Reality Rocks

‘SYTYCD’ Top 10 Recap: Allstar Games Begin!

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Well, we're finally down to a top 10 on "So You Think You Can Dance," so you regular viewers/readers know what that means: ALLSTARS TIME! This is the point where this year's hopefuls part from their partners and pair up with allstars--that is, popular contestants from past seasons. This is both a blessing and a curse.  It's a blessing for viewers, of course, who happily get to see some of "SYTYCD's" best and brightest strut their stuff once more. But it can be a curse for the current crop of finalists, who often struggle to hold their own alongside dancers who may be more charismatic (Twitch Boss), more limber (Jakob Karr), more vivacious (Anya Garnis), more experienced (Allison Holker), or more beloved (Alex Wong) than they are.

Yes, just as Season 9's contestants found themselves in the tough and unenviable position of being compared to past "SYTYCD" dancers last week, when they were forced to reprise iconic Mia Michaels routines, this week they once again had to face inevitable comparisons, now that they were paired with established allstars.  But this time they all fared much better, and a couple of them even came across like allstars themselves. Here's how everyone did...

Tiffany Maher with allstar Brandon Bryant - Disco

Disco dominatrix Doriana Sanchez--the whip-cracking lady known for her back-breaking lifts and whiplash-speed choreography--was back in a full force, packing this fun and frenetic first routine with no fewer than ELEVEN crazy lifts. Luckily, Season 5 runner-up Brandon--one of my all-time favorite "SYTYCD" alums--was totally up for the task. But that didn't mean that Brandon did all the heavy lifting in the proverbial sense. Tiffany was a dyn-o-mite disco dynamo, boogie-ing to Cobra Starship's "You Make Me Feel" (yep, I guess Cobra Starship are a disco band now) with enough energy to light up all the multi-colored tiles on that famous Saturday Night Fever dance floor. "Saturday Night Fever on steroids" is how hostess Cat Deeley described this routine, and the judges were equally effusive. Nigel Lythgoe called Tiffany "sensational" and exclaimed, "Whatta way to open the show!" Said Mary Murphy: "You had all the fireworks tonight! You were full of energy and life up there! It was just a party." And this week's guest judge, French ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied (better known as Mr. Natalie Portman to some of you), declared in his sexy exotic accent, "You had a chance to be fearless tonight...I was mainly impressed by the energy you kept all the way through."

Witney Carson with allstar Nick Lazzarini - Jazz

Witney got to go back to the old-school, teaming with "SYTYCD's" O.G., Season 1 winner Nick. Additionally, this routine was choreographed by Season 2's runner-up (and, in a transparent bit of cross-promo, Nick's "All The Right Moves" co-star), Travis Wall. This was a great routine for Witney, and one of the only routines of the night during which I genuinely thought that the contestant upstaged the allstar. Blonde ballroom bombshell Witney has been repeatedly advised to tone down her almost Pussycat Doll-like sexiness on this show, but for this sultry Fosse-inspired routine, set to Moloko's "Sing It Back," she was allowed to finally let it rip. And she certainly did not hold back. She wasn't vulgar, however; Witney kept it classy. But this was sexy-classy, bringing to mind a bit of Roxie Hart and Madonna circa "Open Your Heart." It just worked. Benjamin praised the couple's great use of release and tension and ability to "really make us feel like time is stopping." Nigel told Witney, "You were totally committed to that. You were even sexy when you were just breathing!" And Mary cried out (new catchphrase alert), "Lord have Murphy! You are a star."

Cole Horibe with allstar Anya Garnis - Cha Cha

The sexiness continued apace when ballroom tigress Anya, the very first recipient of a coveted ticket on Mary's famous Hot Tamale Train, hit the stage in all her fringed, peroxided glory--with another "SYTYCD" veteran, Dmitry Chaplin, choreographing to the Wanted's "Glad You Came." Cole declared that he wanted to be the first Season 9 contestant in the top 10 to score a Hot Tamale ticket of his own, but sadly, he didn't quite rise to occasion, and he was denied even a coach ticket by Mary. In his defense, Cole wasn't in 100 percent shape this week--he'd tweeted earlier that he'd injured his foot and had been ordered by a doctor he had to stay off it for at least two days--and when he danced on Wednesday, his injury didn't show at all. He was a real trooper and a true professional. He just wasn't at his best. Mary criticized his footwork and especially his chemistry with Anya, telling him he was "not hot enough" and "not quite believable," and lamenting, "I wish I could put you on the Hot Tamale Train, but I can't." Nigel said it was "not bad for your first cha cha," but said he was "a little disappointed," complaining that Cole played too much to the audience and didn't interact with Anya as much as this sultry dance style required. But I don't fear for Cole just yet. This may not have been his finest showing, but his personality and popularity will save him, and hopefully he will fully recover by next week.

