Okay, I'm just going to cut to the chase here: I love me some "So You Think You Can Dance," but I hate the series' new results format.
Last season, "SYTYCD" sadly lost its separate results show, meaning that the competitive routines and the eliminations would have to take place on the same night. The series has been struggling to figure out a non-awkward way to do this ever since. But this Tuesday, on the first episode of Season 10 that included live eliminations, the proceedings got even more awkward.
So the new format involved hostess Cat Deeley revealing the bottom six (in this week's case, Makenzie Dustman, Mariah Spears, Brittany Cherry, Jade Zuberi, Carlos Garland, and Alan Bersten) at the very start of the show, and the judges then making four of those dancers (Mariah, Brittany, Carlos, and Jade) solo for their lives. Then two of those dancers — Brittany and Carlos — got cut on the spot, thus kicking off the episode on a total bummer note. The fact that Brittany and Carlos had to stick around, put on brave faces, and still dance their rehearsed routines with their respective partners (who hadn't been eliminated) only compounded the bummer-ness of it all, really.
Oh, I have so many issues with this format, beyond just the fact that crushing two contestants' dance dreams in the first 15 minutes will cast such a dark pall over every episode from now on. There's also the fact that it doesn't seem fair to the eliminated dancers' partners, for instance. After all, if a newly booted contestant literally is no longer in it to win it, he or she might not dance that well — and that could affect his/her still-in-the-game partner's future chances.
But my biggest gripe is I truly believe that the current week's partner routines should be taken into account when making elimination decisions. In fact, I think the partner routines should actually matter as much, if not more, than the bottom four dancers' solos. Both Brittany and Carlos were amazing in their duo routines, but because they'd already been axed earlier in the evening, it was all for naught. And that was sad.
If "SYTYCD" adopted the elimination format of another dance competition series, "America's Best Dance Crew" (which never had a separate results show), then all of these problems could be avoided. On "ABDC," the judges didn't make any cuts until the end of the night, after they'd watched and considered the at-risk crews' rehearsed routines for that week. If "SYTYCD" instituted a similar process, it would make for more suspenseful, less depressing TV, and it would be more fair.
Or, Fox could simply BRING BACK THE SEPARATE RESULTS SHOW ALREADY. Just sayin'.
All right, all right. Rant over. Once the icky results segment was out of the way, it was back to more awesome dancing, and things thankfully picked up. Here's how all of the contestants — including poor Brittany and Carlos, who behaved like real pros — fared:
Hayley Erbert & Curtis Holland – Jazz
This week's episode was very s-s-s-s-exy (later prompting Mary "Hot Tamale Train" Murphy to exclaim, "I thought this show was supposed to be PG or G…what in the world is going on?"). And this sizzling Ray Leeper routine about a bad boy and an equally bad girl set the night's tone. But really, Hayley was much badder (in a good way) than Curtis was. Curtis the cutesy, smiley tapper looked a little lost here, and every time he grabbed Hayley's leotard-sheathed derriere, he just looked a little silly (even if he was clearly enjoying that bit of choreography). However, Hayley was pure sex on (thigh-high-booted) legs. Slinking across the stage like Catwoman to Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best," she was so hot, I feared Nigel Lythgoe was going to suffer another cardiac arrest. Who knew this good girl could go so bad? She really embraced her character and transformed in a way Curtis could not. "She just scared the hell out of Curtis! Very sexy routine. Curtis, you were a good partner, but in truth, I couldn't take my eyes off Hayley," said Nigel. Mary actually thought Curtis pulled off the "down 'n' dirty" vibe (though she still called him a "little gigglebucket"), but she saved her highest praise for Hayley, saying, "Holy smokes, the 4th of July came a couple days early. You're explosive. You're really a force to be reckoned with on this show." Guest judge Christina Applegate called Hayley "insanely sexy" and thought Curtis held his own, but she advised both of them to pay more attention to the song's words and pace their movements accordingly.
Jasmine Harper & Aaron Turner – Lyrical Hip-Hop
The hotness got hotter when these two hit the stage, sharing an easy but intense chemistry that might've made Jasmine's ex, Season 9 runner-up Cyrus Spencer, a little jealous if he was watching at home. (Judging from the way Jasmine talked about Aaron in rehearsal, I think she may be harboring a new crush.) This Tabitha & Napoleon routine set to "Tears Always Win" by Alicia Keys cast Jasmine and Aaron as a fiery feuding couple, and they were just so convincing. The raw energy they shared was thrilling to behold. "Thanks for the chemistry lesson! Jasmine, you're a star, you're an actress…Aaron, you were sexy up there!" said Mary. "There was something very honest about this routine; I believed it," said Nigel. Christina joked to choreographers Nappytabs (a real-life married couple who recently became parents), "Are you trying to get people to make more babies at home?"— before more seriously declaring Jasmine and Aaron "the couple to beat."
