Before we could smother this year’s incarnation of America’s Favorite Dancer with flowers half the size of his or her body, the good people at SYTYCD regaled us with two hours worth of Judges’ Favorites, retrospectives on the season and Cat Deeley’s earnest one-on-one interviews with each of our Top 4 dancers. Though the content of Cat’s interviews didn’t prove to be quite as in-depth or illuminating as last year’s (in that there was no Katee moment in which Cat asked a dancer what was going through their mind when they announced to millions of viewers that if they didn’t make this year’s Top 20, they were going to stop dancing), but everything that makes us love Cat as a host is reflected in her interviewing style. The woman actually scratched her head and, I believe, cleaned her ear with her finger during her interview with Jeanine. For someone so imminently fashionable, I admire her complete lack of vanity. And I want to be her friend. (If only so I can borrow some of her clothing, even though she strangely decided to don what appeared to be one of those “towels you can wear” to the finale.)
The evening’s dance encores started out with a retooled version of Tyce DiOrio’s “Brand New Day” Broadway routine. Why retooled? Well, you see, it was originally choreographed for the Top 10, but they decided to add 10 more dancers and make it the only time the Top 20 would appear together in the finale. At first, I didn’t notice because the camerawork focused on our Top 4. It lingered on Kayla’s barely-there spangles, Jeanine’s mane of hair and even a little bit on Melissa’s ballet segment (even though she didn’t make the Top 4). But then I saw a really tall dude in the back and I thought, “Oh my God. They let Tony Belissimo join this number.” My question is this: what was wrong with the perfectly fine Shane Sparks routine to “Boom Boom Pow” that was intended to be danced by 20 dancers? No other Shane Sparks routine was performed that night, and yet another Tyce DiOrio routine was. Shane was even there, wearing a baby blue baseball cap and some stunna shades. Granted, of the hip-hop group numbers, I actually prefer TabNap’s “Seven Nation Army,” and they later had a routine on the show. Were they trying not to overrepresent each style of dance? That couldn’t have possibly been their goal as three of the judges’ picks were contemporary routines, and Mia’s A Chorus Line routine walks the line between contemporary and Broadway, so it would have easily filled the Broadway quotient alone. I don’t know, guys. I can’t figure it out. It’s not that I dislike “Brand New Day,” or even that I thought “Boom Boom Pow” was all that spectacular (it’s no “They’re Everywhere”). It’s simply that I do not understand the decision to rechoreograph a routine to include more dancers, rather than using the one that was originally intended to be danced by that number of people.
After that, we saw several judges’ favorite routines. Shankers asked for a repeat of TabNap’s “Mad” for Jeanine and the Chbeeb, which I like just as much as I did the first time, especially the spooning (or “schnoogeying,” if you’re Cat) at the end. Debbie Allen inexplicably wanted to see Asuka and Vitolio’s Louis Van Amstel waltz to Enya’s “Dreams Are More Precious,” which I assume was chosen simply to give them something to do in the finale. I don’t love that waltz, but it was the pair’s best work together. Miss Allen was right about that.
Mary requested to see Travis Wall’s completely fabulous contemporary routine for Jeanine and Jason set to Jason Mraz’s “If It Kills Me.” Watching that piece again, I am even more impressed by Travis Wall as a choreographer and the incredible grace and athleticism of Jeanine and Jason. Every lift in this dance is superb, and those two dancers just ooze the pent-up sexual tension the dance requires. Furthermore, there was something about the camera work this time that made the use of the prop necklace seem more necessary. Maybe it was having a little extra rehearsal time, as well, because not only did the two transition the necklace between each other more smoothly, but I simply felt like those movements were intended for the prop, rather than pantomime that was filled with something. It read better this time, and now I think I was wrong to say the piece could do without the prop. Isn’t it amazing how a little extra rehearsal can change your mind?
Mia picked the evening’s second Louis Van Amstel number, proving that these routines were not chosen at all with a view to letting each choreographer shine, but of the Van Amstel pieces we got to see again, this one was hands down my favorite. She invited Max and Kayla to perform their hot-pink, fringed, Hot Tamale Train Ticketing, smokin’ hot, showstopping samba from the first performance show of the season, and it was just as marvelous as it was when I first saw it. I’m glad someone gave Max his due, because that dude partners a lady like nobody’s business. But then again, I always root for the Russian. It was a tradition started with Artem that will continue every season hence.
