After two weeks and seven (count 'em, SEVEN) Emmy nominations, "So You Think You Can Dance" returned to Fox this Tuesday for its top 16 show. And while this was cause for celebration (a 14-day "SYTYCD" hiatus is about 13 days too long), the show was marred by the ineffective presence of Carly Rae Jepsen, who was a guest judge for some reason, despite being a veteran of "Canadian Idol" not "SYTYCD Canada."
Seriously, Carly's useless "critiques" proved that she's about as good at judging dance competitions as she is at throwing out first pitches at baseball games, or about as good as Britney Spears was at judging "The X Factor." Carly may have even been the worst celebrity judge in "SYTYCD" history. (Erin Andrews, all is forgiven.)
Fox, don't ever call Carly's number again. And I don't mean maybe.
Anyhoo, by the end of the episode, two more dancers would be cut, and the remaining 14 would be hoping that viewers would heed Carly's "Call Me Maybe" plea and ring up the voting lines to keep them around next week. (Sorry. That was lame.) The dancers up for elimination, announced at the start of the show by (Emmy-nominated!) hostess Cat Deeley, were Alan Bersten, BluPrint, and Curtis Holland for the guys, and Makenzie Dustman, Mariah Spears, and Jenna Johnson for the girls. The only one of these that was a real surprise to me was Mariah, but perhaps the bigger surprise was that the judges didn't even ask to see Jenna solo, instead saving her straight away while the other five still had to dance for their lives.
Among the five at-risk dancers' solos, Curtis's was somewhat underwhelming (if charming); BluPrint's was neato but not unlike routines we'd already seen done better on the show by his Dragon House crewmate Cyrus Spencer; and Alan's was strong but marred slightly by a distracting cape prop. The girls' solos were more impressive, and total opposites: Mariah's was fierce and funky-fresh, while Makenzie's had a certain gazelle-like grace. This would be a tough call for the judges. Especially for clueless Carly Rae, I imagine.
But before the judges had to make a decision, all eight couples still did their rehearsed routines, and the result was an excellent episode that not even Carly could ruin. Here's how everyone did:
Alexis Juliano & Nico Greetham - Jive
This routine was so tough, choreographers Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin brought in a stunt team to train this pair. I am not sure it worked. I could really see poor Alexis and Nico struggling here. There were a lot of awkward moments and herky-jerky transitions, and they ran out of steam by the end. It was later revealed that Alexis was suffering from some sort of foot injury, which may have had something to do with the lack of oomph, but I just think these kids were out of their element and in over their heads. "Somehow you lost it halfway, and it all started to get a little clunky," said judge Nigel Lythgoe. Mary Murphy and Carly Rae were a little kinder (Mary was impressed by the stunts; Carly was impressed by Nico's face), but overall, this was not a great start to the competition.
Jenna Johnson & Tucker Knox – Contemporary
Jenna may have been up for elimination this week, but getting a typically amazing routine by (the Emmy-nominated!) Travis Wall may have bided her some time. Jenna played a girl who's lost all control, a "puppet on a string," and Tucker played her beacon of hope. Magic ensued. Jenna had a real challenge doing almost the entire routine hanging from Cirque-style aerial silks, but aside from one tiny slip-up, she performed like Pink. Tucker drew from his past near-death experience to give an equally stunning performance. It was astounding to realize that this couple had had less than a day to rehearse with their red ropes. "That's going to be one of the most memorable moments by the end of season," gurgled a teary-eyed Mary. "Jenna, you have just lifted the game…Tucker, we were taken by you [as well]," said Nigel. Maybe Travis will get an Emmy at next year's ceremony, too. But in the shorter term, maybe Jenna will be safe next week.
Mariah Spears & Dorian "BluPrint" Hector – Jazz
This week's two at-risk contestants were paired with choreographer Brian Friedman, the madman responsible for cluttering "The X Factor's" stages with more fire-/cage-dancers and dry-ice fog than seen in that climactic "Satan's Alley" scene from Stayin' Alive. I say that with love, of course. Brian's certainly got a flair for the dramatic, and his edgy routine, which cast Mariah as a Greek goddess and BluPrint as her mere-mortal lover, elevated the energy and intensity in the room. But Brian's casting was apt: Mariah, once again, totally brought it, while BluPrint wasn't as compelling, at least from the neck up. The man just does not give good face. Nigel called the routine "good-ish" and "well-done," praising the couple for handling a style outside their genres, but he wasn't exactly effusive and he advised them to study older dancers on YouTube. Mary was more effusive, loving how they "hit it hard" midway through the routine, loving their "spot-on" synchronization, and saying "BluPrint, you're surprising me." I actually dug this performance, but Mariah the goddess was for sure the real star here.
