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There was much to like about this week's "So You Think You Can Dance" top eight show. Like the fact that it featured cool music from Bjork, Wye Oak, and Gotye. Or that all eight dancers got to perform solos in their own style--not to desperately save themselves from possible elimination, but just for their own and viewers' sheer enjoyment. Some of these contestants, having rarely or never been in the bottom four before, hadn't had much chance to solo since Vegas Week, so that was definitely a nice bonus.
Another bonus? The return of "SYTYCD's" all-time best celebrity judge, "Modern Family" star and ultimate "SYTYCD" fanboy Jesse Tyler Ferguson, a guy whose enthusiasm for this show is so over-the-top, he makes Mary Murphy look sedate. Jesse even managed to one-up Mary by giving one contestant a ticket on his own Hot Jalapeño Bus, an honor that just may have been even more prestigious than a trip on Mary's Hot Tamale Train. Either way, this episode was one wild ride.
But the show ended NOT so hotly, when it came time for the eliminations and one of the season's most beloved contenders, a boy I thought was pretty much a shoo-in for the finale, was sent home...presumably on just a plain old normal bus. Here's how the top eight fared this evening in their allstar duet routines, followed by the bummer results...
Witney Carson with allstar Twitch Boss - Hip-Hop
After seasons of softie hip-hop (more like "hip-pop") from cutesy choreographers like Tabitha & Napoleon and Christopher Scott, "SYTYCD" finally got back to some hard-hitting, East Coast-style, "ratched" hip-hop dancing, courtesy of a seemingly awesome new addition to the "SYTYCD" choreography crew, Luther Brown. ("I've been waiting for this all this series," declared Nigel Lythgoe. So have I, Nigel. So have I.) But was girly-girl Witney up for such a challenge? "Get it, ballroom girl!" ordered Luther, and that she did. Her performance to Lil' Wayne & Big Sean's "My Homies Still" wasn't quite "ratched" enough to be on par with Twitch's, but I appreciated her effort and commitment; she really was trying, and she really did attack the routine. "Where are you getting that attitude from? Do all 18-year-old Mormon girls dance like this?" howled Nigel. "You were down, you were bucc, you were everything! You had it going on!" screeched Mary. "You have this amazing sensuality, so it was great to see you get down and dirty. How you did that in those diaper pants, I don't know," mused Jesse. Hey, if diaper pants were good enough for MC Hammer, they're good enough for MC Witney, right?
Cole Horibe with allstar Allison Holker - Contemporary
With Cole cast as a cold and sadistic lover (something he did quite well when he reprised Mia Michaels' famous "Addiction" piece a couple weeks ago), and Allison portraying the lonely woman who craves his companionship, this Bjork-soundtracked, Sonya Tayeh-choreographed number was one of the most intense and stunning of the night. Cole had his work cut out for him dancing alongside one of Nigel's all-time favorite allstars, but the martial arts man's competitive instincts kicked in (no pun intended), and he rose to the occasion like an allstar himself. "This was like an 'American Horror Story' promo, it was so intense! I'm shaking. I need a cocktail!" exclaimed Jesse. "It was a little creepy, a little scary, but it was memorable! I loved it!" added Mary, predicting that Cole would make it to this season's finale. Nigel of course said that Cole was a bit upstaged by the "tremendous" Allison, but was quick to add that Sonya had said Cole was Allison strongest partner to date. "That is a compliment indeed," noted Nigel.
Eliana Girard with allstar Ryan DiLello - Quickstep
They don't call it the "dreaded quickstep" for nothing on this show--it's thwarted many a contestant's chances in the past--but Eliana, arguably the technically best female dancer in the top eight, clearly had nothing to dread. Playing a bored housewife in this fun and flirty Jonathan Roberts routine, she made the quickstep look easy--and, more incredibly, actually made it look sexy. "I thought the quickstep was the only thing that could throw you a curveball, and obviously it did not! You were spectacular," said Mary. "You have this accessibility that I don't think a lot of dancers have. I love you so much!" gushed an excitable Jesse. "I was shocked by the technicality of it. Your top line was possibly the best top line I've ever seen a non-ballroom girl do. It's almost like this show was created for you," said Nigel. This girl really has to win this show. She was created to win.
Lindsay Arnold with allstar Alex Wong - Jazz
Lindsay, the less overtly va-va-voom-sexy ballroom girl of Season 9, was given the task of generating palpable sexual tension with Alex, and while she and Alex didn't exactly fog up my TV screen, I thought they were fairly convincing during this Sonya Tayeh routine. I believed them, and I was impressed by Lindsay the ballroom technician's ability to let go and let loose. The judges, however, were not so convinced--not even fanboy Jesse. "Technically, it was tremendous, but I personally didn't feel your sexual tension," Nigel griped, as the studio audience booed him and he suggested that Lindsay spend some time studying the apparently faultless Allison Holker. Mary agreed (and was also booed), saying, "It's a no in the chemistry department for sure, but it was a lot of really great dancing, without a doubt." Said Jesse: "The chemistry was maybe 70 percent. Technically, it was 100 percent." I would have given them an 85 percent for chemistry, but hey, that's just me.
Will Thomas with allstar Lauren Gottlieb - Lyrical Hip-Hop
This was another one of "SYTYCD's" typical lightweight hip-hop routines (by the above-mentioned Christopher Scott), and another routine that played on Will's charmingly goofy, adorkable persona. Will was cast as a boy cathartically cavorting around his living room trying to "dance his pain away," and I'm not sure if it was his best work--ironically, this was the moment when he suddenly got slightly serious, just when I really wanted him to cut loose and jump on that couch with Tom-Cruise-on-"Oprah"-like reckless abandon. He just didn't seem joyous or wild enough. The judges liked this, though. "You are ridiculously adorable, like an adorable puppy covered in puppies, and I feel sometimes you play that up a bit--so it was nice to see you be a little more serious," observed Jesse. Nigel praised Will for "containing his cheesiness" this time around. "It was intriguing and had great musicality. It was so perfect. You had it really tight tonight. Will, don't be shocked that you're here. You do have the power to stay in this competition!" said Mary. Sadly for Will (spoiler alert!), Mary's encouraging words would be proven wrong about a half hour later.
Cyrus Spencer with allstar Melanie Moore - Jazz
Gee, this was an interesting combo: Cyrus, arguably this season's weakest link and definitely this season's least trained dancer, with Melanie, last season's champion and arguably the best "SYTYCD" winner of all time. I admired Cyrus's ability to, for the most part, keep up with Melanie, and of course his unflagging energy and enthusiasm were infectious. However, this Mandy Moore pairing really did shine a spotlight on Cyrus's technical shortcomings. But the judges, as usual, went easy on him. "You are dancing with one of the most amazing dancers ever on this show, and yet your charisma and your spirit and those pants kept my eyes on you. Whatever happens, you're one of those people that will be synonymous with the show forever," said Jesse. "It's that personality--it grabs you! You're a little people-magnet. America must love you!" said Nigel (although surely he must realize from his Twitter feed alone that not all of America loves Cyrus, this season's most polarizing contestant). "Was that even close to perfect? No, it wasn't. But what you do is extraordinary; it blows my mind," added Mary. Yes, this was a good effort, and yes, Cyrus has tons of raw talent. But with the finale only three weeks away, I think it's time to get tough--and judge all remaining dancers equally. We will see how kind the panel is next week, since (spoiler alert!) Cyrus did survive again this week.
Chehon Wespi-Tschopp with allstar Anya Garnis - Argentine Tango
Chehon, despite his undeniable technical prowess, has had trouble connecting with voters due to his cool (some might say cold), calm, and collected demeanor. But this Miriam & Leonardo number showcased his quiet sexiness in the finest way possible. He positively smoldered onstage with Anya (with his mother watching in the audience, hopefully not feeling too uncomfortable), and he delivered his best partner-dance performance of the season. "There is something really special about this moment. The hair just went up on my arms," said Mary, before declaring this her favorite performance of the night and handing Chehon, the last contestant I ever thought would get a Hot Tamale ticket, a first-class ride on the Train. "And I am inviting you on my Hot Jalapeño Bus!" Jesse chimed in. Said Nigel: "This is everything I was asking couples to get--this connection. And to do this in front of your mother as well! She must be proud."
Tiffany Maher with allstar Ade Obayomi - Contemporary
Tiffany, who has steadily dark-horse-galloped into America's hearts on this show, seemed so obsessed with the music that Mandy Moore has chosen for this routine--Celine Dion's "Power Of Love"--that she was goofily singing along to the schmaltzy ballad throughout rehearsal. But when it came time to compete, she got serious and delivered one of the best performances of the entire episode. She was grace and class personified, so lovely and effervescent, and she totally earned that standing ovation from the judges, even if she seemed shocked and humbled by their reaction. "That was amazing, those lifts were insane," Jesse crooned to the melody of the Celine tune. "My rotator cuffs hurt from watching it!" Cried out Mary: "You are extraaaaaooooordinary! That is your best performance of the season. It just seemed like it was bouncing off the clouds." Said Nigel: "You're a brilliant technician, a brilliant performer, and to quote One Direction, you don't know you're beautiful." I bet Nigel's old nemesis Simon Cowell appreciated THAT remark!
So then it was elimination time. The two girls in the bottom four, longtime ballroom-circuit friends Witney and Lindsay, were hardly a surprise, nor was it a surprise when the judges decided to save their season-long pet, Witney, over Lindsay. However, the bottom two boys were a little more shocking...
I'd totally assumed that Chehon--who'd been in the bottom before, more than once--didn't stand a chance next to popular personalities like Cyrus, Cole, and Will. I'd at least expected he'd be in the bottom four again this week. But apparently his worried fanbase rallied, and so this week, Chehon was completely safe. So was Cyrus, of course--that man is simply untouchable, and is now the only male contestant in the surviving six to have never been up for elimination. So it surprisingly came down to Cole and Will, and while I think the judges made the right decision when they saved Cole (who I still think could win this thing), I will dearly miss Will. The show will definitely be a little less fun without his puppy-on-puppy-style cuteness, for sure.
But who will get cut next week, based on this week's performances? While everyone did well this Wednesday, the bottom line is "SYTYCD" is still a popularity contest, so it seems like Chehon and Witney are doomed. And if my prediction is correct, then that would mean Cole, Cyrus, Tiffany, and Eliana would make the finale (with hopefully Cole and Eliana winning in the end, since there will be co-ed co-champions this year). However, if Cyrus keeps dancing eye-popping solos like he did this week, he may very well continue to escape elimination until the end.
Still, anything is possible on this show, so we shall see. Come back next Wednesday, and...cue music.