The top 10 dance solos and two routines with new partners, highlighting weaknesses and strengths and giving Kate Ward a new frontrunner

It’s time to get serious, guys. It’s officially top ten week on SYTYCD, which means times are a-changin’. Finally, America gets to determine who stays, and who goes home. Finally, we get to see solos from each dancer on performance night. And finally, the couples have broken up, meaning they will no longer be able to depend on the partnerships that kept them in the competition this long. Noelle no longer has Russell. Ashleigh no longer has Jakob. And Ryan…well, he still has his pecs, but he had to cope with hitting the stage without another vital partner, the quirky Ellenore.

So how did they do? Here’s how I predict the rankings will go down tonight:

10. Ashleigh: Just like partner Legacy — who we’ll get to later — Ashleigh struggled during Gary Stewart’s energetic contemporary number. Clearly, she was out of her element, and couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire pace of the piece. But I don’t blame her. As a former dancer who’s been forced to dance Stewart-esque routines, I can safely say that you’d have to down all of Jessie Spano’s caffeine pills in order to not get winded during a number like that. Of course, the duo was at a distinct disadvantage in the first place, considering the fact that they’re the two least technically advanced dancers on the stage. But you could tell Ashleigh and Legacy were struggling, and thinking far too much about the marking of their piece.

She must have had the life sucked out of her by Stewart, because she hardly made a presence during her Dave Scott vampire-inspired hip-hop routine. Perhaps I was too distracted by Legacy’s costuming — we’ll also get to that later — but I hardly even noticed Ashleigh was on the stage. And that doesn’t bode well for the dancer, especially since she was the winner of my Jody Sawyer award earlier this season.

Unfortunately, I doubt her solo will save her. Of course, ballroom dancers always suffer when trying to impress viewers with a solo, but Ashleigh barely did more than shimmy on stage. There was zero substance to that solo. The gold fringe dress, however, might attract a few voters. But only if they’re pirates or squirrels. Shiny!

9. Ryan: You know when you a giant zit on your face? And you cover it up with eyeliner pencil to make it look like a beauty mark? Well, Ryan was the zit in NapTab’s sexual harassment hip-hop number. NapTab certainly knew the dancer was hip-hop challenged — why else would they have tried to cover up his weaknesses by putting him behind a desk for the large portion of the dance? It was a smart move, but Ryan had to step away from the prop at some point. And once he did, he looked just as awkward as he did a few weeks ago while attempting the genre. He gave it his all, of course, but it just didn’t work. And though he did have great chemistry with his new partner, I wish NapTab would’ve toned down some of his skeevy moves. I felt like filing a lawsuit just watching him place his face smack-dab on Noelle’s thigh.

He improved the second go-round. Once again proving he’s a brilliant partner, Ryan executed some lovely lifts during his smooth jazz routine. But that strength could also be his downfall. Ryan partners so well, he often allows his duet partners to outshine him. Looking over my notes, I barely wrote anything about our ballroom dancer during the routine.

Now, I found plenty to say about his solo. Dear lord, there was so much cheese in that routine, I could have pulled a whole hunk of Brie from my television screen and slathered it all over a baguette. I know ballroom dancers are inhibited when they perform solos, but certainly Ryan could have done better than that, right? Some of his moves were so ridiculous, even Chris Farley’s Chippendales dancer would turn them down. Seriously, Ryan was this close to truffle-shuffling it.

NEXT: Noelle falters without Russell

8. Noelle: Oh boy. If Ashleigh knew how much chemistry Noelle would have with her hip-hop partner, Ryan, methinks the wife would have transformed from the sweetie-pie we’ve started to know and love into Beyoncé in Obsessed. (”I’ll show you crazy!”) During their workplace sexual harassment routine, the couple got all up in each other grillz — and it’s a good thing, because Noelle hardly perfected the routine. The judges might have fawned all over her, but I felt she looked sloppy while attempting to hit her moves.

