It’s down to the top fourteen and so far these dancers (who really do make up the best season yet, if you ask me) are looking pretty good. Yes, there are some wobbles, and some dancers do not fare well away from their chosen format, but each week I’m surprised by someone I’d previously written off. And even though I doubt I’ll win the HitFix Fantasy League, I don’t mind a bit. I’d rather see a season on which the lead pair can change from week to week than watch someone barrel toward the finish line without a lick of competition (okay, we see more of that on “Dancing with the Stars,” but still). Anyway, let’s get to it.
 
Carmen Electra and Travis Wall are the guest judges joining Mary Murphy and Nigel Lythgoe. It turns out Carmen has some pretty decent dance cred, and it makes me a little sad that when I see her I think sometimes Pussycat Doll/bouncing Baywatch babe/Dave Navarro’s ex. She always seemed a little smarter than anyone gave her credit for being. Anyway, Travis was so thrilled to get the guest judging gig he had to change his pants after he got the news. Calm down, Travis.  
 
Justin Giles is a first time SYTYCD choreographer and for the guys he’s created a dance around the seven stages of grief.  Over a relationship. Hmm, I know the Kubler-Ross model works for lots of things, but its original application was for facing death, so this seems a little tacky. But I forget that immediately once the guys start dancing. How much do I love this piece? A lot. Lot, lot, lot. Such a creative use of the stage, such a smart way to highlight individual dancers and yet show them synchronized as a group. Love it. The girls have their work cut out for them now.
 
The theme for this week is meeting the families. Well, okay. I guess it’s better than “the grossest thing my partner does that may or may not include snot or sweat.”  
 
Melanie and Marko
Marko is from Guam. His family is mostly doctors and lawyers, so the dance thing wasn’t a big hit, apparently. The one job he got in Guam was part of a drag queen show, but he wasn’t in drag. Though there’s a picture of him in drag. And he was cute as a button! Melanie is from Georgia but went to Fordham. And her boyfriend was in the audience for her big Marko kiss. I’d prefer to hear more about Marko’s days in drag, but oh well. They’ll be doing a jazz routine with Ray Leeper. The costuming is not my favorite; a kind of bondage meets Cabaret thing, I guess.
 
I love, love, love Melanie and Marko, don’t get me wrong. But there are a few moments here that seem like flubs. There’s some frantic energy I’m not entirely happy about, too. But with these two, even screw-ups feel like quibbles. They’re fiery and they’re committed and mostly in perfect synch. My problem isn’t with them, but with the dance. I know, Ray Leeper is a legend and he’s choreographed a Cher video and all that, but I don’t care.
 
Travis thought it was an awesome way to start the show. He thinks Marko is one of the strongest male dancers and thinks Melanie is his favorite dancer in the competition. Whole lotta not helpful. Carmen thinks Melanie’s legs are ridiculous. She loved it. I guess I’m the only one who didn’t luuuuv it. Mary thinks it was wow. She thinks they have the passion. And she renames Marko the Domination Man. I wonder if that has to do with the front-cross suspenders. Nigel thinks their technique matches their performance and he’s a fan of Marko.
 
Sasha and Alexander
Sasha is from Bakersfield. Trinidadians know how to party. Alexander joined the dance team to get out of P.E. His dad was an actor in the 70s. Shaun Evaristo is creating a hip hop routine for them. They go to swag camp. Alexander does not have swag in rehearsal. I’m not sure Alexander would still be in this competition if not for Sasha, sorry to say. He has the moves, but not the emotion.
 
Sigh. I still have such a problem with Sasha and Alexander, in that I can never bring myself to pay attention to Alexander when Sasha’s moving. But she seems like she’s just having fun (not a bad thing) and relaxing through it, as if this was her warm-up routine. Alexander’s smile seems a little distant. It’s not wowing me.
 
Carmen thought Sasha was popping so hard. And her eyes were on her all the time, so she didn’t get a feel for them as a couple. Well put, Carmen. Mary did not see the swag. She didn’t feel a connection and she doesn’t feel their connection, either. Nigel agrees. He thought it seemed like Hip Hop 101. Travis liked it, but felt it needed help, basically.
 
Jordan and Tadd
Jordan is from Chino Hills and loves her mom and dad. Growing up in Salt Lake City, Tadd thought he was Caucasian but got over it. He’s here to represent the Philippino community. They’re dancing to a smooth waltz by Toni Redpath. The story is that Jordan is a siren and lures Tadd then kills him. They really like the sex and death thing on “SYTYCD.”
 
I realize Tadd is trying to spurn her advances, but I’m not feeling this. It’s good, but not great. I will give Tadd props, however, for waltzing not just well but convincingly. It’s hard to remember he’s a hip hop guy sometimes. And Jordan does nail some difficult moves.
 
