The academy has ended, but the kids on So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation are doing some schooling of their own. The top 10 finalists and their all-star mentors perform live for the first time on the SYTYCD stage, and is anyone else having a really hard time judging their technique? For me, it’s a mixture of not wanting to hurt their feelings and a healthy dose of pure jealousy, knowing they’re all so much better than I ever could have been at that age. I barely knew what contemporary was back then… To be honest, I’m still not sure I fully understand it.
Each of our top 10 performed one routine with their all-stars and a solo, much like their older counterparts in earlier seasons. There was a ridiculous amount of talent displayed tonight, but one thing that struck me from routine to routine is the slight discomfort I felt when kids were asked to tackle choreography — usually during ballroom numbers — that required them to be a little flirty with their adult dance partners. Perhaps it’s just an initial shock to the system more than anything else, but one thing’s for certain: Every finalist attacked their number with a lot of passion and fun.
Before the partner routines can even begin, the episode opens with a group number from Christopher Scott (dance lover swoon!) that includes both the finalists and the all-stars, and it’s clear many of our competitors could easily eclipse their mentors as Season 13 progresses. We also get some good and bad news. Good news: Maddie Ziegler officially joins the judge’s table and quickly becomes an even better judge than Jason “I agree with my colleagues” Derulo. The bad news: Joshua is no longer an all-star/mentor this season. We don’t get an explanation as to why the man who stole many a heart has suddenly left SYTYCD, but his replacement isn’t too shabby: It’s Marko from Season 8! Sure, he’s not a hip-hop dancer, but he’s basically brilliant at everything and will likely be a great all-around mentor for Shaeden.
Team Fik-Shun: Because the first live episode has to begin with a bang, we start with Fik-Shun’s mini-me, Leon “Kida” Burns — and this little dude is already going step for step with the Season 10 winner. Add to their combo some choreography from Chris Scott and the first routine is magic. It’s no wonder the judges give the routine a standing ovation.
During his solo, Kida continues his hot streak with a fun, high-energy performance to Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now.”
Team Kathryn: Fik-Shun + Kida + Chris Scott is a tough act to follow, but the next routine definitely gives it a run for its money. Tate is one of our finalists to beat, and she joins her mentor Kathryn for a Tyce Diorio routine about a girl and a butterfly. High-concept routines are very hit or miss on this series, running the gamut from brilliant (like Hok and Jaime’s hummingbird routine) to confusing (like Sabra and Lacey’s deer routine). But Tate — along with her “longest legs in America,” as Tyce calls them — is out of this world when paired with Kathryn.
Following Tate’s solo, it’s clear right off the bat that we’ve got two standouts for the season…so far.
Team Jenna: Jean-Marc Généreux gets Jake and his mentor Jenna this week for a cha-cha, which he hopes will help Jake “show his dominance” and take the lead. This is the first routine that, while technically great, is a little strange, considering the cha-cha’s flirtatious style paired with a child and an adult dancing together. Jake proves he’s got charisma and great moves (he’s also ridiculously adorable in his intro before the rehearsal package). But I’m not as drawn to this routine, in large part due to the age issue. I might be completely alone in this, and things might change next week. What do you guys think? As if I have to say it specifically, feel free to disagree with me in the comments.
Team Marko: Let’s immediately address the fact that it’s totally sad to not be able to write “Team Joshua.” That being said, Shaeden and his new partner/mentor still bring the attitude in their Pharside & Pheonix routine, in which Shaeden plays the boogeyman. The routine definitely features the choreographers’ trademark intricacy and hard-hitting moves. And what’s more, Shaeden actually overpowers his mentor in many moments.
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Team Sasha: Hot damn, you guys. Mini-Sasha, I mean Jordan, could win it all. There’s a reason Sasha chose this girl to mentor. They’re very similar in their movements and their passion. Jordan knows who she’s dancing for and she puts everything she has into every single step. Brian Freedman’s routine about people needing each other resonates with Jason Derulo quite a bit, as he relates the piece to the unrest the country’s currently experiencing. “I feel like our country needs this right now,” he says.
Her solo: Perfection.
NEXT: Is JT a dark-horse finalist?
The little ones get a bit of rest as the all-stars prove why they were chosen for their mentor gigs, as if we didn’t already know these 10 are incredible. Back to the kids, please!
Team Gaby: Another mini-me in the making, Emma is definitely a fantastic dancer for Gaby to mentor. The two have similar styles, but Emma still has a little bit of cutesy-ness in her performance that Gaby can definitely remove and replace with maturity as the season progresses. Their tap number is fun and extremely difficult, but they pull it off with class.
Emma’s tap solo is equally fun and upbeat, but I’m waiting to see how well she excels in other styles. She’s already given us a taste of what she can do at the academy, and now it’s time for more.
Team Paul: I have something to confess. Ruby (Paul’s dancer) and Daniela (Jonathan’s dancer) are a bit too one-note for me right now. Ruby is fiery, for sure, and her personality is definitely ridiculously entertaining. But she needs to find a way to pull ahead of the competition if she wants to prove she has what it takes to compete with the likes of Tate, Jordan, and Kida. Her cha-cha with Paul is, once again, a tad strange to watch — especially since Jean-Marc introduces the routine as one that requires Ruby’s character to restore Paul’s passion — but she does a great job from start to finish. I just want more from this and from her solo. One thing is undeniable: The number’s final lift, where Paul throws Ruby over his shoulder and into the splits, might be the evening’s most memorable move.
Team Comfort: Tahani will never be able live down the Paula Abdul vomit-gate of 2016, but as she reveals in her pre-package interview, apparently she’s been getting only positive responses from the incident. She and Comfort tackle a hard-hitting Luther Brown routine with no story. It’s all about just cutting loose, and that’s exactly what they do. Surprisingly, the Tahani-Comfort pairing is perfect: The two play off each other really well, with Tahani’s energy level seemingly increasing tenfold thanks to Comfort. These two are a duo to beat, but like Ruby, Tahani needs to remind America she’s got more up her sleeve. Her solo isn’t as memorable as her performance with Comfort, but it does show she’s got attitude and performance chops to spare.
Team Jonathan: Daniela doesn’t know what El Salvador is, which is both adorable and a troubling example of the country’s lack of geography knowledge. Her and Jonathan’s salsa routine is technically proficient and entertaining, but once again I’m left wanting more. Ballroom dances — especially those of the Latin variety — are typically SYTYCD’s more exciting routines, but for some reason things are falling just a little flat this week, despite the supreme level of talent these ballroom kids display.
Team Robert: I get it now, guys. I get why Robert chose JT as his finalist this season. After a semi-inconsistent run at the academy, becoming the season’s “cute” kid, JT rose to the challenge of being Robert’s choice for the top 10 with a powerful Mandy Moore routine. (We’re a long way from the bow tie!) Thank goodness we had this number, though, because JT’s solo wasn’t quite up to snuff. But if his first performance is what we can expect from this little one, JT could be a dark horse in this competition.
The group number to end the first live show is undoubtedly awesome, but enough with my nonsense opinions. I can’t wait to see what you guys thought of the kids’ first routines! I wasn’t totally onboard with the “Next Generation” season, but after this episode, I’m starting to feel it. SYTYCD may win me back for good soon enough.