The second go-round was better for Noelle, even if her smooth waltz was just a bit dull. Noelle certainly showed us a grace and elegance worthy of praise during the number. And it’s fitting that Nigel compared the number to a Disney routine, because if I were performing that final spin, I’d vomit Disneyworld teacup-style. But if that’s the biggest reaction I got out of the routine, it might be tough for Noelle to secure a place in the top 8. Because the smooth waltz is hardly going to bring in votes.

Neither will her solo. I like Noelle, but she’s had a tough time standing out amongst her more bombastic, and more talented, fellow performers. And without Russell by her side, her weaknesses have become even clearer. Not only were her pirouettes weak during the solo, but Noelle also faltered in her audition footage, and intro solo. Plus, the dancer keeps trying to impress audiences with a flexibility she simply does not possess. Why doesn’t she show off her strengths? Give us more emotion, fewer développés!

7. Nathan: What a difference a Kathryn makes, huh? After being forced to pair with OMGLOLXOXO Mollee for weeks, Nathan finally got the chance to step off the front page of Tiger Beat and onto the SYTYCD stage. And what did we find when he did? A talented dancer. Finally! In the course of a week, Nathan found a way to replace his arrogance with confidence — and I give full credit to Kathryn. We already knew Kathryn was a stellar partner, but, like Adam mentioned, the dancer managed to help Nathan age himself 20 years during Spencer’s Broadway number. And though that might not seem like a good thing in Hollywood, it’s a great thing on the SYTYCD stage.

That being said, he probably should have loosened up a bit more for his Tony and Melanie rumba. Call me a square, man, but I was not liking his creepy beatnik look — or his carefully plotted out dance steps. He never seemed comfortable in this number, even if he admirably attempted to show us more maturity.

Okay, now that we have some of the compliments out of the way, let’s get to Nathan’s solo. With apologies to the Nathan-haters, I have no choice but to praise his dancing. Nathan was so light on his feet, it looked like he was dancing on lava. Few men can achieve that, so I’ve got to give him props. Now on to the negative. I’m probably going to go to hell for what I’m about to say. (Although, I pretty much secured myself a spot as soon as I began to wonder whether or not Ashleigh’s proud mama uses a bumpit). But I might as well go ahead and say it: Just try to convince me that Nathan’s solo tears weren’t crocodile. Just last Wednesday, Adam told Nathan that he was going to have to try to make himself seem more approachable during his introduction packages. Isn’t it just a little too convenient that Nathan chose to whip out the tears this week when talking about his supportive parents? (Or maybe one of his brothers just damaged his jet ski?) I smell shenanigans!

NEXT: Legacy vamps it up

6. Mollee: You know that scene in Mean Girls when Regina tells Gretchen, ”Stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!” Well, I wish I had Wonkavision so I could transport myself into my television and tell our judges to stop trying to make Mollee’s emotional growth story line happen! Yes, Mandy Moore’s choreography was lovely, even if it wasn’t completely mind-blowing. But I got nothing out of Mollee’s performance. She was so emotionally absent that Russell seemed to be using his eyes to beg her to bring something to the table. And when the judges continue to tell Mollee that she’s broken out of her baby shell week in and week out, it gets harder and harder to truly believe them.

Just as she lacked emotional maturity in her first number, Mollee lacked technical maturity in her Anya and Pasha jive. Though Mary and Nigel were feeling it — our dear old uncle even told Mollee that she was one of the best performers on the show (blasphemy!) — I couldn’t disagree more. Sure, Mollee acted like she was having a good time, but her flaws were obvious even to this ballroom ignorant critic. Her legs weren’t kept together during the lifts. And her footwork wasn’t nearly fast enough. And I challenge those Mollee supporters out there to try to convince me that Anya and Pasha couldn’t perform the number 3,583 times better than Mollee and Russell. Perhaps Nigel & Co., are hoping for a Zac Efron guest appearance, because, for whatever reason, the judges clearly want her to stay. Why else would they give her new partnership several servings of undeserved praise? And, once again, grant her the pimp slot?

