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‘SYT’ dancers get last chance to shine

The final four each take the stage five times as they stake their claims to the season 5 crown
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

You heard it as well as I did, folks. A mob of die-hard “So You Think You Can Dance” fanatics packed well up into the rafters of the Kodak Theater for last night's performance finale, and all ... wait ... what was the number of people that Cat Deeley, and Adam Shankman, and Mary Murphy each repeated over and over again?

Well, anytoots, there were oodles of them, and they made quite clear which of the final four dancers they were pulling for the most: ''Eh-van! Eh-van! Eh-van!'' Ah Evan. Sweet, charming, incredibly popular, way out-of-his-league Evan. I mean, I get it. He's the only dancer who's never been in the bottom three or two, and as such is, apparently, invincible. That was evident just in the way the judges made it their mission to bleed him dry with a thousand back-handed compliments (and a few outright gut shots), hoping that they could somehow suppress his astronomic, tween-girls-who-lose-their-bloomin'-brains-over-nonthreatening-sweet-and-kitteny-boys voting bloc.

The only way Evan could make himself more enticing for his power-texting fan base is if he admitted that his pasty complexion was due to the fact that he's secretly a member of the Cullen clan. (Today's gratuitous Twilight reference was brought to you by the Twitter hashtag #ABV-is-curious-to-see-if-he-can-get-the-SYTYCD-comment-board-above-2,000-messages.)

And yet, there is one dancer who stands a surprisingly strong chance of derailing the Evan bullet train (which evidently has plowed right through the Hot Tamale Train, as it made nary a screeching chug-a-chug at all last night). Thanks in small part to some subtle producer-pimping and not-so-subtle judge-pimping, and in large part to the fact that her solo pretty much stole the show, Jeanine may pull off the biggest come-from-behind upset in “SYTYCD” history.

Before I get to why, however, I gotta pause for a sec for a quick Cat Deeley intervention. Cat, sweetums, love the hair, love the giddy excitement at standing in the Kodak Theater, love the guff you threw back at the judges for picking on Evan (because, really, who doesn't love them some Cat Deeley guff?), love the eleventy-inch heels. But the next time you need a place to stash your hair clips overnight, I'd suggest not clasping them to the front of your ritzy frocks. And if you simply must do so, then I'd suggest perhaps not waiting to remove said hair clips until right before you walk on stage. For one thing, you'll save a bundle on steam cleaning bills.

First dance was the bestOkay, back to the show, which, like every “SYTYCD”  performance finale, was as much an endurance test as it was a dancing competition. With each dancer on stage five separate times, it's no wonder that my favorite dance of the night was the very first, Wade Robson's football-players-and-saucy-cheerleaders group number.

All the dancers were loose, full of energy, and obviously having a blast, from the rehearsals — how cool is it that Wade can not only dance his own numbers, but that he does it wearing what appears to be your standard pair of men's jeans? — to the performance itself. Even though Evan was undeniably out-danced in it (a trend that continued throughout the show), he still managed to shine and impress even cold-hearted, callous me. Also, as we learned later, it was his gramma who covered her ears as the Kodak roared its approval at the end, introducing a nice new angle to this season's Adorable Grandparents motif.

I'm not sure what to say about Jeanine and Evan's Sonya Tayeh piece, since I don't really remember much about it other than that the pre-performance video package began the methodical campaign to make Jeanine come off as the most easy-going, funny, and likable of the final four dancers.

I recall thinking the moment when Jeanine pushed Evan to the floor looked like she really did push him down, but otherwise the routine was a meh mélange of Sonya Tayeh-ness that only helped to emphasize Evan's, um, shortcomings. As a dancer, I mean. Okay, cheap shot, but you gotta wonder what kind of challenge it was for the choreographers to design routines knowing that either male dancer was going to be either as tall or a bit shorter than his female partner.

It's just that Brandon has done a much better job of making himself appear taller than he actually is, which is why his terrible self-esteem remains so inexplicable to me. Maybe Mia Michaels really got to him, or maybe he's that gutted by getting cut from the Top 20 in season 4, a detail the producers neglected to include in Brandon's interview with Cat, saving that particular sympathy card for Evan.

