This Wednesday, So You Think You Can Dance aired its first live competitive episode of Season 11, and its 200th live episode in the series' history. Congratulations, SYTYCD! A whole lot of Hot Tamale Train tickets, Mary Murphy screams, Nigel Lythgoe leers, Lil' C mixed metaphors, fantastic routines, and Emmy nominations went into achieving this milestone.
As for the actual top 20 episode, however, it did have its moments, but it's unlikely to go down in the SYTYCD history books. The contestants all got to dance in their respective specialty styles, paired with likeminded partners (they'll be split up next week), which did give them a chance to shine. But in the end, only two couples really had me woo-wooing, Mary-style.
Brooklyn Fullmer & Serge Onik – Ballroom
Doing a cha cha choreographed by SYTYCD alum Dmitry Chaplin, Brooklyn and Serge were tasked with being "hot and steamy," despite having just met. This would be a challenge. Were they up for it? Sort of. Their upbeat cha cha was a fun start to the show, but there were awkward moments, lacking the sexy chemistry Dmitry was going for. Mary mostly loved it, but she criticized Brooklyn's nerves and lack of balance. Nigel appreciated the pair's energy (and Brooklyn's legs, of course), but didn't think Brooklyn played to Serge enough; he even said she seemed "fake." With these two going first, and not dancing a particularly memorable routine, both could be at risk in this week's vote.
Emily James & Casey Askew – Contemporary
It's always a delight to see another SYTYCD alum, the phenomenal Travis Wall, return to the show to choreograph. He created a classic push/pull, love/hate routine this week, and while it wasn't his best work, there were some great moments — like that impressively Gumby-esque deep backbend, and that drop-split at the end, both executed flawlessly by Emily. Nigel loved the pair's combination of technique and emotion. Guest judge Jason Derulo loved their flair for storytelling. Mary called them "yummy." I think Emily stood out more than Casey, but judging by the roar of the studio audience, both of them are already fan favorites, and neither are in danger of going home any time soon.
Valerie Rockey & Zack Everhart – Tap
It was impressive how these tappers handled this Anthony Morigerato-choreographed routine's extremely high level of difficulty — they spent most of the number jumping up and down a slippery staircase, and at times this was downright scary to watch. ("My heart was in my mouth for a lot of that," gasped hostess Cat Deeley.) But this number just didn't seem graceful to me. It came across as labored (probably because it was), and Valerie in particular appeared to struggle. But kudos for them for getting through it without ever letting their smiles leave their faces; these cute kids definitely have personality, and that might be their saving grace (pun intended). Nigel, an avowed tap aficionado, just muttered, "Wow wow wow wow wow," over and over, before noting their likability. Mary enjoyed their "rhythmic conversation." Jason, who surprisingly has a background in tap, called this routine "unbelievable." Eh. Maybe I'm just not a tap fan.
Bridget Whitman & Stanley Glover – Contemporary
These kids were lucky to get each other; they're two of the best in this year's top 20. (Bridget was especially lucky; Stanley might actually be the best male dancer of the season, or at least tied for that spot with Ricky Ubeda.) These two were also lucky to get choreographer Bonnie Story, who crafted a lovely, intimate, romantic routine for them. This was the first "Deeley Chills" number of the night. Mary loved their "[Bonnie] Story-telling" and their sexy face-grab moment, and she told Stanley: "The height that you get with your leaps is unmatched by anyone in this competition." Jason loved how they made everything look "effortless," and Nigel called them "tremendous." It'll be a shame to see them part next week, but regardless of whom they dance with next, they're both totally sticking around.
Jourdan Epstein & Jacque LeWarne – Ballet
Jourdan received a lot of screentime earlier this season, but poor Jacque's audition was never even shown. Jacque basically entered the top 20 as a complete unknown, so she had a lot to prove this week. Doing a classical Swan Lake pas de deux by Russian ballet legend Marat Daukayev, Jacque was actually slightly better than Jourdan (although it was sometimes tough to tell them apart, they were so synchronized and sister-like). This was, overall, a beautiful routine, despite some minor technique issues that only Nigel seemed to notice; personally, I wanted to throw bouquets of roses onto the stage. But with Jacque going into the voting round with no pre-existing fanbase whatsoever, I am concerned that a traditional routine like this won't be what it takes to win over SYTYCD's young voters.