She’s lucky producers didn’t save her solo for last, though. Because, to me, the whole number looked a bit like Miley Cyrus-auditioning-for-Stick It. It was all gyrating and flips. Regardless, Mollee might still rake in the 8-year-old vote, considering her whole family looked straight out of a screen test for Disney’s The Shaggy Dog 2.

5. Legacy: As many of you know, I am a huge Legacy fan. But Gary Stewart’s choreography overpowered him in his first contemporary routine. While I was intrigued by Legacy and Ashleigh’s silhouettes at the outset of the piece and the b-boy’s final headstand (how does that not hurt?), the rest was a bit of a mess. Legacy never completed his extensions, and seemed to lose energy halfway through the routine. Dancing should appear effortless, and I felt like I had just run a marathon watching the piece. And I’m doing nothing more than sitting on my couch eating an Entenmann’s doughnut! Perhaps Legacy struggled because he didn’t have anything emotional to cling onto. Perhaps he struggled because he didn’t have Kathryn to cling onto. But I’m still hoping he clings onto a spot in the top 8.

And based on his second routine with Ashleigh, I think he might just squeak by. The judges might have been disappointed with the Dave Scott routine, but let’s face it: the duo danced a piece about vampires. SYTYCD‘s audience is full of tweens. Legacy could just walk up on stage, say ”I’m a vampire!” kick his leg up in the air, and instantly convince Edward Cullen’s minions to vote for him. Not that the votes would be completely deserved. The hip-hop number was all concept, and not enough technique. That’s no fault of Legacy, or his ballroom-dancing partner, but the pair is unfortunately forced to face the consequences of poor choreography. Not to mention costuming. Legacy should have ditched that cape like it was a stage five clinger. Far too literal and distracting, the cape made Legacy look like a late-in-life, delusional Bela Lugosi.

But… the solo. Dear lord, the solo. Legacy flipped, spun, and crab walked like he was truly fighting for his life. And he didn’t just give us a bunch of tricks. The way he clung to his neck to match the ”No Air” lyrics proved that the b-boy has been inspired to infuse his patented emotion with his own style, not just contemporary and ballroom. It’s no wonder the crowd — which included Legacy’s father, who adorably calls him his ”mini-me” — gave the b-boy a standing ovation. (Cat even mentioned that Kathryn was backstage cheering. My mother’s theory: Legacy and Kathryn are in love. Discuss.) Could this solo save him? I’ve certainly been voting!

NEXT: Russell loses some (but not enough) articles of clothing

4. Kathryn: Holy Ginger Rogers! Kathryn looked like something straight out of an MGM movie during her Broadway number with Nathan. And as someone who’s obsessed with the era, I can’t think of a better compliment. She just screamed 1940s starlet, what with the way she flowed across the stage. Of course, regardless of her grace, Kathryn is far more subtle than some of our other dancers, so I’m not sure if viewers have completely bonded with the gorgeous dancer.

I certainly hope her second dance convinced voters to pick up the phone. Because like a roomba, Kathryn’s rumba sucked me in. Though it was by no means the best dance of the night, it showed off Kathryn’s smoldering side, as well as her enviable long lines.

And Kathryn brought those strengths to her solo as well. Since the contemporary dancer had yet to grace the bottom three, we haven’t had the opportunity to see her dance sans partner. And even if she goes home tonight — fingers crossed she doesn’t — at least we got to see her pull off some lovely leaps and perfectly turned out pirouettes last night.

3. Russell: Holy Breakfast Club, Teddy Ruxpin, and Simple Minds! Mandy Moore was back last night in all her 1980s glory choreographing a jazz dance for Russell and Mollee. And though Mary screamed for the new couple, I could barely muster a whimper. There was less chemistry on that stage than there is in my brain. (Seventh grade science was not my friend.) And, for the first time in awhile, I thought I saw Russell struggle while clumsily trying to lift Mollee. Good thing the dude looks good in white.

