A few dancers redeem themselves as the top 14 perform

By Kate Ward
Updated November 18, 2009 at 06:16 AM EST
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Credit: Joe Viles/Fox
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At the beginning of last night’s episode, Cat promised us a nail-biting performance show. It would be exciting! Breath-taking! Filled with intrigue! Will some of our dancers redeem themselves for poor performances last week? Will some the mighty contestants fall in the race to the top 12? Will the growth on Mary’s shoulder officially swallow her whole?

Too bad the latter didn’t happen — the two-hour show could have used some excitement. That’s not to say the episode didn’t boast its fair share of stellar performances. But I can’t help but feel that season 6 is still coming up short. Yes, our dancers are strong, and they have performed some strong numbers. But are they inspired? I have yet to experience a moment this fall in which I was so in love with the dancing on screen that I simply couldn’t turn away, even if my cat bounded up to me with a pint of Chubby Hubby wrapped in her paws. By this point in season 4, for example, we had already seen such lovely numbers as Chesie and Mark’s ”Bleeding Love,” or Kherington and Twitch’s ”Dreaming With a Broken Heart.” (And that season’s week 4 boasted two dances from each couple.) Add to all that the fact that our judges practically whipped out copies of The Gettysburg Address to fill time last night, and things just can’t help but seem just a bit disappointing. Season 6 has been good. But I really need it to be great.

The episode, however, did have its highlights, starting with a non-dancing one: Our judges’ baby pictures! We had a picture of a 9-year-old Nigel who seemed to be living in the 19th century. (Where was his rolling hoop?) A teenaged Mary Murphy. (Mary, apparently, came out of the womb full grown.) And an ever-so-cute pic of Adam. But where was Cat? Anyone else dying to see what our lovable host looked like as a kid? Of course, she was likely beautiful and statuesque at all ages, which would inevitably make me hate myself even more for that bowl cut I tried to rock as a 7-year-old, so maybe it’s for the best. But let’s get to the dancing highlights, shall we? Here are my predictions for this week:

Safe:

Ellenore and Ryan: Last week, the bottom three-dwelling duo suffered from luck of the draw. Well, this week, Ellenore and Ryan pulled a shiny, gold-plated lottery ticket out of the hat: choreographer Travis Wall. The SYTYCD alum is quickly becoming one of the show’s most exciting choreographers, and last night he handed Ellenore and Ryan the best gift they could ask for: a beautiful contemporary routine. The duo soared, twirled, and flowed with conviction. But then again, a pair of hamsters would soar, twirl and flow with conviction under the direction of the budding choreographer. Perhaps I’m alone — and judging by our panelists’ exhausting long-winded comments, I probably am — but I still haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to this duo. During the entire routine, I was more focused on Ellenore’s lovely yellow dress than her dancing. And, until Ryan puts on a shirt, I’ll continue to wonder whether or not his shirt buttons are actually opposing magnets, rather than focus on the wonder of his dance skills. The routine — about a reunited couple — was definitely better than the pair’s foray into hip-hop last week, but unlike Adam, I found myself breathing just fine during their number. Regardless, when you consider the amount of time spent on the couple — and the fact that their fans will be working overtime after their brush with danger last week — they should be just fine.

NEXT: Abs aplenty

Ashleigh and Jakob: I had always been a fan of Jakob’s. But, as far as I’m concerned, the insanely talented dancer crossed over into god territory last night. Why? Well, tell me you didn’t squeal in pure delight watching the dancer perform ‘N Sync’s ”Bye Bye Bye” as a 10-year-old in a talent show. (Seriously, the only way he could top himself in the eyes of this 1990s nostalgic is if he performed She’s All That’s ”The Rockafeller Skank” number with butterfly clips attached to some frosted tips.) Luckily, I squealed in delight again over the dancer’s strong NapTab hip-hop routine with partner Ashleigh. Whether or not you think Jakob is hindered by his partner, you have to admit that Ashleigh has emerged as a bonafide threat to some of the women in the competition. She may not be as talented as, say, Noelle or Kathryn, but she’s certainly giving it her all. Just look at her flip onto Jakob. And her on-stage acting skills. She’s truly living up to her Jody Sawyer award, I’ll tell you that much! And Jakob — well, let’s just say if the contemporary dancer doesn’t make it into the top six, it’s more criminal than Fiona Apple.

