The finalists and all-stars deliver top-notch performances

By Kate Ward
June 17, 2010 at 06:29 AM EDT
Mathieu Young/Fox
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About three years ago, I took the subway to Madison Square Garden, where a cat show was hosting an adoption event. I hurried in the front door of the venue, and immediately found myself surrounded by adorable, squeeze-worthy kittens. Big kittens, little kittens, frisky kittens, loving kittens — how on Earth could I possibly decide which one to support and take home with me? Couldn’t I have them all? (Because, of course, my goal as a girl in New York is to transform myself into the ultimate cliché.)

Picking out a kitten for myself that day was one of the hardest decisions I ever made — until I tried to choose a favorite from last night’s So You Think You Can Dance. Seriously, guys. Throughout the two-hour show, we saw powerful dancers, subtle dancers, flexible dancers, dancers who just made us laugh. Tell me, fellow SYTYCD lovers, how can we possibly decide which one to back for the entire season?

Because, really, can we name one other season in which most of the finalists shined during the very first episode? Yes, I’ll concede that some contestants last night had a hard time keeping up with the likes of, say, season seven frontrunners Alex and Billy, but that’s like saying Olympic swimmers have a hard time keeping up with Michael Phelps. They’re all world-class, but there’s only one Michael Phelps.

And there’s only one Alex freaking Wong, who managed to nab a standing ovation during (and I have to use italics once again) the very first episode. Going into his Sonya-choreographed number with Allison, I actually wanted to hate it. Because, honestly, I find ”Hallelujah” to be both the most manipulative song ever used in reality show history. Like those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA ads, it’s impossible for audiences not to feel something hearing the tune. Yet Alex and Allison could have danced their salvation number to LFO’s ”Summer Girls,” and it still would have had the same heart-breaking effect on the panel — and not because Rich Cronin rhymes ”speaking” with ”Alex P. Keaton.” No, Alex channeled all the passion he was holding back over the past few weeks into this one number, making his perfect développés secondary to his awe-inspiring dedication to the meaning behind the routine. Dude even got teary at the end of the number! I won’t agree with Mia’s assertion that the dance was ”the best…piece of work danced on the So You Think You Can Dance stage anywhere in the world up to date” — I still feel ”The Bench” deserves that honor, though it’s nice to see Mia being humble, eh? — but it was surely the best piece of work we’ve seen on the So You Think You Can Dance stage since season two.

NEXT: Kent’s dance of joy

In the same way that Alex and Allison’s number was poignant and passionate, Kent and Anya’s Tony and Melanie cha-cha was playful — and outright hysterical. Say what you will about Kent, but that farm boy was made for reality television like boots were made for walkin’. Funny, humble, and so gosh-darn-gee-willikers clueless (like a fox, mind you), there’s only one word I can use to describe what I feel watching Kent dance: Joy. There’s something to be said about a person who is clearly having a blast caught up in a moment — as if I were a Hoover vacuum, I sucked up every ounce of joy Kent had dancing with Anya, even though his footwork was a tad slow and his expression cheesier than a serving of Brie. I couldn’t help it: When Kent laughed at himself for shimmying during the number, I laughed. (As for his anecdote about being the one student out of 14 chosen to be homecoming king…priceless.) The dance might have inspired Uncle Nigel to start referencing cougars like it was 2003, but I’d bet, after his cha-cha, Kent’s got an endless line of elderly fans just clamoring to pinch his cheeks. Heck, I’m in my 20s, and I’m ready to slap on a crocheted sweater and a pair of reading glasses so I could pinch his cheeks and offer him a Werther’s hard candy.

Because, sorry Nigel, I have a feeling these cougars aren’t going to dial their bedazzled cell phones for anyone but Robert, our good-looking cannon fodder who catapulted his standings after his Sean Cheesman African jazz routine with Courtney. Even though the SYTYCD producers threw him a curveball over the past few episodes by barely acknowledging his existence, the dancer/baseball player hit a grand slam, nailing the number like Eliot Spitzer nails… oh, I won’t go there. Not only did he hit his marks technically — as a former ballerina, I can tell you that it’s tough to flex your feet during a routine when pointed toes are so ingrained in your body’s memory — but the dude is a born showman. This, of course, could prove to be his downfall in the future; I’m sure I’m not the only SYTYCD fan that noticed his lack of sync with Courtney, which I connect with an on-stage selfishness and inability to recognize other dancers on the stage. (And his camera-hogging after the show certainly will turn off some viewers.) But what can I say? The guy was animal, and he simply tore that number to pieces like it was Watergate evidence. (Wow, my inner Uncle Nigel is really coming out this season, huh?)

Since we’re discussing last night’s male frontrunners, we might as well round out the pack with Billy Bell, who danced a fun (!) Tyce Broadway routine with Lauren. But is it blasphemous for me to point out that the ”Footloose” number was far from perfect? Look, I really do like Billy, regardless of the odd, pre-pubescent goatee he was sporting last night. His freakish flexibility, though, sometimes detracts from his own dancing skills. Those kicks are kind of like Mariah Carey’s wine glass-breaking high notes — used sparingly, they’re mind-blowing and astonishing. But sometimes, you just want to tell Mariah, ”Look, I only have so many wine glasses. I don’t want to spend my month’s paycheck at Crate and Barrel.” Incorporated into a Broadway routine like ”Footloose,” the extensions just seemed out of place, and out of controlled. Like Mia mentioned, Billy was focused on the length, and not the ”bounce” of a Broadway routine. Billy, however, has just as much a chance going home tomorrow as I have making out with Pasha, so we can expect to kick his way into next week.

