So You Think You Can Dance originally started off as American Idol for dancers, but after eight seasons the show has exceeded its pedigree in nearly every way. This week’s episode is a showcase of all the things SYTYCD does right, and even though there’s differing levels of quality in the routines and critiques, the variety is part of this show’s appeal. The caliber of dancers, judges, choreographers, and host that this show has assembled is astonishing, and the relationship that forms between these four elements is what separates it from other reality competitions. In a field as competitive as dance, being on this show is the kind of exposure that will make an entire career, and the returned All-Stars not only look happy to be back on the stage, but genuinely grateful for what the show has done for them. Some have moved on to become choreographers themselves, and Travis has even taken his own seat on the panel. Not a lot of reality TV can say that.
You know it’s the start of a good episode when there’s not a lot of judge banter at the beginning, and there’s so much content that at one point Cat just starts speeding through the teleprompter lines. Nigel and Mary are joined by their highest-profile guest judges yet, director/choreographer of the Academy Award-winning Chicago Rob Marshall and multi-platinum recording artist Lady Gaga, and while Gaga finds plenty of time to make the show about her, she does give some legitimately good critiques. And it’s Gaga, did you really expect her not to steal the spotlight in some capacity? What’s great about having her on this show is that she gets to shine and share that spotlight with our amazing top eight.
It’s pretty obvious at this point that Melanie and Sasha are going to be the top two, right? The only other contestant that even comes close to reaching their level of popularity is Marko, and after tonight’s “Mom from Guam” segment, he’s not playing any games. And then Sonya choreographed a dubstep Jazz number for the two girls that put them back on top. What a way to close the night. After Gaga tells Melanie that she can have a job on her tour tomorrow, Melanie gets to dance her first routine where she can unleash the beast (that oh-so-flattering term this show has replaced “woman” with this season), and she gets to dance it with Sasha Fierce of all contestants. Are they still trying to pretend this is all random? If so, I call bullshit. I can believe the pairings of Melanie/Neil and Sasha/Pasha, but Sasha/Melanie just seems too good to be true. Not that I’m complaining. Free of story, props, or pretension, Sasha’s jazz number shows off the girls’ power and control unlike anything they’ve done so far. The music choice was a refreshing change from an episode featuring Celine Dion, Mario, and P. Diddy, and it took the girls to a raw, gritty place that they rarely get a chance to go to. They get one of Gaga’s foot-long heels thrown at them (Sonya gets the other), and more importantly, solidify their standing in the finale.
Sasha’s quickstep (notice how Cat doesn’t say quickstep—too much baggage) was an odd routine choreographed by Jonathan Roberts, and while Nigel and Mary thought there could have been more strength in her upper body, Gaga liked the strangeness. In fact, it could have been more loose for Gaga, and honestly, I don’t mind that Gaga throws her personal preference in there. I don’t know quickstep, but that stiffness is part of makes it tedious to watch for me, and although it may not be technically correct, the technique is getting to be pretty outdated. At the same time, the whole challenge is capturing the technique precisely, and it’s nice to have Nigel and Mary there to focus on that element of the dance.
Melanie’s other dance of the evening is a Mandy Moore contemporary routine to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” with a shirtless Neil. They’re wearing all white and the choreography is ethereal and flowy and super stereotypically contemporary, but goddamn do those two dance the hell out of it. The spectacular leap gets a repeat appearance after Melanie’s stellar judging, and the instinctive control Melanie and Neil have out of performance is astonishing. Gaga’s enthusiastic endorsement of Melanie makes it even more likely that she will finish this competition on top, and if she continues to dance at this level, she’ll make it to the top without ever visiting the bottom.
Sonya was on fire tonight, choreographing the evening’s other breakout performance, a contemporary number for Marko and Allison. It’s a spectacular number, but it bears more than a few similarities to the contemporary number she choreographed for Alex and Allison last season (there’s even a Jeff Buckley song):
It’s a message dance about the power of hurtful words and actions, but Sonya manages to convey that message through choreography that emphasizes emotion over story. The dancers don’t have much time on stage, and giving them a strong emotion to play is often more effective than attempting a danced narrative. Marko dances with sophistication and strength and a bullet in his shoulder, and he can work a crowd in a way that the other boys wish they could. Apologizing to your mom on national television for being a bratty kid is probably the best competition strategy I have ever seen.
