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‘So You Think You Can Dance’ gets interesting

For weeks, the near constant refrain on this season of “So You Think You Can Dance” has been: Solid dancers, boring dancing. Until now.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

For weeks, the near constant refrain on this season of “So You Think You Can Dance” has been: Solid dancers, boring dancing. Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but last night it just! got! interesting!

At least three Routines For The Ages. The return of Melanie LaBetteMidler. Another sighting of Kayla's adorable grandparents. The (slight) redemption of the Chbeeb. A fabulously flapper-tastic Cat Deeley. And while the judges practically handed Caitlin and Jason their walking papers, the duo steadfastly refused to go quietly into the night, putting (slightly) into doubt the fate of Randi, Evan, Melissa, Ade, Kayla and Kupono.

Even guest judge Tyce Diorio managed to not be irredeemably obnoxious — although that had more to do with the second routine for the top six couples cutting down the screen time for all the judges than anything actually uttered by Tyce, who squeezed his own rhetorical orange dry so he could offer such pulpy insights as ''push it further'' and ''you need to find more'' and ''take it further.'' Snaps to you, Tyce, snaps to you.

So let's do it to it, shall we, breaking down each couple's two routines in order of when they first appeared.

Melissa and Ade If this had been the first disco we'd seen this season, I think I'd be a bit more enthused about Melissa & Ade spin-cycle hoofing, but, alas, it felt instead like a watered down version of Janette and Brandon's scorched-floor disco on Top 18 week. Still, that's some strong '70s juice those two were serving, between Ade's sweaty strength and Melissa's trick-jointed hips. Unfortunately, the easy rhythm Ade brought to the disco escaped him for their waltz, which fell instead within Melissa's elegant comfort zone. While I'm not sure if anyone's ever done a waltz to Mary J. Blige before, I worry that the combination of that low-impact routine and their first-in-the-show performance slot will end up sliding this immensely likable couple into their very first bottom three berth.

Kayla and KuponoLast week, Mia Michaels chided Vitolio's unpredictability; this week, I'd have to leave that note at Kupono's feet. In the first half of the show, the in-his-own-world Hawaiian finally connected, nakedly revealing just how wrenching it was for him to embody addiction in Mia Michaels' staggeringly contemporary routine, and then delivering by far his best, most stunning and haunting work of the season. (That smirk of his alone will linger with me for days.)

But when it came time for the guy to be a New York street-tough finding love-at-first-sight in one of the most well-known dance sequences of the 20th century — i.e. the gym scene from “West Side Story” — Kupono came off instead like a Connecticut tennis club pro who kinda sorta has a crush on the girl playing in the court next to his. Consistency, sir.

Kayla, meanwhile, did not deserve Nigel's knock about her hair obscuring her face during Mia's routine. If anything, the fact that at times we only got brief, aching glimpses of her make-up free face made the routine all the more powerful. I don't know if I've ever seen two dancers throw themselves so deeply into a “SYTYCD” routine, let alone a “SYTYCD” routine that so expertly explored a subject as unrelentingly hard as addiction, and I suspect it was that very rawness that muted the judges from their usual paroxysms of praise.

Because, really, this was one humdinger of a performance all way 'round, lifted as much by Kayla's commitment as Kupono's. Unlike Kupono, however, Kayla still had enough left to give her second performance at least a semblance of sparkle and authentic feeling. Still, if there's any justice, the strength of their first routine, one of the absolute best this season, should keep these two safe, but last week their best-of-the-night routine was half as dark and they got bottom three'd, so who knows?

Caitlin and JasonI may have picked these two to go home in the “SYTYCD” Prediction Challenge, but I actually think they may have a chance of escaping the bottom three altogether. True, their foxtrot was bland, with some stilted movements and a bumpy final lift, doubly disappointing given that it brought us the well overdue return of Melanie ''Love Child of Patti LuPone and Bette Midler'' LaPatin, just with almost no actual spoken sass from LaPatin at all. B

ut that lyrical jazz number by Mandy Moore is a horse of a different color altogether. It may have lacked an overt story, but it was indeed a kitchen sink number filled with some fabulous showcase moments for both its dancers, and Caitlin and Jason took full advantage of it. That is, if anyone noticed the dancing, what with Jason's always welcome shirtlessness and all, a failsafe way to get those newly hormonal tweens a-textin' and a-dialin'.

Of course, it was also abundantly clear that the couple had giant targets on their backs in the eyes of the judges, who painted both routines with faint praise so as not to inflame the sympathy vote but studiously avoided any kind of ''prediction'' of seeing the couple in the top 10, an otherwise quite common comment for the other couples, and quite disingenuous, too, given that the judges themselves still decide who goes home. If these two don't land in the bottom three, look for Nigel and Mary to fall into conniptions that two of their predetermined favorites won't be making the tour.

