Whether Joshua is old school, new school, or no school, he soars above the rest of the dancers to grab the season 4 crown

By Adam B. Vary
Updated August 08, 2008 at 04:11 AM EDT
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Credit: Joe Viles
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Okay, show of hands, who teared up at the sight of Joshua’s father tearing up after witnessing his son Joshua become the first kinda trained but not really all that trained so far as we know street dancer to win So You Think You Can Dance? (Raising my hand. Waiting for readers to raise theirs. Come on, admit it now. Therrrre you go.) It was a surprisingly satisfying end to a surprisingly satisfying finale, as if Nigel & Co. had realized after taping the final performance episode on Monday that maybe we don’t want to see the dancers put through grueling tests of physical endurance — we just want to see them dance, dammit. I don’t know about you, but practically all of my favorite dances from this past season were reprised last night, and with the pressure of the competition lifted from the dancers’ shoulders, practically all of them were even better the second time through. And unlike last season’s finale, all the promised ”surprises” actually delivered — even if the Jonas Brothers did kinda look like they weren’t entirely certain which TV show their handlers had booked them on. (”Hello, Dancing With the Sta…I mean America’s Got Tale…I mean So You Think You Can Dance! We’re the Jonas Brothers, and we like wearing tight pants!”) Best of all, host Cat Deeley managed to strike an almost superhuman balance between the old, kooky Cat and the new sly and cool Cat.

For starters, I’d like to thank you, Cat, for managing to stay out of Gramma’s things for pretty much the entire summer; she didn’t so much mind you borrowing so many of her gimcracks last year, but all the same, Gramma did e-mail just now asking me to pass along that you’d be a total peach if you could return the special-order 1973 Sears catalog lampshades you nicked for your dress back on the lamps next to Grandad’s reading chair, especially before he realizes they’re gone and tries to make new ones with the hot-glue gun he bought at Home Depot last week.

Even the judges were in rare sartorial form last night. Nigel was in a tux, Mary rocked an understated (!) gold-tone ’70s halter, and Mia went for the criminally underrated Susan-Powter-meets-Elvis look. I thought it was odd that Wednesday night judge Mandy Moore wasn’t on the panel too, but I guess the return of Debbie Allen trumped the need for critical continuity. Who am I kidding, it was great to have Debbie back, along with Adam Shankman’s brand of zippy, exuberant non sequiturs (confession: I’m already planning to see Step Up 3-D), and Lil C’s metaphysical stylings of poetical, metaphorical virtuosic expressionatude. Ah, Lil C’s expressionatude; not only did it inspire a hilarious imitation from Debbie Allen, but also, miraculously, that in turn had Cat Deeley exclaiming, ”Chile! She’s takin’ it now! Chile!” This, I think, I shall never forget for the rest of my life — and why would I ever want to?

NEXT: The best routine in SYTYCD history

Although his contract with MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew apparently keeps him from ever appearing on camera, it was also nice to even get a taste of SYTYCD prodigal son Shane Sparks, who took on choreographing a number for all top 20 (er, 19) dancers and succeeded in keeping it from coming off like a jumbled train wreck — far from it, really, though yet again the curse of the disjointed camerawork kept whatever larger vision Shane had from coming through half the time. Still, I liked how Shane compensated for the still-recuperating Jessica’s absence by placing a single dancer (and often one, like a nearly unrecognizable Jamie, who’d barely been on the show) at the center of the maelstrom.

Since I’ve already written about all of the reprised routines, let me just run through them all right now real quick, since there’s so much more (all-new!) show to get to. It was telling (though ultimately misleading) that Katee was the dancer to encore the most couples routines, and I got the feeling the only reason Mary picked Courtney and Gev’s rumba was so she wouldn’t be the only one in the top four to only dance once. And don’t think I didn’t notice that Mark danced as many times as Courtney did — more, if you count the ”Five Guys Named Moe” number, which I think showed up only so we’d get to see Will on stage as much as possible. Joshua and Katee could hardly contain their smiles while dancing the not-so-smiley ”No Air” (i.e., The Best Routine in SYTYCD History, and there’s no amount of message-board flaming that’s gonna convince me otherwise), but the lightness and new life in all the routines was never more apparent than in Katee and Will’s pas de deux, which felt like a completely new dance to me last night. Talk about a weight being lifted! (Still haterating on the David Archuleta song choice, though.)