NEXT: Poor Ashley

Wait, did someone just say Pasha? Oh, right, I did. You know, I feel bad whenever anyone dances with Pasha, because, really, it’s always Pasha, Pasha, Pasha. The judges are always like, ooh, Pasha’s the best in the world, ooh, Pasha is the hunkiest guy ever, ooh, Pasha got Davy Jones to perform at his prom. So, unless you’re Anya, it’s pretty difficult to stand out next to the guy. So was the case with poor Melinda, a tapper who probably should have succeeded more in the jive, being that she’s already quick with her feet. But however light Melinda’s steps were, Pasha’s were that much lighter. However expressive Melinda was, Pasha was that much more expressive. However gorgeous Melinda was, Pasha was that much more gorgeous. Yet, I felt the tapper did ultimately deliver a fine performance, especially since she had to reckon with a style so different from her own. And I’m not so sure she deserved to be the recipient of the line Uncle Nigel had surely been saving up all night: ”You’re a little like English goalkeeper Robert Green. You’re a little unsafe.” But knowing that Nigel does have a soft spot for tappers — not to mention beautiful ladies — I’m sure tomorrow night, she’ll be as safe as Kit Keller in the World Series. (Thanks for nuthin’ Dottie. A League of Their Own? Nobody?)

One dancer who surely will face elimination tomorrow is Ashley. Poor, poor Ashley. Not only did the dancer receive criticism she didn’t necessarily deserve during her Tyce-choreographed contemporary routing with Neil, but the cameras neglected to even show Ashley’s solo at the beginning of the show. What did Ashley do to the cameraman this season? Did she place his hand in a bucket of warm water when he was sleeping? Squirt shaving cream on his hand and then tickle his nose? Put saran wrap on top of his toilet? Certainly, someone has it in for the girl, who danced a perfectly lovely emotional routine about, according to Tyce, ”the greatest gift in the world anyone can have: Me.” (Just kidding, guys, he said ”love.” I couldn’t resist.) The judges, however, felt they couldn’t connect with whatever emotion she was giving during the number, and just wanted to give her a hug. And I hope they do, because Ashley’s going to need some TLC when she unjustly exists the competition tomorrow.

If Ashley isn’t the one packing her bags tomorrow, I’m hoping it’s Lauren who waves her spirit fingers goodbye after last night’s show. Because though the former cheerleader danced a perfectly fun Mandy Moore OMG-1980s-Cameron-Fry routine with Ade, she was completely void of emotion and connection. On top of that, her spins were a little too calculated and slow, and the whole routine felt pose-y and mannequin-esque. But, in the name of Andrew McCarthy, there’s no denying the dance was fun, and, as Mia said, athletically flawless. Let’s hope if (and when) she sticks around next week, she dials it up to 11. Because I still have faith that Lauren can make Abe Froman proud.

NEXT: Bueller? Bueller?

Like Ferris Bueller, I’d like to drive home backwards, and take back any criticism I may have had last week for our salsa dancer Christina. Because, honestly, out of all the girls on last night’s show, Christina was the one who shockingly delivered the most inspired and technically sound routine while dancing a Sonya jazz routine with Mark. I couldn’t even deliver an attitude like Christina, and I danced for 13 years! Of course, she had her weaknesses: As a ballroom dancer, she naturally let Mark lead her, rather than taking the reigns as she should have, and she failed to compete with Mark’s performance level. But seeing that Mark could perform his way out of a paper bag — something I’m sure Lady Gaga will literally make him do one day soon — it’s tough for Christina to keep up.

Another dancer who suffered from low performance level? Adéchiké, who just delivered below par during his Travis-choreographed fantasy routine with Kathryn. That’s not to say the choreography helped him much. As much as I love Travis and think he’s a young Mia in-the-making, that dance was all about Kathryn’s legs, beauty, and general babe-ness. She could have danced with Brad Pitt, and all eyes still would have been on the season 6 dancer. And though Adéchiké was a perfectly capable partner, showing off Kathryn to the best of his ability, he should have brought more to the table then just a few good leaps. The routine was, as Nigel said, cheeky, but, really, it should have been downright sexy. Like Pasha. Mmm.

Here, I should think of an interesting, flowing transition. Instead, I’m just going to say…hammer pants. Who else fell in love with Alexie watching the footage of the young girl on Star Search, dancing alongside a boy brave enough to rock the early 1990s trend? But that just might be Alexie’s problem — she’s so incredibly…precious. Really, as much as I want to go shopping with her, I want to steal her from a pond in Middle Earth, wrap her around my finger, and bring her up to Mordor. Which is exactly why she didn’t quite sell her NapTab hip-hop routine with Twitch. Not only was the cutesy dancer ”lacking coolness,” as Mia said, but she also was lacking a connection with her partner. Instead, she seemed far too concerned with making eye contact with the audience and cameras. But again, hammer pants. Those will surely save her tomorrow, right?

And… we’re done, right? Oh wait, no. Jose. Honestly, during a night of highlights, Jose might just qualify as the one forgettable lowlight, delivering a NapTab hip-hop number alongside Comfort with the energy of Sleepy the Dwarf after a pint of chamomile tea. Mia hit the nail on the head when she said the routine felt a little ”eh.” Does anyone else miss Legacy?

With that, I’m out, friends. How did you feel about the first competition episode? Is it as close as I think it is? Was Alex’s routine the best in SYTYCD history? Or does ”The Bench” still deserve that honor? Who else loved Cat’s tasty cinnamon bun hair? And who is Ashley? Come back tomorrow for a short results show recap.

Episode Recaps

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