Things get a little weird as front-runners emerge, and Nigel axes America's bottom two.

By Jodi Walker
Updated July 17, 2014 at 06:30 AM EDT
Credit: Fox
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Look me in the eyes right now—but don’t overdo the eyes—and tell me you don’t wish these Bottom 6 kids could dance for their lives solo, the fear of their dreams slipping through their fingers evident in their every determined move. I know, I know, there’s no time! But losing Stanley and Jourdan felt so abrupt tonight, either because, with no extreme front-runners, there are no real obvious hangers-on either; or maybe it’s because Nigel basically said, “America did it, blame America” and peaced right out of there. But, if going without solos is what it takes to extend our American Ballet Theater loan on the effortlessly wise Misty Copeland, then I. Will. Take. It (while still complaining about it).

You may have noticed, I’m also guest riding on tonight’s Hot Tamale Train, filling in for your regular recap conductor, Jake. I guarantee not to be nearly as transcendent as Misty, but please go easy on me—someone dropped me during rehearsal today, and my chess piece costume really did not provide as much support as one might have expected. But, so what… evil chessboard, come to life! After having some good old fashioned fun with last week’s Broadway dandy, tonight’s opening number was a welcome foray into the (Alice in Wonder)land of weird ‘n creepy; and we should expect no less from the choreography of Academy of Villains’ Christopher “Pharside” Jennings and Krystal “Pheonix” Meraz.

If everyone has to wear Queen Elizabeth wigs and top hats to have a crump battle on a giant chessboard, then it’s probably worth it, but I didn’t love the anonymity of the opening number’s costuming, probably because we need every chance we can get to identify the standouts in this crew. Ricky, of course, has been deemed a perfect Contemporary parfait of technique, spark, and divisive facial hair; Tanisha and Jessica have at various times defied the expectations of their styles; Rudy has had an extra helping of sunshine every morning for the past 18 years; and a few players who didn’t get much screen time early on in the season are starting to define themselves through their *gasp* performances.

And that’s all good—it should be anyone’s game in the Top 18. It just means that every individual dance counts all the more toward getting the audience’s votes each week, and the judges on your side, hence an early favorite like Stanley landing in the Bottom 6, chosen by the judges to go home, all from one week to the next.

So, everyone do one final run-through of those Top Rock/Toe Heel Swivel steps you learned in between commercials from the choreographers because it’s time to find ourselves some favorites…

Jacque LeWarne and Zack Everhart

Style: Hip-Hop, Choreography by Keone and Mari Madrid

Music: “Stay with Me” by Sam Smith

This was a sweet little nugget of dance to start the night even if they are flying pretty fast and loose with the “hip-hop” in Week 2. But the choreography was lovely, and certainly not tap or ballet, making Jacque and Zack’s connection to the story and each other all the more impressive. Misty specified that neither of them are simply their styles, but dancers all around, while Nigel and Mary thought they nailed the intricate hand movements and fully committed to the number. For the second week in a row, they’re a surprisingly cohesive pair.

NEXT: How’s your tweeter?

Jourdan Epstein and Marcquet Hill

Style: Contemporary, Choreography by Dee Caspary

Song: “Disappear (Demo Version)” by Mikky Ekko

With the lighting, and the music, and the fluidity of movement, this routine started strong, but lost focus a bit as it went along. The judges all agreed that they weren’t connecting or conveying their partnership to the audience, but Nigel went especially critical on Marcquet individually. Though certainly not his best, what Nigel noted as a lack of discipline seemed to be more of a struggle to adapt to the lifts required in the choreography. On the other hand, where Jourdan’s strength in body and technique shone through more than ever here, she continued to struggle to connect through her face. I wish we could have seen more from her in her own style, as her “weight-lifting obsession” fact truly was a surprising twist for a ballerina.

Jessica Richens and Stanley Glover

Style: Jazz, Choreography by Tyce DiOrio

Song: “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” by Nikka Costa

This was… not great. With the wind and the tattered Aladdin-pre-Jasmine costuming, the magic carpet ride was a little much. All of that on top of the idea that they were supposed to be making that giant area rug seem like it was flying, and it makes sense that the judges thought Stanley and Jessica were both overselling with their faces. Nigel told Stanley that his explosive limb movements are thrilling, but he needs to reserve some of that energy for his core.

