‘So You Think You Can Dance’ 18 episode 5 recap: ‘Challenge #1: Music Videos’ broke some out of their comfort zones

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We’re out of the auditions rounds on “So You Think You Can Dance” season 18, so it’s time for the top 10 to compete in challenges replicating a real career in dance. In the end, only one will win the $100,000 grand prize. So what happened in “Challenge #1: Music Videos” on Monday night, April 15? Read on to find out.

The 10 finalists coming into this episode were Olivia Alboher, Madison Alvarado, Braylon Browner, Anthony Curley, Avery Gay, Mariyah Hawkins, Easton Magliarditi, Roman Nevinchanyi, Jaylin Sanders and Dakayla Wilson.

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“This season we’re taking the challenges off the shiny floor and into the real world,” announces host Cat Deeley at the start of the show. At the end of an opening number choreographed by Luther Brown that gives each of the top 10 dancers a moment at center stage to shine, judges Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Allison Holker and JoJo Siwa emerge with some dance moves of their own, showcasing that we have a judging panel that knows of what they speak when they critique dancers.

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Flash back to one week earlier when the finalists don’t know yet that their challenges will take place outside of the studio setting. Cat breaks that news to them when they come to the grand “SYTYCD” stage. “The choreographers you’ll be working with each week will be the same ones that out there are going to be hiring you for jobs. Based on those challenges the bottom performers will have to dance for their lives, and someone will be eliminated every week,” Cat explains.

She reintroduces the dancers to judges Allison and Maksim. Allison, of course, has been in the top 10 before, and she tells the assembled hopefuls, “I was 18 years old as a contestant. I’ve stood on this side as well as a panelist, and I’m telling you guys, you guys are here for a reason. You guys are here because you’re great, and you have to own this moment.” Then they’re introduced for the first time to JoJo, and they’re overwhelmed with excitement, especially star-struck Dakayla, who thinks she’ll faint from getting critiques from JoJo. “There’s no way you’re talking to me right now.” Dakayla and JoJo are only two years apart in age, though. Y’all are contemporaries. Make JoJo impressed to be talking to you.

Then the top 10 find out that they’ll be moving in together, which they’re even more excited about than meeting JoJo. Those sweet children are easily impressed by their new digs, marveling that there are fish, and also a kitchen — “I can cook!” says Jaylin, to the excitement of his fellow finalists. Dividing up the beds is pretty easy. They’re all so excited about the house that there’s no fighting over who gets the solo rooms and who rooms together. I’ll be happy if this is the vibe throughout the season. The first person who gets an “I’m not here to make friends” attitude should be immediately banished to the broom closet.

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Then it’s time to find out their first challenge: music videos. And they’ll be working with “true legends of the industry,” Cat explains to them: the aforementioned Luther Brown, plus Phillip and Makenzie Chbeeb. The top 10 have been randomly selected for two separate groups. Phillip and Makenzie’s group is doing contemporary: Avery, Dakayla, Braylon, Roman and Jaylin. As the lone hip-hop dancer in the top 10, Jaylin is a little disappointed to get the contemporary group. But he’s more afraid of letting down the team than being out of his own comfort zone. Luther’s team will be doing hip-hop: Olivia, Mariyah, Madison, Easton and Anthony.

The next morning resident chef Jaylin makes everyone breakfast. So far I’m just seeing toasted bagels. He and Easton talk about being out of their comfort zone. Jaylin doesn’t feel like he’s had an opportunity to do his own style yet. He also hasn’t had formal training like the other contestants, so he considers himself the “underdog.” “It doesn’t make sense for me to win,” he explains. “So the ultimate goal is to make a statement: you can still come out on top no matter the struggle it takes to get there.”

First we see the contemporary rehearsals. Braylon has seen Phillip and Makenzie’s work “all over social media,” so he’s thrilled to be working with them. They will be reimagining one of the choreographers’ past videos: Justin Bieber‘s “All Around Me.” The original video featured moving walls, but they’re switching that up to a ladder for this group routine. The ladder symbolizes the teamwork required to climb and succeed. But poor Braylon is getting his ass kicked by the prop; he hurts his wrist and then bangs his head on it. “We’ll just have to hope that this gets better,” says Phillip about the performances overall — ouch.

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Over in hip-hop land, they will be recreating Lizzo‘s “Juice” video. We jump straight into learning the moves. Luther notices that if Easton isn’t sure about the choreography, “he throws everything away,” while Olivia looks “insecure” in how animated her face is. She needs to tone it down a bit, but she comes from a Broadway background where you have to really amplify all the emotions to reach the cheap seats. Here, “less is more,” she realizes. And at one point Madison stops dancing because she misses a step, and Luther explains that that’s a big no-no on a video set. Luther also tells them that the acting is what’s going to take them out. “Steps are steps, but the hard part is to sell me on the acting that’s going to get us there.”

