a shock that a 29-year-old woman can dance well?) It's clear the judges adore Melissa and are eager for her to advance to the top 10. I like her too--there's really no one on this show that I don't like--but I wouldn't want Melissa to take away, say, Caitlin or Kayla's top 10 spot.

Phillip & Jeanine

Ooh boy. Where do I begin with these two? If I was a conspiracy theorist--and admittedly, sometimes I am--I would suggest that the show's producers gave hip-hop dancer Phillip a RUSSIAN FOLK DANCE to sabotage him and send him home. Of course, Phillip is very popular with viewers, therefore it would be stupid for the producers to do that, therefore my conspiracy theory is most unlikely ungrounded. But this was just silly, like a bad Fiddler On The Roof community theater production, nothing like the awesome, aggressive Russian routine Twitch and Josh did last season. Phillip managed OK (his breakdance skills helped him tackle the fancy floorwork) and Jeanine actually was phenomenal, but overall this was kind of ridiculous and hokey--and in a way emasculating to Phillip, since he had to mince about in a dumb peasant costume in a most un-hip-hop sort of manner. Nigel hated it as much as I did (and probably many viewers did), grumbling, "You need an awful lot of vodka to go with that." Tice, most likely out of respect to the routine's choreographers, Youri Nelzine and Lilia Babenko, tried to be nice and said the dancers did best they could with what they had to work with, and admitted pleasant surprise over Phillip's decent performance. Still, I agreed more with Nigel, thinking to myself: "Pass the Stoli, please. NOW."

Philline's second performance, a jive by choreographers Melanie Lapatin and Tony Meredith, was a bit of a rebound. Respectively portraying a "booty-grabbing" sailor on shore leave and his tease of a hometown girlfriend, Phillip and Jeanine cut a mean rug to Bette Midler's "Stuff Like That There," and they did redeem themselves--especially Phillip, who let his fun personality shine through and was consequently told by Nigel, "Without question, this is the best you've been out of your own style. You're now starting to come to life!" The look of relief on Phillip's face, after hearing such praise, was priceless. I agreed that Phillip did well, and I think he's shown immense growth over the season, but even now I don't believe he's in the same league as the other, more diverse males on the show.

As for Jeanine, Nigel declared her "one of best top 10 dancers"; Mary called her "on fire" and put her on the Hot Tamale Train (WOOOO!); and Tice yelled, "Call 1-888-Fan Friggin'-Tastic!" (Hopefully that did not confuse viewers trying to call Phillip and Jeanine's actual voting number, 1-888-TEMPO-04.)

And so, now it is prediction time. Phillip & Jeanine should be on the chopping block, in my opinion, but I have a hunch that they will probably be safe due to Phillip's massive popularity; there will be panic among his fans, who will worry that his awful Russian routine put him at risk, and they will therefore rally for him. I have a feeling that Ade & Melissa may finally be up for elimination tomorrow night, but I'm pretty sure that the judges would do everything in their power to keep Melissa in the competition if she was in the bottom. And Ade has that "masculine dancer" vibe that Nigel admires and champions so much, which will help his chances.

And so, with a heavy heart I predict that Jason & Caitlin will also be in the bottom three couples again, and the judges will probably let both of them go.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right!

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