We’re down to the final sixteen, and I’m curious to see how everyone performs after the bloodbath of last week. While I had started to think the season 8 dancers were so flawless it would be impossible to pick anyone off, last week showed some flaws (albeit minor ones). Though I still believe this is probably the strongest cast yet on the show, I’m hoping we’ll get at least a glimmer of a clue as to which dancers deserve to go home – not that that makes it any easier to watch.

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy and Lil’ C are joined by guest judge Kristen Chenowith. I have high hopes for Kristen, but I had high hopes for Debbie Reynolds, so I’m just going to take a wait-and-see approach to guest judges from now on. Oh, and Lil’ C is working on a rap album. I guess he needs a plug since Kristen is plugging her country album.
 
We kick things off with a group dance by Tyce Diorio featuring Miranda, Clarice, Ryan, Sasha, Marko, Chris, Tadd and Mitchell. It’s a battle of the beasts! Boys versus girls! I’m wondering if maybe we shouldn’t beat this theme over the head, as I think people are getting too invested in the idea that this season is going to the girls. I mean, it’s probably true, but there are some great guys on the show, too, people.
 
Sasha and Alexander
Cat informs us that each dancer will discuss their first ever performance to give us an excuse to see baby pictures. Well, at least she’s honest. Sasha was a tomboy who played a frog in Thumbelina. And now she hates frogs. Alexander had to wear bowties and first danced in a tribute to “The Lion King.” They’ll be dancing to a contemporary Dee Caspary routine. Sasha will be a memory of what Alexander lost. Dee says they need to tap into their souls.
 
Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Sasha brings incredible heart to every move she makes – you can literally see the emotion in her back, her arms, her legs. Even her hands, which are the only thing you see of her at the end of the dance, are practically clawing for connection to Alexander. The problem is, unfortunately, Alexander. He’s an excellent dancer, don’t get me wrong, but he seems frozen emotionally. The acting part is throwing him.
 
Nigel loves Dee’s idea. He thinks Sasha is a beautiful princess and he says Alexander needs to work on connecting to the audience. Mary loved the concept and she thinks the couple pulled it off. But she thinks Alexander needs to dig deeper. Oh, and Sasha will never have to be a frog again. She loves her stage presence and power. Kristen tells Sasha she’s amazing and she thought Alexander brought the acting. She loves everything! And everyone! Lil’ C thinks they’re the perfect representation of the mellifluousness of the piano keys. Fifty cent word alert! Alexander tries to lick Sasha. Okay, Alexander, save it for the floor.
 
Caitlynn and Mitchell
More baby photos. Caitlynn was a tomboy and she did the duck dance for her first performance. Mitchell was Leroy in “Fame.” He was a late bloomer since he was sixteen when he first started dancing, so no embarrassingly cute kiddy video of him shaking his groove thing. They’ll be doing a samba by Jean-Marc Genereux.
 
Did they miss a beat near the beginning of the routine? Minor quibble, though, because they nailed it otherwise. Caitlynn really has the moves down, and Mitchell, big props to him. He just looks natural and relaxed and yet his posture is perfect, which isn’t easy with a samba. These guys are on point. Loved it.
 
Mary thought it was spectacular. She loved Caitlynn’s leg and foot action, and she thought Mitchell nailed it. She deems them hot tamales. Kristen says shut the front door. And the garage. And their legs, and then they open them. Kristen is cute and funny, and that’s good enough for a guest judge, really. Lil’ C needs them to turn down the bass on those ballroom buttons. And they murdered it. Nigel says Jean-Marc exposed Mitchell’s strengths in the samba and calls him the Chris Rock of dance. Wha? I guess that’s a good thing, though. He says Caitlynn is terrific.
 
Miranda and Robert
 
Miranda decided she was getting married in kindergarten. Her first performance was as a little pink tapdancer. Cute! Robert always liked to play characters. Like Michael Jackson. That’s more of an imitation of a real person than playing a character, but okay. They’ll be dancing a Broadway number by Tyce. She’s a prostitute, he’s a musician. So, something family friendly for the kids.
 
I’m not sure about the partnering here. Some of the connections look shaky and I’d like to see more sharpness. That being said, it’s a very good performance. I like Robert and Miranda as a couple, though I suspect they’re underdogs in this competition.
 
Kristen has no suggestions on how to improve. She wasn’t sure about them in rehearsal, but she bought it completely tonight. She loved it! Lil’ C is awed by Miranda. With legs like hers, who needs arms? He thinks she’s metamorphosizing the most. He tells Robert the planets were in alignment when he was born. Lil' C says the darndest things, but at least he's enthusiastic. Nigel thinks Miranda’s the most improved dancer so far, and he gives Robert props for doing so well as a hip-hop dancer. He’s shocked they almost went home, and thinks they’ve more than delivered. Mary thinks Miranda has completely transformed and she says Robert is on fire.
 
Melanie and Marko

Melanie wore a Little Bo Peep costume for her first performance. Marko was a rotten kid until he got into dance class. He danced jazz and hip hop for his first show. They’ll be doing a hip-hop routine by Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo. Melanie is going to have to catch Marko. She can do it, I have no doubt.
 
Melanie and Marko may be my favorite couple on the show, I have to admit. While there are great individual dancers, Melanie and Marko are possibly even better together. They’re both emotional, perfectly in sync and there’s so much nuance in every performance – not only do they get the moves right, they add to them. These two have yet to screw up, if you ask me, and I don’t foresee that day coming, either.
 