Whatever the reason, I shared the bumfuzzled look Mary Murphy had on her face after Brandon's solo, and probably the same thought: There's humility, and then there's whatever chronic demons are haunting this uncommonly talented kid, who can raise himself up from a full split using just his legs. I know that I definitely shared the same thoughts as Adam Shankman, i.e., that Brandon's solo was a few notches too frantic and those board shorts were a fair shade too ridiculous, especially considering the, er, hot-pants Brandon was sporting last week.

The shorts were nowhere near as ridiculous, however, as that silver bedazzled sports jacket Brandon was forced to wear for his Tyce Diorio Broadway routine with Kayla. Thanks to my ever-astute boyfriend, I now know that the costumes, Diorio's table-centered staging, and Brandon's ''death'' at the end were direct homages to the real ''Bye Bye Love'' number from Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. (Prepare yourself for a touch of NSFW-ness and several crystal bucket-loads of unintended 1970s über-kitsch.) When you watch it, you'll understand just how much chutzpah Tyce has to claim that he could somehow take ''Bye Bye Love'' to a ''more showy place'' than Bob Fosse.

Tyce did throw in some neat tricks, like Brandon spinning Kayla with her leg fully extended, and both dancers certainly executed what was asked of them with their usual consummate expertise. But ultimately this number left me sorely wanting. When you get two dancers like Kayla and Brandon together, you expect hearts to palpitate, the Earth to cleave open, stars to go supernova. You don't expect something that causes you to think, perhaps out loud, Well, I'm not exactly sure what that was supposed to be. Perhaps that's why Nigel buttoned his praise for Tyce with his dig about being named after a cookie.

Jeanine shinesThe disappointment with the routine left the door wide open for Jeanine to have her moment, and, my goodness, did she ever. Not only was she technically flawless, not only did her interview package out-charm her competition — I especially loved the revelation that her kiss with Jason in their Travis contemporary number wasn't exactly planned — but she single-handedly accomplished what no ballroom dancer on the show before her could manage: Perform a ballroom solo and make it work, utterly.

Most important of all, she had fun out there. It was as if Jeanine was certain that she could never win in the face of Evan's popularity and Brandon and Kayla's technical ability, and that liberated her to take some real risks and genuinely enjoy doing it. But the standing ovation that followed, along with the judges proclamations that she was peaking at just the right time, made it clear that Jeanine was no Courtney or Neil, and that she stood a real chance to emerge from the rubble as the final champeen.

Cue the adorable Evan parade. I don't exactly know what made choreographer Laurieann ''I Am Going To Make Giant Headphones Happen'' Gibson think that nasty boys fight using an arsenal of pirouettes, but even though this number was serving some weak tea, Brandon still managed to outshine Evan in the rough-and-tumble department. This was plain as day, in fact, but Evan's fans couldn't handle it and had to boo poor Adam Shankman for saying so. Then Mary, sporting a coy grin, asked Evan ''What's the nastiest thing you've ever done?'' And with that, the young Kasprzak was back in the game, milking the moment for all it was worth, waiting for his grandmothers to cover their ears before responding with the perfect cop-out, ''That's a toughie — the list is so long.''

My favorite moment during the whole exchange: Brandon fixing Evan with a saucy glare before exclaiming, ''I'm excited!'' My second favorite moment: Cat announcing that she's getting ''a lot of pleasure'' from pinching Evan's ''choochie face.'' (Anglophiles, help us out, is that some Britishism us Yanks aren't yet wise to?) Hey, if the guy isn't going to win over the judges, and if his light Broadway touch is too underpowered for his competition, he's got to keep his fans excited somehow, so it might as well be with his, erm, ''choochie.''

The women's dance, by contrast, was serving tea that was almost too strong for its own good. It's nice to see “SYTYCD”  break the tradition of the male final-two dance outshining the female final-two dance, but Kayla and Jeanine really could have benefited from more time to rehearse Mia Michaels' highly stylized choreography, if only to get a better handle on ripping off those costumed layers. But for their multiple wardrobe malfunctions, in fact, I'd have to hand Mia yet another best-couples-routine-of-the-night medal — more than practically any other choreographer on this show, her steps have a true narrative progression, a beginning, middle, and end.

At this point, however, Mia should know better than to hand Nigel any excuse to make skeevy comments like ''the routine didn't go on long enough for me.'' I'm all for honest expressions of attraction — Example: I'm really looking forward to the return of Jason and Jason's chest on tonight's results show — but whenever Nigel ''goes there,'' he just puts on this sleazoid persona that is in no way flattering to him or to the women he's salivating over on national television.

