This week's show opened with a fairly sloppy and unconnected opening number - there were multiple instances of the dancers not being in synch - by apparently new choreographer Peter Chu. It did very little for me, and the whole thing felt poorly rehearsed.
Then we got to the meat of the show, featuring Season 9's Top 8: Tiffany, Will, Whitney, Cole, Eliana, Cyrus, Chechon, and Lindsay. That's one of the weirdest groups we've ever had. Just ONE contemporary dancer (Will)? Unheard of on this show. I'm not complaining, mind you. I like the diversity in dance styles represented by this crew, but I can't help but think that this is a very odd collection of contestants, especially given the absence of some early frontrunners. I think the multiple double-elimination weeks due to July 4 and the Olympics dramatically impacted the progress of this season. There's no question that Amelia and Matthew would still be in this game if they were only doing one elimination per week. They would have landed in the bottom, been saved, and then gotten a bounce in the polls due to being put in danger. (See: Jessica Sanchez and this year's "American Idol.") I also think the multiple off weeks have seriously impacted the way the viewers connect to these dancers. Even this week I was confusing Whitney and Lindsay, and I still don't feel like I know who the hell Tiffany is.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson was back behind the judging table. He's a very entertaining judge and always has a lot to say, but I wonder what kind of expertise he brings to the show. Then again, after weeks of dull AND content-free critiques from legitimate dancing bigwigs The Ballet Boys and Benjamin Millipied, I'll take charming and insightful any day. The Top 8 each danced a number with a SYTYCD All-Star, got little personality packages (desperately overdue), and danced solos. Am I wrong, or at this point in previous seasons wouldn't the dancers each be dancing multiple numbers per episode? Has this new format allowed for an easier go of it for these dancers? If so, it has certainly worked to the advantage of certain contestants *cough*Cyrus*cough*.
For her number Whitney got hip-hop with All-Star Twitch, choreographed by Luther Brown, who has apparently come down from the Canadian version of the show. The costuming department had Whitney in goddamned Hammer pants. No. That is the not the look, ever. I'd like to know if we have new costuming folks, because this is at least the third or fourth time this season that I have taken notice of how terrible some of these dancers are dressed. Whitney was really throwing herself into the routine, possibly a bit too much. She was mugging throughout (ballroom tendencies), but she was hitting the moves hard, although not with swag - it was very bouncy. Still, I barely watched Twitch. The judges loved it.
Cole and All-Star Allison got a jazz piece by Sonya Tayeh about a soulless man and the woman who loves him. Sonya's romantic bent from earlier in the season has taken a darker turn, apparently, as this was much harder and more disturbing than most of her recent work. Beautifully danced by the pair of them, and once again Cole showed off his huge gifts as a character actor. I found the whole thing hypnotic. Ferguson said it was like an "American Horror Story" promo. Mary said it was the best performance she's ever seen from Allison. And let's just stop a minute and appreciate how much better Allison has gotten since Season 2. She's incredible.
Eliana got a quickstep choreographed by Jonathan Roberts, and was paired with All-Star Ryan, who I barely even remembered. She played a bored and ignored housewife who tries to get her husband's attention. Quickstep is such a tough dance, but this looked good to me, and Eliana was really selling it. Tons of fun to watch. Mary had a few notes on Eliana's frame, but overall she loved it. Jesse complimented Eliana on her range of emotion and versatility as a dancer, and that is very true of Eliana -- perhaps more than any other dancer this season.
Lindsay got another jazz piece by Sonya, and was paired with All-Star Alex Wong. I wish Sonya hadn't used "Somebody That I Used to Know" for the song, because I'm just so over that track. I could barely focus on the dancing. The routine was interesting and athletic, but not particularly attention grabbing. And I think Lindsay fared especially poorly paired against Alex, who practically demands your attention. Nigel did not feel the sexual tension, and I absolutely agreed with that. There was very little chemistry between the two dancers. I am not sure if Lindsay is capable of sexual tension at this point in her life, and I'm not saying that to be a dick. I just don't think she's experienced enough for those kinds of complex emotions. But all the judges praised the technique.
