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SYTYCD Top 20: The Dance-Off Begins!

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Well, after weeks of left-footed drag queens, decidedly unsexy men named Sex, and a whole lot of broken bones and broken dreams, the So You Think You Can Dance auditions are over...and the competition has started among the top 20. And whoa, there's not a Schwimmer in the bunch! What gives? I figured ole Mama Schwimmer would keep popping out tiny dancers well into SYTYCD season 18, but now I guess last season's Lacey was the final Schwimmer spawn to compete. No adopted brothers of Travis this season, either. So it's a whole new show, and it's anyone's game.

Going into tonight's top 20 episode, I of course already my faves picked out. Among the men, I was digging hunky Mark, who impressed me with his "Bohemian Rhapsody" dance routine even more than when past reality TV hunks Constantine Maroulis and Michael Johns sang that classic on American Idol. And among the women, I was partial to dark, gothy, utterly compelling Kourtni.

I was pretty neutral about most of the other ladies (I didn't really understand why last season's Dominic had such a crush on Kherrington, for instance)...and I downright disliked salsa dancer Susie, the trashy-looking teacher with the Xtina-circa-"Dirrty" magenta hair extensions and more eye makeup than most of the last few weeks' auditioning drag queens combined. Really, this teacher looked more like she belonged in Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" video, or on Rock Of Love 3, than on this respectable dance show. But hey, I'd still give her a chance. I guess...

I also already had my eye, and heart, set on Twitch and Comfort, two of the strangely few hip-hop dancers who made the top 20 this season. Much like the burning questions "Will a plus-size girl ever win on America's Next Top Model?" and "Will a rocker ever win on American Idol?," the question "Will a breakdancer ever win on SYTYCD?" is a valid query this year--and you know, zaftig Whitney just won ANTM and David Cook just triumphed on Idol. So maybe, I thought, 2008 would be Twitch or Comfort's year, too...

So the first couple up was the positively "ancient" (28-year-old!) ballerina Raven and West Coast swinger Jamie--doing hip-hop, of course. They got jiggy to Estelle's "American Boy" featuring Kanye West, so the show's stylists outfitted Jamie in Kanye-style preppy tennis wear that suited his innate nerdiness. The choreographers also gave this couple some goofy moves that didn't force them to try to act too gangsta. But overall, this number was kind of forgettable. The moment I remember best, frankly, was when Jamie dropped his preppy trousers and flashed his nerdy tighty whiteys--and that was one dance move I didn't need to see.

Next was the aforementioned Miami teacher, Susie, odd-coupled off with innocent contemporary dancer Marquis. These two were assigned a waltz, which meant Susie was gonna have to class it up a bit. And guess...she did! Yep, the broad cleaned up nice. There was one clumsy moment in their routine, when Marquis attempted a lift that didn't work out quite as the choreographer had hoped; but they covered it up, rebounded, and finished well. Even ballroom expert Mary Murphy was impressed--not impressed enough to scream, mind you, but those of you who've actually heard Mary scream might actually be glad she refrained.

Next up were Amazonian robo-babe Kourtni and the more reserved lyrical dancer Matt. They did a slinky, spy-versus-spy routine to Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," but honestly, Kourtni seemed a lot more comfortable in their black leather stagewear than Matt did. Nigel Lythgoe later told Matt he seemed like someone had stuck a "broomstick where the sun don't shine." Ouch! Literally! I too was a little disappointed with this routine. I was fairly unfamiliar with Matt, but already smitten with Kourtni, so my expectations were admittedly high for her. I hope she sticks around for additional episodes so I can watch her freak flag fly like it did during her earlier riveting audition...but Nigel seemed fairly confident that she'd be safe based on her past performances.

The fourth couple consisted of contemporary dancers Chelsea T. and Thayne, who seemed like a good match...but then they were forced to do a cha-cha...and it was one of the hardest routines their choreographers had ever created! But these two were up for the challenge, and they delivered the first absolutely fabulous performance of the night. Yes, they brought it. Daaaammmn, Chelsea was one fiery, feisty little number in that barely-there purple feathered outfit--a "fantastic creature," according to an unabashedly smitten Nigel. And they were the first honorable recipients of tickets to board Mary Murphy's famous Hot Tamale Train, too. [insert Mary scream here] WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Up fifth were ballroom dancer Chelsie H. and my man Mark, doing a contemporary routine by....omigod, MIA MICHAELS!!! You know, only the awesome-est choreographer in the history of choreography. That's all. And they danced a routine inspired by a "Tim Burton wedding." Ooh, I liked this equation, here. Mark + Mia + Burton = CREEPY RADNESS. I loved this routine. Mia and Mark's quirks meshed together so wonderfully, and even the more conservative Chelsie was more than up for the task. Wow, this was one wedding I'd be happy to attend. Or even be in. Anyone know if Mark is single? Just kidding. Sort of...

