The judges name the Top 10

By EW Staff
Updated November 27, 2009 at 03:52 AM EST
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Credit: Joe Viles/Fox
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No doubt many people were on the road during one of the busiest travel days of the year, trying to plane, train, and automobile themselves to friends and family and thereby missing Wednesday night’s results hour. So before we get our gobble on and gorge ourselves silly, let’s pause, bow our heads, and recall those dancers who made it into the top 10 (and the subsequent tour) and have much to be thankful for, as well as the unlucky two who were just shy of making the cut and are left to swallow their sorrows in helpings of pumpkin pie instead.

Sad to say that it was to the shock of absolutely no one that Victor Smalley and Karen Hauer were the ones left without Top 10 place settings this week. Poor Victor, who was always so charming and quick as a quip during his interviews, just couldn’t get the right fit of shorts or build up enough steam to connect with the audience and stay in the competition. Nigel thought him to be the Kelly Osbourne of SYTYCD, which kind of sounds like a compliment, but really isn’t. Because unlike the Princess of Darkness, who used her underdog status to win over fans and make it to the Dancing With the Stars finals, Victor made like the slashes on his black tank top and was cut before the top 10.

And Karen, despite starting off raring hot and full throttle, seemed to get more and more subdued with each passing week. Was it because Nigel made that off-color comment about girls being intimidated by her overt sexuality? It was as if Karen’s hot factor was inversely proportional to Ashleigh’s. As Ashleigh’s star quotient grew (and grew and grew), Karen’s fell (and fell and fell) in a precipitous decline until she basically supernovaed and was unceremoniously booted from both the hot tamale train and the competition. That Serrano pepper had desiccated into tepid chili flakes, and she all but lost her heat, sultry tango and bare midriff notwithstanding. And that’s gotta hurt. Of course, neither Victor nor Karen were helped by their tango routine from Tuesday night, which was well-executed but just wasn’t as crowd-pleasing as, say, a Sonya Tayeh routine. Nor did Laurie Ann Gibson’s hip-hop interpretation of moving mountains help their cause: Actually, the metaphor turned into something more like a Sisyphean task, considering their standing amidst the rest of their competition.

It was an interesting results hour, one that started with a group fantasy routine that played out like an Alice in Wonderland-inspired acid trip. And while it was hard to tell who was who under all the makeup and wigs, I did see Russell doing his best wide-eyed, manic White Rabbit/Flava Flav impression with the clock on his chest, and Kathryn pleasantly front and center as the Alice who inhaled from the bowl of smokiness. It also served as a nice showcase for Legacy, his head spins, and his exclamation point of a flip at the end. Actually, it seemed like all the dancers were used to good gonzo effect — well, except for Ashleigh, who commanded a lot of camera time but totally squandered it by bringing back that cursed pursed-lip mugging. I thought what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas, Ashleigh. You’ve come a long way in repairing your image. Don’t poopy-face out on us now.

NEXT: Six automatically saved

The routine’s costumes, fantasy, even some of the moves — seemed to point to a Wade Robson-choreographed dance, only not really. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until Cat revealed that this routine was, in fact, a Tabitha and Napoleon number. Are NapTab borrowing from Wade Robson’s playbook now?

Also borrowing — from an American tradition — was Uncle Nigel, who took some time out from his cranky pants persona of frustration and anger to deliver A Very Special Message wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving. He then went on about there being a lot of love in this world and his hope for families to come together. And while the sentiment was nice, it that seemed a little out of place coming from this Brit, no? It was as if he wanted to show the audience that he was a kindler, gentler Nigel, family man and capable of heartfelt sentiment. Or maybe he was smoking from the same bowl that Kathryn toked from. But seriously, all that was missing was a fuzzy sweater, a snifter of brandy, and a crackling hearth from which to deliver his fireside address.

But enough with the niceties; let’s carve out who made it to the Top 10 dancers, shall we? The three couples immediately deemed safe and moving on into next week were Ashleigh and Jakob, Kathryn and Legacy, and Noelle and Russell. And the first two were no surprise: Ashleigh and Jakob have been on a steady climb to Awesomeville since they started this competition, and their lyrical jazz number and cha cha were some of the strongest routines of the night. Same with Kathryn and Legacy: While the judges had a lot to pick on in their Viennese Waltz, I thought theirs was the most emotionally connected of the evening. It gave me chills. And really, who was going to vote off Legacy after he grew emotional and shared what this competition meant to him? Not voting for him and Kathryn would be like not voting for hope.

Noelle and Russell’s save was a bit of a surprise. While I absolutely adore Russell and have grown to appreciate Noelle, their samba was a bit lacking (though I daresay you wouldn’t be able to find what was missing in Noelle’s dress, which was basically strands of shiny blue dental floss strewn over a bedazzled bikini). But I guess their Tyce Diorio contemporary routine left, as Nigel said, enough of an impression (get it? blank canvas? paint?) to earn them a spot on the tour bus and through to the next round. Or maybe it was because the routine gave us a glimpse of beloved Katee from season 4 during rehearsals, and voting for Noelle and Russell would be like a vote for Katee and how great season 4 was and how much we miss Mia Michaels.

