The final six dancers perform three dances each in their last bid to win over America
Think You Can Dance
Credit: Joe Viles/Fox

To channel our dear Cat for a moment: Give it up, everybody, it’s Russell! Because though Kathryn stole the krumper’s heart during their final hip-hop routine, the krumper has stolen the heart of each and every person watching the show from their living room. So, come on, really: does anyone else have a chance of winning the title of America’s favorite dancer?

Especially when the krumper was given nearly every advantage in the book during last night’s final performance night. Not only was he granted the pimp spot — and allowed to dance in his own element for said spot — but he was also shirtless for two (count ’em: two!) routines. And nothing seems to get voters dialing more than a naked male torso. (Ryan’s still there, isn’t he?)

Yet, if Russell takes it all, I can’t say he doesn’t deserve it. Though almost every other dancer still in the competition has a technical advantage over the krumper, Russell has brought an unabashed joy to the stage that has been unmatched by the likes of, say, Kathryn or Jakob. And that joy was more than welcome during last night’s relatively un-remarkable performance night finale. In fact, the energy level amongst our judges and lovely host was so low, I felt like I had shot a tranquilizer gun right into my television. Cat introduced So You Think You Can Dance like an NPR broadcaster introduces a 30-minute didgeridoo performance. The show was as rushed as the line at Whole Foods. And the most spontaneous moment of the night was when Nigel inexplicably decided to put on a pair of sunglasses stolen from the lovechild of Sophia Loren and Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka. Add to that the fact that we had as many solos as we had packaged clips from rehearsal — that would be zero for those of you counting — and last night’s show just didn’t seem like the SYTYCD we have grown to know and love.

So I couldn’t help but think: That’s it? This is what we’ve been gearing up for this entire fall season? Thankfully, we had our dancers to up the ante, and though Kathryn put up a more than respectable effort, methinks she’ll be forced to settle for second place to our krumper.

So let’s talk about him, shall we? He began the night with a jazz number choreographed by Sonya. And though I spent 50 percent of the routine feeling bad for partner Ashleigh — we’ll get to why later — the other 50 was focused on how far the krumper has come since we saw him audition months ago. His leaps were seamless, his emotional level soaring. Nigel went so far as to call him ”bloody incredible.” And though I spotted one or two flaws during the routine, Russell more than made up for them with his pointed toes, and charming do-anything attitude.

And that attitude continued into his second performance, a Jason Gilkison paso doble with Ellenore. Now, as I’ve mentioned several times, I know about as much about ballroom dancing as I know about quantum mechanics, but I do know that Russell commanded that stage like a 1990s-era Antonio Banderas. (And since I’m talking about a 1990s-era Antonio Banderas that appeared in The Mask of Zorro, and not a 1990s-era Antonio Banderas that appeared in Two Much, that’s a good thing.)

NEXT: Kathryn makes a big push for the crown

Things only got better with his third dance. For whatever reason, Russell has spent much of the season showing audiences his more refined side during ballroom routines, so it was refreshing to see him break out of such buttoned-up genres. His NapTab hip-hop routine was relatively devoid of concept — something that has weighed down the choreographing couple this season — but the krumper still brought plenty of character to the forefront of the number. Though it certainly wasn’t a show-stopping number, Russell still managed to bring the audience to their feet. That is why it’s hard to imagine anyone else stealing his much-sought-after, much-deserved title.

But if anyone can, it’s Kathryn. After watching the contemporary dancer’s Jason Gilkison samba with Ryan, Adam added a subtitle to this series: So You Think You Can Dance: The Rise of Kathryn. Well, buy me some Ralph Lauren nautical gear and get my hands on deck, because I’m on board with that idea! And not just because I love subtitles. (Especially when they come in unnecessary parenthetical form, à la ”Quit Playing Games (With My Heart).”) No, I love the fact that a dancer that isn’t full of quirk and bells and whistles is actually a frontrunner going into the finale. Because though we’re supposed to vote for our favorite dancer, wouldn’t it be nice to actually see one of the best dancers win? Especially when a dancer like Kathryn brings so much sexy subtlety to her work. Just watch her dancing during her samba — the dancer managed to show off her technical skills while still not sacrificing personality. She really let go, something I feared would be difficult for her without an emotional partner like Legacy.