Lil’ C calls them limited edition Swiss army knives. The connection was so crisp, so clean, so beefy. Yes, he said beefy. Ick. Nigel can’t judge them individually because their hearts beat together and they’re a power couple. He says they’re the couple to beat. I totally agree. Mary says they knock out a special performance every single week. She asks them about the kiss in the middle of their performance, and Nigel decides to be cute and kisses Mary. And she screams. So does Cat, who declares it gross. She basically reacts as if she saw her parents kissing, which kind of makes sense, really. Kristen seemingly gets it together and tells Melanie and Marko that they’re the epitome of a language she understands. She’s moved and touched. So she kisses Lil’ C. Then Nigel hugs Lil’ C. It’s happy, huggy, kissy chaos!
 
 
Ashley and Chris
 
For her first performance, Ashley wore a red tutu and pushed a shopping cart. Chris has six siblings and there was a lot of love. His first performance was a reading of poetry.  Okay, let’s move along. A kid standing and reading isn’t the cutest kid video ever. They have a jazz dance with Sonya. Chris is terrified because Sonya Tayeh will kick his butt. Sonya wants Ashley and Chris to be creepy dead zombies.
 
I want to like this more than I do. Sonya always does amazing choreography, but the music doesn’t quite mesh with the routine (although I do like the song). It’s slinky and perhaps too subtle for zombie dancing, and I think it saps a little energy out of some of the moves. Again, I feel like Ashley is occasionally too graceful (yes, too graceful) for the dance. Although she nails so much of it, there are a couple of moves that would benefit from some torque and, yes, awkwardness to convey the raw power we usually see in Sonya’s work. Chris is good, but I didn’t feel creepiness in his performance (or Ashley’s, for that matter). I don’t think this routine was a good fit for them.
 
Nigel didn’t like the music and felt they were concentrating on steps instead of character. Mary thought it was clean and sharp. Kristen doesn’t mean to be the Paula Abdul of “SYTYCD” but she thought it was great, and she says Ashley is one of her favorites. Lil’ C says Ashley is the sleeper cell of the competition and Chris is buckness.
 
Clarice and Jess
 
Clarice loved to dance whenever she heard music. And her first performance was when she was two and a half. Jess’ nickname was Jess the Mess. Hmm, wouldn’t say that on national television, hon. And for his first performance, he waved at his mom from the stage. Okay, that’s cute. He and Clarice will be doing a foxtrot by Jean-Marc. First foxtrot of the season!
 
Jess seems to be slightly annoying in the interviews, but then he dances Broadway. While last week I was underwhelmed, this week I’m loving this routine. But I can’t help but think that Jess only really shines when he pulls Broadway out of the hat. Clarice is a strong, beautiful dancer, but she doesn’t really grab me.
 
Mary says they foxtrotted the way you’re supposed to. Mary doesn’t think another dancer could have done what Jess did. And Clarice was good, too. Kristen says it was her favorite performance of the night. Lil’ C says they put a face on the smile of his heart. Huh? But he says Jess is a phenom, so it’s all good. Nigel thinks Clarice’s dress is pretty. Oh, and her dancing was good, too. He also thought Jess is a master of Broadway.
 
Ryan and Ricky
 
Ricky spaced out in his first competition and performed his friend’s choreography. Ryan performed in a bunny costume. They’ll be doing a Sonya contemporary routine about emotional ties and love. Ryan has never been in love, but she has a lot of pain about that, so she’s going to tap into that. Ricky is going to think about his father leaving the family.
 
I love the choreography, and I was hoping Ryan would disprove my initial feeling that she’s not delivering emotionally. But… not so much. While she doesn’t grin like a mannequin through this routine, she seems to be focused on not smiling as opposed to communicating anything else. Ricky, however, is committed. It’s a strong routine, and all the moves are there, but I’m not feeling it.
 
Kristen thought it was amazing. She loved Ricky’s turnout and thinks Ryan is a beautiful dancer. Lil’ C thinks they’re a power couple who murder every week. Lil’ C says Sonya was inspired by a relationship with her father. He tells Ryan she delivered and thought Ricky was incredible. Mary thought they came prepared.
 
Jordan and Tadd
 
Jordan growled at people as a little girl. Oh, how… cute? Her first dance was to “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls. Tadd had a typical Asian nerd haircut. His words, not mine. They’ll be doing a NappyTabs hip hop routine. Jordan is completely embarrassed to be dancing a dance where she wakes up in bed with a guy. She sleeps with Pillow Pets!
 
This is actually cute, though it may not be the strongest dance of the night. But Jordan is fully committed, Tadd does some fairly amazing things (the way he pulls on his pants and the way they trade a sweatshirt is worth some kind of prize) and it’s a very watchable, fun routine. Jordan brings it, and of course this is Tadd’s wheelhouse. Fun.
 
Lil’ C says they need to dance through the movement, but he loved it. Nigel liked it because it brought back so many memories. But he felt the story overwhelmed the dance, but it was great fun. Mary thinks they were both wonderful. Kristen says shut the front door.
 
It’s a contemporary routine for the second group routine, but it’s medieval and all about the girls poisoning the guys.  Sigh. I’m serious, we need to stop with the girls being beasts thing. What’s with the music tonight? Pretty song, but it’s not exactly dance material. That being said, nice work by Melanie, Ricky, Jordan, Alexander, Jess, Ashley, Robert and Caitlynn.
 
Tonight was still exceptionally strong, but I do think we’re starting to see the weaknesses some dancers still need to work on. That being said, there are so many strong, solid dancers (Melanie, Marko, Sasha, Caitlynn and Mitchell, just to name a few), I’m not sure if anyone can afford to be less than incredible each week.
 
Who are you voting for? Who do you think is going home? And what did you think of the massive judge kiss-a-thon?