After Monday's Top 20 showcase episode, "So You Think You Can Dance" kicked off its formal competitive season on Tuesday (Oct. 27) night with its first pairings and, shunning democracy, our first elimination, courtesy of the judges' whims.
With HitFix's normal "SYTYCD" recapper otherwise indisposed, you're stuck with me, dear readers. And I can only warn you that while I'm sure I'm a solid judge of vocal talent, which it comes to dancing, I barely have a clue what I'm talking about. So feel free to set me straight.
The episode begins with Nigel Lythgoe explaining that Billy Bell is no longer with us and that Noelle Marsh is also indisposed for the evening. Noelle will be replaced by a stand-in for the night, but if she can't return next week, she'll be out.
Here we go...
Dancers: Channing Cook and Phillip Atmore
Dance: Jazz, choreographed by Jason Gilkison
From What I Could Tell: This is a happy, smiley couple, so it's good that they got to start with the jive, something high energy and well-tailored to their personalities. Both of them have excellent footwork, with Phillip not looking at all limited as a tapper, but some of the partnering looks clumsy. It's early, so perhaps chemistry is a lot to expect.
The Judges Say: Adam Shankman thought Phillip was fantastic and that Channing was lovely, but he warns Channing that she was too "up." Mary Murphy calls it "not bad" and "good," but she expects more from them, saying Channing got better as she went along, but Phillip got lazy. Nigel Lythgoe warns Channing she has to get her weight over her toes a little more. I don't know what that means. My weight generally tends to be above my toes. He also wanted sharper retractions with their flip-kicks. I don't know what that means either. Nigel also notices the lack of chemistry. Hey, I got one right!
Dancers: Ashleigh Di Lello and Jakob Karr
Dance: Broadway, choreographed by Toasty Oreos
From What I Could Tell: I feel sad for Ashleigh separated from her husband and his abs. I also feel confused for Jakob, who appears to have at least one, possibly two, extraneous "k's" in his name. In the clip, Ashleigh jokes that her hubby won't be jealous of Jakob (for easily inferred reasons), but that he may be excited to take her home tonight. My impression is that Jakob is perfectly capable of being interesting all on his own. He's graceful and athletic and the camera is mostly interested in following him. I'm impressed by the things he's doing, even if I don't know their names. Ashleigh, on the other hand, may need some better partnering. She sure knows how to work her hips. That's the only time the director really notices her.
The Judges Say: Adam calls Toasty Oreos' choreography "smart," telling Jakob that he's "setting a new standard of excellence on the show," warning Ashleigh that Jakob's going to be hard to live up to. That's kinda what I said! Mary calls it "sexy" and "sultry" and says that Ashleigh was "phenomenal." Nigel says Ashleigh has proven why the judges had faith in her. He adds that Jakob is one of the most gifted dancers they've ever had on this show, lamenting the departure of Billy Bell.
Dancers: Ariana Debose and Peter Sabasino
Dance: Hip hop, choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon
From What I Could Tell: This is an oddball partnership, the country girl and the city boy and they've been given a Tabitha and Napoleon routine that's not immediately in either of their comfort zones. It's yet another one of those android-in-love routines the show's choreographers seem to love. It's hard to know who to concentrate on, but they've not very well synched up and it appears they're supposed to be. Peter seems uncertain and Adriana seems slow. I'm not impressed.
The Judges Say: Adam notes that they weren't dancing like each other. I'm not so bad at this! Other judges may have said other things, but I lost power amidst one of the windiest Los Angeles evenings I can remember. Let's assume Mary and Nigel said exactly what I said, eh?
Dancers: Noelle Marsh and Russell Ferguson
Dance: Foxtrot, choreographed Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin
From What I Could Tell: Poor Russell, stuck with an injured partner and the foxtrot. Yes, he gets to dance with Melanie Lapatin, but it's unclear if working with a pro is really good business on a show like this, since you know she's going to be near-perfect, so anything that goes wrong... Well, sorry Russell. While Russell is a krumper, we saw in the Vegas episodes that there's a lot more to him. He's got tremendous posture and admirable body-lines and he moves well for a genre that's far from his comfort zone. Is he good? I haven't the faintest, but he doesn't distract me at all with his inexperience. So that *must* mean he's good.
The Judges Say: Adam calls him amazing, effortless and beautiful. Mary takes her hat off to Russell, calling it "a respectable job." Nigel thinks Russell is the poster-boy for teaching the arts in schools, praising his lines, but not really his technique. Nigel says the foxtrot was Fred Astaire's favorite style, but he can't imagine Fred going onstage and krumping.
Dancers: Bianca Revels and Victor Smalley
Dance: Contemporary, choreographed by Travis Wall
From What I Could Tell: Bianca and Victor have an appealing off-screen demeanor. This is a tough partnership for Bianca, a tapper who runs the risk of getting upstaged by both Victor's height and his power, but she does a nice job, executing a couple moves that must require some tremendous abs. The choreography in this one is super and both dancers do well by it. Travis is the star here, really.
The Judges Say: Adam also has praise for Travis, before warning Bianca that her shoulders are too high and that her toes are a problem. She's not finishing. But for Adam, Victor is a revelation. Mary loved the chemistry between them, telling Victor that he took his dancing to another level. Nigel says it was the most connected partnership of the night.
Dancers: Karen Hauer and Kevin Hunte
Dance: Cha-cha, choreographed by Tony and Melanie again
From What I Could Tell: Tonight's genre favors Karen, who worries to the camera that she may have to lead Kevin. Like Russell, Kevin was already singled out in Las Vegas as a hip-hopper perfectly capable of doing different styles. Mostly here, he seems to be posing, as befits his apparently background as a model. Karen's trying to dance, mostly alone. As a partnership, they have very little chemistry and the lifts and other intricate moves seem very deliberate and slow-to-materialize.
