When America gets it right, America gets it right. And this season has truly reaffirmed for me that what I tend to love about So You Think You Can Dance so much is that I often feel as though America gets it right with this show. This is rarely a show in which a contestant can coast by forever on just personality and a cute smile. I think it's a show in which personality and a cute smile will get you very far, but they can't and most often won't, get you all the way. This isn't a show where the majority of the contestants are so evenly matched that they might as well be interchangeable. And this isn't a show where it's difficult for the Audience to see the truth of a performance or a performer and to vote accordingly. To that end, just look at the ultimate fate of Rudy; no amount of the judges smoothing over his continued technical flaws was enough to allow him to make it as far as a lot of us were worried he'd make it. Some part of that, I think, has to do with the manner in which this show has risen America's general dance IQ to a point where we're capable of seeing past even the judges' weekly critiques, but another part of that simply owes to the way people have always viewed this show.
And so we reach the final elimination episode of the season before the finale and the crowning of America's favorite dancer. In honor of such an occasion, how about we look at each of our remaining 6 dancers' journey from the beginning until now? Or at least from the moment of the earliest competition episode, which is when I started my writeups anyway.
Ricky's been my favorite, and I think the Show's favorite as well, since his audition. He came kind of prepackaged for everything this show looks for in a dancer. He's an attractive young male (something the core demographic of teen girls just swoon for), with a bubbly personality and a heavy heaping of talent. Couple all of that with his precious story about following this show closely for the last 10 years and dreaming of the day he'd be on the stage, and he's the producers' wet dream. It's been a great decade for SYTYCD, and they've done a lot to affect the way this country views dance. Wouldn't it be the crowning achievement of this show to crown its first winner who's been around watching and following the show's progress since the very beginning when he was too young to compete?
In my first review, I pointed out that I thought Ricky would prove himself to be just as capable in other styles as he did in Sonya's emotional piece of that night. With a fun and exciting Bollywood number, and possibly the season's best Hip Hop number under his belt, I think we can say that that's been proven many times over. His performances this week are no exception. I pointed out last week that he might be the dancer who's danced within his element the most often over the course of the season. As if looking to eliminate that complaint, he's given Broadway and Cha Cha tonight. I do think his performances suffer a bit from just how good I know he can be. There wasn't anything spectacular in the Broadway number with Valerie, but I think that also has to do with how disappointed with Spencer Liff I've been all season. The Cha Cha was a much better number for him, but no matter what the judges said to the contrary, I couldn't take my eyes off of Anya, and I don't believe that he manhandled her nearly as much as everyone else claims. I think he was good within it, and he danced it very well, and I also think he looked a lot more at home within the style than you would have expected, but this was also one of the few times that I felt as though he was just overshadowed by his partner. I doubt this will be a problem going forward, and I still fully expect him to win, but I do think this point in the competition is an odd place to stumble.
Valerie was a contestant I felt had found her way into the top twenty because of the producers' desire for a second Tap dancer. I still think that the manner in which the series started, with everyone paired with a dancer in their own style, was a problematic choice which led, perhaps, to certain dancers being here that maybe shouldn't have been, and off and on during the competition, I've felt like Valerie was one of those dancers. She was slightly overshadowed by Zack in their first Tap performance so long ago, and it often felt like she was being carried by Ricky when they were partners. But that's to take nothing away from what were some spectacular moments for her. The Voodoo Doll Hip Hop routine she and Ricky did, and their Viennese Waltz come to mind.
But that doesn't mean that she necessarily deserves to have made it this far, and her performances tonight kind of prove that. I've already mentioned that I didn't think there was anything special about the Broadway number, but I'll take that a step farther and point out the amount of time spent at the beginning of the number where she's just sitting or standing on the swing while Ricky dances around her. There's also a moment in her Hip Hop number with tWitch where she's sitting and doing a few hand articulations while he does most of the dancing. It all carries with it a feel of the choreographers wanting to shunt her off to the side so they can feature her better partners a bit more. I think she proved in the Voodoo Doll number that she's far more capable of dancing Hip Hop than a lot of the other dancers this season, but that number blows this one out of the water in a lot of ways. But America loves her and she moves on to the finale, so there's really no point in complaining.