Approaching the danger zone:

Kathryn and Legacy: When it comes to torsos, SYTYCD is always about Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. Well, Legacy’s Jan truly served Ryan’s Marcia when he graced the stage shirtless for the first time. Honestly, I found myself asking: Ryan who? Because while Ryan has just as much personality as a Saltine, Legacy is brimming with passion, drive, and one heckuva sense of humor. Add to that our b-boy’s well-toned midsection, and Legacy gives Ryan a definite run for his money. Of course, the b-boy has his shortcomings — and last night’s Tony Meredith-choreographed Paso Doble probably showed them off more than any other dance at this point. Regardless, you have to hand it to Legacy for truly molding himself into his role as an admiral chasing his concubine after a long time at sea. And Kathryn continued to swim into my heart with her sense of elegance that perfectly counter-balanced her partner’s sheer power. It was by no means their best performance to date, but the pair’s dedication to their dance was enough to make you forgive that final botched lift, and their loss of balance at the end of the routine. But of course, I was ready to hop on board as soon as Legacy split his pants in rehearsal. (Perhaps a Frenchman jumped into my body for a second, but I laughed out loud watching that moment.) That being said, I’m not sure if the Paso Doble is a dance that will convince viewers to pick up their phones. But I certainly hope they do — I’ll go on record saying Legacy is probably my favorite underdog to ever grace my TV set. And that includes Underdog. (That was my out-of-touch Nigel impression, by the way.)

Mollee and Nathan: As an early champion of Nathan, it brings me great sadness to say this: I officially cannot stand our cutesy couple. Seriously, the duo had a chance to redeem themselves for their poor dancing and attitudes last week, and they give us what had to be the most obnoxious introduction package ever. What did we learn about the pair? Nathan was a young brat that ”got everything he wanted.” Mollee was a diva a bit too JonBenét-esque for comfort. Of course, we kind of knew this about the couple anyway — since their ”when we were kids” home video footage was shot, like, three weeks ago — but the package hardly did them any favors. Nor did their Laurie Ann Gibson hip-hop routine. Though it was certainly better than last week, I didn’t feel they were as in sync as Nigel claimed. But kudos to Adam for warning Nathan about his attitude. After all, this is the search for America’s favorite dancer. And America typically doesn’t warm to cocky little brats that you feel like flicking off the stage like gnats. Yet, there are voters who would dial in support of a devil incarnate, as long as he was cute and tween-y and OMG looked just like Taylor Lautner. Add to that the fact that Nigel & Co., put Mollee and Nathan in the pimp spot again, and I’d say the duo is quite safe from elimination, regardless of whether or not they grace the bottom three.

NEXT: Blackbirds dancing in the dead of night

Dance for your life:

Channing and Victor: I was so prepared to hate this number. After all, it starred Channing and Victor, two dancers who should have been eliminated from the show decades ago. It was choreographed by Tyce Diorio, who, once again, dominated rehearsal footage with that obnoxious grin that made him look like he just devoured a plate of poo. And the clincher was Tyce’s description of his jazz number: It would be about blackbirds. Hell to the no, Tyce! I thought to myself. Don’t go ripping off Wade Robson’s Hummingbird routine! True, Tyce’s dance would revolve around a different bird than Wade’s, but it would be like another choreographer ripping off Mia Michaels’ bench routine with a dance involving an orchid, chair and Sarah McLachlan song. The elements are all a bit too similar. But lo and behold, I actually liked Tyce’s dance, my friends. Heck, maybe even loved it. Not only did it boast a prop that actually functioned well for once, but it also allowed Channing to break out of her shell and sing like Maya Angelou’s caged bird. (I understand it’s a bit blasphemous to compare a 20-something reality show contestant to a classic work of literature about racism, but it’s been a long day for me, folks.) Channing’s improvement this week, however, is akin to a second-grader getting a C on a spelling test one week after scoring an F. Yes, the dancer has improved, but she’s still got a long way to go. Ditto for Victor, a dancer who all-too-easily leaves his emotions backstage during his routines. I never understand how he can come off so charismatic in his rehearsal footage, but appear as though he’s being tied down and forced to watch Remains of the Day while on stage. And while I can praise Victor’s technical skills, he’s got to stop depending on that flexed-foot pirouette for points. If uses that as a crutch one more time, I’m going to try to find a special SYTYCD number that docks points for each couple. Give me a fouette, ponche — even the running man would do! Just give me something different, Victor!