Lindsay Arnold with allstar Jakob Carr - Broadway

JAKOBBBBBBBBB CARRRRRRRRRR!!!!!! Gee, can you tell I am excited? One of the best "SYTYCD" dancers ever (seriously, how did this phenomenal, triple-jointed guy ever lose to krumper Russell Ferguson?) returned to the show this week, and it was such cause for celebration that the judges almost seemed to forget that Lindsay was even onstage, spending most of their critique time gushing about Jakob's amazingness instead. Understandable, of course--but Lindsay was no slouch in this difficult Spencer Liff routine, which required her to mirror Jakob's shadow, with perfectly timed synchronization, from behind a screen. She wasn't quite as fantastic as Jakob--who is?--but she still impressed. Nigel called her "magnificent" and "tremendous," then went on to ramble about how much she could learn just by observing "master" Jakob. It must have made Lindsay feel awesome, then, when Mary surprisingly gave her...a first-class Hot Tamale ticket of her very own! I wonder if Cole was jealous.

Will Thomas with Kathryn McCormick - Bollywood

This was an example of a perfect match between dancer and routine. Choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan create the absolutely ideal number for goofy, smiley Will ("one of the most likable guys in this competition," as Mary correctly declared), playing to Will's comical strengths. Nakul brilliantly cast Will as a naïve young flute player charmed by a sexy female snake (yes, a slinky snake-woman) portrayed by Kathryn. Will was obviously crushing hard on Kathryn throughout rehearsal, and this only helped the number and made it more believable once the boyish, boundlessly energetic Will and reptilian Kathryn hit the stage. Mary was delighted. "You little Energizer bunny, you!" she howled. "You were just jumping and hopping all over the place, like you had little springs on. But you had amazing control, and it was beautiful to see in the midst of all this action." Said Benjamin, "You have such a charming, unique style. I find you completely engaging and interesting." Laughed Nigel, "Will, there are times I want to say to you, 'Just calm down a bit, take things more seriously!' But then I say, 'Oh, shut up, Nigel.' Because what you do is bring personality to everything you do, and that is a blessing in itself." Yes, that's right: Do shut up, Nigel. Just let Will keep doing what's he's doing, because if he does, he might actually end up winning this thing.

Cyrus Spencer with allstar Jaimie Goodwin - Contemporary

Speaking of personality, that's pretty much all that's been keeping Cyrus on this show (he still hasn't been up for elimination once), despite the very obvious fact that his skills are not at the level of the rest of the show's more experienced contestants. Every "SYTYCD" season has a token untrained hip-hop dancer with a heart of gold, and Cyrus fits that bill this year. But I do have to give him credit: The man has grown by literal leaps and bounds this season, and this Travis Wall-masterminded, M83-soundtracked routine, about two sole survivors at the end of the world, showcased that. Of course, Jaimie still dominated this dance, mainly because she did a lot more actual dancing, while Cyrus spent most of his time just lifting her up and carrying her around. But he brought a great deal of emotion to the routine, and the judges were impressed by his commitment. "You have this raw energy that is so compelling to watch, but you also know how to shift your focus and partner very well," said Benjamin. Nigel admitted he'd received many letters of complaint when he decided to put Cyrus in the top 20 over some more technically qualified dancers, then said, "And I was disgusted, because I don't think people understand what dancing is all about. You are somebody who has to dance, and it's wonderful to see. I think you are brilliant, I really do." And Mary told Cyrus, "It's the passion that you give us, and we are connected to that. You make us feel something." I still don't think Cyrus should win "SYTYCD," and I do think the judges go much easier on him than they do with the others, but there is no denying that the man is crazy-talented, and he was solid this week.

Chehon Wespi-Tschopp with allstar Lauren Gottlieb - Hip-Hop

A hip-hop routine was definitely a challenge for a prim and proper ballet dancer like Chehon. But while he wasn't exactly a total gangsta during this Dave Scott routine, he did loosen up a bit, which was nice to finally witness. Let's face it, Chehon is a brilliant technician, but sometimes he does come across as a bit staid and boring, with little personality--which is why he's been in the bottom before. Will he be in the bottom next week? Probably--up against vibrant personalities like Cole, Will, and Cyrus, he'd have a tough time surviving no matter what. But he did do well this week. "Dave Scott took that stick out of you, that one that keeps you so tight and balletic. And you had a SMILE! It was just so much warmer," praised Nigel. "The looseness you brought to tonight's performance is exactly what you need to focus on. It felt spontaneous and fun, like you were making it up as you went along," said Benjamin. Only Mary thought Chehon still seemed too cold and stiff. "This definitely couldn't be easy for you, and I could feel your nerves," she said. "I still wanted it to be a little more funky, sitting down in the pocket more."