And things got even brighter for the contemporary dancer. I felt like releasing an inappropriately high-pitched Beaker-esque sob watching her dance during Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson’s contemporary number. Though she was a bit less emotionally present dancing with Jakob than Legacy, her dancing was no less inspired. Her backwards somersault was fluid, her extensions marvelous, and her grace completely unmatched. We all thought Ellenore and Jakob was a dream pair. Well, furgettabout that! Kathryn and Jakob literally did bring the theatre — and, I would bet, a million so living rooms — to a halt. Of course, much of the adoration belongs to Dwight and Desmond, whose choreography was very much welcomed during a finale that had, up to that point, been relatively uninspired.

Though I bet audiences didn’t emotionally connect with Kathryn’s final performance — the NapTab hip-hop number with Russell — the dance was still fresh enough in voters’ minds to inspire a phone call or two. Kathryn held her own against the buck krumper, and, might I add, looked like an updated version of Sandy Olsen in that hawt skin-tight number. Is Kathryn the one that viewers want? I can’t imagine she’s popular enough to top Russell, but, then again, did anyone expect Jeanine to take the title last season?

NEXT: Jakob FTW by leaps and bounds?

Of course, dialers can surprise us all and crown Jakob the winner. After all, he was Kathryn’s other half during that lovely contemporary number. Yet, though he brought technical strength to Dwight and Desmond’s routine, I’m not sure he really was emotionally present enough to make America’s heart beat. For the past few weeks, I have been singing Jakob’s praises in this recap, only to have you lovely readers point out his emotional absence on stage. Perhaps you all have been right. Admittedly, I have been distracted by his super-human abilities as a dancer. So last night, I tried to hone in on his passion. And you know what? He was a bit like cold pizza: Tasty, but still… cold.

Voters, however, might still be as in love with Jakob’s leaps as I have been. And though I feel like I could watch the contemporary dancer jump all day, I’ll admit that his Tyce-choreographed Broadway routine with Ellenore might as well have been called: ”Let’s see how many times we can get Jakob to tour jeté in the course of two minutes.” I hope every time that Jakob jumped, an angel got his wings, because there had to have been some sort of pay-off for all that physical exhaustion.

Unfortunately, in between two stellar numbers, Jakob was forced to dance the foxtrot with old partner Ashleigh. (More on that later.) And though it was a perfectly nice foxtrot, it didn’t really serve our contemporary dancer. It’s nice to show off your partnering skills, but that will hardly encourage voters to pick up the phone at this stage in the competition.

Speaking of Jakob’s old partner, let’s get to Ashleigh. I had two problems with Sonya’s routine for Ashleigh and Russell last night: Firstly, the music sounded all too much like it should be paired with a depressing ASPCA ad starring Sarah McLachlan. Secondly, Sonya hardly choreographed anything for our ballroom dancer. In fact, Cat might as well have read out a phone number for the wind machine, because as far as I’m concerned, it did far more work than Ashleigh did during that number. Of course, it’s not really fair: Ashleigh was fairly graceful, and showed off a beautiful développé. Yet, the routine purely highlighted Russell’s growth. Of course, this would be excusable if it were the first show of the season, but since this is the finale, shouldn’t the choreographers be making sure both of their dancers shine?

Good thing she followed up the number with a lovely Jean-Marque foxtrot. She was effervescent, leggy, and completely in her element. In fact, the only thing wrong with the dance was the fact that it was… a foxtrot. And, really, is the foxtrot going to drive voters to pick up the phone after this ever-important finale? Even Nigel chose to praise the routine by calling it ”worthy of being on this show.” Well, Russian folk dance was also deemed worthy of SYTYCD, so that’s not really the best of compliments, is it?