Malece Miller & Jade Zuberi – Bollywood
After narrowly escaping elimination earlier in the episode when he had to solo for his life — and performing a solo that Nigel found disappointing — Jade attempted to redeem himself alongside his (apparently more popular) partner. For the most part, he did redeem himself, although this routine was far from perfect and definitely out of the animator's comfort zone. This was, like all Nakul Dev Mahajan Bollywood routines on "SYTYCD," a lot of vivacious fun, but the whole thing felt a bit too Disney for me (the song Nakul picked, "Radha," had something to do with that). It was not as hard-hitting and precise as I would have liked. Christina said they did a "commendable job" and were "fun and adorable," but told Jade he needed to work harder if he wanted to stay out of the bottom six from now on. Nigel called Malece a "fabulous little dancer" and gave Jade credit for picking up the Bollywood choreography as well as he did. Mary called Jade a "prince" and Malece a "star." We will see if both are safe next week.
Alexis Juliano & Nico Greetham – Contemporary
Alexis and Nico were really the only dancers that totally faltered last week, and I'd predicted that they'd be going home this week. I was genuinely shocked that they ended up not even being in the bottom six. Well, if they weren't in the bottom six after that, then they certainly won't be after this week's amazing Stacey Tookey number. At first, I wasn't expecting much, to be honest: Stacey created a major challenge for this couple, especially for Alexis (a tap dancer by trade), by having them dance a "sequel" to Robert Roldan and Kathryn McCormick's famous soldier-girl routine from Season 7. Robert and Kathryn, both allstars, are two of the best dancers in "SYTYCD" history, so Alexis and Nico had some mighty big dancing shoes to fill. I really thought they were too young and cute to bring the necessary gravitas to a routine about war, but they surprised and impressed me. No, they were not quite at Robert and Kathryn's level, but the potential they showed was great. Nigel told Nico, "You get better and better every week," and he called Alexis "such a lovely performer." Mary called Nico "fabulous" and praised the couple for seeming "so real and so honest." Christina made a Velvet Underground reference while speaking to Nico (which made me adore her) and told Alexis, "You have it. You have a grace and beauty that's extraordinary." These kids ain't going nowhere. (Side note: The music for this piece, which the judges all loved, was by avant-garde Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, who's practically become the one-man house band on this show. More evidence that "SYTYCD" is the coolest program on television.)
Brittany Cherry & BluPrint – Broadway
Not to be mean, but I think Brittany kind of got dragged down by BluPrint. She was clearly the better dancer in this couple, but she was the one who got sent home this week, while Cyrus's colorful Dragon House crew crony BluPrint (a great animator, but a less well-rounded contestant) wasn't even in the bottom six. Watching Brittany totally outshine BluPrint in this totally adorable Spencer Liff routine made me sad. BluPrint tried valiantly but noticeably struggled, while Brittany exuded personality and owned the stage. At the end of the number, the audience gave the pair a standing ovation, but I suspected it was mainly Brittany who'd inspired everyone to get on their feet. Oh well, at least she went out in style. "The first cut is always the most difficult on this show, but we adore you," Mary assured Brittany, before telling BluPrint he needed to hit harder and "dig deeper" in the future. Christina told BluPrint that Broadway routines like this one (set to Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" — more avant Icelandic awesomeness) need more "abandon" and "celebration" than what he brought to the stage. Nigel agreed, telling BluPrint, "You have to believe in what you're selling," before saying to Brittany, "It's a real shame that you never got to show your real style [ballroom]; I'm so sorry you're leaving us tonight." Sigh.
Jasmine Mason & Alan Bersten – Argentine Tango
This Miriam & Leonardo routine about lost innocence was super-intense, probably the most physically challenging of the night, filled with complicated and potentially dangerous lifts. But Jasmine and Alan made it look easy. Alan, who'd been in the bottom three guys, particularly proved his mettle — and the fact that he deserved to stay on the show another week — as he hoisted his partner high and whipped her around like she was a weightless ragdoll. ("I can't think of any other guys on the show, with the possible exception of Aaron, who could have done this routine," Nigel noted.) Christina told them they had a "moment," while Mary exclaimed, "It's all about passion. I have a fever because you guys spread passion all over the stage! Off the charts! Smoldering!" Let's see if Alan gets the votes this time.
