To make matters even better, it's a tribute episode done right; something I had very serious doubts this show was capable of. But the reason this tribute works is because they allowed the choreographers to be inspired by Jackson's music instead of simply trying to recreate specific dance performances or capture his signature style of movement. The Mia Michaels' episode could have been good (maybe) had they asked their choreographers to all create routines inspired by Mia, or dedicated to Mia, or maybe if they had just asked Mia to come up with 7 or 8 all new routines herself. OK maybe that last one would have been asking a bit much, but after her prolonged absence from the show, I think it's the least we deserve. But I digress. Here is an episode where the choreographers were allowed to come up with their own routines and the only requirement was that those routines be set to an MJ song.
This starts with the great opening number by Travis Payne set to "A Place with No Name." Allow me to take this moment to say if you are a Michael Jackson fan and you haven't checked out his new album of previously unreleased tracks, "Xscape" you should do so immediately. Because it's way better than posthumous work tends to be. With that being said, I enjoyed the opening number a lot. It was weird and futuristic in a fashion that, I felt, played up the timelessness of this particular artist. There was a feeling of Gone But Never Forgotten to the piece, as if his music will be remembered even when we've been replaced by weird metallic robot (or alien) things. Or at least that's how it felt to me, I could be totally wrong on that.
After that, Cat informs us that each of the dancers are dancing a solo because, why not? And to kick things off we get Tanisha. In the past, I've talked about the way "Ballroom relies too heavily on partnering to ever look great in solo," allow me now to eat those words because I thought Tanisha was wonderful. There was a fire and a passion to her movement that grabbed and held my attention the whole way through. I've mentioned before that she's the last of
Ricky and Jaime are next up with a Travis Wall Contemporary number set to "Smile" and there simply aren't enough synonyms for "great" for me to do this routine any real justice. There's a part of me that thinks it's worth noting that during this voting portion of the season, Ricky has danced either Contemporary or Jazz (which always looks enough like Contemporary to me to not really be able to tell the difference) 4 times. And that's excluding the group numbers he's been a part of in that style. In the show's defense, he has done Bollywood, Hip Hop, and a Waltz, but I do think the argument could be made at this point that maybe he hasn't been pushed as hard outside of his comfort zone as some of the other dancers have been. Zack for example who is out of his comfort zone every night. But I'm biased, and I love him, so I'm not going to complain about it. And when he dances as beautifully within his own style as he does, it's hard not to want to see him doing it night after night. Nothing takes away from the fact that this performance is breathtaking and those lifts are just to die for. Travis says in no uncertain terms that Ricky is just the guy to beat, and I couldn't agree with him more.
Zack's solo reaffirmed just how much I want a Zack/Ricky finale this season. Here's another place where I'll have to admit a bias: I love Tap. I know it isn't everyone's favorite, but there's a joy, a youthfulness, and a rhythm/musicality to it that I simply love. Zack's solo is fun, expansive, and energetic. He uses the stage in a fashion that's mesmerizing, and he reminds us just what he's capable of when he is in his element. In that sense, I feel the same way about Zack that I do about guys like Fikshun (with whom he'll be dancing next week, by the way. I'm giddy with excitement over that prospect!), which is they wow us week after week dancing outside of their style, but then blow us away when we get to see them cut loose with their solos. I love this kid, and his safety brings us one step closer to the final episode I crave!
Valarie and Ryan Samba to "Wanna be Startin' Somethin'" and it's one of those performances the judges love and I hate. I haven't had the time to watch it through again yet, but in the moment I felt no chemistry between the two of them at all, I thought the Samba Rolls looked sloppy as hell (really it just looked like Valarie's body wasn't capable of bending that way), and I found it all to be without passion. Ryan's strength was on display again, and that was fun to watch, but I didn't feel any connection to this performance. Mary, however, loved it and knows more about this sort of stuff than I do, so I guess we'll defer to her. Either way, Valarie gets the news that after her hot mess of a performance with Ade last week, she's still safe and that put me on pins and needles. I thought for sure it was her time to go, but her safety puts someone else in danger of going home, and that's just a bit sad to me.
