The Top 20 perform again, but it's Hollywood legend and guest judge Debbie Reynolds who dances away with the show

By Adam B. Vary
June 23, 2011 at 10:42 AM EDT
James Dimmock/FOX
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Among other things So You Think You Can Dance has going for it this season, the show is now two for two for former stars of Will & Grace serving as guest judges. True, last night’s judge, Debbie Reynolds (who played Grace’s mother), had a touch less screen time on the NBC sitcom than last week’s judge Megan Mullally, but, still, if this means we can expect Sean Hayes, Bobby Cannavale, Harry Connick Jr., John Cleese, and/or Molly Shannon to appear to Mary Murphy’s left this season, it is a trend I can endorse wholeheartedly.

I mean, really. Can you think of a guest judge on SYTYCD who has been more delightfully daffy than Debbie Reynolds was last night? Introduced by Cat Deeley — who appeared to be wearing Tweety Bird couture — as nothing less than Hollywood royalty, Reynolds was like the great aunt who is unfailingly coming from or going to a hair appointment, never keeps her hip flask farther than arms reach, and is the best thing about Thanksgiving every year. She was dress in head-to-toe mauve. She always seemed to be applauding with tiny, tiny, tiny claps whenever she wasn’t speaking. She pretty much made every critique about her in one way or another, and bless her for it. I want to take her home with me so she can hold court in my kitchen at parties about how much of a tyrant Gene Kelly was while rehearsing for Singin’ in the Rain. (I’d say it was worth it.)

As for the show itself, all but two of last week’s bottom 7 gave performances likely to save them from elimination tonight, and several couples were finally asked to perform in genres out of their comfort zones — with decidedly mixed results. Let’s break it down:

This week’s pre-performance package interview gimmick — reveal a secret Ameriker doesn’t yet know about your partner — got off to a shaky start with the first couple to perform, Ryan and Ricky. I don’t really need or want to know that Ryan’s leg hair grows really fast, and Ricky’s real name, Roderick, is actually much better than his nickname. Those facts left my brain pretty quickly, though, after Ryan’s near wardrobe malfunction during and after their performance of Mandy Moore’s “Addicted to Love” jazz routine. (By the by, my snark demon Smirkelstiltskin thinks Moore should put out a series of jazzercise videos called “Sweatin’ to the ’80s,” and for once I think the horned lil’ devil is onto something.) The judges gushed over the performance, but I found myself too distracted by Ryan and Ricky looking saucily at the camera and not each other to really get into it. And then there was whatever was going on with Ryan’s bosom. At first, I though it was scarring. Then smeared makeup. It wasn’t really until Debbie said to Ryan, “You fell out of your top and you fell out of your bottom, and whoa!” that I understood what I was seeing was what happens when one side of double-sided tape gets prematurely un-taped. Yikes.

NEXT: More injury drama with Mitchell, and Debbie takes out the guest sheets for Wadi 

Last week, all Mitchell had going for him was his TV-friendly personality. This week, after he gave Caitlynn his best “oh no you di’in” face when she revealed he loves his zebra-print “snoogie,” Mitchell proved he’s also quite the TV-friendly dancer. Although that could just be because Stacey Tookey choreographed her typically affecting contemporary number, about a woman trying to find the strength to leave an unhealthy relationship, with the TV cameras in mind. The couple got so into feeling the routine that they kinda forgot where their bodies exactly were in space, and both ended up with some blood on their nose — Caitlynn’s especially, prompting Cat to launch into full mother hen mode and grab Caitlynn some tissues to blot her wound. No matter; they were so fabulous, Debbie sang for them.

Missy and Wadi were the first dancers of the season to land a genre, cha cha, wildly out of their wheelhouse, and oofdah, did it show. The judges were spot on to call out Wadi for failing to nail many of the basics of the style, but the pendulum inexplicably swung the other direction for Missy, who won gallons of praise from Nigel and Mary even though to my eye she was only marginally better than her partner. Granted, I’m no cha cha expert, but I’m fairly certain your hips should move at some point during the dance. All Debbie said, at first, was “muy bueno,” and her understatement spoke volumes. Then she offered to take poor Wadi home with her, lifting his broken spirits up enough for him to throw a pity party. “At least I made someone’s night,” he sniffed. At least he’s got that smooth chest to comfort him. I probably should have thought out that last sentence out a little better, but it’s too late now, gotta move on!

To date, no one has ever managed to top Katee and Joshua’s Bollywood routine from season 4 (which was during Top 12 week, Nigel, not Top 10), and Iveta and Nick‘s attempt at the genre was no exception: Like so many Bollywood numbers on the show, it was totally fun, and kinda sloppy. And I had such high hopes, too, what with the promise that the ballroom champ and tap-dancing goofus would be able to shoot actual lightning bolts from their bare hands. (We already pretty much knew Iveta’s eyes could glow.) Also, Cat, Mary, what is the big deal about “guyliner”? I mean, you’re both in showbusiness, right? You’ve seen other men use eye-liner before, I assume? So you both know this isn’t some new fad foisted upon the populace by Adam Lambert and Jared Leto, I hope? Yeesh.

NEXT: Robert learns to dial it down, and Jess, well, does not 

Before last night’s show, I noted that if I had been Nigel, I would have sent Robert home — his dancing had been just okay, and his personality was becoming excruciatingly over-the-top. Thankfully, he reversed both trends last night — not a single “woo” escaped his lips, and he tackled the Napoleon and Tabitha hip-hop number (yay!) like a man who knew his life (on a national dancing competition show) depended on it. It must’ve been so tempting to crank up the “charm,” too, since the concept was about frickin’ woodpeckers. His partner Miranda, perhaps inspired by her crush on hip-hopper Tadd, stepped up her game as well, but, let’s be clear here: Despite what Nigel claimed, she is emphatically not the best contemporary dancer doing hip-hop the show’s ever seen. (Ahem.) Robert and Miranda did, however, merit a Woody Woodpecker laugh from Debbie Reynolds, and no one will ever be able to take that away from them.