And it’s a good thing Russell can somehow pull off ballroom from week-to-week. He even looked more technically advanced than his partner during his jive with Mollee. Add to that the fact that we’re constantly reminded that the guy came from humble beginnings, and it’s hard not to back him. He certainly deserves the viewer support. Just look at his solo, complete with some creative shirt-stripping. I, however, was wishing he hadn’t stopped with the shirt. I was kind of hoping he would find a way to remove his underwear Hansel-style during his krump solo. That’s how amazing Russell is — he’s so good at what he does, I actually get a little disappointed when he doesn’t do something that’s physically impossible.

2. Ellenore: For weeks, I had been looking forward to the prospect of a Jakob-Ellenore dream team. (Stop stealing my words, Mary!) And this week, I nearly yelped in excitement upon discovering that I would get my wish… until Cat told us they drew the quickstep. The quickstep! (Cue: Yet, the past few weeks have taught us that this duo could expertly dance the Tootsie Roll if it was handed to them, so deep down we knew they’d rock this Tony-Melanie number. And, predictably, they did. In fact, I find it extremely difficult to critique the partners solo, because they so easily molded together during the routine. I don’t think I’ve seen two dancers with better musicality. Just look at the way their fast footwork was perfectly synchronized.

Ellenore, however, took things to the next level when it came to Sonya’s jazz routine. Of course, that’s hardly a surprise, considering the contemporary dancer is the Jem to Sonya’s Jerrica. They’re essentially the same person, so of course Ellenore would rock the routine! And is this the point where we just go ahead and brand Sonya’s ”Tore My Heart” the best dance of the season? Adam called the piece part 2 of Sonya’s memorable season four routine, ”The Garden,” but Ellenore and Jakob are far better technical dancers than Mark and Courtney. Therefore, I’d say this is the best dance from Sonya that we’ve ever seen. But is it the best we’ve seen from Ellenore? The choreography fit the dancer so well that I wonder whether or not viewers will penalize her for not stepping completely out of her comfort zone. (Especially since she had just performed a solo so similar in style.)

NEXT: The new frontrunner

I also worry that Ellenore’s solo package might have turned off some voters. A story about a family that moves cross-country to help realize a daughter’s dream is heart-warming. But a story about a family that moves cross-country because their daughter tells them to? Hm. Not sure if that would elicit the same response. But you’ve got to admire Ellenore’s moxy. I could never convince an entire brood to move across the country. I can’t even convince my cat to move off my pillow at night.

1. Jakob: And to think, just a few short weeks ago we all thought Russell had it in the bag. After last night, I can’t imagine anyone else but Jakob capturing the title of America’s Favorite Dancer. Caring, humble, beautiful — what else could America want? If we’re looking at SYTYCD history, most of the technically superior dancers have suffered from either an ego or a perceived ego. (Danny, Brandon, etc.) But Jakob has managed to avoid such a pitfall, while executing perfection week after week. I covered the dancer’s quickstep with Ellenore in the above paragraph (as I mentioned, the duo was working so much as one unit in the quickstep, it was too hard to critique them individually), so let’s move straight onto his work in Sonya’s routine. He managed to nail the quirk with the power of a matador, yet the grace of Ethan Stiefel. His extensions were so sick, I wanted to run out to Ride-Aid to grab them some Pepto. Seriously, did you see the développés? And that man can point his foot like no other male dancer I’ve ever seen!

And he continued his hot streak with a solo worthy of the standing ovation it received. Those pirouettes. Those extensions. The whole thing was so beautiful I just wanted to slap myself in the face. What can I say? He’s a revelation. And consider me first in line to join the church of Jakob.

Well, thanks to Obama, it’s been a late night for me folks. And after 3,000 words, I’m spent. So now it’s your turn: Do you think Jakob and Ellenore danced the best routine of the season? Do you, like me, think Ashleigh and Ryan’s days are over? Do you think Nathan was genuine, or faking it? And didn’t Cat have the best line of the night, comparing Adam’s rambling about switching spouses to a Jerry Springer show?

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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