The All-Stars choreograph and partner the Top 8; finalists name their biggest inspirations; most everybody cries

By Annie Barrett
Updated August 21, 2013 at 06:37 AM EDT
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For the first time ever, the All-Stars paired up with and choreographed for the finalists. Plus: host Cat Deeley revealed herself as a fresh-out-of-the-shower mascara zombie from hell. Innovations all around! It really was a fantastic week. Of course, there was sadness to accompany the triumph and the horror….

Jenna Johnson and Tucker Knox have been eliminated.

The former partners (pre-All-Star episodes this season) told the mascara zombie that their favorite parts of the competition were meeting each other and becoming best friends. So cute!

Hayley Erbert and Fik-Shun joined Jenna and Tucker in the bottom four. All of them danced solos. This is the last week that the judges/choreographers had a say in who went home. Starting next week it is TRULY up to you, Ameriker! (As it used to be all along!)

Next week: Jesse Tyler Ferguson guest judges! Always love him. Plus: All-Stars Joshua Allen, Witney Carson, Neil Haskell, Kathryn McCormick, Melanie Moore, and Alex Wong pair up with the Top 6. I gotta say I’m still pumped about all this All-Star pollination. I wonder: Do any of you wish the Top 6 would just pair up among themselves?

Here we go!

Aaron Turner and Chelsie Hightower — jive

Music: “Great Balls of Fire” by Million Dollar Quartet (Broadway cast recording)

Tonight’s waterworks started right away when Aaron spoke of his inspiration: his childhood best friend, who got hit by a car on the way home from dance practice and later died of brain damage. “He’s definitely watching,” Aaron choked out while crying, “And he’s so happy.” He’d even be happy that his friend was dancing the dreaded jive — favorite dance style of teen voters nowhere.

Chelsie and her legs were extremely compelling as usual and I found it very intriguing to see her in a non-sequined costume away from Planet Mirrorballus. But as Mary pointed out, some of their transitions didn’t work, Aaron’s shoulders were up, he was facing her on a hip roll (the absolute WORST offense in dance history; just kidding; I have no idea), his weight was in the wrong place, etc. Voters might not know the difference, but a less-than-perfect dance and the first slot of the evening? Ouch.

Also, I want to know why Aaron wasn’t in the Mia Michaels opening number. Usually Cat mentions when someone is missing. I wonder if he’s slightly injured and they’re just not bringing it up because it’d put him at a disadvantage?

Fik-Shun and OMG MY FAVE EVER Allison Holker — contemporary

Music: “Skinny Love” by Birdy

Allison and tWitch Get Hitched sounds like a two-hour network television event I would watch over and over and never delete from my DVR. Of course they’re too classy for that. (The skinny love birdies, not Fox. Well, maybe Fox! Hell, why not give everyone credit?) I’ll always be obsessed with Allison — she’s like the original center-of-gravity-defying female dancer in my book. So many of my other favorites — Sabra, Katee, Kathryn, Melanie, and this season’s Amy — remind me of her. Nigel, too, could not stop blathering about her in his quest to get to Fik-shun. “That double pirouette into the arabesque…it cannot be ignored!” SERIOUSLY.

Anyway. Her relationship with tWitch inspired Allison to base the dance on “society’s prejudices,” with lanterns representing them being in the dark. “We are really making leaps and bounds to accept everyone’s love,” she said while executing two majestic leaps over Fik-Shun during rehearsal footage! For his part, Fik-Shun blended incredibly well into the dance and infused it with his own character at Allison’s request. Nigel mentioned Fik-Shun’s “journey” a few hundred more times. Guest judge Jenna Elfman declared that Fik-Shun was already an All-Star and demanded a name tag or hat to make it official, “because that’s done,” at which point Nigel transformed back into an evil gargoyle and glared at her with a delicious “I’m the one who makes the name tags, sweetheart” side eye. (It was not that dramatic.)

“I just wanna scream and shout about the two of you together,” Mary muttered thoughtfully. What was up with that? WHY AREN’T YOU DOING SO, MARY? THE RIGHT TIME TO SCREAM AND SHOUT IS ALWAYS!

NEXT: Paul has entered The Comfort Zone Tucker Knox and Courtney Galiano — jazz

Music: “Clarity” by Zedd feat. Foxes

Time to cry again! Tucker named his dad — a former macho college football star — as his inspiration because he accepts everything that he is, and sat right at the front of each dance recital “cheering me on as if I was star quarterback.” His dad wiped away tears in the confessional, claiming he didn’t know how he was an inspiration to his son. (Um, by being so adorable in your seafoam polo and crying on camera, DAD.) Tucker was the inspiration, his dad said… “to our family. And I love him.”

And THEN! After a sleeper-at-the-start Romeo and Juliet-based routine that energized itself to unbelievable heights….

Wheeeeeeeeee!

…We learned that Courtney had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis two years ago, and had lost sight in her left eye for a whole month in December. She always struck me as a do-or-die fireplug more focused on dance and getting the job done than dwelling in emotion, so seeing her start to tremble as Nigel called her “an inspiration to everybody who understands what you’re going through” was pretty profound. Everyone stood to applaud her. I can’t even imagine.

“Nobody’s dying at the end of my dance. Sorry, Shakespeare.” Love her!