If only Jess had heeded Nigel’s warnings to Robert about overplaying the “personality” card, because, good grief is this kid’s schtick already wearing thin with me. We’re told his Stacey Tookey number with his partner Clarice is about a woman who is marrying into royalty, and Jess’ reaction is “I can’t wait to tell my mommy I’m a printh”? Really? (Baby tawk = Angwy Adam.) I’m not sure what to make of his stick figure orchestra, other than it looked like something I might have done when I was in the sixth grade. (It’s telling that Debbie wanted to take him home as one of her children, not the other thing she’s planning to do with Wadi.) Up until last night, Jess at least had remarkable technique to back up his arrested development. Alas, he struggled mightily with his lifts, both in rehearsal and on stage, which does not bode well for his chances moving forward. (Heaven help the kid if he pulls disco.) Clarice, meanwhile, was pretty and solid and utterly unmemorable again. If any couple seems destined for the bottom three, it’s these two.

I doubt, however, that Jordan and Tadd will be joining them there again tonight. Yes, Jordan thought the SYTYCD novelty ticket to Las Vegas was for a real airline. And yes, she managed to dance the Viennese Waltz like a Pussycat Doll. But I cannot deny the woman knows how to grab your attention when she’s performing on stage. Put another way: She made the Viennese Waltz not boring, and she danced it pretty darn well besides — though I somehow doubt 18th century Viennese women ever entered a lift spread eagle. (It may have been hyperbole, but Debbie knew what she was doing when she compared Jordan to Cyd Charisse.) Like Mary, however, I am much more taken with her partner Tadd, a b-boy who took to the style like it was a cake walk and effortlessly guided his partner through the routine. And he had the chutzpah to say on national TV that said partner isn’t the “brightest Crayon in the box”; for that alone, he deserves to make it to next week.

NEXT: Three fantastic numbers close the show, but only one made Debbie Reynolds cry

After last week’s chill inducing Travis Wall routine, it was pretty nigh impossible for Melanie and Marko to clear the high bar they’d set for themselves — but not for lack of trying. The rehearsal footage of their Mandy Moore jazz number looked so enticing, I wrote in my notes, “I can already tell I am going to LOVE it.” Well, I didn’t LOVE it — it started strong and lost steam — but I did really, really like it. I’m beginning to understand just how outrageously talented a dancer Melanie truly is, and that Marko isn’t nearly her equal but is still outrageously dedicated to supporting her. (I didn’t even notice the fact that he’d lost his hat and snagged it in time to catch Melanie full-split jump until after Debbie pointed it out.) Like Mary, I’m already quite confident that their ability to execute whatever they’re handed is pretty high; I just hope I’m not setting my own bar of expectations too high.

I long ago stopped even setting a bar, meanwhile, for Napoleon and Tabitha. Their lyrical hip hop number for Sasha and Alexander, about a soldier returning home from Afghanistan, was a spiritual sequel to their season 4 number for Katee and Joshua (which depicted a soldier leaving for war), and it was pretty much just as powerful, bringing both Debbie and Mary to tears. Nigel was even moved to abdicate his critique of the dancing, but if he hadn’t, I suspect he may have mentioned that Alexander at times slipped into a blank face that felt at odds with how much feeling was filling his body. That came up last week, too. I wonder if it’s an issue with his partner; is it just me, or did any of you detect a chill between the pair during their unusually contentious interview segment?

I quibble with Sasha and Alexander’s “Coming Home,” but really, it was the routine of the night. In fact, as Ashley and Chris began talking about his creepy smile and her lack of swag, I felt a pang of pity that they had to follow it. But then the adorable Spencer Liff showed up on my screen, doing pull ups on the prison bars that served as the set piece for his routine about a woman visiting her man in the jailhouse. Ladies and gentleman and Tyce Diorio, this is how you mount a successful Broadway routine on SYTYCD. It had style and humor and all kinds of sex appeal; it told a story that connected to the music underneath it; and it challenged the dancers to stretch themselves while still showcasing their strengths. I was so impressed with Chris especially that I had to remind myself halfway through that he’s a hip-hop dancer. Put it this way: For the previous hour and 55 minutes, Debbie Reynolds’ top shelf silliness had effectively neutered Mary Murphy into a cogent, thoughtful, level-headed judge dressed like Grecian woman warrior. But then, thanks to Ashley and Chris, we finally got this hot flash of batty brilliance:

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of one degree, one direction or another. 211 degrees, that is hot. 212 is BOILING. And when you have water BOILING, it can power enough to power a steam engine! Do you know what I’m talking about Nigel?! YES! YOU! TWO! ARE ON THE HOT TAMALE TRAIN! WOOHOOOOOOOOOO!

So who’s in trouble tonight? I’d say if Ryan and Ricky, Missy and Wadi, Iveta and Nick, and Clarice and Jess haven’t already start putting together the best solo of their lives, they could be doomed. Do you agree? What did you make of Debbie Reynolds as a guest judge? Were you impressed to hear that Cat Deeley will be hosting Wills and Kate’s first trip to Los Angeleese as a married couple? And did you catch that quick shot of Alex Freaking Wong, Kathryn McCormick, Robert Roldan, Kayla Radomski, and Kent Boyd in the audience? (Hmmm. Wonder who’s gonna be in the All Stars this year. Hmmmmmmmmm.)

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