Probably the most obnoxious moment of the night came after Phillip Chbeeb totally schooled Robert Muraine in their dance-off. I mean, seriously, all Robert did half the time was undulate forward like an arthritic velociraptor, while the Chbeeb managed to come up with continually inventive steps that connected to the music, showcased his rubber bones, and generally made him look like a badass. We’ve all seen Robert do so much better, but I think that’s only because he normally plans his provocations to the physical laws of nature ahead of time — improvising apparently ain’t Muraine’s game. So why was Brigitte Nielsen — I mean Mia — the only one who saw that? Did the rest of the judges just feel bad about how Nigel treated Robert during the top 14 results show? Had Muraine been subtly hypnotizing them with his bug eyes and quintuple-jointed body? And, while we’re at it, who exactly was doing that lame voice-over that opened the segment?

NEXT: Dancing for dead rabbits

Of course, the two poppers were only the freaky appetizer; it was Wade Robson who provided the full-on-freaky five-course meal. Anyone who’s seen Donnie Darko will understand why I’m wary of going to bed after finishing this write-up, because, my goodness, was that ”Homage to all of the Rabbits who died in the hands of incompetent magicians” all kinds of visually captivating and deeply creepy and herky-jerky cool. (How many of you, like me, expected something to jump out of that casket at the end?) I’ve wondered if this Criss Angel: Believe Cirque du Soleil show would be worth losing Wade for the whole season; if it’s anything like that number, it very well may have been. I know what show I’m checking out the next time I’m in Vegas, in any case.

It was hard to miss, of course, that Wade’s warren of gothic rabbits were dancing in one of several pretaped segments — it was a dead giveaway pretty much any time Cat perched herself up in the catwalk to introduce the next act, but we can thank Nigel’s need to get one more dig in (as well as the overeager director back in the control room) for tipping us off that Mary’s surprise performance wasn’t live either. Not that I really care; it was, in fact, fairly entertaining watching Cat try to sell that whatever she was ”looking” at just off camera was actually there. And not that I really care that Mary’s dancing days are well behind her, either; it was just too ridiculously fun watching Dmitry roughly toss Mary from pose to pose while Mary grinned with a genuine abandon we hadn’t seen from her all summer. Plus, for a woman who retired from competitive dancing 12 years ago (according to Wikipedia), Mary’s still got it going on in the gams department.

It was even more satisfying to see Nigel finally take the stage and dance, performing with some wee tap dancers from Debbie Allen’s dance academy, at which Nigel is also evidently a pupil — and not a half-bad one, either! His hoofing was certainly solid, but nonetheless, Nigel should consider firing whoever told him that ”This is worse than a New York subway!” was (A) in any way a funny, (B) in any way the right line to end the number, or (C) in any way an accurate assessment of New York subways (because they’re always, you know, kind of teeming with prepubescents wearing metal-soled shoes). The best development, however, came after Nigel’s dance, when someone (I’m not sure who) suggested that all the judges should have to shake their money makers on the SYTYCD stage next season. Yes! Please! Especially if it means you will all have to talk less, I’m all for it!

