Thursday, June 16, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance, Season 8: Top 20

What a way to start the competition! After the audition rounds, Vegas Week and an electric Meet the Top 20 night, it was finally time to see the SYTYCD Season 8 finalists pair up and dance for America's votes, and the results were quite impressive. With each passing routine it was evident that everyone from the choreographers and dancers to the costume and lighting designers were doing their best to deliver attention-grabbing and vote-generating performances. If we're going to compare guys to girls (and we are), the "Beasts of Season 8" really came out swinging last night. To quote Randy Jackson (ugh), the girls are in it to win it.

Joining us this week in the guest judge spot was former Will and Grace star (and "Turn the Tub Around" recording diva) Megan Mullally, who despite her lack of intense dance knowledge still proved to be a better judge than Randy, Steven Tyler and JLo combined on American Idol. Of course, I really just wanted her to have a martini in her hand and deliver harsh, scathing critiques in the style of Karen Walker, but I guess you can't always get what you want. Also, no sign of her husband, Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman, in the audience. Boo.

Since there were ten routines, and this is the first time I'm writing about this season's finalists, we have a lot of ground to cover. So before Mary Murphy lists off the 10 styles of ballroom dancing again, let's get down to business and rank the dances from worst to best (and then some information on how you can join my HitFix SYTYCD Fantasy League!)...

10. Ashley and Chris - Hip Hop (Christopher Scott); "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green
I hate putting Miss Ashley in the bottom spot this week, because I really do adore her, but this hip hop routine about two people finding out they're cheating on each other was just not working for me. Ashley has a lot of swagger (swagga? swaggahhh?), but she needed to get into the ground a little more—the whole thing felt a bit too bouncy. Of course, the real problem is that her partner Chris was about as interesting as dry toast. He really didn't bring much character at all to the stage, and it was clear that, although he is a hip hop dancer, this choreography was out of his league. I wouldn't be surprised to see this duo in danger tonight, with Ashley then getting a new partner next week.

9. Missy and Wadi - Jazz (Sean Cheesman); "Judas (R3hab Remix)" by Lady Gaga
Here's an example of a routine that had a killer concept (demon clones coming out of Pandora's Box) that just didn't deliver in reality. The use of "Judas" felt like a bit of a random choice and the choreography wasn't very memorable, especially considering what a talented choreographer Sean Cheesman is (more on that later). Wadi picked up the style well and his acrobatics on the box were death-defying, but I wasn't getting a lot of emotion from his performance. Missy, on the other hand, needs to tone down her sexiness, even if that was the assignment. It was a bit off-putting and probably won't win her many votes.  

8. Iveta and Nick - Quickstep (Jason Gilkison); "Ballroom Blitz" by Sweet
Poor poor Nick. First week with his partner, a 10-time world champion ballroom dancer, and what style does he have to tackle? The dreaded "kiss of death" quickstep. Of course, I think his tap background probably helps a bit with getting his feet to do all those fast-paced steps, but still... quite the challenge. He certainly held his own, but Iveta was the obvious superior dancer of the two. Nick didn't bring the sultry, sexy feeling to his performance, most likely because he was trying to keep up with his partner. The whole thing felt a bit like Dancing with the Stars: an amateur paired with a pro dancing to a terrible version of a classic song. Not to mention the age difference between the two is a little jarring, though props to Miss Iveta for totally rocking that gold unitard in the opening sequence. Work!

7. Miranda and Robert - Jive (Jason Gilkison); "Runaway Baby" by Bruno Mars
Sorry, Jason Gilkison. It's not your fault that both of your routines are placing so low! This jive was really fun to watch—the music, costuming and choreography all reminded me of Hairspray and Footloose with that great bounce around the stage. Even with unpointed feet, Robert totally sold this piece, which came as no surprise because he is a total ham. And, fine, the silver glasses didn't hurt. I just wasn't feeling the chemistry between him and Miranda, who had the unfortunate circumstance of following dynamite performances by Jordan, Sasha, Clarice, Ryan and Caitlynn. I'm afraid if Miranda doesn't step it up, she's going to be chewed up and spit out by the Beasts.

6. Ryan and Ricky - Lyrical Hip Hop (Christopher Scott); "Ain't No Sunshine" by Lighthouse Family
How exciting to have a new lyrical hip hop choreographer! I love me some Nappy Tabs, and I can't wait for their return to the show, but it was cool to have a different perspective on the style. Chris Scott hits a little harder than Nappy Tabs, and Ryan and Ricky were definitely up to the challenge of tackling his choreography. Where they fell short, though, was in the emotional delivery of the piece. The concept was Ricky remembering what it was like to be with Ryan now that she's gone, so he was understandably angry, but Ryan was all smiles (and girlfriend has a smile that even Julia Roberts would think was big). She came up with some explanation to the judges afterward, but I still wasn't buying it. Great dancing, weird performance... but definitely keep an eye on this pair.

