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In case you needed any additional evidence that "So You Think You Can Dance" is the talent show to watch this summer, this Tuesday's "SYTYCD" top 20 episode (the first live competitive episode of Season 10) kicked off with a Nappytabs group number that was absolutely epic, even by "SYTYCD" standards.
Featuring the 20 contestants, various "SYTYCD" choreographers and judges, and, among other things, Travis Wall in a feather boa, Nigel Lythgoe attempting to do animation, and a cameo by Herb Alpert, the intricate routine was stunning — and it was done all in ONE take, ONE shot, with NO edits.
Seriously, who needs to tune in to "America's Got Talent" on Tuesday nights, when Fox has "got talent" like this? Emmy voters, I hope you were watching this.
And the talent was on full display throughout the two-hour broadcast, as 20 dancers, paired up as 10 couples, put on the ritz, so to speak. Here's how everyone did:
Mariah Spears & Carlos Garland – Jive
Mariah, one of my favorite girls of Season 10 (and of Season 9, when she made it to Vegas) is a krumper by trade. Carlos is a contemporary dancer. So I didn't have high hopes for them when I found out they'd been assigned a lightning-paced Jason Gilkison jive. Luckily, Mariah was able to bring her sassy personality to the energetic routine, and she sure looked cute in that little mod yellow "Laugh-In" dress. And these two were dancing to "Get It Right" by Fantasia, which was also awesome. But did they really get it right? Yes and no. They handed the challenge well, and they kept up the energy. (I got tired just watch these kids…I'd need a bottle of No-Doz chased by case of Red Bull to pull this off.) But they were clearly out of their element. Judge Mary Murphy said the routine came off as a "a little bit labored" and critiqued Mariah's pigeon-toed feet, but she liked the couple's enthusiasm and athleticism, if not their technique. Returning guest judge Wayne Brady said, "From an entertainment viewpoint, it was great…" but he thought they seemed too frantic. He did call Mariah a "1960s bombshell," however, while Nigel compared her to Blondie's Debbie Harry. Nigel conceded that Mariah and Carlos were "lacking in the style," but added, "If the public vote on energy and performance, you're safe for a week." I hope he was right.
Jasmine Mason & Alan Bersten – Contemporary
Jasmine is another one of my favorite girls this year, and when she revealed in her bio piece that she loves cats, I warmed to her even more. (Cats + "SYTYCD" = everything great in life.) Then she and her partner Alan got an amazing routine by the always-amazing Travis Wall, set to Ingrid Michaelson's lovely "Can't Help Falling in Love," and I was sold. I still don't know how they pulled this off. Their partnership was so new, and Alan isn't even a contemporary specialist (he's a ballroom dancer)…and yet they pulled off a dance that required them to be BLINDFOLDED throughout. This was a "love is blind"-themed routine that included mid-air leaps, backbends, and an advanced trust-exercise backwards fall, and they didn't miss a step. STUNNING. "Just beautiful…I was never worried about you…you were in such control," marveled Wayne. Nigel thought Jasmine (more so than Alan) managed to convey emotion even with her expressive eyes concealed. And Mary gushed, "Travis, you just made me fall in love with these two. What chemistry! There's a connection, even with the blindfolds." I can't believe these two had only been dancing together for about a week. And I can't wait to see them dance again.
Malece Miller & Jade Zuberi – Jazz
Yay! Another cat-lover (Jade), and another stellar routine by Travis. Malece and Jade played two Old Hollywood movie stars reacting to receiving bad reviews, but there was no way they'd get bad reviews for this routine. (Nigel claimed they'd been rough in rehearsal, but they were clearly ready for their close-up by the time Tuesday night rolled around.) Malece, this year's token Amelia Lowe/Melanie Moore pixie-girl type, was serving some Daisy Buchanan realness, and Jade, a hip-hop dancer, was surprisingly convincing as well. And they were dancing to "Silver Screen (Shower Scene)" by Felix Da Housecat — how cool is that? Nigel praised Jade's partnering skills, telling him, "You were there for her every moment"; this was especially notable considering that Jade HAD NEVER DANCED WITH A PARTNER BEFORE. Wayne said Jade should rename this show "So You Think You Can Pimp." Mary told Jade, "When you've got it, you've got it," and told Malece, "You got in touch with your internal diva! Gorgeous to watch!" Two stars of the (small) screen really were born during this routine.
Jenna Johnson & Tucker Knox – Broadway
Tyce Diorio's Broadway numbers, as fabulous as they are, don't always get the votes from younger viewers…but I think this one will. Oh my gawd, the adorkableness of it all! This flirty, plucky, spunky routine was just so much fun to behold. I couldn't stop smiling while watching these two. Tucker, one of my favorite male contestants this season, was a believable and lovable nerd, and Jenna radiated girl-next-door sexiness. This was a match made in "SYTYCD" heaven, and I have a feeling these two will go very far together. "You are a power couple, no question about it," said Nigel. Wayne compared Tucker to Donald O'Connor, and Jenna to Cyd Charisse and Gwen Verdon. Mary raved, "Fun! Playful! Flirtatious! You made me so happy. You both look like Broadway stars."
Brittany Cherry & Dorian "BluPrint" Hector – Afro-Jazz
Oh, poor Brittany. Partner assignment is so important on this show, especially in the early stages, when viewers are still getting to know all the contestants…and while Jenna lucked out with her partner, Brittany got stuck with BluPrint. That's not meant to be a diss; BluPrint is amazing in his own style, animation. And BluPrint was a surprise in this difficult Sean Cheesman routine — he held his own, and despite Mary assuming that this dance would be a trainwreck, she actually ended up giving them the first live-show tickets on her fabled Hot Tamale Train. Nigel even said this was one of the best routines he'd ever seen from a non-trained dancer. BluPrint definitely has potential. But I STILL fear that he will hold Brittany, a trained ballroom dancer, back a bit. Clearly she was the stronger dancer in this number. She just attacked it. ("I didn't expect you to have the Motherland in you!" Wayne joked.) I hope Brittany and BluPrint can continue to grow together; if they can; they'll be unstoppable. If they can't, BluPrint may drag Brittany down with him.