Taking a break from so the dancers could set up for their next bit, Cat screened a little producer package for the Top 4 in which they were invited to see a private screening of this year’s SYTYCD-related movie, Fame, starring Kherington Payne! And Miss Debbie Allen! It comes out Sept. 25! Go see it! After some lip service to the great Debbie Allen, who just kind of IS Fame, Debbie made her second pick for the night, the super hot club salsa number for the Top 16, choreographed by another favorite Russian of mine, season 2’s Dmitry Chaplin and TabNap. Once again, I feel the need to reiterate that there’s something about Dima’s choreography that I think is very unique among the SYTYCD choreographers. His work always feels very big and bold, and I think that’s because he understands, first and foremost, that he is choreographing a stage show for a live audience. Some of the choreographers choreograph for a competition setting first, and think about how it will look on a performance stage, being filmed for TV later. I started noticing the difference in Dima’s work with last year’s Argentine tango for Chelsie and Joshua, and it really hit me with this club salsa number. Both of those things are so amazing that they’d fit right into a stage show about Latin dancing.
Tahlia Fowler, the winner of SYTYCD Australia, was invited to perform a solo routine choreographed by our own Sonya Tayeh (marking her only routine of the night) to “Shot You Down” by Audio Bulgs. Because Sonya’s style is so strong, I can’t really say much about Tahlia’s talents except that she danced a very Sonya routine very well. Following this, Lil C chose to see Nakhul’s “Jai Ho” routine for Caitlin and Jason, but strangely insisted on pronouncing it “Jay Ho” instead of “Jai Ho.” Naturally, C insisted his pronunciation was correct, a fact about which I’m not really sure. I can see why he’d think that, as the vowels in the song are elongated, which makes you hear them not quite as they are actually pronounced (this is why so many song lyrics are misunderstood: vowel lengthening), but I am relatively certain that with my degree in linguistics and my small knowledge of how Hindi vowels work, it is indeed pronounced “jai.” (In fact, listen to a native speaker pronounce it here and totally prove Lil C wrong.)
Finally, after eight routines, we were given our first taste of results. Things ended up being pretty much in line with the EW Predicitify SYTYCD game as my beloved Kayla was awarded fourth place to join the gallery of losers along with Travis, Danny and Will. America, I will never understand why you guys never latched on to this amazing dancer. I mean, she’s what you find under “girl,” “perfection,” and “star” in Mia Michaels magical cross-referencing dictionary. How can you not love a girl that’s cross-referenced? Kayla was immediately swathed in a bouquet of pink lilies and said some lovely parting words about how everyone who makes the Top 20 is a winner (except, probably, for those who don’t make the Top 10, in my opinion) that I’m sure made her dear old grandpa weep his weepy adorable man-tears. She then was practically shooed off the stage to make way for what I knew was coming from Evan’s costuming during the results line-up: Mia Michaels’ “butt dance,” chosen by Adam Shankman as his second pick of the night.
I realized during the butt dance that I think Mia and Sonya were the only two choreographers on the show who even bothered to give Evan a chance to fit into their work. I know it must be hard to envision a routine, not exactly knowing who you’re going to get (and I also have to assume that each season, the choreographers have several ideas and decide which ones to do each week when they see what dancers they’ll be working with), but the routines Evan took the hardest critiques in were always in ballroom routines, which are typically styles that are not very flexible in terms of bending to the dancers performing them. That’s not really the choreographer’s fault, but I’m convinced there are things that would have been possible to do in those routines that made him, and by extension the choreographers, look very good. He really shined in the butt dance, and in the Sonya pieces he was in. Maybe there’s just something very contemporary and jazzy about being a modern-day Gene Kelly? I don’t know, but in any case, it was great to see him hit that horizontal leap again here. J’adore.