Noelle and Russell: This duo’s Eddie Simon-choreographed foxtrot was the equivalent of a capful of cough syrup: It was smooth, easy to swallow, and helped me recover from the misery that preceded it. (Sorry Karen and Kevin.) It’s only week four, and the couple has already come full circle, performing the same genre they were assigned week one. The one difference here: Noelle. Now, I can’t say that Noelle outshined Melanie LaPatin — because the choreographer is truly as hot as her fire engine-red mop — but the dancer won me over, purely because of the joy that was clearly seeping from her veins. (Of course, that awesome neon outfit Noelle sported in her intro package didn’t hurt matters.) And as for Russell — well, call me a broken record, but the krumper continues to deliver consistently. Of course, that could turn out to be a danger for the couple this week — consistency doesn’t always convince fans to dial, especially when the dance in question is the dreaded foxtrot. Perhaps that’s why Nigel was intent on convincing us that Russell has grown since week one. (Well, that, and our judge had to pretend there was actually a reason he put the krumper in the bottom four in the first place.) Russell, however, clearly won’t go home this week, even if he does end up in the bottom, so perhaps lighting a fire under the bum of voters could be just what this pair needs.

NEXT: Karen and Kevin go Broadway

Karen and Kevin: Maybe I’m just a glass half-empty type of person, but did anyone get the optimistic-pessimistic concept behind the sure-to-be-doomed duo’s Broadway routine? I remember first-time choreographer Spencer Liff telling me that was the story of the dance, yet all I saw on stage from Karen and Kevin was joylessness and complete disconnect. And you know things aren’t good when the only thing Cat can say following your performance is how much she loved watching Shirley Maclaine perform the ”Sweet Charity” number in the original 1969 film. I mean, we’re talking about Cat — a host so kind, she would compliment an elephant on the impressive size of his dung. (”I mean, come on, really? Give it up for elephant!”) But what was there to compliment? The song was cheesy, the dance was cheesy, and the pair just wasn’t cheesy enough. That’s the thing with Broadway: Sure, it might seem silly, but you’ve got to whip out some Velveeta in order to really sell the number. Karen fared better than her partner — Kevin, surprisingly, could hardly keep up with the easy-to-execute choreography — but Nigel still disgustingly criticized the dancer by saying he couldn’t enjoy her without her sex appeal slathered all over the stage. Come on, Nigel, this is Broadway, not 1970s-era Times Square. I doubt Karen and Kevin will survive the week, but I’m kind of hoping Karen does, if only because she hasn’t had the opportunity to prove that she’s more than a ballroom-dancing Charo.

Tell me, fellow SYTYCD fans, how off are my predictions? (I’ll admit, I took quite a few gambles this time around.) Did you feel as ”meh” as I did about last night’s performances? Are you, like me, hoping Legacy pulls through to the top 10? Do you agree with judge’s assessment that Ryan is the best ballroom dancer to ever tackle contemporary? (Pasha fans: revolt!) Was that a gigantic cold sore I spotted on Tabitha’s lip? Did Dizzy Feet give you the warm fuzzies? And how do you suggest Nigel & Co., fill dead air next time they give us a show disproportionately long to the amount of material they have?

[Sorry, video no longer available]

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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