The judges send two of the top 20 home, putting an early favorite in jeopardy

By Kate Ward
October 28, 2009 at 04:40 AM EDT
Joe Viles/Fox
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Let me show you all the thoughts that ran through my mind at approximately 9:40 p.m. last night: So three of the bottom four this week are Ariana, Brandon, and Pauline. Hmm, I suppose I could agree with those. I thought Pauline was darling and elegant in her waltz, but the dance often does discourage enthusiasm. Now I suppose the fourth person in the bottom will be Phillip or Peter, right? Who am I kidding, of course I’m right. You know what? I’m so right, I bet I don’t even need to watch this part. So why don’t I just get up and grab a pint of Chubby Hubby from the freez — WHA?! Wait, did I hear that right? RUSSELL is in the bottom four? Russell, the krumper who mastered the foxtrot tonight? Are you serious? Oh no, Nigel, you’re going to make me go all Wrath of Khan on you…Niiiiiiiiiiigelllllll!

Ahem. Now back to the present. It’s been nearly an hour since the judges decided to place Russell in the bottom four, yet I’m still scratching my head like a second-grader in the nurse’s office. Exactly how did Adam, Mary, and Nigel come to that consensus? Did they feel Russell didn’t quite live up to his early favorite potential? (If so, they certainly didn’t seem to indicate that during his critiques.) Did they think Russell needed a slice of humble pie to go along with his hearty serving of praise? (If so, they clearly didn’t see him lovingly point to fallen partner Noelle following his performance. Aw.) Or were they simply a little bored, and felt like watching 30 seconds of Russell-branded entertainment? I can only imagine the latter is true. How else could you explain it? After all, when it came time for the judges to make their final decision, they didn’t so much critique Russell as they encouraged him to continue doing exactly what he’s been doing: learn other styles. So was his bottom four placement just for drama’s sake? If that’s the case, for the love of Brian Littrel, quit playing games with our hearts Nigel!

Because, really, stacked up against newcomer Brandon, it wasn’t even fair. Brandon didn’t have a chance. Especially when he whipped out that slow, unmemorable hip-hop/contemporary mash-up for his final solo. A surprising move, considering we’ve seen more from the Loch Ness Monster than Brandon at this point. But the guy still went out with class, praising the current cast of dancers. Of course, he’s not completely down for the count — Nigel claimed he would try to bend the rules to allow Brandon to return next season, since ”an unfortunate sequence of events” led the dancer to the top 20. Here’s hoping he does make his way to the stage again next year, because I think the hip-hop dancer fared pretty well considering how little time he had to master a dance in a genre so foreign to him. But we’ll get to that later.

On the girls’ side, we lost Ariana. In other news, hell is still scorching hot. Really, this ouster wasn’t a shocking one at all, since the dancer had already been set up as cannon fodder. We’d only seen slightly more of Ariana than Brandon, and her solo failed to excite, thanks to a severe lack of height in her jumps. But I will say this: Just because Ariana’s ouster was far from surprising, doesn’t mean it was fair. Because of a busted knee, Noelle had to sit out of the competition this week. (For the second time since SYTYCD premiered, Melanie LaPatin filled in.) Now, I know that Noelle couldn’t dance for her life, and it would feel a little harsh to cut her when her knee has a chance of improving quickly, but it just doesn’t seem right to give Ariana the boot while an immobile Noelle slides right through. Regardless, following Billy’s departure and Noelle’s injury, how long before talk of a curse starts percolating through the cast?

NEXT: Ellenore and Ryan’s scary chemistry

But let’s get down to business. How did the couples fare last night? Unlike last night’s telecast, I feel like ending on an optimistic note. So let’s start with the worst routine of the night:

Ariana and Peter: The concept of the pair’s NapTab-choreographed routine sounded awesome: Ariana and Peter played androids that adopted emotion when they saw each other. Should make for some crazy chemistry, right? Wrong. Their dancing was robotic, and not in that cool Kupono-Ashley crash-test dummy kind of way. Ariana — who looked like C-3PO without the clenched ass — couldn’t quite match Peter’s rhythm, and Peter looked sluggish, hardly hitting his moves hard enough. I am glad that the judges are giving Peter another chance, but, ultimately, these two just weren’t the droids we were looking for. Let’s move along.

Pauline and Brandon: Let me just start by saying I thought this duo’s waltz was darling. And that speaks to the caliber of last night’s other pieces. A confused Brandon walked into rehearsal with little to no knowledge of the ballroom genre, but the pair delivered a smooth, graceful routine. And Brandon added a lovely tour jeté to boot! Unfortunately, Brandon clearly didn’t match the skill level of the competition’s other male dancers (Translation: You could actually tell he was performing outside his genre), so the routine did loose some of its magic with every noticeable flaw. But, no, Nigel, they did not resemble a prom couple, as these two clearly use Bioré.

Channing and Phillip: As soon as Cat announced the night’s first pair, a red flag immediately popped up in my mind. Nigel already informed us a few episodes back that Channing had difficulty partnering, and the seemingly cocky Phillip had, up to this point, appeared to be focused on only one dancer: himself. So I wasn’t too shocked to see that the duo had about as much chemistry as a tenth-grade English exam during their Jason Gilkison-choreographed jive. True, they executed the steps just fine, but Channing was so hesitant in her movements, it was obvious that she didn’t yet trust her partner. The pair needs to establish their connection quickly, otherwise they’ll be stuck boogie-ing right out the door.