Jessica has had the roughest journey to reach this point of any contestant left. From having to dance for her life during callbacks and earning her spot on the show, she fell into a perfect routine with the season's strongest contestant. It was a way to set the bar higher than she'd honestly be capable of achieving for quite sometime thereafter. She was also beset by partner after partner in danger of going home. She was locked in a number of nonsensical performances with partners that just weren't going to make the cut, but to her credit, it took a long time before she found herself in danger of going home (lasting until the 10th episode before being in the bottom for the first time). This goes to show that America saw something in her that might not have been as obvious week after week.
But when it was time for her to shine, Jessica kicked the wattage up to a thousand. Her and Casey's Contemporary number in the 10th episode is the primary reason they're both still here this week. They were both in danger of going home then and they came out and gave it their all and danced with a passion and a level of chemistry the likes of which we hadn't seen from either of them in their previous partnerships. I commented that week that I was sad we didn't get to spend more time with them as a couple, and I will repeat that statement in the wake of their excellent Disco number from this week. This was Disco the likes of which we haven't seen all season, and it was outstanding! It was fast, fun and powerful, and Jessica was perfectly on display throughout all of it. Not so great was her Jazz number with Ade from later in the evening. I found all of that to be a hot mess from top to bottom and don't care to get into it, but after a rocky up and down journey, Jessica's done more than enough to prove that she deserves her spot in the finale.
Casey's road to this point was also a little rocky in places. His talent level has always been evident, but in a season where the boys were just so great from the word go, Casey often felt like the junior partner. He was constantly having to chase after the bar being set ever higher by Ricky, Zack, and Emilio. But from the moment he found himself in the bottom three after the first vote of the season, I think it was clear that Casey came to work. He fought during that episode to prove he deserved to stick around, and to his credit, he didn't find himself in the bottom again until the 10th episode, sparking the superb routine with Jessica. I'll admit to not having been wowed by many of Casey's numbers over the course of the season, but if there were an award for most improved dancer, I do think it would go to him. I think it's easy to see how Casey was overshadowed very often by the stronger guys, but when he needed to dig deep and bring out something in a performance that made him worth keeping around, he showed himself more than equal to the task.
This week saw something of an anomaly though: After a wonderfully spectacular Disco number, he was given a deeply emotional Contemporary number and I simply didn't feel it. I need to watch the routine again to see what I wasn't connecting with, and admittedly I was distracted by what I thought was a horrible wardrobe choice on him, but something about it just left me a little cold. Normally these kind of obvious tear-jerker Contemporary routines work like magic on me, but this one didn't have it. I'm a little gun shy to blame the dancing, as I thought it was danced well, but if not that, then what? Either way, I think it ended up being a little easy to see why Casey wasn't going to go any farther than this point in the competition. He was constantly fighting to show that he was capable of dancing up on the level set by Ricky and Zack, and in the end, it just wasn't going to be enough to allow him to outlast those two.
Zack was another contestant that burst out of the gate as an early favorite. Some part of that early on was of course the novelty that tends to come with having a Tapper on the show to begin with, but he quickly started to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with during callbacks. Every bit of feedback we heard him receive had to do with how amazing he was outside of his own style in each round of the competition. If there's a formula for non-Contemporary dancers on this show to do well, it's found in the ability to excel in other genres, and Zack has had that in spades. He's done African Jazz, Hip Hop, a great Paso Doble, and the single sexist Jazz routine in the history of the series. He dances outside of his element every single week, and he never fails to be perfectly entertaining each time. There's something about this show that demands a high level of technical skills, wonderful personality, and great performance/showmanship. Ricky might beat out Zack in technical skill, but Zack owns him in performance/showmanship. Luckily, they're fairly evenly matched in personality, so the upcoming finale with the two of them (the finale I've wanted for weeks and weeks now) should be a heavy weight boxing match of two perfectly matched opponents.