The next day is the actual shoot, which is where the judges will be observing them. And they’ll be judging everything: not just the dancing, but their professionalism, their group dynamic, their star quality. JoJo notes that on music videos you only get two or three takes to get something right, and suddenly even I’m getting nervous for the competitors. Their every move and expression is basically under a microscope. It was probably easier when you could just play to the camera and have America vote on the best.

The hip-hop group is first. “The jury could be out on Easton,” says Luther as the five dancers perform together. The judges, meanwhile, are impressed by the ladies performing with their faces, especially Mariyah. Then it’s time for the solos. The judges are impressed by Madison’s range doing the emotionally upbeat and downbeat portions of her dance. And Luther is also impressed by Mariyah, who fought whatever demons she might have had and is “not going to fail for nobody.” Easton is better on his own than he is with the group, and is able to emote well. But JoJo could tell most clearly that Olivia wasn’t in her comfort zone. Anthony is Luther’s favorite at the moment, he can “dance his butt off,” he’s a good listener, and he nailed his solo on his first take.

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The contemporary group is next. During the group portion, Avery looks uncomfortable spinning on a flat foot and has a little trouble when partnering with Braylon. Roman, meanwhile, is actually helped by that dang ladder even though contemporary isn’t his personal style. But Maksim doesn’t think the group has quite the right synchronicity. Dakayla has “crazy” control, though, according to JoJo, and Maksim thinks Jaylin is “blossoming.” Makenzie singles Jaylin out too after they’re done.

Then it’s the day of the results. The judges will pick six safe dancers, leaving the bottom four to dance for their lives. But first we see the completed music videos to see how it all came together, and I agree Jaylin is a highlight on the contemporary team. His physical and facial emoting stands out from the rest. Avery, however, was “inconsistent,” according to Allison. Maks tells Braylon that he could have gotten the hang of it faster, especially since this style is his specialty. JoJo thinks Dakayla was the star of the video, but she needs more confidence. Maks actually thinks Jaylin was the star of the number. Allison was impressed by Roman; he was “adaptable” and “teachable.”

I think I like the hip-hop video to Lizzo’s “Juice” better. Dancing aside, I feel like the editing and lighting tell more of a story, juxtaposing moments of insecurity with moments of confidence. The ladder stuff was cool, but this feels more cinematic. Allison thought Anthony was “natural and easy to watch.” Easton, though, disappointed JoJo a little; he’s so good, but didn’t quite deliver what he’s capable of, blending in instead of standing out. Madison did eventually kill it, but it took her a while to find her footing. Maks has to split hairs to find something to critique Mariyah for: he thinks her movements were a little soft for Luther’s hard-hitting moves. But Allison disagrees, saying, “You gave me Luther vibes all day.” Unfortunately, Olivia was too much like a Rockette and didn’t sell the hip-hop well enough. That’s according to JoJo. Maks actually liked her, though I don’t think that’s going to save her from the bottom four.

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Time for results. Allison calls four dancers forward: Easton, Avery, Braylon and Olivia. They’re the competitors in jeopardy. Not too surprising given the critiques, though going into this challenge I wouldn’t have expected to see Easton and Braylon on the bottom given their technical prowess. They’ll all dance a solo to try to stay in the competition, though, and that might be their saving grace. Their audition solos were both incredible.

Easton’s solo to “The Blower’s Daughter” wows the judges; JoJo wishes it were seven minutes longer. The strength of Avery’s routine to “You Can’t Catch Me Now,” however, actually makes JoJo more disappointed with how she performed on the set of the music video, and Maks didn’t feel the same emotional resonance that he got from Easton. Olivia is third, performing to “Snowing.” Maks thinks she’s the kind of dancer who could fit any role, while Avery seems less versatile, but Allison thinks Olivia needs to show more depth. Braylon is last up, dancing to “Life is Not the Same.” He leaves the stage crying, and I’m not sure how much of that is the raw emotion of the routine and how much is the anxiety of being in jeopardy. Allison thinks that’s exactly the kind of performance you give when you want to move people and “prove a point.” He was “hungry,” according to JoJo. I think Avery’s performance was probably the weakest, which is weird to say given how good all four of them were.

The two dancers moving forward in the competition are … Easton and Braylon. Not surprised. I thought maybe the judges would eliminate one male and one female dancer, but I agree with this call because I think Easton and Braylon were the class of the field in this dance-off. Sending one of them home after those solos would have been kinda messed up. Alas, that means Olivia and Avery are going home. “This is not the end. This is just the beginning for you,” Allison says. Seeing dancers of their caliber eliminated so soon is a testament to how ridiculously high the bar is for all involved.

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