There was good news and bad news this week on "So You Think You Can Dance." Let's start with the good news, since there was thankfully more of it…
First of all, after a cruel new results process (the eliminated contestants were announced at the start of the episode, but they were forced to dance with their partners anyway) met with outrage by tweeters and bloggers last week, producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe actually listened to the fans and tweaked the format. So this Tuesday, the cuts were not made until the very end of the night, which made much more sense and made for a much better episode. So thanks for listening, Nigel.
Second, speaking of Nigel, it was his birthday this week, and the B-day wish he'd been making for literally 10 seasons finally came true: Paula Abdul, his old comrade from his "American Idol" days, was at long last a guest judge on "SYTYCD." Pauler was as adorable and enthusiastic as ever, and she even gave some astute critiques. Maybe on my next birthday, I'll wish for Paula to judge "SYTYCD" on a more permanent basis.
Okay, and now the bad news: Top 18 contestant Jade Zuberi had to withdraw from the competition this week, due to a torn meniscus that will require surgery followed by a recuperation period of three or four months. This wasn't the first time this sort of thing had happened on "SYTYCD"; seeing Jade sitting stoically in the audience gave me sad flashbacks to the series' doomed seventh season, when injuries temporarily sidelined Billy Bell and forced Alex Wong and Ashley Galvan to bow out entirely. I didn't necessarily expect or even want Jade to win this season, but I certainly didn't want to see him go out like this. Here's wishing Jade a speedy recovery, and maybe even a fast-pass to the Vegas Callbacks in Season 11.
Then it was time for some other dancers to receive bad news, as hostess Cat Deeley announced which contestants were in jeopardy of being voted off the show this week. The bottom two guys, Curtis Holland and BluPrint, escaped elimination due to Jade leaving by default…and while I am sure they felt bad about Jade's injury, they must have also felt secretly relieved, because it's likely that one of them would've gone home under normal circumstances.
Meanwhile, Jasmine Mason, Jenna Johnson, and Alexis Juliano — none of whom were in the bottom last week — all had their names called by Cat and were asked by Nigel to solo for their lives. But as I mentioned earlier, the judges' decision regarding which girl to cut would not be revealed until the episode's end, after the girls performed with their respective partners. And so, it was on to 90 minutes of awesome dancing. Cue music!
Amy Yakima & DuShaunt "Fik-Shun" Stegall – Paso Doble Hip-hopper Fik-Shun continued to impress and surpass expectations, by somehow mastering a fierce and ferocious Jean-Marc Genereaux paso doble. Few of the untrained street dancers on "SYTYCD" seasons past, including last year's darling Cyrus, could have pulled this off. Even though judge Mary Murphy acknowledged that Fik-Shun had some minor technical issues, and Nigel told him to relax his shoulders, Mary still shouted, "Fik-Shun! You are blowing my mind right now!" Paula, remembering Fik-Shun from her short-lived CBS show "Live to Dance," on which he was a semifinalist, gushed, "You've come such a long way. I am so frickin' proud of you!" Amy was no slouch, of course; she was giving some real Matrix realness up there in her slinky black action-heroine outfit, and Mary called her a "warrior princess." And Erin Andrews, the other guest judge of the night, called Amy and Fik-Shun "the ones to beat." Erin may have been right.
Jasmine Harper & Aaron Turner – Broadway This creative Spencer Liff routine set at a crime scene, with Aaron playing an old-school police detective and Jasmine cast as the ghost of a murder victim, was just fantastic. Jasmine and Aaron killed it, pun intended. Aaron, the son of a Vegas entertainer and a tap dancer by trade, seemed made for this throwback style, with his matinee-idol looks and solid acting chops. And Jasmine continued to demonstrate her surprising versatility — something I would not have necessarily expected from the ex-girlfriend of last year's animator contestant, the aforementioned Cyrus — by totally bringing her role to life (no pun intended, this time). Erin praised Aaron's sense of effortlessness and told Jasmine, "Baby, there was nothing dead about those legs!" Paula said Aaron reminded her of "those dancers who were under contract in the MGM era," and she compared Jasmine to Cyd Charisse. And Nigel, fresh from a trip to New York to take in a couple musicals, told the couple, "Both of you would have graced the Broadway stage with every bit of elegance I saw [this past weekend]."
Makenzie Dustman & Paul Karmiryan – Contemporary Makenzie and Paul got a new "SYTYCD" choreographer, Lindsay Nelko, and she gave them a bit of her beginner's luck. (Side note to Nigel: Please have Lindsay come back, if her routine this week is an accurate example of what she can do.) This was an amazing piece, one that gave me what the hostess of this show likes to call "Deeley chills." Makenzie played a woman with a terminal illness, Paul portrayed her anguished boyfriend, and the result was a heartbreaking routine that reminded me of Season 5's Tyce Diorio "cancer dance" or Travis Wall's touching "Fix You" with Allison Holker and Robert Roldan. I had no idea that Paul, a Latin ballroom specialist, could emote like this. (Maybe there's a good reason why he won "SYTYCD Armenia" once.) Makenzie was brilliant and raw as well. "I believed in what you were doing…there was so much life in a piece that had so much terminal illness to it," raved Paula. "I know it doesn't look like I enjoyed it, but I swear I did," said a weepy Mary, who praised Paul's "first honest performance" of the season and likened Makenzie to "liquid gold." This pair really rose to the challenge that their choreographer gave them.