Mary thinks it was dreamy and romantic. She thinks Tadd didn’t tighten up and she thought Jordan held her position in the floor sweep. Nigel thinks Tadd’s port de bras was excellent. And he did progressive twinkles. Travis thought it was beautiful though he felt it could have been smoother. Carmen felt it was beautiful. So, a modest hit.
 
Clarice and Jess
Clarice’s parents love and sacrifice for her, and she goes to Cal State Long Beach. Jess’ dad was an actor. I’m getting a little bored with the meet-the-parents thing. Everyone’s a good kid, yes, but they’re starting to blend together. Anyway, they’re dancing a routine by Justin Giles.
 
This was surprisingly good. Very surprisingly. I was prepared for Jess to look sort of stiff and uncomfortable, as he tends to whenever he does something that isn’t Broadway or Broadway-adjacent, but this was excellent. More importantly, he and Clarice found some kind of hostile, tortured energy (which was dead on for the dance) that infused their movements and added a level of passion to what they were doing. What was most shocking? Jess looked like a contemporary dancer. Huh. I now have to rethink this couple entirely. Good job!
 
Travis says it’s his favorite routine of theirs. He felt the chemistry was honest. I almost  compeletely agree (except I think their Broadway stuff is hands down their best). Nigel also felt honest emotion. Carmen agrees and felt the anger and the passion. Mary thinks their partnership has grown every single week. I have to admit, I’ve felt in the past that Clarice and Jess were clinging to the bottom, but this week has turned it around for me. Who knew?
 
Ashley was raised in the church. And her mom was the director of her dance program. And she loves to cook. Chris is from a huge Texas family of seven kids. He has severe dyslexia. Okay, okay, let’s get to the dancing. They’re doing a salsa routine by Liz Lira.
 
This wasn’t my favorite. Although Ashley was graceful (as usual) and Chris did an impressive job with the choreography (again, he’s really bringing it for a hip hop dancer), it seemed a little blah in the middle. Chris’ hips don’t move and the chemistry is missing. It started out strong but just… dissipated.
 
Travis says it didn’t pop. Chris tells him he’s mean. Carmen felt it was hesitant. But she thought it was okay. Mary thought it was weak. But she feels there were some things that were simmering. And yet, she thought there was some awkwardness. Just make your point and stop waffling, Mary. Nigel thinks they nailed the lifts, but thinks they lost it a bit.
 
She’s from Morgan Hill, California. Mia Michaels was/is her mentor. She did an episode of “House” with Mia recently. This is great, but she may not want to advertise this only because voters may not feel they need to vote for someone who’s hooked up with Mia and has gotten additional TV work. Ricky is from Miami, Florida. He loves the beach. He moved to Tampa and got into cheerleading. For some stupid reason, the producers choose to put scary music under this, as if he’s admitting to having a passion for bestiality or eating used diapers. What’s wrong with being a guy cheerleader? Whatever. They have a jazz routine by Chucky Klapow. It’s about two members of a cult of fashion who, um, die. Again with the death thing.
 
Oooh, they’re dancing to David Bowie! I like this already! And then, sadly, I don’t. I don’t love the choreography, honestly. I like the monster walk, but then the dance doesn’t evolve past that as much as I would like. But they’re fully committed. It’s a good monster walk. But I think Ryan and Ricky will survive because people will deem this fun, not amazing.
 
Carmen thought they rocked. She loved the energy and the music. Mary thought it was hot. She thought Ryan went full-tilt zombie. Nigel thought the zombie Zoolander routine suited them well. He loved the quirk. Travis thinks they killed it.
 
Caitlynn likes to go fishing and camping and snowboarding. Her dad works overseas. Mitchell’s dad died when he was three, and he’s been homeless. Okay, Mitchell wins for saddest back story. And of course, because we need to hear about Ashley wanting a cooking show and everyone else loving their boring suburban childhoods, we learn nothing more. Mandy Moore choreographs a routine for them about falling in love.  
 
WOW. Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. And I totally bought it. Best routine of the night by far. They get a standing ovation from the judges. Totally deserved.
 
Mary says it was her favorite number of the night. I so agree! Mary gets weepy. Mitchell is injured (is this the elbow injury still?) but he never let Caitlynn down. Nigel said the emotion in the routine grabbed everyone. The whole routine took his breath away. Best routine of the night. Travis agrees.
 
The girls do a dance that’s sort of femme fatale/slutty by my favorite, Ray Leeper. It’s fine, it’s good, but it isn’t the emotionally wrenching routine the boys put on. And the women are wearing garters. I wish the group dances wouldn’t be about making the women act and look like Pussycat Doll/Cabaret rejects.
 
So, this week was a little surprising. But a couple that’s been weak in the past – Ashley and Chris – is weak again. Still, I’m interested to see how Jess and Clarice fair going forward. This season, the top position is up for grabs every week – and it’s getting harder and harder to sort out who should go.
 
Do you think Ashley and Chris turned in the weakest performance? Who are you voting for? And what did you think of Carmen?