Will got a Christopher Scott hip-hop with Lauren Gottlieb. (I love Lauren, but she's not really a hip-hop dancer; the fact that she's pulling these assignments is a testament to just how weak the female hip-hop contestants have been on this show.) The number tasked class clown Will with being more serious, as he was portraying a brokenhearted guy dancing his pain away. The interesting thing here is that the two dancers did not interact in the piece at all; Lauren wasn't actually there, just willing Will to get up and dance. So the two had to mirror each other's movements without actually looking at one another. It was a cool, funky hip-hop style that I liked quite a bit. It felt slightly sloppy to me in parts, but given the unconventional set up that's understandable. The couch rolling was unnecessary. The judges all told Will how adorable he is and encouraged him to believe in himself more, because he deserves to be there.
Cyrus got jazz by Mandy Moore, paired with last season's winner, Melanie Moore. So that's combining one of the best dancers the show has ever seen with one of the worst. It was a really fun routine and Cyrus gave great face and attitude throughout. There's no question that he's likable. But the dancing on his part was very minimal. Lots of standing, walking across the stage while flexing, and jumping. Surprisingly content lite from Mandy, and given her other routine of the night, and the judges' CLEAR favoritism of Cyrus, I'm tempted to call shenanigans. Jesse compared Cyrus to Twitch, and I was thinking that myself during that routine. Nigel talked about Cyrus's personality, and the fact that Cyrus has never been in the Bottom 3. He also added that, even by the end of the show, Cyrus will probably not be the best dancer. Boy, howdy. If Cyrus wins this thing he will unquestionably -- UNQUESTIONABLY -- be the worst winner in the series' history. Mary continued to make excuses for him, about how he wasn't dancing in his style, but NONE of them tonight were dancing in their style. And she went on to say that none of the other dancers can animate like Cyrus. But none of the other dancers can do ballet, and none of them can do Cole's style, either. And yet none of those dancers are given passes, ever. I just get so tired of the way these judges treat the "untrained" dancers like pets. It's so patronizing, and it's unfair to literally ever other kind of style represented on this show. Do you think a tapper could ever get the kinds of passes they dole out to Cyrus (and others before him - S7's Jose comes immediately to mind)?
Chehon pulled a tango with the always-welcome Anya. It started out with huge leaps from Chehon and beautiful spins from Anya. These two are like paragons of masculinity and femininity when they dance. It was a very romantic tango, not an overtly sexual one. Chehon did beautifully in this - it was his best partnering to date. Mary loved it and said that it was her favorite performance of the night, and that Chehon finally delivered a fully connected performance. Chehon was on the Hot Tamale Train! Very few passengers this season, I hasten to add.
Tiffany got a jazz/contemporary number with Ade, set to "The Power of Love" by Celine Dion. Oh, MANDY MOORE. You have such...Canadian taste in music. A very pretty routine, although I felt like I was forgetting it while I was watching it. Is it weird to say that it felt more like an ice-skating performance than a dance number? The judges gave it a standing ovation, which was ridiculous. Jesse commented on the terrific lifts and partner work, and that was true. Mary called Tiffany "extraordinary," but honestly, I keep forgetting that girl exists. She's a very good dancer, and beautiful, but she does not make an impression. I keep saying to myself, "There's a girl named Tiffany on this show?" Nigel brazenly stole Cat's lame One Direction joke. It wasn't that clever the first time, certainly wasn't the second.
Results: Lindsay and Whitney were the bottom girls, while Will and Cole were the bottom boys. My pick would be to save Whitney and Cole. Whitney was spared, and that will only help her - she will absorb pretty much all of Lindsay's votes, because they are basically the same dancer. And Cole was also saved. I love Will, he is adorable, and a very good dancer. But Cole is truly special and I want to see him in the finale.
I do think it is ridiculous that, as of right now, the two dancers poised to win this season are one of the weakest contestants to ever make Top 6 (Cyrus) and a dancer whose name I cannot even remember (Tiffany). Neither of them have ever been in the Bottom 2.