Jasmine Mason & Alan Bersten – Jazz This quirky Sean Cheesman routine was fun, but it was a bit of a letdown, or at least too much of a 180, right after Makenzie and Paul's emotional dance. It didn't quite click. Jasmine was giving some Janelle Monae "Q.U.E.E.N." realness and Alan was a somewhat convincing king, but neither dancer truly went for it. Nigel complained that he'd wanted more quirk, advising them, "You can have more fun with routines like this." Paula and Erin agreed that they needed to bring more whimsy to the stage. Mary was the kindest judge here, praising Alan's lifting skills and the "clean, sharp, precise" execution of Sean's choreography, but it was obvious that this was not the standout routine of the night.
Jenna Johnson & Tucker Knox – Hip-Hop This routine was not very hip, and not even very hop. Jenna's plan to be so street-tough and sexy that she'd be mistaken for allstar Comfort absolutely did not come to fruition. While the routine this duo got from choreographer Keone Madrid (another "SYTYCD" newbie) was not within their control, it certainly didn't help them stand out. The number was slow and even a bit silly, and not nearly as "dangerous" as the Michael Jackson song they danced to implied. The judges admitted that it wasn't very hip-hop (Nigel called it "hip-jazz"), but they all bizarrely liked it anyway. Paula thought it was a great tribute to Michael Jackson (who often borrowed from the jazz-dancing greats), and she loved the couple's energy (a comment I found odd, since this was such a low-energy routine). Mary told Jenna, "You just annihilate everything given to you." Nigel compared Jenna to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and actually said this was one of his favorite routines of the night. Perhaps all this wild praise was just the judges' overcompensating way of justifying saving Jenna (who was up for elimination), because I really didn't get this one.
Malece Miller & allstar Marko Germar – Contemporary With her injured partner Jade out of the running, Malece got to dance with Season 8's awesome Marko instead. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, because Marko coaxed out a side of Malece we hadn't seen yet. Of course, it probably helped that dark-arts genius Sonya Tayeh choreographed this — she too helped the usually girlish, cutesy Malece tap into a more mature, more womanly part of her personality. The judges all gave Malece a standing ovation, and Sonya even danced in the aisles, after this stunning routine. It felt like Malece had truly arrived. "Watching you mature in front of our eyes is beautiful," gushed Paula. "Marko brought out the woman in you, and it was a joy to see," said Nigel. "I knew that you would have this moment someday on the show; I knew it from the minute I saw you," declared Mary. If Malece can keep on evolving and having more moments like this, she could be a real contender.
Hayley Erbert & Curtis Holland – Samba If Jade hadn't had to forfeit this week, the judges might have chosen to eliminate Curtis, based on this. The tapper did his best, but honestly, he looked lost during this difficult Jean-Marc Genereaux routine. He just looked like an amateur next to Hayley (who "nailed those samba hips" and "brought fire and ferocity," according to Paula, and had Mary yelling, "Holy smokes!"). "You were dominated by [Hayley]. You have to be the strong one in this relationship, when required. You came off a little young," Nigel chided Curtis. Mary said Curtis seemed "a little uncomfortable." Paula nicely told Curtis, "For being a tap dancer, I give you a lot of credit" — but I don't know if viewers will do the same when they vote this week.
Alexis Juliano & Nico Greetham – Jazz Bottom-three girl Alexis likely saved herself during this Spencer Liff routine (if her fun and free-spirited tap solo wasn't enough), definitely casting her spell on the judges as she shimmied to "I Put a Spell on You," playing a hypnotist who transfixes Nico. "You've come back in the forefront for me; I don't understand why you're in the bottom three," Paula told Alexis. Nico was also great here; Nigel told him, "I think you are a really, really, really good dancer." I suspect both dancers put a spell on voters this week.
Mariah Spears & Dorian "BluPrint" Hector – Hip-Hop It seemed too good to be true that krumper Mariah and animator BluPrint, newly paired up after losing their respective partners last week, would pull "hip-hop" out of Cat's hat for their first dance together. Of course, I expected epicness, especially since their Luther Brown routine was set to M.I.A.'s totally epic new single, "Bring the Noize." And I saw moments of epicness…but this dance was inconsistent. It started out with such a burst of energy, but then it started to lag and sag about halfway through, and the momentum never quite picked up again. And while Mariah's vivacious personality compensated for that a bit, BluPrint's dead-eyed expression practically negated her efforts. He really should have been more impressive doing something so close to his specialty style, or at least seemed more happy to be doing it. "I'm dying for more of a performance; you didn't come alive in the face," Mary told him. "I still feel you're holding back. The personality has got to maintain," Paula added, conversely telling Mariah, "Your personality was times 10, and that covered for BluPrint." Nigel pointed out to BluPrint that "personality usually wins the day" on this show, then tactlessly proceeded to rattle off a list of past champs, like Season 2's Benji Schwimmer and Season 3's Sabra Johnson, who beat out superior dancers because of their likable personalities. This may have been true, but it was still a little rude to say out loud, on the air…and besides, BluPrint is no Benji. BluPrint should also be relieved that he got a reprieve this week.
As for which dancer didn't get a reprieve, that was, sadly, one of my early favorites on the show: Jasmine Mason, whom the judges decided to eliminate at the end of the night. I can't necessarily say this was the wrong decision — perfectly good arguments could be made for keeping the very talented Alexis and Jenna — but I was still disappointed to say goodbye to Jasmine this soon.
And as for which two dancers might go home next week, I think Curtis and BluPrint better prepare some sick solos, because they're probably in jeopardy. Tucker and Alan are likely at risk, too. Among the girls, that's a tougher call, but I am a bit worried for Jenna and Hayley.
Luckily for all of the 16 remaining dancers, they have plenty of time to rehearse their solos, because next week's "SYTYCD" episode will be preempted for the MB Allstar Game…which, unluckily for us "SYTYCD" fanatics, will not include allstars like Mark Kanemura, Jakob Karr, or Melanie Moore.