Makenzie Dustman & Paul Karmiryan – Jazz
I actually expected to like this Sean Cheesman routine a little more than I did. With Makenzie (a great dancer who absolutely did not deserve to be in the bottom six) cast as a deadly fembot and Paul as the mad scientist who brings her to life, I was basically ready for "Weird Science: The Musical." Which would have been awesome, of course. But it wasn't quite that. Something just fell a little flat for me. I didn't think Paul brought the wacky humor and whimsy that his role required, and I didn't think Makenzie was sexy enough or robotic enough. The number just didn't have enough energy or edge, and it dragged. But the judges all LOVED it. Nigel loved the naughtiness of it all and called Makenzie a "star." Christina compared Paul to an '80s Patrick Dempsey (which she meant as a compliment, even though Patrick was totally still going through his awkward phase back then). Said Mary: "I loved the beginning, I loved the end, and I loved the bits in the middle." I wasn't feeling this, but we'll soon find out what the voters — who've already put Makenzie on the chopping block before — thought.
Mariah Spears & Carlos Garland – Contemporary
This was so bittersweet. Here was the best routine of the night, and Carlos danced it exquisitely, playing the starring role of an amnesia-stricken boyfriend…and yet, he'd already been cut. If partner routines were taken into consideration during the judges' elimination decisions, AS I HAVE CLEARLY ADVOCATED SHOULD BE THE CASE, they would have never let Carlos get away. ("Carlos, I am so sorry to see you go. It's going to be America's loss," lamented Mary. "I'm so sad. America so got this wrong," concurred Christina.) But thankfully, Mariah had escaped elimination earlier in the night, and with this tour de force, she absolutely proved that she's more than just a krumper. Playing the left-behind girlfriend desperately trying to jolt her injured boyfriend's memory, she felt every step of this achingly emotional Stacey Tookey routine, perhaps channeling her sadness over Carlos's exit into the dance. (She'd bawled upon hearing the news that he'd been let go, and she cried again once this number was over.) It was wonderful to see this side of Mariah; I had no idea she could be so graceful and feminine and sweet. "You just went to another place…your body just oozed with passion," Mary told her. "We are watching your growth exponentially," said Nigel. I have a feeling Mariah won't be in the bottom next week.
Amy Yakima & Fik-Shun – Hip-Hop
This was my other favorite routine of the night. How fantastic that "SYTYCD" can segue from something as dark and gut-wrenching as Mariah and Carlos's amnesia number to this fun Nappytabs romp without literally missing a beat. Amy and Fik-Shun played two bellhops goofing off and flirting on the job, and they had personality for days. In fact, look up "Personality" in your Funk & Wagnalls, and you'll probably see a picture of them in their little red hotel uniforms, dancing circles around a brass luggage cart and grinding up on each other with gleeful abandon. "I loved that! So much goodness!" raved Christina. "Both of you light up the entire studio when you dance…you keep dancing like that, and you'll find yourself in the finale," said Nigel. Amy and Fik-Shun certainly seem like another couple to beat this season.
Jenna Johnson & Tucker Knox – Cha Cha
Tucker, one my favorite boys this year, has an adorkably geeky charm about him. So I wondered if he'd be able to convincingly take on the role of a sleazy nightclub-owner in this smokin' number by "SYTYCD" alum Dmitry Chaplin. For the most part, Tucker handled it…but Jenna was much more suited for this routine. ("I love playing the sexy girl!" she shouted during rehearsal.) What a bombshell! Jenna completely made the usually extroverted Tucker fade into the background. My only gripe about her performance was the end, when she had to walk offstage to the prerecorded sounds of heels clicking on a stage floor, and she was jarringly out of synch. That bugged me. Other than that, she was perfect. Mary called Jenna a "chameleon" and said, "Everything is in your element." Nigel spent most of the time criticizing Dmitry's choreography, saying he would have preferred an "old-fashioned cha cha" like ones on "Dancing With the Stars." But that wasn't Jenna and Tucker's fault, so Nigel's critique didn't seem fair. I don't think voters will mind that this wasn't a traditional version of the dance, however; these contestants are popular, and they did a solid job in the pimp spot, so they'll be fine.
So now, it is prediction time. Which dancers will have to solo for their lives in the total-bummer first segment of next week's episode? This is really hard to call; there were so many stellar routines this week, and no one dancer stood out as an obvious weak link. But among the guys, the ones I think are most at risk (mainly just having to do with popularity and pre-existing fanbases) are Jade, Alan, and Paul; among the girls, Makenzie, Malece, and Jasmine M.
Wow, the first 15 minutes of next week's show really are going to suck, huh? See you then.