Snejana Urbin: J. Viles/FOX
Michael Slezak
August 17, 2005 at 12:00 PM EDT

”So You Think You Can Dance” finds its footing

I just knew this was going to happen. I’ve spent the last several weeks railing against the inept pacing, dubious editing, and listless judging of American Idol‘s awkward cousin, So You Think You Can Dance, and this week, mere minutes after I started thumbing the remote, itching to switch off the entire debacle, several contestants went and wormed their way into my programming-engorged heart.

Thanks a lot, Fox. Now it looks like I’m going to spend what little is left of my summer frantically dialing 888-TEMPO-whatever and stressing over the fate of Ryan and Melissa, Craig and Melody, and the weirdly appealing Snow. The only positive in my sudden passion for SYTYCD? It kept me away from tonight’s premiere of Battle of the Network Reality Stars on Bravo.

I’m not saying that SYTYCD‘s producers can take much credit for reeling me in; neither am I suggesting that the judging has improved dramatically. Once again, this week’s episode seemed designed to maximize viewer fidgeting and (initially, at least) minimize the amount of dancing on display. Why on earth producers chose to devote the entire opening half hour to treacly video montages of contestants, while failing to show a single new routine, was a mystery worthy of CSI. Especially since SYTYCD appears to have a significantly smaller budget than Idol, and their introductory montages don’t include video footage of the contestants at home (like those great shots last season of Idol‘s Vonzell Solomon driving her mail truck).

Worse still were the painful clichés spilling out of the contestants and the frightening host-bot, Lauren Sanchez, a woman who almost makes Big Brother‘s Julie Chen look warm and genuine by comparison. Sanchez dropped plenty of breathless groaners in just under 30 minutes, but here are my personal top three: (1) ”You’ve been through so much: What kept you going?” (2) ”Wow! You have made some amazing sacrifices to be on this show!” And (3) ”To say you gave up everything would be an understatement.” Still, once the show paired off the 16 contestants into 8 random boy-girl teams, not even Sanchez’s repeated cries of ”unbelievable!” could annoy me.

Far and away the evening’s best were Ryan and Melissa, even though their pre-performance video showed the spiky-haired hip-hopper and his blond counterpart struggling with their mambo routine. Apparently these kids are fast learners, and although his hair was slicked to a Banderas-esque degree and he was decked out in a black lace shirt with pink lining, Ryan’s exuberance and technical perfection completely eclipsed any cheese factor. Melissa was every bit his equal, spinning around him like the Tasmanian Devil trapped in a cheerleader’s body.

While Craig and Melody didn’t get the same level of love from the panel, I thought they were equally good performing the jive. ”It looked kind of easy for you guys,” noted judge Dan Karaty with a hint of disapproval. Um, aren’t good dancers supposed to do that, Dan? Whatever. There’s something about Craig’s movement and energy that’s so winning that I’ll even forgive him for blatantly trying to steal votes by spending the last 15 minutes of the show shirtless. C’mon, kid, you’ve got abs of steel, but this isn’t So You Think You Can Strip.

Sadly, though, my personal favorite was half of one of the three pairings that scored the lowest with the judging panel, and now she’s at risk of elimination. Yeah, I’m talking about Ukrainian ice princess Snow. Sure, she’s got all the charm of those mid-’80s Russian figure skaters we all liked to root against, and although she’s only 25, she kinda resembles the love child of Victoria Gotti and Donatella Versace, but there’s something so defiantly off-kilter about her that I’ll be a little bit crushed if she goes home during week 1. I’m not sure if America’s going to respond approvingly to the way she somehow managed to hog like four cameras at once throughout the 16-contestant dance-off during the closing credits, but it sure took scads of moxie, energy, and awareness of the director’s cues. And if that doesn’t make Snow worthy of surviving till the next round, I’m not sure what does.

If I had my way, I’d send home my early favorite Allan Frias, whose bubbly personality seems to be deflating with the realization that he’s simply out of his league at this point in the competition, but I think skeezy Jonnis will be putting his dancing shoes back in his locker first. On the women’s side, I could learn to live without Sandra and her tragic trampy-schoolgirl attire, but I’d give the boot to Michelle. That scantily clad brunette may be able to string together pirouettes, flips, and kicks, yet her routine played more like a catalog of tricks than a coherent, exciting performance. In other words, I think she might be able to teach a class on dance technique, but I’m not sure I think she can dance.

What do you think? Was this episode good for you too? Who should go home now, and who are your early picks to win it all?

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