George Lawrence II with allstar Allison Holker - Jazz

Talk about stiff! This was one routine that really felt flat for me. That wasn't Allison's fault; she was on fire tonight, playing a French seductress who lures George off enjoy one raunchy anonymous night in Paris. The failure of this Tyce Diorio number was, honestly, entirely George's fault. While he certainly didn't miss a beat or a technical step, he didn't really seem to relish Allison's raunchy company at all. There was zero fire, zero chemistry, and it seemed like Allison was really working overtime to sell the routine and sell the sex. Knowing how hard Nigel crushes on Allison, I knew he'd have stern words for George after this. "I didn't believe the character," Nigel grumbled. "It was a little immature for me. You're spending a raunchy night with a raunchy lady, and you've gotta bring the goods. She wouldn't have felt like it was a raunchy night, with you." Ouch. Mary and Benjamin were kinder, with Mary saying the routine was "a lot of fun" and Benjamin telling George, "You attacked every step with a vengeance. I'm totally a fan." I'm a fan of George too...but I totally agreed with Nigel here.

Eliana Girard with allstar Alex Wong - Contemporary

This was my favorite routine of the night. Not only was my favorite girl in the top 10 paired with the wonderful Alex--who it was great to finally see back on the show, after his Season 7 injury ruined his chances of winning, and then a second injury prevented him from being an allstar in Season 8--but the Stacey Tookey choreography they got to do together was stunning. This was a classic push/pull, love/hate "SYTYCD" routine, about an on/off relationship that neither partner can leave, and it was all very smoldering and slow-burning and dark, set to Nancy Sinatra's ominously grooving "Bang Bang." Eliana's challenge here was to "deprettify" herself and get all raw and nasty, and although she succeeded, I still think she seemed gorgeous. Nigel described the routine as the very definition of "maturity in movement," then freely admitted that Eliana is his favorite girl on the show. Ben said, "You've got it all. But your performance was driven by so much passion, and that's what really most important." Mary declared this her favorite routine of the night and said, "There were so many layers in there, like the perfect tiramisu." Mary was right--it was pretty yummy.

Audrey Case with allstar Twitch Boss - Hip-Hop

This Tim Burton-esque Dave Scott routine--about a graveyard-dwelling, casket-sleeping, 400-year-old bickering couple--was a really fun, creepy-crawly romp. I loved the Janelle Monae music and the cartoonish costumes, as well as the gleeful sense of wicked play that Audrey brought to the number; she managed to be sweet and sinister at the same time, and I thought the dance's whimsical vibe truly suited her. Oddly, Ben directed his ONE negative critique of the entire night at Audrey, telling her she was completely upstaged by Twitch (did Ben already know Audrey was in the bottom four?), and Nigel agreed with Ben, saying he would have liked to see more character from her. But Mary disagreed, raving, "Audrey, I was watching you. As good as Twitch is, you made me watch you! I was totally engaged by everything you did. You're a little dance angel." I agreed with Mary this time around.

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The bottom four

So then it was elimination time, as Cat announced that Audrey, Witney, Chehon, and George comprised the bottom four, and that only one guy and one girl would be saved by the judges. Looking back on the famous Mia Michaels numbers that these dancers did last week, I couldn't help but wonder if Audrey, Witney, and Chehon had been punished by viewers for blasphemously recreating perhaps Mia's two most adored routines, "Bench" and "Flowers"--two routines that, in my opinion, they were utterly doomed with, since there was no way they could have escaped unfavorable comparisons to the original dancers. As for George, well, his lack of personality would've made it hard for him to survive under any circumstances--but getting "Hometown Glory" last week, a routine originally performed by Season 3 winner Joshua Allen, probably didn't help him any.

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The bottom two

Anyway, it seemed like the judges already had their minds up, but Nigel allowed all four dancers to do solos anyway, making it pretty clear that this was just to please the audience (and maybe kill some time). Witney's Santigold-soundtracked solo was sexy perfection, but I actually preferred Audrey's solo; whether it was going to make a difference in the evening's outcome or not, she really did dance for her life. Her solo, fittingly set to "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going," was athletic, passionate, and free, and I could tell how much she really, really wanted to stay. Chehon and George's solos, both to the music of Icelandic composer Olafur Arnaulds, were both stellar; Chehon's impressed me just a bit more, although Nigel stated that he thought George's solo was his best overall performance on the show to date.

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Audrey's sad goodbye

But in the end, the judges (non-unanimously) chose to send home Audrey and George. Audrey had never been up for elimination before, and she took the news hard; I was sad to see her go, but not that surprised, considering how Witney had been pimped rather aggressively by the judges all season long (plus, she'd had a really good night). George's exit was even less surprising, especially since he'd just faltered so badly with his lackluster Parisian jazz dance routine...but at least he left on a high note, thanks to his redemptive solo.

So, who will be in danger next week? Based on this week's dances, I would say Chehon's a goner. Although he did well, and he's probably the technically best male dancer left on the show, he just wasn't memorable enough this week to compete with Cole, Will, or Cyrus--all of whom clearly have much bigger fanbases (none of them have ever been on the chopping block before) and much bigger personalities. As for the girls, Lindsay seems most at risk, but that elimination is tougher to call. I would only venture to predict that Eliana needn't worry next Wednesday.

Tune in next week to see if I'm right--and to see the remaining eight pair with allstars all over again! Cue music.

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