5. Caitlynn and Mitchell S7's Robert - Jazz (Sonya Tayeh); "In for the Kill (Skream's Let's Get Ravey Remix)" by La Roux
I thought we had decided that Season 7 was the year of injury, and yet here we are only one week in and Mitchell couldn't perform because he hurt his elbow in rehearsals. Let's hope this is not a recurring trend. The good news of course was that we got to see a shirtless Robert Roldan take his place, which I will never ever complain about (should we start a Robert for All-Stars campaign now...?). I found it difficult not to watch my Season 7 favorite at first, but Caitlynn really held her own against him with a fiery intensity. Now if only she didn't spell her name like a lunatic.

4. Sasha and Alexander - Contemporary (Travis Wall); "Stupid (Mark Bell Mix)" by Sarah McLachlan
Yup. It's official. Step aside Beyonce, because Sasha will hereby be referred to only as Sasha Fierce, because girlfriend was fierrrrrrrrrce last night. Travis Wall created a beautiful piece about Alexander as a heartbreaker and Sasha as his conscious reminding him of what he did. The whole piece felt more like Mia Michaels (see: Season 5's "Gravity") than Travis Wall, but you can't beat contemporary dancers doing a contemporary routine on this show. And although I am ready to give Sasha Fierce a one-way ticket on the Hot Tamale Train, the jury is still out on Alexander. There was a disconnect in his performance last night, and I don't really remember him sticking out much during the auditions or Vegas Week. Luckily for him, he will have plenty of time to improve as long as Sasha Fierce is by his side.

3. Jordan and Tadd - African Jazz (Sean Cheesman); "Riding the Waves" Afro Celt Sound System
Being the first couple to perform on Top 20 night has to be a lot of pressure, but adorable duo Jordan and Tadd were certainly up to the challenge. Sean Cheesman's erupting volcano routine was aggressive and insanely fast. The ground work in the piece really stuck out as being particularly fantastic (and difficult). There were a few moments when I wasn't sure if the lifts were going to end in disaster or not and at times Tadd hit the choreography a little harder than Jordan, but overall this was a dynamite routine, and an excellent way for Jordan to celebrate her 19th birthday!

2. Clarice and Jess - Broadway (Tyce Diorio); "Me and My Baby" by Liza Minnelli
I know it's too early to say that I really dislike someone, but I really dislike Jess. That's not to say he isn't an incredibly talented dancer, but his personality just really irks me. I have a feeling he is going to be this season's Legacy or Adechike for me—someone who will make it far despite assaulting my television with his grating personality week after week. I'm ready for it. All that being said, Jess and Clarice totally destroyed this Broadway piece. With their legs flying everywhere, they made the choreography look effortless and fun. I'm not sure Jess outdanced Clarice like Nigel said—to me, she was a total effervescent star on that stage. But can we address the elephant in the room for a moment? Her parents really named her Clarice even though she was born after the release of Silence of the Lambs?! Really?!

1. Melanie and Marko - Contemporary (Travis Wall); "Turn to Stone" by Ingrid Michaelson
This was hands down the standout routine of the night. Performing the simple, beautiful, touching concept of two statues coming alive at night to dance with each other, Melanie and Marko displayed an unbelievable amount of control, technique and, above all, heart. I had chills throughout the entire piece and gave it my own standing ovation in my living room. Like Katee and Joshua in Season 4, these two are now the couple to beat. No one had better chemistry, no one danced better and no one had a better routine. Let's just hope that this is only the beginning of what Season 8 has to offer... and I have a feeling it is.

Based on last night's performances, I'd say the four people with the largest chances of going home are Nick, Chris, Missy and Miranda. Of course, that all depends on who has to dance for their life in front of the judges. All my votes went to Melanie and Marko, and I have a feeling they are going to perfectly safe. 

What did you think about last night's performances? Were you wowed by Melanie and Marko? Dazzled by Sasha Fierce? Underwhelmed by the quickstep? Who do you think is going home and who do you think is safe?  

And if you really want to weigh in on your favorites, then sign up for the PWYJudges team on the HitFix SYTYCD Fantasy League! Click here to go the site, then type in the following information:
Player ID: (whatever username you'd like)
Enter League Name: PWYJudges
Enter League Password: pwyjudges
Then all you need to do is rank the Top 20, making sure you have the dancers you think will be eliminated at the bottom. You can change your rankings week-to-week (with minor penalties)—check out the full rules on the site and the let the games begin!

[Image Source: FOX]
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