Malene Ostergaard & Marcquet Hill – Ballroom
Doing a Louis Van Amstel-choreographed Brazilian samba, Malene upstaged Marcquet with her crazy energy, which Nigel likened to that of a rodeo bull storming out of a gate. But while Malene may be a raging bull, I have a feeling Marcquet, one of this season's most versatile contestants, will be a dark horse. (Mary declared him "a force to be reckoned with.") This routine didn't amaze me, but I found it much more engaging than Brooklyn and Serge's so-so cha cha.
Carly Blaney & Rudy Abreu – Contemporary
Carly, like Jacque, was pretty much edited out of the audition rounds. I don't remember her at all. When I found out she was getting a Stacey Tookey routine, I figured that would guarantee her safety, but this dance wasn't quite up to par with Stacey's finest work. As far as their pair's performance went, I do think Carly stood out more than Rudy, who struggled with some of the lifts. She really attacked the moves and did the most with what she'd been given. "That passion just poured out all over that stage," Mary said. Hopefully I won't be pouring one out for Carly next week. I think she has potential, and I'd like to see more of her.
Emilio Dosal & Teddy Coffey – Hip-Hop
There's a surprising dearth of hip-hop dancers this season, and I don't really think either of these two, as competent as they are, have what it takes to become a breakout star — the new Twitch, Fik-Shun, Cyrus, or Legacy. This mellow Christopher Scott routine, complete with corny mop props, wasn't even very hip-hop at all. (Bonus points to Christopher for choosing the Commodores' awesomely old-school "Nightshift" for this number, though. The Moonwalk was also a nice touch.) I would have liked to see something more hard-hitting and vivacious (I actually enjoyed the boys' jokey pre-dance interview more than I did this routine), although that wasn't really Emilio and Teddy's fault. They did their best. Jason called them "seamless," Mary called them "mesmerizing," and Nigel pointed out that Teddy (another contestant who's been screwed over in the screentime department) is also a tapper. These two will likely be safe for now, but hopefully they can let loose more next week.
Jessica Richens & Ricky Ubeda – Contemporary
Well, the stars just aligned for this one. Take two of the best dancers in the competition (particularly Ricky), give them an amazing, Emmy-worthy routine by the always-amazing Sonya Tayeh, set it to the haunting "Vow" by avant garde composer Meredith Monk… and magic is bound to happen. And it did. Sonya's routine about "the ultimate connection" required instant chemistry from this thrown-together duo, and — unlike the aforementioned Brooklyn and Serge — they were totally convincing and totally in sync. Even after the music ended, they stayed in character. And that Titanic lift was everything. The judges gave them a standing ovation. Nigel called this "another level entirely" and one of the best SYTYCD routines of all time. Mary sighed, "That just came from heaven." Jason said, "I want to thank you both for blessing me and the millions of people out there with that." This truly was the perfect partnership. Can't Jessica and Ricky dance together every week? Because we all know they're going to be here every week, if this is a sign of what they can do.
Tanisha Belnap & Nick Garcia – Ballroom
Poor Tanisha and Nick had a tough act to follow, and they had to close the show. And let's face it, a Louis Van Amstel cha cha wasn't going to do the trick, no matter how well Tanisha and Nick executed the moves. Tanisha was slick — I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up as a pro on Louis's other show, Dancing With the Stars, one day — but she didn't have Malene's fire. Nick wasn't sexy enough, either; his muggy, goofy faces were distracting. Even the pair's kiss (apparently instigated by Tanisha) wasn't convincing. Mary thought it was "fun, fast, and fabulous," though she said Nick was "a little tight." Jason and Nigel enjoyed this. Since these two got the pimp spot, they're probably safe for now, but I don't think either dancer will make it to the top 10.
So who isn't safe in this week's vote? I predict the bottom three boys will be Serge, Teddy (due to his lack of previous screentime), and possibly Nick, and the bottom three girls will be Brooklyn, Valerie, and Jacque. Serge and Jacque will likely be going home, unless they pull off "dance for your life" solos that are so brilliant, they cannot be denied — even by judges and producers who quite possibly have already made up their minds about which two contestants to cut.
See you next week, when the top 20 become the top 18. Until then, enjoy this playlist of songs from Wednesday's broadcast: