Vegas Week on So You Think You Can Dance always makes me think of the classic intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and Season 9 proved no exception. Indeed, with 181 dancers battling through eight different rounds over four days, two people exiting on stretchers, and only 35 remaining at the end of the two-hour telecast, Jim McKay’s voiceover — “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the human drama of athletic competition” — would’ve fit right in alongside Mary Murphy’s whoops of approval and Adam Shankman’s tears.
Still, if memory serves, I don’t think there was ever a line that went, “judges singling out one competitor like a pack of hyenas tearing apart a weak baby impala.” And yet that’s what happened to Blake Lively doppelganger Alexa Anderson, the last dancer cut before the Season 8 Top 20, who needed three days of taunting from Nigel Lythgoe & Co. – ”you are giving us no light!” ”I’m not enamoured by your beauty anymore!” – to figure out she’d been assigned the “let’s make a pretty girl cry” edit. Once the tears flowed and the mascara smeared — “I’m not just not listening to you guys. I’m racking my brain and I am pushing myself,” pleaded Alexa, probably wondering if she’d have to shed a little blood to silence the pack – her dancing suddenly delighted the panel, with a few sly suggestions that she might have what it takes to earn the title America’s Favorite Dancer (Who Is Not Afraid to “Release Emotion”).
I’m not sure Alexa is quite that compelling, but I will say her final Vegas solo — which started out graceful and sweet, then shifted to a mood of power and aggression — was her best work this season. So maybe cruel Uncle Nigel knows what he’s doing. (Just as long as Alexa isn’t outfitted with a cilice for her first week on the live shows.)
Other highlights from the Vegas rounds:
ABS-SOLUTELY FABULOUS | I might need a little more information, but I think I’ve found my favorite Season 9 female: Belly dancer Janelle Issis’ solo, complete with giant gold wings, oozed with sensuality, and yet the playfulness in her eyes proved she’s got a cheeky sense of humor, that she knows how to play notes other than “sex, sex, and more sex.” Plus, her abs are so powerful, they could win a wrestling match with John Cena.
EXIT THE DRAGONS | Two of the three Dragon House guys were out by the end of the first round of choreography, which happened to be in their hip-hop wheelhouse. But Cyrus — with his wacky hair, his huge heart, and his hypnotic robotic limbs — persevered, dissolving into a sobbing mess after he squeaked past the jazz round. “You did it. Proper. Can you believe it?” asked Cat Deeley, clearly delighted that this untrained kid hadn’t been done in by the rigors of Vegas. Better still? After Cyrus tanked in the ballroom round, we got a mesmerizing solo that had Debbie Allen shouting “Lord have mercy, yes!”
HOORAY FOR BALLET | Has anyone in the history of SYTYCD leapt so high, so far, so effortlessly as Chehon Wespo-Tschopp during his final solo? Chehon declared his desire to “break out of ballet mindset” as Dragon House Cyrus rubbed his shoulder in encouragement. If there’s any justice in the world of reality TV, these stylistic opposites will both have their day in the live rounds.
PAY PERV VIEW | Did we really need all that footage of fresh-scrubbed Utah teens/childhood friends Whitney Carson and Lindsay Arnold gleefully interlocking limbs, hugging, and later gigglingly turning out the lights while sharing the same bed? And just when I was about to give Nigel a slow-clap for handling both executive producer and director duties for the episode.
THE LATE CUTS ARE THE DEEPEST | Adrian Lee, cut in Season 7 in his living room by Mary Murphy, got eliminated again, right before the Top 20 announcement. Surprising to be sure, but I’m not crestfallen about it, if I’m being honest. I felt worse for pink-haired Aubrey Klinger, who put together a really terrific group number to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” got a Mia Michaels comparison from Nigel, then promptly got the axe in the next round after a perfectly fine cha cha. Her sobbing parting comments — “I’ve been auditioning for four f—— years. I can’t get work!” — drove home just how brutal the life of a dancer can be, even when they’re incredibly talented.
A TALE OF TWO SOLOS | I can’t be the only one who was fascinated by the difference in the two female “dance for your life” solos following the jazz round with Sonya Tayeh, right? I wasn’t a huge fan of Amelia Lowe’s black-and-white audition, but her Vegas solo, set to the To Kill a Mockingbird theme, was incredibly evocative, technically impressive, and yet entirely atypical from the many contemporary solos I’m used to seeing on the show. Rachel Applehans, on the other hand, was toast the minute she bit the red tie that she’d been “provocatively” wearing around her neck. Thank heavens for Debbie Allen, letting the kid know you’ve got to have more than sex appeal in your repertoire if you want to be dancing professionally anywhere outside of your local gentleman’s club.
OUCH! | I know SYTYCD‘s producers love to play up the drama of Vegas week injuries — they’d send in a medical crew for a hang nail if they thought they could get away with it — but Joshua Alexander’s botched backflip/TKO was one of the most hideous falls I’ve seen on the show. The fact that he didn’t even twitch once he hit the ground made it all that much scarier. Plus, you know if he cracks the Top 20, Uncle Nigel will be sure to replay that scene a half-dozen more times once we get to the live rounds.
What did you think of SYTYCD’s Season 9 Vegas week? What was the biggest surprise for you? Have you pegged any favorites, or folks to root against? And how did you feel about the judges singling out Alexa for criticism? Hit the comments with your thoughts!