Alexis Juliano & Nico Greetham – Hip-Hop
Uh oh. This was the first (and really only) couple that didn't impress this evening, and I have a feeling both of them will be going home when the votes are revealed next week. (Side note: Fox really needs to bring back the separate results show. Seriously.) Despite kind of looking like Justin Bieber's cousin or the sixth member of One Direction, Nico failed to bring any swag to this Christopher Scott routine, and Alexis, despite declaring herself an avowed Belieber, didn't seem to share much chemistry with him. Even though Christopher intended this routine to be "goofy and light," not hard-hitting and ratchet, it was way too Disney and "High School Musical"-esque for my tastes. And it felt like it dragged on for, like, three times the lengths of the other, more engaging routines. The judges didn't like it either. "It was pleasant-hop, to be honest with you. Some things didn't sit right. It wasn't laying and sitting down in those pockets," sighed Mary. "It just wasn't right on you. It didn't work for me," said Nigel. "You need to learn to adapt, and don't fall back on what's comfortable," advised Wayne. All three judges assured Alexis and Nico they needn't worry, that their fans would save them…but I am not so sure. This was underwhelming.
Makenzie Dustman & Paul Karmiryan – Viennese Waltz
I assumed the Viennese waltz would be a death sentence for these two. I assumed wrong. This was actually quite lovely. Makenzie and Paul made a very convincing princess and prince during this classic, classy Jason Gilkison ballroom routine, though I could have done without that bench in the background. (White benches on the "SYTYCD" stage always remind me of Mia Michaels' Travis/Heidi bench routine from Season 3, and nothing can compare to that.) But I digress. Makenzie and Paul won't be benched next week, because they were fantastic. Mary described them using words like "fairytale," "beautiful," "scrumptious," "romantic," and "gorgeous." Nigel said they reminded him of Roman Holiday. Wayne told them, "You look like you should be on top of a wedding cake." The icing on the cake will be when they sail through to the next round. This is another power couple to watch.
Jasmine Harper & Aaron Turner – Jazz
Genius chorographer Sonya Tayeh gave Season 10's tallest duo (talk about a power couple!) a "swampy, aggressive" number (awesomely set to "Bottom of the River" by Delta Rae) that played to their literal strengths. Not many other dancers on the show would have been able to pull this off. They totally did. There was so much grit, so much angst, so much sex, so much raw energy here. It was primal and animalistic and just plain flat-out fabulous. An impressed Wayne engaged in some icky Nigel-style flirting ("Where were you when I was 20?" he asked Jasmine), some namedropping (he knows Aaron's dad, Vegas showman Earl Turner), and told Aaron, "To be a big dude and move like you do? Man, you are a sexy cat!" Mary told Jasmine, "You've got some legs up there! Holy smokes!" and told Aaron, "You are more than just a tap dancer. You're a brilliant tap dancer, and you're a brilliant, brilliant DANCER." It's interesting that Aaron only made the top 20 as an alternate, after another contestant was injured and had to bow out at the last minute. I have a feeling that he's going to stick around for a long time. (Another side note: Was Jasmine around when her ex, Cyrus Spencer, assisted with the rehearsals this week? That must've been awkward...)
Hayley Erbert & Curtis Holland – Hip-Hop
This routine seemed troubled in rehearsal. Shy Hayley felt she lacked the confidence to play the femme fatale role that choreographer Christopher Scott had given her, and her new partnership with tapper Curtis was faltering, lacking the chemistry needed to make this sexy number believable. But that was probably just some fakeout editing on Fox's part. While this routine was not perfectly executed, it did have swag and sex appeal, and Haley was definitely convincing as a sultry murderess. More impressively, Curtis really nailed it. Mary called Hayley a "little vixen." Wayne, who'd semi-adopted Curtis as his "little brother" back at the auditions, told Curtis, "I feel like I've seen you grow up!" And Nigel said, "That is the attitude that I wanted [Alexis and Nico] to have. Tremendous."
Amy Yakima & Du-Shaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall– Contemporary
Of course Fik-Shun, this year's answer to Twitch/Cyrus/Russell Ferguson (aka, the street dancer with the heart of gold), got the pimp spot. But what a pimp he was! The guy earned that spot when he totally pulled off this Sonya Tayeh routine. Holding his own against Amy, who portrayed a girl with issues/baggage, Fik-Shun faced the music and made Amy face her demons. Magic ensued. They seemed so connected, so committed, so deep in it...and by the end, hostess Cat Deeley had her "first chills of the season," and the judges were giving them a standing ovation. "Amy, you're one of the best dancers in this competition, without a doubt. Fik-Shun, last week I didn't even think you were strong enough in your own style…and now that is a distinct memory," said Mary. Nigel called Amy "a beast" and shouted, "Fik-Shun! Who are you?" Fik-Shun's answer to that question in a couple months may well be: "The winner of 'So You Think You Can Dance' Season 10."
So now, it is prediction time. It seems pretty obvious that Alexis and Nico will be in the bottom next week, and unless they really solo for their lives, they may be the two going home; they just might not be versatile enough to last. But who else will be at risk? That’s a much tougher call, since the other 18 dancers were so strong this week. I think it will come down to preexisting fanbases, which makes me suspect that Carlos, Paul, Hayley, and Brittany — as great as they were this week — may want to have their solos ready next Tuesday. Cue music, and see you then.