Kherrington, the new crushgirl who has apparently replaced Cat Deeley in Dominic's heart, and Twitch, the b-boy who narrowly missed making the top 20 last season, were up next as the newly christened couple "Twitchington." They were assigned a Broadway-style jazz number, and it was amazing how effortlessly Twitch adapted to this new style. He was one cool zootsuited cat, here. And Kherrington positively glowed on that stage. Green-thinking producers could have turned all the spotlights off and she would have radiated enough electricity on her own, enough that even the people sitting in the nosebleed-inducing back row could've clearly seen their performance. Suddenly, I started to understand why Dominic was so smitten...

The seventh couple consisted of flygirl Comfort (the best female hip-hopper ever on SYTYCD, according to Nigel), and lyrical dancer Chris, the boy with the "personality of a tree," according to Nigel. Well, no worries there--Comfort obviously had enough personality for the two of them. This twosome got handed a sassy, sexy jive routine, and though they were both clearly out of their element (Comfort was a bit wobbly on those unfamiliar high heels, for starters), they also were good sports about the whole thing and gave it their all. Comfort proved she has a killer brickhouse body under all that baggy tomboy streetwear, and Chris proved he has an actual flesh-and-blood personality. It wasn't technically one of the best routines of the evening, but it was definitely one of the most fun. And Comfort was even dancing with a dislocated shoulder  ("I'm a soldier," she declared), which made this number all the more impressive.

Contemporary dancer Katie, the girl who auditioned alongside her BFF roommate Natalie--with whom she demonstrated some (perhaps unintentionally) erotic partner-workout routines earlier on the show--was up next with Joshua, the hip-hop dancer who finally admitted that yes, he has had some ballet training. (It figures--the dude is graceful, and you don't learn such smooth moves on the street...unless your name is Leroy and you are a member of the cast of Fame.) Katie and Joshua were given a particularly challenging pop routine by choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon--challenging because it actually required more acting than the other numbers of the night (their dance depicted a young soldier saying goodbye to his girlfriend as he goes off to war, and required them to fake-cry on cue). Well, these two could go on So You Think You Can Act, too, I reckon. There was a huge amount of frog-in-throat, believable emotion in their goosepimply performance, and the whole theme of the routine went so well with its soundtrack, Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown's "No Air." It was no surprise that this was Nigel's favorite dance of the night. It was mine, too.

Contemporary dancer Jessica and Debbie Allen protégé Will (aka the "Leroy" of the show) followed with a tango. Now, Debbie Allen had to drop out as a judge this season because of Will's involvement. So, was it worth losing Debbie "You Want Fame?" Allen to gain Will? Well, it's hard to say, considering they did a tango, which is not as exciting a dance genre (at least in most viewers' opinions) as hipper styles like hip-hop and pop. But Will mastered the routine given to him and, in his own words, "danced his face off." And he made Mary scream--so loudly that Debbie probably heard it from wherever she was at the time. Will definitely outshone his partner tonight. To be honestly, I barely remember Jessica being onstage.

Last up were Knicks dancer Courtney and b-boy Gev, ending things on a Hi-NRG note with a fast-paced disco routine to Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland." I usually love the totally OTT disco routines on this show, but unfortunately, this one didn't reach quite as high a dance-fever pitch as similar performances from past seasons. I don't know if it was enough to keep them in the competition, as it hardly showcased both dancers' true abilities. I do hope Gev at least makes it through, because he seemed a little out of place in that white Tony Manero suit and I'd like to see him get to do his thing later on. I suppose the one upside is, if Gev does end up in the bottom, he'll get to bust out an awesome "dance for your life" solo and surely save himself.

So, who is in danger of elimination tomorrow night? Well, since viewers are still voting for couples and not individual dancers right now, I'd have to say the weakest overall couples were Raven & Jamie, and Courtney & Gev. I have a feeling Gev and Raven would be spared by the judges, though, if they were in the bottom...so my prediction is Jamie and Courtney will be the first cuts of the competition.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I'm right!

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