But I digress. Noelle and Russell’s save meant that Ellenore and Ryan were ushered into the bottom three, along with Karen and Victor and (surprise, surprise) kewpie dolls Mollee and Nathan. (And there was that awkwardly cramped footage of them all warming up backstage again! Why must they be tethered together so?) Only, Mollee and Nathan’s bottom-three position was so not a surprise. Their Alexander Graham Bell-themed hip-hop number (hello, really?) fell a little flat, and their can-can was a decided can-not: an overly-sweet, candy-stripe version more suited for a soda shoppe than the Moulin Rouge. But what was eyebrow-raising (in addition to Victor’s brow), though, was Adam’s weird reprimand of Nathan for not packaging himself better during the pre-taped clips. Sure, Nathan’s happy-go-lucky claim that he likes to jet ski when he’s stressed was absolutely apropos of nothing and spoke of a privileged life and upbringing (as did his I’m-the-youngest-child-and-am-used-to-getting-whatever-I-want revelation). And it’s true that there’s a certain amount of packaging and selling of oneself that goes on in the competition — and yes, Nathan should probably learn to become aware of it and use it, and his unthreatening good looks, to his advantage. But for Adam to baldly call it out during the program seemed a questionable decision on the judge’s part, and it caused a murmur of displeasure amongst the crowd. Will this end up in a backlash against Step Up 3-D? Only time will tell.

NEXT: How to dance for your life

No, the surprise to me in the bottom three couples was Ellenore and Ryan. And maybe it was the luck of the draw: Perhaps the fact that they had performed first Tuesday night worked against them and memory-challenged voters. And while I absolutely loved the energy and expertise they brought to both their Lindy Hop and their Broadway routine (even though its combination of puppet moves and ”Razzle Dazzle,” was, as Kate Ward said, in direct violation of the natural order the Chicago universe), perhaps their routines were just not fast moving or crowd pleasing enough to send the droves to the phone lines. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because the judges had expressed full confidence that they would make it into the top 10. And while it’s been mentioned before, I, for one, love both Ellenore and Ryan, and would hate to see either of them fall victim to the false sense of security that voters feel when the judges all but assure that they’ll move on to the next round. (See: Janette.)

Of course, this has more to do with when the voters gain full control of who stays and who goes; there was no way on Earth (or whichever planet Ellenore claimed to be from) that Nigel and Co. could ever vote off this darling duo, and it seemed like Ellenore and Ryan knew it. At least we got to see them perform their solos again — and got front-row tickets to Ryan’s gun show. And despite Nigel’s intimations otherwise, I thought they did a great job. Ellenore seemed to have released the weight that was holding her down the last time around, and Wednesday night’s solo was as delightfully light and quirky as her grape-colored leggings (an homage to Jakob’s maligned Joker pants, perhaps?). And Ryan did an admirable job with his leg work and in selling his half of a ballroom dance. Also admirable: the way he coyly showed everything and nothing with his red sleeveless open shirt and tight pants. I thought Victor’s solo was an improvement as well: He smartly stayed away from his go-to pirouettes and delivered something intense and primal (though after Legacy’s otherworldly crab walk the night before, maybe he should have opted to do something other than that less-than-stellar backwards hand walk). Nathan, also, mostly stayed away from his signature spins, and performed a nicely paced routine. Too bad Nigel didn’t agree. It’s interesting that the judge went so far as to say he was the one who voted to serve Nathan his walking papers. Clearly there was no way that the judges would eliminate Nathan before his raging tween followers could raid the box offices and sell-out the season 6 tour. Could it have been another scare tactic to get the youngster to grow up already?

Mollee copped a look from season 5’s Randi with a red backless unitard, which only served to make the moppet’s tumbling passes look more gymnastic. While I entertained thoughts that this shaky sub-par performance would wobble Mollee out of the competition, Nigel only had words of praise and determination for the cornrowed blonde (did we see the same routine?). Luckily for Mollee, Karen was around to don a black tutu of desperation and wriggle out her third lackluster solo of the competition. Of course, this was the one that Nigel noticed. ”Tonight, it felt like you were giving up,” the executive producer remarked. Actually, Nigel, it was you giving up on her, but whatever. Bygones.

In other news, bravo to the show for giving the American Ballet Theatre some love, and to principal Paloma Herrera for performing a solo from Don Quixote that was amazingly on pointe. Though boo to Shakira for performing a rendition of her latest single, ”Give It Up to Me,” that was a rehash of her AMA performance from a couple days earlier, complete with the same back-up steppers and never-ending hip thrusts, only with half the energy and verve.

What did you think? Happy with who made it into the top 10? Now that the couples are split up, who would you like to see matched together? Happy Thanksgiving!

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