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?