Paul Karmiryan and Comfort — hip hop

Music: “Dum Dum” by Tedashii feat. Lecrae

It was so easy to zero in on Comfort and Comfort’s Bubbleicious wall of abs during this graffiti artist throwdown spectacular, but whenever I focused on Paul, he was not only keeping up, but adding to the flavor! His ability to get “right down into the pocket” caused Mary to fire up the engine of the Hot Tamale Train and declare “FULL STEAM AHEAAAAAAAAAAD!” There she was!

I loved Comfort here! Her heightened sense of authority and ownership of her own style makes her a perfectly commanding choreographer. My favorite moment from her was during the dance when she slowed down a bit and threw out the ultimate “Yeah, that’s right, my leg’s going over this trash can” long gaze. So sultry! I’m sure she’ll be back to create some more hip-hops. I also liked how she played the “It’s not me, it’s you!” game, trying to direct the judges’ attention back to Paul.

NEXT: Jenna Elfman wants to be ‘on’ Dmitry? Honey, get in line Hayley Erbert and Dmitry Chaplin — rumba

Music: “Meant” by Elizaveta

“I could spend the next two and a half minutes just on Dmitry,” raved Jenna Elfman, “And when I say on….” I won’t be surprised if she goes ahead and creates herself a hat and a nametag to sneak into his next rehearsal studio for some “very hands-on” training action.

This dance was awesome! Dmitry is so good at establishing a sexy/close dynamic through physicality alone, and Hayley just poured her body right into that during this number about a woman who finds out her fiancé’s been cheating. I loved everything about this dance — her amazing drop to the ground and his completely vertical yet sooooo angsty spin away, the costuming choices (can’t go wrong with a man’s shirt and black stockings! #businesscasual), and especially the song (which you may recognize from a Scandal promo).

Also, Hayley’s heels were insane. Most of the Dancing With the Stars rumbas are done barefoot now, so watching this was a rather high-octane treat for me. I love to live on the edge.

“I don’t think you’ve ever put a foot wrong in this competition,” said Nigel, assuring her that he didn’t agree with Ameriker, who’d put Hayley into the bottom group for the first time all season.

Jenna Johnson and Mark Kanemura — jazz

Music: “I Am The Best” by 2NE1

Lady Gaga released Mark from one of her gilded dungeons of dazzle-dragons (backup dancers) so that he was able to saunter up to his old stomping ground and fix up this crazytown routine for an innocent young ballroom specialist. IT WAS INSANELY AWESOME!!!!! That’s not even Mary! I am that enthusiastic about this dance and Mark’s return! From the intense braid-handling (Jenna worked it!), to the rolling out of a red carpet from a sofa shaped like lips, to the use of a Korean pop song, this was like nothing we’ve seen before on the SYTYCD stage.

Line of the night: “I’m totally not a vegetarian when it comes to dancing,” claimed Mark during a massive missed opportunity to force Jenna into wearing a meat dress. “I literally want it bloody. RAW!”

Nigel made sure everyone knew about the battles he’d been through on Twitter each week with people who thought Jenna should’ve gone home over other women. Oh, how he struggles! “Nobody votes anybody off the show. We’re a positive show.” But enough of Nigel scolding the nation. Let’s get back to what’s really important.

Mark’s vulnerability and passion! Go Mark! Walk, walk. Fashion, baby.

NEXT: Yeah, well, my superpower is… being inspired by these Haribo Raspberries Jasmine Harper and Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss — hip hop

Music: “The Power” by District 78 feat. Cheesa

Along with Hayley and Amy, I thought Jasmine did the best job of rising up to match the intensity of her All-Star in his own style. Girl was FIERCE here as a superheroine named FlexiGirl and I just wanted this power-jab around the stage to last three times as long as it did.

The choreography was very thoughtful — I liked how tWitch did that thing where he hammers/pushes on someone but from like 10 feet away… and later in the dance Jasmine got to sort of “conjure him up” from the floor from a distance. Mutual mind control. I can’t describe it to save my life, but I’m into it! I definitely think these two are perfect dance partners — pretty evenly matched in stature and power.

“I’ve lost Makenzie now, and YOU have stolen my heart!” cried Nigel. (I should’ve been thrilled for Jasmine here, but for the life of me I can still never believe a word out of this man’s mouth!) “This is such a tough battle with the girls this season. Good luck. Hope you get in the finale, darling.”

Amy Yakima and Travis Wall — contemporary

Music: “Wicked Game (Live at Killkenny Arts Festival, Ireland 2011)” by James Vincent McMorrow

I agree with the judges that Travis is a geeeeeeeeeenius and is destined to achieve a level beyond his wildest dreams, but for me this dance was just as much about how brilliant Amy is. I love both of them. Jenna Elfman called Travis’ choreography “so full of artistry at every moment” and that’s how I feel about Amy’s movement. So the pairing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I do think that in the back of my mind, Amy has been practicing “controlled flailing” with Travis this whole time, so it was genuinely thrilling to watch what I could barely imagine on my own happening liiiiiiiive on the stage. This really kicked in for me during the middle section of the dance, when they were executing one fluid contortion after another in an order that seemed to make perfect sense to only these two creatures on the planet, with the rest of us just lucky enough to be along for the ride.

“I don’t think anyone has gone to where you did tonight,” Mary called it for Amy. Do you agree?

Are you upset about who’s going home? Which made you cry harder — Amy and Travis’ emotional outreach, or Courtney and Tucker’s inspiration bonanza? Should Comfort become a regular choreographer? Duh, right? Discuss!

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