Karen and Kevin: Somebody, please, tell me, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get into our sexy Venezuelan dancer, Karen? I recognize that she’s a rock star in her element — like in last night’s Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin-choreographed cha-cha — but I’m finding I care more about the Law & Order currently playing on mute on my TV than I care about her longevity in the competition. And this is a girl who manages to turn on Adam Shankman! (How great was his Popeye line?) While the judges were busy fawning over Karen — Nigel even called her ”a vision” — I couldn’t help but wonder why Kevin wasn’t getting more praise. He was graceful! Sexy! Rhythmic! And, for me, that was enough to make up for an unwinding pretzel that was as awkward as a run-in with your ex! (That’s four red faces there, YM!) Plus, come on people: That boy can smize. And if he can do right by Ty-Ty, he can do right by me.

Ellenore and Ryan: Look, I like Ellenore. But was I turned off by her proclamation that her and Ryan’s dance, choreographed by Sonya, would be ”one of the best pieces So You Think You Can Dance has ever seen”? Oh, lordy, yes. That was a little premature, no? Especially coming from a dancer we hadn’t yet seen perform on the competitive stage. Yet, I’m willing to forgive the jazz dancer, because Ellenore and partner Ryan brought some impressive power to the SYTYCD stage. And though they didn’t perform the best routine in SYTYCD history, or even of the night, for that matter, Ellenore and Ryan — unleashing abs on the audience that would kill all of Sparta upon sight — proved they’ve got chemistry. So much chemistry, that I guarantee Ashleigh was left pacing backstage, twisting her wedding band and repeating to herself, ”Ryan is mine. Ryan is mine. Ryan is mine,” while devising plans to build a series of contraptions that would chain her husband to a stationary object. All I have to say is: Ellenore, watch your drinks.

Ashleigh and Jakob: This was a tough one to rank. If I were judging the Tyce Diorio number based solely on Ashleigh’s performance, this routine would sink like it was being weighed down by the dancer’s ball and chain. Granted, Tyce played to Ashleigh’s hammy strengths during the sultry Broadway number, allowing her to mug her way through the steps, but the breathtaking Jakob made like the Hamburgler and stole the routine out of Ashleigh’s hands. Jakob was limber, lovely, and so talented, the cameras wisely opted to pan away from Ashleigh to focus on Jakob during a portion of their number. Honestly, pairing Jakob with Ashleigh is like pairing fine Brie with orange chicken from Panda Express — it’s a combination that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. But, sadly, it has happened, and Jakob’s left compensating for his partner’s weaknesses. Let’s hope it doesn’t bring him down in the future.

NEXT: Russell, Russell, he’s our man…

Mollee and Nathan: Rainbows, Lisa Frank, JTT, vampires, OMG guys!!!!!! Could there be a more perfect pairing than Mollee and Nathan? The duo looks straight out of a Tiger Beat cover! But, as it turns out, their dancing complements one another just as much as their looks do. Disco hasn’t quite been the same on the SYTYCD stage since Jeannette and Brandon perfected it last season, but Mollee and Nathan did a more than respectable job executing their Doriana Sanchez routine. And I would place it higher if I didn’t still feel somewhat uncomfortable watching the couple grind up on one another. I mean, come on: Nathan’s face was directly in Mollee’s crotch for one spin. And when I start getting Toddlers & Tiaras vibes, something isn’t quite right.

Kathryn and Legacy: I thought this duo was in trouble when we were told their prehistoric Dave Scott hip-hop number would require a sense of humor. After all, we’re talking about Kathryn and Legacy, a couple who has shed enough tears this season to fill Lake Michigan. Certainly they’re about as funny as Terms of Endearment, right? After seeing their performance, however, I take it all back. The pair brought some unaffected fun to the stage, fully committing to their caveman/cavewoman characters. And, yes, I could have done without all the hair-picking, but I understand why the routine sent Mary into a Bedrock-inspired rockgasm. After the pair’s vivacious start, I’m finding that me want more Kathryn and Legacy. Ooga.

Russell and Melanie: Please, somebody get Russell on a plane right now so he can solve the crisis in the Middle East! Because, really, our krumper can overcome any obstacle tossed his way. Need him to unleash his jazz hands for a Broadway number? Check! Need him to show off his extensions for a contemporary routine? Check! Need him to find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie pop? Check! Last night, Russell was forced to take on a last-minute partner when Noelle suffered an injury, and still pulled off a foxtrot so dynamic, I literally found myself yelling at my TV screen, ”Oh, Russell — you’re so slick!” Those sailor shuffles made you want to get up and groove, did they not? And the fact that we learned a bit more about his backstory — he grew up in a sketchy neighborhood — only endeared him to me more. As if he could be any more endearing. He’s already surpassed Furbys on my endearing scale. A difficult feat, if you ask me.

Bianca and Victor: Am I the only one who felt the Travis Wall routine — about a man who wants nothing to do with his woman — was tragically underappreciated? As far as I’m concerned, this duo can collect their Ph.D. in chemistry. Not only was the choreography utterly gorgeous, but Bianca and Victor also executed it with such feeling and grace. Nigel might have felt that Bianca’s shoulders rose too high during the dance, but I thought that slight flaw only added to the number’s tense nature. And the look on Victor’s face was downright chilling, but subtle enough to make you actually believe you were peeking into a troubled couple’s bedroom. The lifts were beautiful, the acting stupendous — and it all came courtesy of our season 2 runner-up. Warm fuzzies! What’s not to love?

And that’s it for me this week, fellow SYTYCD fans. Do you agree with my performance rankings? Who disappointed you? Who impressed you? Are you shocked that Russell was in the bottom four? Is it fair that Noelle was allowed to stay in the competition without having ever danced? Were you a fan of Brandon, however short-lived his season 6 career might have been? And who deserves to go next week?

Episode Recaps

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