Dreamy Jesse Tyler Ferguson is along for the ride; On the scene for the top 8!

By Meredith Hoffa
August 30, 2012 at 12:09 PM EDT
Fox
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LORD HAVE MURPHY. Giddy Jesse Tyler Ferguson! Long overdue, extremely satisfying video packages! Man-tears! More all-stars! I was in the live studio audience tonight taking all of this in from my perch right behind the dancers’ families, and as rapt I was with the show itself, I have to say that I was also fascinated observing the interactions between the families, and watching them cheer on their own kids and each others.’

This was my first time seeing the live taping and I was struck by the vibe in the studio, which was loose and celebratory and full of hollering and dancing in the audience. And not in a cheesy, fake, the-warm-up-comic-is-making-us-do-it way. It really felt like a room full of fans and friends of the show who were excited to be there, so it was fun to be part of it (except for during the five minutes before the show began, at which point I wasn’t having fun at all because I was so insanely nervous for the dancers; I imagined them backstage — stretching, running to last minute bathroom breaks, touching up makeup — and it nearly made me hyperventilate).

A few quick observations from on the scene:

– The space is smaller and more intimate than I’d imagined, both in terms of the size of the room itself and the size of the stage. So now I know: when we see the performers waving to family and friends, it really is a pretty small distance. Bright lights aside, you can can see most of the audience clearly from the stage.

– My favorite Cat moment of the night: When she first came out onto the stage, she waved at a woman wielding a sign for her and asked “You’re not related to me, are you?”

– My favorite Nigel moment of the night: him absently chair-dancing to “Call me Maybe” during a commercial break

– My most disgusting discovery of the night: the P.A.s come around with plastic cups so people can pass them down the aisles and spit their gum into them.

– This crowd LOVED Cyrus. Eliana, Will and Chehon also received very vocal support.

The Group number: What a delight. Choreographer Peter Chu — who I love ever since learning that his company’s called Chu This — did a good job of creating little solo moments while keeping the piece cohesive. What a relief not to watch a bonkers, circus-y group number with people scattered all over the stage doing different things and causing my brain to short circuit.

Fashionwise, I would like to vote for tonight’s ensemble as Cat’s most pleasing of the season. Dress, hair, and dress and hair together, all A+.

Witney and all-star tWitch took on a Luther Brown (of SYTYCD Canada) hip hop routine that was powerful and dazzling right out of the gate. Who is this Witney girl!?! What a fierce little animal. She delivered! She was confident and tough; even the diaper pants couldn’t hold her back! I loved how the piece had these smooth, gliding movements woven amongst hard-hitting ones. And that move where tWitch swizzled Witney’s hips? So cool. The live audience went insane for this number, both during and after it. Nigel said that Witney lived up to east coast hip hop. Mary said if she had a hat, she’d be taking it off to Witney. JTF was just really adorably humbled to be seeing the dancers in person and seemed slightly, adorably starstruck. More Luther Brown, please! Thanks, Canada.

NEXT: Dear Witney, Put some clothes on! Love, Dad

As for Witney’s solo, it took a while to get going and ultimately wasn’t as strong as her ballroom bestie’s. Obviously the star of Witney’s video package was her dad, and I think that’s great. Witney definitely has her fans (including me), but judging from the voting results over many weeks’ time, she isn’t connecting with viewers as well as she might, so if her Dad wants to help in the likability department, super.

During the commercial break, an audience member in the next row over gave Cat a chewy candy which she popped into her mouth with like 20 seconds to go before she had to be on camera. I can’t tell you how anxious this made me. The suspense and panic. Is she going to finish it in time? Is she almost done chewing?? Are there going to be shards in her teeth?! But obviously it all worked out. Girl’s a pro.