Jeanine and the Chbeeb
The judges appeared relieved that the Chbeeb finally showed some appreciable non-awfulness in styles that were not his own, giving them at least a semblance of an excuse to save him should he and Jeanine land in the bottom three again. I don't think they have to worry, though, and not because of the Chbeeb, who certainly loosened up but also stumbled during the jive both figuratively and literally.

Nope, Jeanine did almost all the heavy lifting last night, causing many (including myself) to perk up and really take notice of her for the first time. O.K., she did pop on my radar last week, but between her surprising skill during the Russian folk dance and her effortless joie de vivre in their jive, I put her easy in the top three women on the show, a distinction I wouldn't have even thought to make just two weeks ago.

And about that Russian folk dance: Yeah, Nigel was kinda rude to so flippantly diss an entire culture's folk heritage and the first-time choreographers he himself most likely recruited to work on the show. But that doesn't make him exactly wrong about the silliness of that particular routine, either.

Randi and Evan
While the Chbeeb is the biggest disappointment for some “SYTYCD” fans, Evan's the dancer who's most underwhelmed me this season. He's just too damn nice, too stuck in his gee-gaw 1940s stylings to ever find that grit Tyce was so rightly urging him to seek.

That didn't so much matter in the NapTab hip-hop, which could've been about a polite couple from Columbus, Ohio who get hitched after the girlfriend gets accidentally preggers. But that still doesn't excuse how sloppy the routine got after Evan proposed, especially those unpolished arm loops over Randi's body. And then, woof, that samba! Nigel was right, Evan is and never could be a hot samba king, and his utter lack of sexy panache was such a drag on their routine, it was easily my least favorite of the night.

Randi wasn't much of a help, either. She started the evening so well, too, attacking the NapTab hip-hop with a down-with-it ease I never would've expected from the sunny aspiring elementary school teacher. But just as Evan is incapable of conjuring the spirit of whatever cologne-soaked lothario usually wears a black sheer shirt with a plunging neckline and an inexplicable leopard-print band across the shoulder, Randi too looked jarringly out of place in an outfit whose most glaring feature was ragged, multi-color fringe dangling off her right boob that made it look like some kind of Rastafarian jellyfish. If these two aren't in the bottom three, then Evan's popularity is far more potent than he currently deserves.

Janette and BrandonOkay, it's official, mark the date: I'm calling this season for Janette. A winning presence in the rehearsal interviews, she has yet to deliver anything short of holy-effing-heck-that-was-awesome performances this season, and that's not just because she's had Mr. Incredible as her partner.

One need only watch that Argentine tango to see that Brandon isn't quite All That; Nigel may have thought it close to perfection, but I detected a stiffness and reticence in Brandon that's never once crept into Janette's performances when she's well out of her comfort zone. Not to knock Brandon, really, since his job in the tango is simply to make his partner look good, and [in a sudden burst of elongated screeching so singular to Mary Murphy] sheeeee looooooooked GOOOOOOOD, yesssssss sheeeeee DIIIIIIIIID!!!!!!!!

Besides, both Brandon and Janette absolutely killed in the Wade Robson routine, which was so unabashedly fun, so filled with invention and verve, I've lost count of the number of times I've re-watched it. Did you see how far of a drop that was for Brandon leaping over that first railing? Did you love those crazy point-and-kicks, sly ankle turns, and arms akimbo gumby twirls? Did you hear that wicked Róisín Murphy song that seemed written purely so Wade Robson could set dance to it?

Wade's fluid staccato steps are truly one-of-a-kind, and with lesser dancers the choreography could easily be the star, but these two managed to match the movement and then some. In a season parched of real Memorable Moments, this was like drinking liquid awesome.

To sum up, my grades for the evening…

Melissa & Ade Disco: B+ Waltz: B

Kayla & Kupono
Contemporary: A Broadway: B-

Caitlin & Jason
Foxtrot: B Lyrical jazz: A-

Jeanine & the Chbeeb Russian folk dance: B Jive: B

Randi & Evan Hip-hop: B Samba: C

Janette & Brandon Argentine Tango: A- Jazz: A

Do you agree? Did Caitlin and Jason do enough to make it to the Top 10 tour? Who's in your bottom three? Did you chuckle to yourself after Mary said she was trying to contain herself after Janette and Brandon's Argentine tango? Have you ever missed someone's clammy hands? Were you slightly horrified to see that Kayla's adorable grandparents were in the studio to witness her descent into addiction? And which would you prefer, an English muffin á la Nigel, or a Brooklyn brownie á la Tyce? Or is that a trick question?