Bridget Whitman and Emilio Dosal

Style: Jive, Choreography by Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev

Song: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

“Happy”—it’s still a thing! But honestly, could you pass up the opportunity to choreograph a jive to that song? It’s made for supersonic foot movement. Bridget and Emilio seemed to love this dance, and it really showed in their performance. Misty says their “happy” jive is a perfect example of not overdoing it with the face (drink!); Mary thought that Bridget mastered the technique more than Emilio, and although she looked better than ever, Emilio was equally light on his feet. C’mon the guy is hip-hop (and apparently functioning with a highly sensitive nose).

Emily James and Teddy Coffey

Style: Contemporary, Choreography by Tyce DeOrio

Song: “Ne Me Quitte Pas” by Nina Simone

Tyce must have been saving his choreography mojo up for this routine—what an excellent song choice and surprisingly good fit for these two dancers. The desperation of true love was palpable through the book-ended “ugly lifts,” as Nigel described them, and how sweet was Misty saying that Emily might not speak French, but her body does? This was the first time Emily really stood out as a unique contemporary dancer, and similar to Mary, I wasn’t sure what to think of Teddy at the beginning of Live Shows, but he’s working his way into our SYTYCD hearts.

Brooklyn Fullmer and Casey Askew

Style: Jazz, Choreography by Bonnie Story

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Michael Bublé

During rehearsal, Bonnie noted that both Casey and Brooklyn struggle with “technique face,” and switching in and out of character. In performance, that remained true more for Brooklyn than for Casey, who was pretty much a master class in technique, or as Mary said, “ON FIRE AOIDSJFIS ON FIRE!” Nigel recommended that Brooklyn mature very quickly to keep up with her partner, and while that is necessary, behind his beautiful movements, Casey could use a little work on connecting with his partner, as well.

NEXT: How many tappers does it take to waltz with Ricky?

Valerie Rockey and Ricky Ubeda

Style: Viennese Waltz, Choreography by Lacey Schwimmer

Song: “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz

This will likely be one of the more divisive dances of the night, but I’m with the judges in saying that tapper Valerie stepped up to the Viennese/Ricky plate tonight. Let’s face it: this is a weird duo. There are always going to be some obstacles with style and size… but that partner connection is undeniable. Valerie has the spirit and Ricky has the skill, and if they keep meeting each other in the middle, maybe they can keep surpassing the idea that this partnership is going to crash and burn somewhere. Missy said that America needs to see a dancer like Ricky, who’s on the next level, and Nigel said that Valerie met him on that level in this performance.

Carly Blaney and Serge Onik

Style: Hip-Hop, Choreography by Luther Brown

Song: “Senile” by Young Money, feat. Tyga, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Wayne

Nigel might have been onto something when he said this was a difficult routine to critique because Carly and Serge have obviously worked so hard, but it might not be something that will make people want to vote for them. I think that’s a commentary on the choreography more than anything, but Misty added that it’s the judges job to educate the audience on how difficult what they just did is. And it was difficult! This “beastie” performance was way outside of Serge and Carly’s respective ballroom and contemporary comfort zones. But Carly came out especially committed to the (skeleton) character, while Serge mostly kept up.

Tanisha Belnap and Rudy Abreu

Style: Broadway, Choreography by Warren Carlyle

Song: “Sing, Sing, Sing (Part 2)” from Fosse (Original Broadway Cast)

With Rudy’s Mary-levels of energy and Tanisha’s already-Roxie-from-Chicago stage presence, this duo was destined to shine in a Broadway number, even if it involved a couple of pesky canes. Misty thought they danced in perfect unison and as individuals. I didn’t really want to be taken out of the moment by being reminded that Rudy has a little showmance going on with Jacque, as opposed to the lovely partner to his left that he just romanced all over the stage, but if Fox must, I guess they must.

Bottom 6: Bridget, Emily, Jourdan, Emilio, Stanley, Teddy

Finally, after A Great Big World performed the already emotional “Say Something” with a children’s choir, it was time to trot out the Bottom 6 and break two of their hearts even further. Nigel announced that they would be going with America’s bottom two and sending Jourdan and Stanley home… without much explanation. Why do you think the judges chose those two for elimination? Will you be throwing Bridget, Emily, Emilio, and Teddy your votes to keep them from a similar fate next week? Are you practicing the choreographer’s steps at home? Please say yes.

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So You Think You Can Dance

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