But, and there is a but, just as swiftly as Kayla was dismissed with her pink flowers to usher on the butt dance, more results were dished out after the butt dance and our own Gene Kelly was awarded third place and a bouquet of yellow flowers that were actually about as tall as he is. I know that the show is about being America’s Favorite Dancer, and I really do like Evan and think that he is more talented in his own style than other people’s choreography allowed him to demonstrate, but after five seasons of this show, I have come to choose my favorites based on their versatility. Versatility here is key. In the first season, the final four were winner Nick, Melody, Ashlé and Jamile. I fucking hated Jamile. Why? Because that d-bag couldn’t do shit out of his own style. He only made it to the Top 4 because it was the first season, people didn’t know better then and he was a pretty great popper. However, I really resented his inclusion in the final four over other, more versatile dancers . . . like my beloved Artem, ousted in week five of that abbreviated eight-week season. Of the season 2 finalists (Benji, Heidi, Travis and Donyelle), I liked Heidi the least because I thought she was the least versatile, but I never hated her like I hated Jamile. In season three, the final four didn’t present a problem of a dancer lacking versatility, so I couldn’t hate anybody, although I was awfully tired of both Neil and Lacey by the end of the season. As for last year, the fact that Courtney made it to the Top 4 over the much more talented and versatile Chelsie Hightower was a constant thorn in my side. This year, I thought that Kayla, Brandon or Jeanine were all equally deserving of a win, and even though I do adore Evan as a person and as a dancer, I’d probably have been upset had he won because he simply hadn’t shown me the versatility that the other dancers in the Top 4 had. With all seriousness and respect to him, though, I want him and his brother to have their own stage show where they can show off their talents in a venue and manner conducive to their creativity. Surely, someone with money must also want this. I’d produce it myself, but I don’t really have the wherewithal to solicit money from people to fulfill my old-timey theatre daydreams.
With only two dancers remaining in contention for this year’s title, Nigel revealed his pick for a routine to see again: Mia Michaels’ addiction contemporary for Kayla and Kupono, set to Sara Barielles’ “Gravity.” I once again got some serious misty eyes and chills watching this piece, especially in the crescendo segment where Kupono starts throwing Kayla around. I already loved that song, and its single-take music video. But now associate it just as much with Kupono’s malicious sneer as I do with Sara Barielles herself walking toward the camera as the world, filled with lights, pulls away from her. Certainly, this was the most effective piece in the season for me, and it definitely goes on my list of all-time favorites.
Following this, the Rage Boyz Crew performed and I waited with eager anticipation to see them toss that little dude across the stage. I adore watching Cat interact with children, and I’m glad adolescent boys find that tall English glamazon attractive enough to paw at her, give her their sweet-ass jacket and allow her to be “in their crew.” I hope she has lots of adorable English babies someday, but I don’t know if I couldn’t handle that much cheeky cuteness.
Tyce asked for a repeat of Doriana Sanchez’s super-speed disco for Janette (whose name I’ve finally decided to spell correctly) and Brandon, followed by a repeat of Tyce’s cancer contemporary for Melissa and Ade, which took on special significance last night with the announcement that the friend for whom Tyce created that routine was officially cancer-free. The gang then repeated Mia’s A Chorus Line piece about the hellish work of being a professional dancer, with special hokey guest appearances from our jidges. I have to say it was mighty ballsy of Tyce to even appear in A Chorus Line-related number, given the fantastic ass he allegedly makes of himself in the documentary Every Little Step. (The documentary is about the casting of the most recent revival of ACL, from which Tyce was denied a role. I cannot wait to see it.) Brandon and Janette were then asked to repeat their final number from Wednesday night, Louis Van Amstel’s industrial goth Paso Doble and there, clad in vinyl, she and Brandon stood to find out which of them would be crowned America’s Favorite Dancer. The voters, it seemed, favored goofy, graceful and incredibly talented Jeanine, making her only the second female winner in five seasons.
I’m very happy with Jeanine as the winner, as she proved to me all season that she was an extremely talented dancer with a great personality. She was second only to Brandon as a soloist, and I think she’ll go very far. She’s said her alternate career is to be an actress, and I can only hope that someone (maybe someone named Rob Marshall!) will make a movie musical that will feature her in a dancing-acting role like the great ones once created for the likes of Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron and the fabulous Ann Miller. As for the rest of our Top 4, I have some unsolicited career advice for them, too. I’ve already mentioned my dream stage show plans for Evan, but I’d like to see Kayla find her place on the stage as well. I think she has a lot of opportunities ahead of her in a number of performance-related fields, but she’s a perfect choice for Ivy Smith if there’s ever an On the Town revival (and, yes, I think Evan would make a fine Gabey). As for Bradon Bryant, he needs to join Alvin Ailey’s dance troupe immediately. He is perfect for them. And barring that, even though he is not a ballet dancer, I’m sure Desmond Richardson’s company could find a way to utilize his grace and athleticism. I really wish all of these talented, talented kids well and hope that they have long careers ahead of them.
It’s been a blasty blast writing about dancey dance for you guys this season. (And, by the by, I officially beat every EW staffer and placed 129th out of 3535 players in the EW.com SYTYCD game. I will take these braging rights with me into my regular life and pretend they mean something.) I’ve hope I’ve provided you with commentary that is both insightful and, at times, irreverently funny. Thank you all for reading, and I hope you’ll join me again in the fall for season six!