But she collected plenty of them after her contemporary number with hubby Ryan. The duo had the unenviable task of dancing after Kathryn and Jakob’s stunning routine, but, you know what? They still brought us some beautiful moments during their Travis Wall number. Sure, the dance was simple, but, then again, some of the best things are simple (I give you: the color white, ramen noodles, Navin R. Johnson.) Plus, the number was more about the emotional journey these two have endured rather than the literal journey. Some may consider that an unfair advantage — since SYTYCD‘s audience is so sentimental — but go ahead and try to tell me you weren’t touched by the look on Ashleigh’s face during the number. It was full of such sincerity that I totally bought her tears at the end of the dance. (Not so much Ryan’s, though. Unless he had just remembered he was out of protein bars.) I know many of you felt it was unfair to see Ashleigh in the finale after she was sidelined last week because of her injury, but I’m sorry — you can’t convince me that Mollee would have been better in her slot. Unless Mandy Moore was around to choreograph a number about Rainbow Brite.

NEXT: Can quirky or wooden take the crown?

Then there’s Ellenore. I still don’t really know what to make of the jazz dancer. But the fake beauty mark she sported during Tyce Dirio’s Broadway routine was quite fitting — after all, Ellenore is beautiful because of her imperfections. And I’m not talking about physical imperfections — girl is gorgeous — but her technical imperfections. Unfortunately, those technical imperfections might prove to be her downfall this week. Though she looked gorgeous during her Broadway number, she didn’t quite stand out enough to overpower, or even merely complement, her partner. There’s something very arresting about her movements, what with the way she tends to hit every move hard. In many cases, that technique works. (Hello Sonya!) But other times, it leaves me frustrated. During her Broadway routine, I wanted to reach into my television, grab Ellenore’s arms, and stretch them out with every move she executed. The girl’s got to learn how to be fluid, and really finish every move without sacrificing grace.

When it came to her second number, I wanted to say domo arigato, Garry Stewart, but unfortunately, I felt his routine for Ryan and Ellnore needed a little more charge. The concept suited the quirky dancer well, but is it a good thing to naturally look robotic? Plus, Ellenore faltered while trying to stick a landing after a simple spin. Perhaps she just needed some energy via oilcan — she has spent weeks constantly rehearsing — but our other dancers have been able to maintain pizzazz just fine.

To borrow from The Beatles, I’ve got to admit it got better during Ellenore’s final routine, a dance curiously out of her element. Perhaps that’s because the jazz dancer was remarkably unrecognizable during her Jason Gilkison paso doble. She exuded passion and grace, two traits we hadn’t yet seen from her during the night. Yet, I will vow to finish an entire Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster all by myself if Ellenore wins the competition. Not only has her personality rubbed many viewers the wrong way, but I doubt memory-plagued voters will pick up the phone for her, since she had completed all her routines by the show’s halfway point last night. Then again, if she does somehow take the title, it wouldn’t be the end of the world — I’ll still get a giant ice cream sundae out of the deal!

And then there was Ryan. The ballroom dancer gave it a go last night, but he was often so out of his element, he might as well have been in a mathletes competition. His first dance, however, was his best: He executed spins that were quick enough to turn the Tasmanian devil green, and managed to resemble a ballroom dancer more than a Chippendales dancer, even sans shirt!

Unfortunately, Garry Stewart’s choreography didn’t serve the dancer too well. Why make a dancer known for being somewhat wooden dance like a machine? But, thankfully for humanity, the ab-tacular Ryan is not actually a machine: How else would you explain his imperfections? Just check out that awkward move in which he lazily placed his leg atop Ellenore. That just summed it up for me: The ballroom dancer is simply just not comfortable in any other genre but his own.

But he got as close to comfortable as he was going to get in his final dance, the contemporary duet with Ashleigh. Of course, that likely had more to do with his partner than his actual skills as a contemporary dancer, but I still have to give Ryan props for his emotional commitment to the routine. Just watching him respond to Ashleigh falling into his arms during the number was, in a word, delightful. Was it worth Ryan staying to see the husband and wife dance together? No. I would have much rather have seen Legacy b-boy his way to the top. That being said, it was certainly a nice way for these two to end their journeys.

Speaking of which, it’s the end of my season six journey, friends! I’ve had more than a couple beefs with this new fall season, but I’ve loved checking in with you all week in and week out. Check back tomorrow for Allyssa Lee’s recap of the finale, and I’ll be sure to catch you all on the flip side. Or the hot tamale train, because I’ll give you all first-class tickets! Woo-wooooooooo!

Episode Recaps

So You Think You Can Dance

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.

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