Cole and Allison did a contemporary routine by Sonya Tayeh to “Possibly Maybe” about a soulless, sadistic man rebuffing the desperate woman who’s vying for his heart. This was a return to the stoic Cole of the “Addiction” performance and while I thought the piece itself was breathtaking, Cole’s performance in particular didn’t resonate with me. While I like Cole in his martial arts-y stuff, I don’t find that he brings the same spirit or humanity to other peoples’ choreography so I have a hard time connecting with him. The piece itself was incredible though: lifts into sudden stillness, real desperation and anguish (and eyeliner) from Allison and a demonic tone throughout. JTF said he isn’t fooled by Sonya’s new, softer look and side braid — the piece was insane (Usain!) and Cole rose to Allison’s level, actingwise. Mary heaped on some more Allison praise and then added  that “possibly, maybe” Cole could be in the finale if he keeps dancing like that. Nigel said he always finds it difficult to judge people when they’re dancing with Allison. Presumably her star is too bright and she blinds people! But, he added, of all the people Allison’s been paired with this season (i.e. one person aside from Cole), he’s happy to report that she thinks Cole has been the strongest for her. Alright.

Meanwhile, my heart ached to learn that Cole had been picked on as a kid. How dear yet devastating was it when they showed that footage of mini-Cole talking about martial arts, saying that when he gets to high school “it’ll be easy to defend myself.” I loved hearing about how martial arts gave him confidence.

Eliana and scary/pleasant all-star and wax museum doll Ryan paired up for a Jonathan Roberts quickstep about a cold businessman and his attention-starved lady. But before the dancing began, there was a good deal of talk about the The Dreaded Quickstep. The Dreaded Quickstep! Let’s do this in Mary Murphy (self)question and (self)response style: Will Eliana break the Curse of the Quickstep? Yes. She. Will! The performance was jaunty and delicious, fun and completely charming, and because it was The Dreaded Quickstep, we loved it even more! Plus, the routine ended in a lift. Like, moving, moving, moving, then Eliana in the air, motionless. Way to knock my socks off!

NEXT: Attacking, but, like, in a chilled out mood

The live audience went really crazy for this and it took a long time for people to simmer down.

JTF was moved remembering Eliana’s audition many moons ago in L.A. when she was a “dorky” lass who liked to pole dance. Jesse! Watch your mouth! He then praised her range of emotion and accessibility, saying that he feels like he knows her even though he doesn’t. But he loves her. So much. But not in a stalker way. Nigel commented “It’s almost like this show was created for you.”

Eliana’s solo was a stunning slice of ballet, and as she danced I realized what I’ve been thinking for some time: Eliana seems like a woman, while the other female contestants are girls. Again, the audience took awhile to pipe down after her solo.

Lindsay and Alex F. Wong worked with Sonya Tayeh on a jazz routine to “Somebody That I Used to Know.” There was no story per se behind the piece, but, as Lindsay described it, just a lot of sexual tension and “a lot about attacking it, but, like, in a chilled out mood.” It is weird to hear somebody say “sexual tension” when they maybe don’t know or can’t yet imagine what it means. After all, she’s a child. If only Debbie Allen was here to say That child is a child! In any case, the judges all agreed that the sexual tension and chemistry were lacking. When Nigel got into the whole “you have the ability to be a fantastic dancer” part of his feedback, it really felt like the nail in the coffin. Lindsay knew it, too.

Her solo was great, though. Usually ballroom solos are frantic and lonely, but Lindsay managed a routine that felt like it could actually stand on its own.

Sidenote: I would like to start pronouncing “frustrated” in the British way from here on out.

Additional sidenote: Surely the person in the audience that JTF referred to as Lindsay’s father was not actually her father? He looked like a fratty teen. I am so disoriented. Someone. Please. What is going on?

Will and all-star Lauren G performed a Christopher Scott hip hop piece to “Dance My Pain Away,” which was sweet and joyful and beautifully yearning and kinda Footloose-y. Will’s dancing was crisp and clean and full of musicality. I loved seeing him not clowning around. Nigel offered up an insult wrapped in a compliment in saying that Will did a good job of containing his sometimes “cheesy” personality. For shame, Nigel! Jesse said it was nice to see Will play it more serious; also, Will is an example of why arts are so important in the school. The junket in which he talked about how dance saved his life was so moving. From chubby maniac to darling koala!

I wonder: will come a time in my life when I will no longer giggle at someone saying “your junket?”