NEXT: The ghosts of seasons past

Indeed, all that talking from the judges meant there was that much less time for those SYTYCD alumni to enjoy their return to the show. (Although, Cat, I know you weren’t part of the show in its first season, but unless I’m mistaken, SYTYCD started in 2005, not 2004.) It was nice to see that Blake is still a conceited jackass; Neil is cheesing it up off Broadway in Altar Boyz; Allison has an adorable baby (although, last I checked, she was in season 2, not 3); Donyelle is choreographing with Shane Sparks (and engaged!); Sara is backing up Avril Lavigne; and Lacey has her own line of clothing. But what about, you know, the winners? What are Nick, Benji, and Sabra up to these days? Or, for that matter, Melody, Jamile, Travis, Heidi, and Danny? At least Benji, Melody, and Travis were there for the all-too-brief group dance number, along with Ivan (yay!), Anya (fierce!), Dominic, Hok, and Neil. I imagine this will now only intensify the campaign for an all-star edition of the show.

If there ever is one, Courtney probably adorabled her way onto it last night with her winning attitude after learning she came in fourth. Courtney was so filled with earnest positivity, in fact, that I doubt she clenched her teeth for more than a few seconds after Cat’s surprise announcement that Katee would take home a cool $50,000 because she was the top-placing female dancer. On the one hand, this almost made up for the fact that, by all rights, Katee was as deserving to win the whole shebang as Twitch or Joshua; on the other hand, I’m highly dubious that this consolation prize was in the works from the get-go, even if I have a feeling Nigel & Co. probably didn’t announce it out of concern it could dampen votes for the women, since people wouldn’t worry that they would end up empty-handed. If that was indeed the producers’ thinking, then, well, whoops! (By the by, does anyone have a clue who this Jeff character is who gave Courtney and Katee their flowers after they learned their respective results? With his sharp suit and paternal manner, he sorta looked like the underground Tim Gunn of SYTYCD.)

I’m sure many of you feel like Katee’s prize money should have gone to Twitch instead; while I totally sympathize, the show has always eliminated dancers with strict gender parity, so it wouldn’t exactly have been fair for them to have suddenly started treating all the dancers as total equals at the very end. Besides, Cat never explicitly stated that Twitch was the true runner-up, but it definitely made for better drama to have the two street dancers standing next to each other at the end, didn’t it? (Or did it? Katee and Joshua, together from the beginning, each with their own potent strengths — that would’ve been a nail-biter too.) In any case, I’m still totally happy that Joshua won; even if Mark had made it to the final four, I think I would’ve been able to see past my abiding bias for the quirky Hawaiian to realize that Joshua had the more versatile breadth of talent and skill.

NEXT: Is there anything Josh can’t do?

Now, was that talent and skill completely natural, or did it benefit from some formal training? Joshua answered this question in his EW.com Q&A today — he says he’d taken some dance classes, and many right before the Vegas auditions, but he’d not had the kind of formal, regular training that Katee, Will or Courtney have had their whole lives. Ultimately, though, how much does that even matter? Yeah, the judges pushed the story that Josh has had no training at all so far down our throats that many of you began to gag on it, and it was pretty hard to swallow since Joshua himself admitted he’d taken ballet classes way back on the top 20 show. But I’m really not sure that should mitigate how consistently strong a dancer Joshua has been this season. Regardless of how much training he’s received, it’s obvious Josh’s specialty is freestyle popping, and yet he’s been asked to dance hip-hop exactly twice. The rest of the summer, Josh has tackled Broadway, samba, contemporary (twice), west coast swing, Viennese waltz, Bollywood, rumba, Argentine tango, disco, paso doble, lyrical jazz, Russian trepak, and the jive — and with precious few exceptions, he’s been freakishly strong in all of them. That is impressive no matter how much time you’ve spent perfecting your posture and learning to point your toes.

But enough from me — what do you think? Does Joshua’s win mean less if he’s had training, or more if he hasn’t? Should Katee have taken the crown? Twitch? Courtney? Did you find the whole $50,000 to the dancer from the opposite gender of the person who places highest kind of dubious, or totally cool? Which routines from this year would you like to have seen reprised on the show? And, after seeing so many favorites from previous seasons, where do you think season 4 ranks against them? What changes would you most like to see? And do you agree with me that, now that Nigel and Mary have taken the plunge, it is high time Cat Deeley did more on the SYTYCD stage than walk across it?

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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