Casey dances his solo next and..... OK I guess. It was cute, it was danced well, we all know that boy can spin, but there felt like an odd disconnect here between his movements and the intentionality of the music. It was on tempo and everything, but there were times when he had a seeming force or even anger that I didn't think the music called for. All of it felt a little odd at the end of the day.
But even with that being the case it's still heads and shoulders above Rudy's solo. I honestly laughed during the entirety of this dance. Everything about it shouted "Hey look at me! Look at how manly and masculine I am! Be impressed!" And in so doing, it felt like a little prepubescent boy flexing in a mirror to try and convince himself his manly physique was coming in properly. The sad part about the facade here is that its obviously falseness shines through in the quality of the movement. His jumps don't feel like they get much height to them, we know he's not as physically strong as some of the other dances by just looking at his lifts (the one single arm that I loved withstanding), and nothing about him screams manly man at all. Or at least it doesn't to me. So as he jumps and struts around on stage and I'm left thinking, wait til they drop, kiddo, and then try it again.
Casey and Comfort dance a Pharside and Phoenix Hip Hop number set to "Xscape." I honestly don't want to take anything away from Casey on this number. I thought his movement was sharp and he hit really hard. He could have gotten down in the pocket a little lower, and I never really felt the "He wants her but knows he shouldn’t have her” story elements that were supposed to be there, but other than that I thought it was a performance that certainly showed, as Nigel points out, just how much better he's been getting over these weeks. My real problem with the routine is the feeling that Pharside and Phoenix choreographed it more for Comfort than they did for Casey. I felt like she was more in the forefront, and there were a number of times that Casey seemed to be just on the ground or in the back waiting for her finish up or to come to him and bring him into the number more. Comfort is amazing, and I fully understand the desire to create a piece just for her, but this competition has to be about the competitors and not the All Stars, and I feel like the number more so than the dancers did a disservice to that. It's revealed that Casey's in the bottom two, which I don't think surprised anyone really.
Jacque's solo is beautiful and I couldn't take my eyes off of it. That's really all I have to say about that. I also don't have much to say about Tanisha and Nick's Contemporary routine set to "She’s Out of my Life." I will say that I think this is the sexiest we've ever seen Nick. That five o'clock shadow is doing wonders for him as far as I'm concerned. But I didn't feel like there was much to latch onto in the choreography. It was danced brilliantly, and I think Tanisha effortlessly keeps up with Nick, but the number didn't really stick to my bones. This, however, was totally Stacey Tookey's fault in my opinion. Tanisha's the first girl in the bottom and I can't help but to feel she got the spot that should have went to Valerie. I've been thinking she's probably the best girl in the competition for awhile now, and her dance last week with Ryan was out of this world sexy, but oh well I guess.
Jessica gets a solo that felt oddly desperate to me. We know she's good in her own style, and she certainly danced well, but there was just an element to it that left me feeling a bit out of place. And then Rudy and Allison get a Jazz number set to "Dirty Diana" which gains them the most undeserved standing ovation from the judges in the history of the show. I'm so over the judges' continued fallateing of Rudy, but I've also said all there is to say on this point. He's revealed as being in the bottom two finally, and so American at least got one thing right and ensured Zack would be safe after his phenomenal performance last week.
I'm tempted to jump right into the results after that, but Valerie danced a solo that proves why Zack is the only Tapper this show needs. And then Zack and Makenzie tackle a Broadway routine to "The Way You Make Me Feel." It wasn't a highlight for Zack to be sure. They two of them weren't as in sync as they probably should have been, and I don't know that they had quite as much chemistry as they could have had, but it was still a routine that was danced well. I also think Spencer Liff has just kind of been off this season in general as none of his routines have been real standouts, but he did make it a point to mention how professional Zack is. Between this compliment and Travis calling Ricky the dancer to beat, I'm starting to think the choreographers agree with me about which two performers deserve to be moving forward.