Malece Miller & Alan Bersten – Hip-Hop
After 98-pound Malece made every dieting, celery-snacking woman in America hate her by bragging about how she can "out-eat a man twice her size," then demonstrating by bingeing on a stack of chocolate chip pancakes, she and Alan danced a high-concept Dave Scott routine that had something to do with stealing hip-hop from another planet. Malece the "badass Tinkerbell" proceeded to burn off several pancakes' worth of calories during this sexy, swaggery number, but Alan didn't seem quite as in the pocket or in the zone. Nigel called Malece a "mean little alien" (this was a compliment), but said Alan was too stiff and lacked aggression and confidence. "I don't think [Alan] grabbed onto the style," Mary agreed, but she said Malece was "on fire." Carly said something inconsequential, and the show moved on.
Hayley Erbert & Curtis Holland – Contemporary
Choreographer Dee Caspary gave this couple an extremely challenging routine involving a 15-foot prop ladder (and Hayley's afraid of heights, too). The ladder was a cool gimmick, but it was just that: a gimmick. The first half of the routine lagged too much because the dancers spent most of it just climbing the ladder or hanging off of it, and there was not enough, you know, DANCING. (This isn't "So You Think You Can Climb"!) The real magic happened when Hayley and Curtis finally hit the floor, but it was too little, too late. Mary thought the routine was "creative" and "interesting," but she seemed more impressed by the floorwork...though she once again criticized Curtis's hunched-up shoulders. "That entire routine was ruined for me by your shoulders," Nigel agreed, harshly, adding that he was also disappointed with Curtis's earlier solo. All of the judges were much more wowed by Hayley. As for Carly, she said something inconsequential again, but I believe her favorite adjective, "incredible," was employed. ("Incredible" is to Carly as "amazing" was to Britney, apparently.)
Amy Yakima & DuShaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall – Jazz
Choreographer Tyce Diorio didn’t give this pair a huge amount of guidance or rules for this loose, freewheeling "hobo jazz" routine, and for some dancers, that could have been a problem. Some dancers would have floundered. Not these two. They had fun with it, letting their personalities shine, and they put on the best competitive hobo-themed TV routine since Carol and Marcia Brady signed up for that high school talent show many years ago. Nigel said this was one of Tyce's all-time best routines, told Amy and Fik-Shun they'd "grown enormously," and called them "the couple to beat." Mary called this number "as sweet as a Twinkie comeback." (All aboard the Hot Twinkie Train? Woo woo!) Carly said this was her favorite routine so far, for what that was worth.
Makenzie Dustman & Paul Kamiryan – Hip-Hop
Respectively playing a shy 1930s model and a photographer trying to "get the sexy out of her," Makenzie and Paul brought a quiet sultriness to this unique Dave Scott routine. Paul was looser and cooler than I'd ever seen him before, and Makenzie was a convincing and compelling coquette. Cat, proving she really deserves that Emmy, brilliantly described this dance as "if Baz Luhrmann did Madonna's 'Vogue' video," and all three judges gave the couple a standing ovation. Nigel called it the "sexiest routine of the evening" and an "entirely different style of hip-hop." Nigel even gave them Hot Tamale Train tickets, which may have been a "SYTYCD" first. Mary loved Paul's hip-grinds ("Lord have mercy!") and called Makenzie "sexy and classy." I don't know or care what Carly said, but I recall she uttered "incredible" twice.
Jasmine Harper & Aaron Turner – Quickstep
Oh no. The "dreaded quickstep." The dance that has destroyed many a past contestant's "SYTYCD" dreams. But Jasmine and Aaron didn’t complain; they just laughed at their fate and attacked this Tony & Meredith routine with gusto and grins. They did a solid job, but what really saved them was their personalities: They never, ever stopped smiling, so much so that you would've thought they were thrilled to bits that they'd pulled "quickstep" out of Cat's hat. This was a lot of fun to watch. "I love the fact that you two just WENT for it out there!" howled Mary. "Your personalities dominated any lack of technique you might have had. You're both vivacious on that floor," said Nigel. I think Jasmine and Alan broke the quickstep curse this week.
But which two dancers were cursed this week? In the end, the panel chose to send home Mariah and BluPrint. Neither decision was surprising, but I was saddened to see Mariah go — I really adored her spunk and sass and spirit, and Season 10 will be a lot less fun without her. Sigh.
Come back next Tuesday for the sadly Mariah-free and thankfully Carly-free "SYTYCD" top 14 episode, and until then, happy National Dance Day!