It’s pretty dear the way Cat delights in every little thing JTF says. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if he ends up being invited to our upcoming sleepover.

NEXT: Nigel wants more rachet!

Cyrus and Melanie’s jazz routine by Mandy Moore was way light on dancing but did a great job of using good music and costumes and attitude, and was a joy to watch. I feel like a broken record because I say basically the same thing every week: Cyrus didn’t really dance, but he’s still profoundly watchable, profoundly captivating. Interestingly, the crowd in the studio went crazay for this piece. JTF said Cyrus’ charisma, spirit and green checkered pants kept his attention from wandering to Melanie (who also happens to be full of charisma and spirit). Nigel said “You’re a little people-magnet,” which a person’s ear can also hear as “You’re a little-people magnet.” Nigel urged Cyrus — who’d never heard of Bob Fosse — to do his homework and learn about our rich dance culture and history.

Cyrus’ solo was a true piece of performance art. Seeing him perform in his own style is something to behold. And it’s scary, right? The movement and the music and that moment where he says “Fire.” Way scary! His solo elicited the loudest studio crowd cheers of the night. I loved Nigel shouting “rachet!” Like an impish little heckler in a red blazer.

I sometimes find Melanie to be dance face-y. Said it. So sue me.

Chehon and Anya did an Argentine tango by Miriam and Leonardo. Strong, sultry, quiet and intense, this piece was bathed in stillness in the most beautiful way. And, like Eliana’s routine, it ended in a lift! With Anya upside down! In the air, motionless! This routine deserved the standing O it received from the judges. I’ve really warmed up to Chehon in the past few weeks. Between his whole hog hip hop last week, the crying, the mom love, and his solo tonight which was all white trousers and passion, I’m feeling much more connected to the guy than I have all season. And what about the warmth in the way he embraced Anya tonight after their performance? Mary said the routine was her favorite of the night and put him on the hot tamale train, woo-hoo. JTF, who was unraveling rapidly as the night progressed due to anxiety about the upcoming results, commented “HOW. INSANE. ARE THE PERFORMANCES. TONIGHT.”

The last dance of the night was Tiffany and Ade in a lift-laden contemporary routine by Mandy Moore to Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love.” Ade was really tossing Tiff around! What about when he lifted her up over him and placed her back on floor WHILE HE WAS LAYING DOWN? He is unreal. And so is Tiffany. I said it last week and I’ll say it again. She can do anything. She seems completely limitless as a dancer. She’s so tiny that she doesn’t necessarily have the lines of an Eliana. And she’s so damn cute that she doesn’t vibe sensual, or womanly, necessarily. But she is such a sparkplug, and watching her solo showcase all that control, I got to wondering if she could possibly be the Jeanine Mason-esque dark horse of the season. It seems impossible that another girl could usurp Eliana, but you never know. The duet got a standing O from the judges. Mary said it was Tiffany’s best performance of the season. Nigel called her a beautiful technician and quoted One Direction (and Cat Deeley from 30 seconds earlier) in saying “You don’t know how beautiful you are. “

One thing TV didn’t catch was that after Tiffany’s solo, she stayed on stage for a minute with Cat while they held hands and chit chatted. And then I flew into a jealous rage. No sir. (Yes sir.)

Results time

To the surprise of no one, the bottom two girls were Lindsay and Witney. The bottom two guys were Will and Cole. The saves went to Cole and Witney, because on this show, remember, as Nigel told us, no one is voted off, they are only not voted on. I agree with the decision for the girls, but I wish the decision had gone the other way with the guys. For what it’s worth, there was a lot of love in the room for Will’s goodbye. Applause and cheers and everyone on their feet for the man-child-koala creature who was, back in the day, saved by dance.

I love Haley Reinhart’s voice in that goodbye song.

What did you think of tonight’s routines? Which were your favorites? And were the right dancers sent home? And what did you make of Will’s very positive feedback from the judges tonight? Do you think they’d already made their decisions? Do you think we’ll meet Nappytabs’ baby before the season is over? Interested to hear what you think!

Episode Recaps

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