Evan's problem, of course, is that he never ''goes there,'' or anywhere in the same county as ''there.'' Watching his interview with Cat, I realized that the dancer with which Evan's shared the most genuine connection remains his older brother Ryan (who wins major brownie points for wearing that tux to the Kodak); otherwise, Evan's more content dancing on his own than with a partner. Unfortunate pit stains aside, I did enjoy his solo on its own terms; Mary is right that he's helping reintroduce a nearly moribund dancing style to a whole new generation. Let's just hope that generation actually checks out films like Singin' in the Rain (like Kayla!) and understands just how much more sweat, brio, and chemistry with other dancers the likes of Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor brought to their dancing.

Evan did find himself a strong pocket of movement for part of Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin's country-western jive, but after twirling Kayla twice in what looked like super slo-mo, it seemed like the fatigue of nine weeks of dancing was beginning to take its toll on both dancers, and the number just started to fall apart. Still, I have no effing clue what the eff Nigel was effing talking about when he started ragging on Kayla's lack of personality up until this performance. Um, come again? This is Kayla, the dancer who exploded onto the show's Top 20 week in a vision of hot pink fringe and sunny charm. This is the same dancer who brought a wrenching realism to a dance about addiction, and who so convincingly embodied a gothic vampire victim and a ratty zombie victim. And suddenly Nigel decides she has a problem with personality?! What. The. EFF.

My guess? Nigel saw that Kayla had been in the bottom three/two more frequently and more recently than Jeanine, decided he had a better shot pimping Jeanine to the win, and chose to toss Kayla to the wayside. Thankfully, Adam Shankman is around to state the obvious: Kayla is one of the most confident and naturally talented dancers the show's ever seen, someone who normally gives above and beyond what was asked of her week in and week out, someone who, in her own words, performs in her routines instead of merely dances them.

Solos Kayla's weaknessAlways cheery and lovely, Kayla's only weakness this season has been her solos, and last night, finally, she managed to put together a cohesive solo that played well to the music and felt like it wasn't simply made up as she went along. You'd think her track record, her finale solo, and her always-welcome weepy grandpa would be enough to get the judges thinking she's got a shot at taking this thing, but the best Nigel could muster is that she deserved the chance to have people vote for her in the finale. Heh.

Nope, Nigel, Mary, and the producers were clearly saving their big guns for the last, pimp-slot routine of the night: Jeanine and Brandon performing a Paso Doble costumed like characters from The Matrix movies, the inexplicable source of the music for this ballroom number. As odd as I felt the routine was, Brandon and Jeanine never broke their focus on each other, and gave so much of themselves to the dance that they managed to score a standing ovation and Mary's only Patented Scream of the night. I loved how Jeanine mouthed ''Ow!'' when Adam pointed out their assisted jetee into the floor; I loathed how Nigel once again trotted out his lounge lizard act talking about wanting to ''do things'' to Jeanine. And I worried that Nigel so emphatically endorsed both Brandon and Jeanine that he may end up splitting votes and clearing the way for Evan after all.

So who do I think should win? Hmm. If it's a matter of growth, then Jeanine. If it's a matter of consistent excellence, then Kayla. And if it's a matter of the most Wow Moments, it's Brandon. How's that for equivocating? Okay, if I must, my heart leans toward Kayla, simply because she's been so great so consistently. But of the three, I'd say Jeanine's got the best chance of actually winning, and I'd be completely happy if that happened. If Evan wins, well, it is America's Favorite Dancer, and there's no arguing with popularity on a competition relying on call-in votes. But it will definitely serve as the perfect symbol for a season that started with so much promise and ultimately disappointed many fans' expectations.

Of course, there's always season 6, and if last night's jaw-dropper of a promo is to be believed, it looks like a magnificent return to form. Well, mostly. Thanks to the slo-mo feature on the DVR, I also picked up a quick shot of another same-sex male couple audition; my natural instinct is to give Nigel and Co. the benefit of the doubt that we won't have a repeat of the Brokeback Ballroom incident from this season's premiere, but these are the same people who finished a killer montage of their upcoming season with a super-slow motion shot of an overweight man undulating his shirtless torso for the camera. That said, I must've re-watched the moment where that breaker manages to rotate his body on the floor using just his arms a good four or five times alone, so you know I'm already hooked.