His performances this week did more that prove why he fully deserves to be in the finale; they also marked the first time this season that I honestly thought he might actually beat Ricky. The judges complain about the Foxtrot he does with Jacque, but I have to disagree with them. On the one hand, I fully agree with Mary's observations about the moments when the couple were in close hold; I expected the movement to be a little smoother too, but I also really didn't care. I was really happy to see these two together again, and I thought that their easy chemistry and great performing ability was more than enough to smooth out some of those performance wrinkles. I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the routine. And if that first routine had me grinning, his second number with Fik-Shun had my jaw on the ground. This was everything I had hoped it would be when I heard they were paired together last week and then some. How the judges didn't get off their asses and give this number a standing-o is beyond me. I can't even begin to talk about the dance critically because I was blown away by every aspect of it. Great concept, great choreography, great dancing from both of the performers. Zack kept up with Fik-Shun in a style that was more that just a straight up Hip Hop, this was hitting right where Fik-Shun lives, and yet Zack was there with him for every moment. Zack won the night with this performance (and also his great solo) as far as I'm concerned, and for the first time I found myself thinking that Ricky had really better watch out.
As a Ballerina, it could be said that Jacque started the competition with the deck stacked slightly against her. I think she quickly added a little distance between herself and the season's other Ballerina, Jourdan, and then she proved week after week why she deserved to be here with her spectacular routines with Zack. Every one of the routines I mentioned about Zack a couple paragraphs ago can equally be mentioned about Jacque. She was there with him the entire way, she was dancing just as much out side her comfort zone as he was, and the two of them worked hard to elevate one another. I knew she would soar when she was paired with the all stars, and I haven't been disappointed once. From her excellent Contemporary and Ballet fusion piece to the Hip Hop number she danced last week, she's more than proven herself as a strong contestant.
In fact, I think she's shown herself to be the girl to beat; which is why I'm surprised and saddened that she went home this week. I already said I thought her and Zack's Foxtrot was great, but I have to admit that I thought he Contemporary dance with Will was even better. I heard the concept and immediately thought there was no way for this to work, and then I was promptly proven wrong. The opening section with the ball was smooth and effortless in a fashion I never would have imagined. And the two of them fully embodied the youthful love that Cheesman was aiming for. I think Valerie is adorable, but I honestly think her spot in the top 4 belongs to Jacque.
And there you have it, the story thus far. Next week we get the performance finale, and the week after that will be the season finale and results show. I think it's really wonderful that Jessica and Valerie have made it this far, but I also think that anyone who doesn't recognize that this is a fight between Zack and Ricky at this point is fooling themselves. I hope we can figure out some way to keep score between the two of them next week, because while I think that Ricky's entire body of work shows how much he deserves to win the title, Zack has never been too far behind him and he's really emerged in these last couple weeks as someone who is more than capable of making a real push for the win.
--The opening number is very pretty, and it’s well danced. But I’m wondering if it doesn’t showcase the problem with not having a hip hop dancer at this stage in the competition? No one really wows me or knocks the routine out of the park, and I think that has a lot to do with the continued problems of Hip Hop being these guys’ weakest style.
--I didn't spend much time talking about the solos, because why should I? But I thought Ricky, Zack, and Jacque really did a fantastic job in that realm. I think Jacque's choice of wardrobe and music went a far way towards telling a story within a style that doesn't tend to tell much of a story in such a short amount of time. It was also cute and fun in a kind of fusion manner that put me back in mind of the Ballet/Contemporary number.
--I couldn't help but to think that Disco is really the style that Casey was made for. That 1000 watt smile of his really really shines in such a fun and fast routine. And he was a strength and composure that I don't think we've ever seen from him before. I was ridiculously impressed.
--I had a couple of problems with some isms in this episode. Namely the slightly sexist language surrounding Ricky and Anya's number and what I felt was an oddly racist bent to Jessica and Ade's number. Why exactly did that need to be set in Japan, and what was being said about Japan and Japanese clubs by way of that extreme wardrobe choice? It's always possible I'm a bit too sensitive to these things, but something about that didn't set well with me at all.
--What routines do you expect/hope to see again in 2 week's time? I usually love to guess, but my guesses often skew a bit towards the Contemporary and Jazz side of things. I'll take some time this weekend, maybe, and watch through all of the performances and then try to formulate a list, but it's a bit too late to do so now.
--Also, there's another check in from the AV Club on this week's episode. I love it that Sava and I don't necessarily have the same view on things.
--Also also, I forgot to draw attention to Philip Chbeeb. He's back in his first (hopefully of many) stint as a choreographer, but he's also the focal point of the New Ed Sheeran video, and I think we know how much I love Ed Sheeran, so this is awesome.