Marko and Ricky get the other same-sex dance of the episode, and NappyTab try to recreate Alex/Twitch’s “Outta Your Mind,” but with a lot of extra props and a janitor theme. Sometimes NappyTab can slip into bad habits, and Gaga surprisingly steps up as the leader of the anti-prop movement this episode, telling choreographers to ditch the plastic flowers and brooms and let the dance do the work. Marko absolutely schools Ricky during this number, and I think Ricky’s clobbering will get him sent home tomorrow. Marko has a strong base and keeps his weight closer to the ground, making his moves hit harder and the aerial choreography even more impressive. Ricky drifts through the background this episode, and Anya outshines him during their jive, with Nigel comparing one lift as Ricky hauling a slab of meat.
The story dances are the weakest of the week, with Caitlynn and Ivan’s lyrical hip hop about a girl getting picked up after a break-up being called “dated” by Gaga. Marty Kudelka’s choreography might be great for a music video, but it’s a little bland for the SYTYCD stage. Jess and Lauren’s NappyTabs hip-hop about a boyfriend trying to win back his girlfriend shows off how far Jess has come, showing his growth emotionally and physically as a dancer, but his Jason Gilkison rumba with Jordan is like a ballroom version of a contemporary dance. The story about a woman in a relationship with a controlling man doesn’t come through in the choreography, and the dance doesn’t fit with the music, especially during the chorus’ final build. Mandy Moore’s Jazz heist routine would be a lot better if there was a hat on Tadd’s head instead of the middle of the stage, and relying on the absent costume for the choreography ends up crushing the momentum of the routine. Pity, because last season’s winner Lauren Froderman is looking smoking hot, and Tadd holds his own in a difficult style for a b-boy.
Tyce redeems himself for last week with a Jazz routine for Jordan and Ade that plays to his strengths as a choreographer and Ade’s strengths as a giant dancing superman. Remember how good it is to have tall, strong men on this show? The lifts in Tyce’s routine are insane, and Jordan is like Gumby in Ade’s arms, bending in inhuman ways as Ade throws her around the stage. Caitlynn is a great dancer, and her foxtrot with Tadd is classic and elegant, but Jordan has that extra spark that comes from a constant drive to improve. She’s grown with every episode, and while Caitlynn confidently dances through each number, what Jordan brings to the choreography that is more than confidence, it’s need.
Gaga performs tomorrow along with the League of Extraordinary Dancers as two more dancers go home. Ricky’s pretty much a sure thing for elimination, while Caitlynn and Jordan are going to have to fight it out for who gets to stay one more week. With only two more weeks to the finale, the competition is getting easier to call as Sasha and Melanie rise to the top, and it’s going to be a tough call between which lady takes home the title of America’s Favorite Dancer.
- Cat Couture: Exquisite braid serves as a headband while the ruffles on her geometric white dress give our slim host a more curvaceous silhouette.
- Gaga likes to poke into Nigel’s frame when he’s talking. Bad girl.
- Rob Marshall needs to go easy on the tanning.
- Gaga calls her super-heels “fashion catheters.”
- Tyce used to dance for Rob Marshall. Just him. Alone. In his condo.
- “You’re just on the edge.” “You were born this way.” We get it, Gaga.
- Gaga calls out Anya’s crazy ballroom flailing as too much like Dancing With The Stars. That’s just what good ballroom looks like, Gaga.
- Jess and Jordan need to get on Rob Marshall’s ass about movie roles pronto.
- Portia and Ellen are in the audience. Can we get Portia on panel just for fun?
- Ellen is sitting next to Sonya, not at all so she can be in the shot during the judging of the girl/girl dance.
- Mandy Moore was really confused about one of this week’s guest judges because she hasn’t heard any music written after 1989.
- Jonathan Roberts knows how to pick a dress to match a foxtrot.
- Mary occasionally slips into periods of ballroom lingo Tourette’s. Sometimes it just sounds like Dr. Seuss nonsense.
- Jeff Buckley covering The Smiths. Sonya really knows how to lighten the mood.
- “If everyone could dance with brooms like that, it would be a cleaner world.”
- I never leave the house without looking international rumba beautiful.
- “Love. Skill. Masterpiece.”