This Tuesday, the "So You Think You Can Dance" top 10 competed as solo contestants for the first time this season, but the real star of the episode was a returning contestant, whose remarkable comeback was truly inspirational.
Robert Roldan was a fan favorite and third-place finalist on "SYTYCD" Season 7, and an allstar performer in Season 8. But last September, he posted a shocking, heartbreaking open letter on his blog, titled "The Reason I Will Not Be An Allstar," revealing that he'd been in a serious accident in June 2012 that had nearly ended not only his dance career, but his life as well.
"Every doctor that I have been to since has said 'wow…you're lucky you are alive' or 'people with this kind of accident are usually are pronounced dead on the spot,'" Robert wrote. "One day I will be back on my feet and dancing and doing the things I love to do. In the meantime I am so lucky to be living breathing and opening my eyes every day…This is not the end. God has a plan. I won’t give up till I'm on that stage again."
And this Tuesday, Robert's struggle to recover from his grave injuries over the past year culminated in the most emotionally moving routine of the night — nay, of the season — alongside current contestant Tucker Knox, another dancer who'd once been in a near-fatal accident. (Tucker almost ended up in a wheelchair after breaking his spine in a car crash.)
Dancing a routine choreographed by Emmy-nominated Season 2 wunderkind Travis Wall, soundtracked by the exquisite "Medicine" by buzz band Daughter, and inspired by Travis's relationship with his own adopted brother (amazing Season 3 runner-up Danny Tidwell), Robert and Tucker were truly connected and emotionally invested — as evidenced by their spontaneous, weepy embrace at the end of their dance. "A second chance is the biggest gift," Robert sobbed.
There wasn't a dry eye or lump-free throat in the house. "You see and feel the love from everyone in this room. It's a special night to see you dancing again, Robert. You were glorious," wept judge Mary Murphy. "I never dreamt that you would be back on this program," Nigel Lythgoe added.
Ironically and bittersweetly, Tucker (who had been sidelined last Tuesday with a knee infection) was in the bottom four this week, along with Nico Greetham, Makenzie Dustman, and Jenna Johnson. But Tucker also got another chance, when the judges unanimously decided to save him and eliminate Nico instead. (Makenzie, in a split vote, was the girl who went home, against Nigel's wishes). It remains to be seen how far Tucker can go in this competition, after being in the bottom six or four several times, but surely seeing Robert's example provided all the encouragement that Tucker — or any dancer, or really anyone facing any sort of hardship — needed to persevere.
Here's how the rest of the surviving dancers, paired up with allstars, fared this week:
Amy Yakima with allstar Brandon Bryant – Disco
I admit I missed seeing Amy with her former partner, Fik-Shun — those two were definitely one of this season's power couples, along with Jasmine and Aaron — but I had no doubt that bubbly, adorable Amy could shine on her own. I also knew that, if there was anyone in this year's top 10 who could handle a Hi-NRG "full of sparkles" disco by downright masochistic choreographer Doriana Sanchez (a woman known for her punishing, warp-speed routines), it was Amy. And Amy sparkled indeed. She was even a match for Season 5 runner-up Brandon, one of my all-time favorite allstars. The song here, a weird remix of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," was a miss (it's a sad song, plus it's not from the original disco era), but Amy and Brandon were a hit, attacking the routine with boundless energy and enthusiasm. One of the lifts was so phenomenal, hostess Cat Deeley even dropped to her knees and bowed down to the dynamic duo. The judges were equally impressed. "I wasn't crazy about the song, but Amy, I'm crazy about you…I'm always gonna love you," said Mary. "What a way to get this night started! It was just a ball of fun, and I was grinning ear-to-ear the whole time," raved this week's guest judge, the always-amazing Debbie Allen. "Amy, you are vivacious. You stand out more than the disco ball. You're glittering all over the stage. You are growing into your own allstar!" said Nigel. I can only imagine how fantastic this routine would have been if Amy and Brandon had boogie-oogie-oogied to some Donna Summer or Sylvester instead.
Aaron Turner with allstar Kathryn McCormick – Contemporary
This romantic dance to Des'ree's Romeo + Juliet hit "I'm Kissing You," inspired by choreographer Stacey Tookey's apparently very happy marriage, required some 100 percent believable chemistry. Could Aaron share the sort of spark with Kathryn, a woman he'd just met, that he'd enjoyed with Jasmine Harper all season? The answer was a resounding yassss. Not only were these two well-matched in height (a real concern for a big lug like Aaron, when most "SYTYCD" girls are little sparkplugs like Melanie Moore and Lauren Froderman), but they seemed like a real couple. This routine allowed Aaron to be the brawny man that he is, playing to all his strengths, and Kathryn seemed confident and comfortable throwing herself into his arms. "What a magical pairing…Aaron, tonight you have raised the bar of this competition," raved Debbie. "It's marvelous when something comes together like this and the chemistry just works," said Nigel. "You look like you've been dancing together forever. The look in Kathryn's eyes when that routine finished…she knew you were something special, and that it was a pleasure for her to dance with you. That is a great compliment to you, sir." Why do I get the feeling that Nigel may finally get his wish of a tap-dancer winning "SYTYCD," and regardless, that Aaron will get his wish of becoming an allstar next year?
DuShaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall with allstar Melanie Moore – Jazz
Fik-Shun and Amy were always such a winning combination, but now here Fik-Shun was dancing with the actual winner of Season 8. And he had to do a really sexy, steamy Mandy Moore routine about a hot 'n' heavy reunion with an ex-girlfriend. Would Fik-Shun be able to keep up? Would he be able to do sexy, when adorkable is more his forte? Well, yes and no. He certainly wasn't an embarrassment, and he did everything required of him…but I wasn't totally convinced. It was obvious who was the allstar and who was the rookie here. My eyes were on Melanie and her fiery red dress the entire time. The judges all loved this, however, giving the routine a standing ovation and praising Fik-Shun (rightfully so) for his growth throughout the season. "I want you to know how proud I am of you, and how well you kept up. You've had an incredible journey on this show," said Nigel. "You're growing every week. You are living in the moment. Your performance quality is what I like most," said Mary. "They can call you 'Fik-Shun,' but that was real. What we saw was the truth," said Debbie. Truth is, I still think Fik-Shun could win this show, and I wouldn't be upset if he did…but this was not my favorite moment from him. I still love the guy, though.
Paul Kamiryan with allstar Witney Carson – Cha Cha
Paul is a ballroom specialist and a "SYTYCD Armenia" champion; Witney, from "SYTYCD" Season 9, is now a pro on "Dancing With the Stars." So before these two even set one cha cha heel on the stage, I knew this routine would be as "explosive" and "cheeky" as choreographer Jean-Marc Genereux enthusiastically promised. Paul was upstaged at times by sexbomb Witney, whose incredibly revealing costume seemed to be clinging to her curves with the help of just a bit of double-sided tape and a few prayers. But Paul's perfect technique, past experience, and obvious excitement over getting to dance in his own style (and celebrating his 22nd birthday today) made him a great match for Witney's sexy energy. "You have movie-star looks and charisma, but besides that, you can dance your patootie off!" howled Mary, bestowing upon Paul one of her coveted tickets for her fabled Hot Tamale Train. "You two really were born for each other; there's no question that this was a great partnership," said Nigel, before predicting that Paul could actually win this season. If Paul did that, he'd be the first dancer to win "SYTYCD" in two countries. But even if that doesn't happen, I wouldn't be surprised if Paul gets an offer to be a pro on "DWTS" himself, after this.
Hayley Erbert with allstar Stephen "Twitch" Boss – Hip-Hop
This was one of goodtime guy Christopher Scott's jazzy and light-hearted routines, hardly hard-hitting, but it was a good fit overall for Hayley's naturally cutesy personality. Respectively playing a flirty loan officer and a chump with bad credit but great moves, Hayley and Twitch romped all the way to the bank to a dubsteppy remix of Bruno Mars's "Locked Out of Heaven." Hayley wasn't quite in lock with the choreography throughout, however; she missed a few steps, and she was definitely outperformed by Twitch, who was dancing in his own style. "By the time you pulled your hair out [of its bun], you rose to the occasion, but I think Twitch took away from you a little bit," admitted Debbie. Nigel did say that "there were no big fireworks" in this routine, but said this was "great fun" with a "nice groove," and declared Hayley a "dark horse," pointing out that she's the only girl left on the show who has never once landed in this season's bottom four or six. Will next week be the first time she'll be up for elimination, after one of her more underwhelming performances? Probably not, but we shall see.
Jenna Johnson with allstar Neil Haskell – Contemporary
This was another "SYTYCD" classic: choreography by Mandy Moore, a plotline about a painful breakup, "I Can't Make You Love Me" for the soundtrack, and enough candles to fill an entire Pier 1 warehouse. Plus there was tons of running, jumping, catching, lifting, and emoting. It was just about perfect. "I loved the fluidity; it was beautifully danced. Jenna, in my opinion you are probably one of the best all-around dancers that came on this show as a ballroom dancer, and I want to compliment you on that," praised Nigel. "Your movement together is perfect, just melting and blending everywhere," Mary sighed. "I don't know what America sees, but I know what I see. I see one of the most gifted dancers to step onstage, a choreographer's dream," declared Debbie. Considering that none of the bottom four got the opportunity to solo this evening, it's possible that this tour de force was what tipped the votes in Jenna's favor and saved her this week.
Jasmine Harper with allstar Marko Germar – Jazz
This sharp, sleek, stylized Ray Leeper number to Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" was my gloved-hands-down favorite of the night, aside from that Tucker/Robert tearjerker. Jasmine, with her natty two-tone ska suit and groovy moves, reminded me of Janelle Monae (albeit a more Amazonian version of that five-foot-tall dynamo). She was just such a STAR. She nailed every angular, awesome step, and she was so much fun to watch, I actually forgot Marko was onstage. Jasmine was the one contestant of the night who totally upstaged her assigned allstar. Said Debbie to Jasmine: "I couldn't keep my eyes off of you, my dear. No offense, Marko! Sometimes dancing with allstars can be a little dangerous, but this time, Jasmine, you used him. You wore it OUT!" Nigel added, "I didn't know if I was looking at one allstar, or two!" Mary said, "Jasmine, I was drawn to you in this number. You were right there and right on it." Mary also said Robin Thicke's notorious "Blurred Lines" music video could have been improved if Jasmine and Marko had danced in it, but honestly, I would rather watch Jasmine dance fully clothed in a tailored man's suit than watch naked models frolic with livestock, any day of the week.
So, who among this remaining eight will be in the bottom four next Tuesday? Normally I'd say Tucker would be at risk, but it's hard to imagine no one voting for him after his heartstring-tugging routine with Robert (which was also in the pimp slot at the end of the show). So I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Fik-Shun, whose momentum may be slowing a bit, will be up for elimination for the first time this season, along with Paul, who was great but danced in a genre less popular with core "SYTYCD" viewers. As for the ladies, I am sure Jenna will be in the bottom again (and will likely be the next girl to get cut), along with Amy, who danced first and (unlike Hayley) has been in the bottom before.
Tune in next week to see if my predictions are right! Cue music.
- Allstars come out for Nigel Lythgoe's Dizzy Feet Gala
- Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman's Prancercise video
- More about "So You Think You Can Dance"