The Judges Say: Adam says he was only watching Karen, adding "For those of you who know me, you know that's not really my thing." He calls the last lift series "awkward," which it was. Karen gave Mary the cha-cha she wanted. Karen becomes the season's first dancer to hitch a ride on The Hot Tamale Train. He tells Kevin to work on his leg-and-foot action. Nigel liked the way Kevin danced it and then raves about Karen, mostly her hotness.
Dancers: Ellenore Scott and Ryan Di Lello
Dance: Contemporary, choreographed by Sonya
From What I Could Tell: So it's Ellenore who stole Ashleigh's man. Sonya's got big words about how this is going to be one of the best performances "SYTYCD" has ever seen before. It strikes me that Sonya's choreography, while awesome, is a bit repetitive. Or am I wrong? I feel like she has a clear set of movements that she goes back to over and over again, all dating back to that awesome Mark and Courtney "The Garden" routine two seasons back? It's pretty beautifully danced, within its parameters. Ellenore is one of my early favorites on the female side. She's excellent.
The Judges Say: Adam calls them two of the season's more exciting dancers, if not the most technically gifted. And again, for the fourth time in this telecast, the wind blows my power out. I may need to sneak back in and watch a West Coast feed and replace the judges' comments that I missed.
Dancers: Brandon Dumlao and Pauline Mata
Dance: Smooth Waltz, choreographed by Jason Gilkison again
From What I Could Tell: Brandon is a late addition to the show and he's working far from his genre. He wisely holds back and lets Pauline try to be the star. She looks like she knows what she's doing. He looks like he's trying not to hurt her. I'm sure she appreciates it. He does manage a nice little solo move at the end. Pauline's easy to look at. I like her. This isn't on the same level as most of the night's other performances, but at least they have an excuse!
The Judges Say: The judges know that there's nothing they can really say to negatively critique the performance, under the circumstances. I mean, they can't really eliminate Brandon tonight, can they? And so they can't really eliminate Pauline either. Adam tells Brandon that he did "yeoman's job at a difficult task." Mary says they're a cute couple and they got a believable chemistry in a short period. Nigel decides to be fair says it felt a little bit like a prom couple.
Dancers: Kathryn McCormick and Legacy Perez
Dance: Hip hop, choreographed by Dave Scott
From What I Could Tell: This is a lucky break for Legacy, landing hip hop for his first performance (though he's a B-Boy, not a pure hip hop dancer). We've been warned that their caveman routine is supposed to be a bit silly. And, indeed, it is. In a good way. One thing we can say for sure is that working in his own style, Legacy is pretty good. Kathryn doesn't hit nearly as hard on the beats as Legacy does, but she tries hard and looks great getting dirty.
The Judges Say: Adam calls it hot and praises Dave Scott's goofiness. Mary whips out an odd "Yaba daba doo... Pebbles and Bam-Bam were busting a move in the cave tonight!" They're infants, Mary. For shame! She's pleased. And Nigel? He's also got nice words for Dave Scott and says Legacy brought this to life. Nigel says that Legacy's isolations were great and that Kathryn's need more work. I don't know what that means.
Dancers: Mollee Gray and Nathan Trasoras
Dance: Disco, choreographed by Doriana Sanchez
From What I Could Tell: The youngest male dancer with the female dancer who looks (and acts) like she's 14? Could this really be a coincidence? And could it possibly be a good idea? Sanchez's choreography is meant to be inspired by Mexican wrestling. Or something. Mostly, it's disco with two kids who weren't alive in the '80s, much less the '70s. There's some mighty acrobatic stuff spicing up the routine, but it still looks like a couple of underaged performers from "Star Search." The attempts at sexiness from the both of them are laughable. They can get as far as "cute." But still, a lot of fun maneuvers and a ridiculously high degree of difficult for Week One.
The Judges Say: Adam calls them a sweet and adorable couple, raving about their infectious energy. He says that despite some sexy lifts, none of it seemed dirty. Is that a compliment? Mary says the routine was hard and that they pulled it off, saying this is a Dream Team, predicting a long run for both of them. Nigel is also happy.
So now what? Well, the judges have to select two guys and two gals to perform solos to avoid elimination. Me, I'd pick Ariana, Peter, Kevin and Ashleigh.
Nigel, emphasizing that everything from the competition will be weighed in this decision, chooses Ariana, Brandon, Pauline and Russell. Russell? That's ridiculous. They just want to let him krump for America. But that means that Brandon's journey on this show may be really short.
After Ariana's acceptable solo, Russell does, indeed, bring the house down with his krumping solo. If the judges send him home, I may need to send this show packing. Pauline reminds us of how hard it is for dancers from partnering disciplines to do solos, but I still quite like her. And Brandon? Given 30 seconds to show what he can do, pretty much his only exposure this season, he decides to dance to John Mayer? Seriously? Seriously?!? I'd send him home just for that. I'm booting Ariana and Brandon, but that's just me.
Time for results:
It was a unanimous decision for the girls. Nigel says they're both amazing dancers. Pauline has charisma, but the judges want more passion. Ariana, in contrast, is a remarkable dancer, but she lacks charisma. And perhaps that's why the first dancer eliminated this season is... Ariana. She seems like a sweet girl.
The judges were also unanimous with the guys. Nigel calls Russell forward and urges him to keep learning new styles. Brandon comes up next and he's immediately told that he's done. BUT... Nigel tells Brandon he'd like to change the rules to allow Brandon to return next season. [Previously the rules were that once you made the Top 20, you can't come back.]
So Adriana, we hardly knew you. And Brandon, we knew you even less.
Should the judges have given Brandon a pass this week? Was Ariana the right lady to send home?