Ricky's got the last solo of the day, and just when I was starting to think that I'd seen everything there was to see from Contemporary solos, Ricky jumps and lands in a controlled split that's simply to die for. This one trick is the wow factor that's missing from Casey and Rudy's solos. His body control is really unparalleled, and he's got skill and personality and he's just generally amazing.
Jacque and tWitch dance a Hip Hop routine to "Slave to the Rhythm." I've praised Jacque in the past for her outstanding performance ability. She and Zack threw themselves into each character and each story they were given, and this wasn't any different. She embodied the character well, even though we were never really told who the character or what the story was. What I found to be less believable was her dancing. She still feels like a Ballerina stuck in a Hip Hop number to me. She's not low enough in the pocket, she isn't hitting hard enough, and there was something about the entire number that felt as though tWitch was labored and bogged down by a lesser partner. In an odd move, Jacque joins Tanisha in the bottom two. I'm left wondering if this is again because the girls are back to just being interchangeable really? Jessica and Valerie are clearly the two weakest girls in this mix, and that's even taking into consideration Jessica's recent surge to the top, but they're both safe.
Speaking of Jessica, I thought her Contemporary routine set to "Earth Song" was good, but by no means standing ovation worthy. Jessica continues to the trend of dancing up (or down) to her partner's level and easily keeps up with Will, but I didn't think this performance was remarkably memorable in the long run.
Which brings us to the results. Cat calls Rudy and Tanisha to step forward, everyone takes a deep breath, and then she reveals that they are.....going home. And I cheered. Sad though I am for Tanisha's early exit, it was starting to look like a Rudy/Ricky face-off for the finale was inevitable, and I can't help but to be overjoyed that we've avoided that. I don't think this is always the case for this show, but one of the reasons why I've continued to watch it over the years is because the way talent more often wins out over personality. Or at least a strong combination of talent and personality are needed from the winners. In the end, more often than not, I think the truth will out on this show, and no amount of the judges' slurping was enough to keep Rudy around indefinitely. In the end, his fans weren't strong enough to help him out last more talented performers (except Emilio. Poor Emilio). The results for the girls are more confusing at this stage, but I also find them to be more inconsequential. It's been obvious that the boys are stronger this year from the very beginning, so the chances of one of the ladies swooping in and stealing the win from Ricky is highly improbable. Rudy might have seemed to be the biggest competition to Ricky's eventual glory, but now that he's gone, I don't think we've got much of anything to really worry about. There should just be some great dancing and a happy finish in the weeks to come.
--I generally never vote for this show. There's no specific reason behind that, I just don't. But I'm so dead set on getting a Ricky/Zack finale that I actually did vote last night. I split my 20 votes equally between Ricky and Zack, and I'm honestly hoping this pays off.
--How poetic would it have been had Rudy and Jacque been voted off in the same episode? Am I the only who found the prospect of that funny?
--From the moment Justin Bieber was revealed to be involved with the dance crew element of this season, I knew it would be pointless, but even I'm surprised by just how pointless it has been. I think if the show wants to spice things up by adding dance crews to the competition, then that could be something to explore, but I don't know how they'd do so without sacrificing something. I was thinking earlier on that the dance crews would show up weekly and compete against each other, maybe get a couple numbers a night in some sort of bracketing system with the crew getting the most votes advancing week after week until there were only two left before the finale. Then we could crown America's favorite dancer and America's favorite dance crew in the same night. That would at least be interesting and give me a reason to actually pay attention during these performances, but I doubt the show has enough time week after week to do all of those things. But if this is something they're going to continue doing in the seasons to come, I'd like to see them integrate it into the show and the competition as a whole better.