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What a difference a week makes on ‘SYTYCD’

Forced to dance outside their comfort zones, some dancers soar (Jonathan!) and others stumble (Phillip!) on "So You Think You Can Dance."
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

I'd start taking this personally, if I were you. I mean, it happens every season: Adam, your beloved "SYTYCD" TV Watcher suddenly decides after months of "American Idol" indentured servitude, and weeks of the "Dance" machine that he's TIRED and he needs a break. So what does he do? He goes on vacation! Don't get me wrong, we share an office wall, which means he gets a double shot of my daily viewing of "Judge Judy," so, you know, there's love. But if a man I was seeing on a weekly basis suddenly left me in the unsteady hands of foster bloggers, I'd have to wonder if he was really that into me. I'm just sayin'.

(Oh, sheesh, kidding. He loves you. He misses you. And he'll be back in two weeks with presents for all of you — at least, that's what he told me.)

But really, what a change last night was from last week. Then: Phenomenally skillful performances from what is clearly the best group of dancers (collectively speaking) the show has ever had. Now: Uh oh. Take people out of their comfort zones and fissures appear. While most dancers had the luxury of performing in their genres last week, they were forced to mix it up this time. Some soared to the occasion (I am casting a shocked eye in your direction, Jonathan), and some struggled painfully (oh, Phillip!).

Before we get to the good, the bad, and the Randy Jackson (explanations later), can we talk for a second about the clothes? Nigel looked brunch-on-the-yacht dashing as per usual, and Mary was fine in her riverboat-queen green, but someone has to talk about this look Lil C (and just about every other hip-hopper in the world) is pulling off. With that skewed baseball cap coordinated to the dapper three-piece-suit-minus-the-jacket, he seems to be sporting something of a sartorial mullet: party on the head, business on the bod. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying I don't understand. (See? I don't automatically shoot that which befuddles me.) But oh, we have to address that issue Cat had on. Something wasn't quite working with that asymmetrical red frou-frou, and I just can't decide if she did some stitch witchery on one of Mrs. Roper's house dresses, or if she pulled a Scarlett O'Hara with her best Christmas tablecloth. Either way, it was not her best look. But enough about her, let's get to the dancers. First ...

Melissa and Ade: Gotta be honest from the beginning, in that I wasn't emotionally connected to this piece, but I did respect the technical work. Dancing to one of Sonya's jazz pieces, Melissa overcame the delicate ballerina bit to do more than, as Sonya put it, ''tap into the mud'' of the seriously primal routine. For some reason, though, Adetokunbo Isaac Kayode Obayomi still hasn't quite grabbed me, even with Lil C declaring that he's a front-runner, what with his ''modifying [his] manipulation of movement'' (whatever the heck that means). Maybe it's because we haven't fully tapped into his personality — especially given that all we learned from the ''secrets'' portion of their rehearsal tape was his full name. Because of that, even with a great routine, I wonder if they could be in trouble. Of course, I absolutely blow at the "SYTYCD" Prediction Game, so anyone in a betting mood might want to ignore me on that.

Janette and Brandon: Is anybody surprised to see these two getting a check-plus? They're so well-rounded, and truly a front-runner couple. Last week was a fantastic Foxtrot (entirely not in Brandon's wheelhouse), and last night brought one funky, fast disco, courtesy of Doriana Sanchez (who was in "Dirty Dancing"! OMG!). Of course the "SYTYCD" editors make it look like every routine is going to be an embarrassing, wound-inducing repudiation of the laws of physics, if the rehearsal footage is to be believed. But when Brandon looked positively skeered when Doriana put on their music, it was understandable. Even Mary thought it was the fastest disco she'd seen pretty much ever. It was so exhausting to watch, it was shocking they got through it, much less nailed it. That eagle-split lift above Brandon's head? Did you SEE that? Were you THERE for that? And this guy doesn't work out? (You know, unless you count dancing like Nureyev for 14 hours every day of your young-adult life.) It was so tight you can almost forgive Lil C for quoting yet another incomprehensible passage from the "Tao of C": ''I believe that the primary focus of all obstacles is to induce labor so progression can be born ... I believe that right now I just saw the birth of progression.'' (Dude needs to just find some white robes — with matching baseball cap, of course — get tax-exempt status, and declare himself a cult, already.) The big news right there, though, is that Brandon finally got some respect from C, who, until now, unbelievably, ridiculously, has ''not been impressed.'' Hopefully the streak will continue when the equally critical Mia ''I love to cut'' Michaels gets her hands on the pair next week. Best of luck, y'all.

Jonathan and Karla: Ah, but here was the revelation of the evening. Before last night, I barely gave Karla a second glance, and wrote Jonathan off as that kid who looks like David Archuleta. Sometimes I love to be so very wrong. It was the Kameron and Lacey-esque event of this young season. Passionate, startling, and so exquisitely performed that Mary said Jonathan was better in contemporary than he is in his own genre. That dance made me want to know more about the woman who choreographed it. So who is this Stacey Tookey? As Nigel helpfully informed us, she's a transplant from "SYTYCD Canada." Check out her Web site, and we learn that she's a ''Dancer/Choreographer/Movement Specialist,'' who's worked with Bette, Madonna, and Celine — and one Mia Michaels. Indeed, Stacey Tookey is in Mia's dance troupe, R.A.W., so if there was something of Mama Mia in that piece, Stacey got it honestly. And the fact that she choreographed it to one of my favorite songs, the Oscar-winning ''Falling Slowly,'' only makes me wanna Facebook friend her all the faster.

Caitlin and Jason: You know what truly blows about the bad last night? They're all the popular kids! Start with these two. He's so cute! She can do a velociraptor! How can you not love them? And yet, something about Shane Sparks was not working for folks tonight. (Not a good way to welcome a dude back from America's Best Dance Crew.) Their timing and synchronization were off, Lil C was dead-on about them looking corny, and for a guy who grew up imitating Michael Jackson, Jason's sideways Moonwalk across the floor was weak. Caitlin's back rollover was pretty fierce, to give due credit, but the routine just didn't gel. What I don't get, though, is why Mary said she was so ''perplexed,'' since they were so good last week. If you look closely, taking away the cute faces and the exuberance, Caitlin and Jason's Bollywood number was not quite as tight as it could have been. The judges are quick to heap praise on genres they know are way outside of the Western dance canon, and understandably so — nobody really knows what they're doing. But that's the problem, really. With so little exposure to the technical elements of Bollywood in this country, even the judges can't really say with any authority whether the dancers nailed a routine or missed key elements. I'm no expert, but a sloppy hip-hop routine following a not-quite-right Bollywood number begins to look like a pattern.

Kupono and Ashley: You've gotta feel for this couple. First they get one of Wade Robson's incredibly creative (and wildly self-indulgent) flights of fancy to dance in the first week of competition, then Kupono gets caught outside his genre with a hip-hop he couldn't quite hit. But for this one some of the fault lies with Shane, too, since the concept didn't entirely work. Ashley was supposed to be Kupono's shadow, but spent a significant amount of time doing her own steps. And where, exactly, was the light supposed to be coming from? Sometimes she was on the ground behind him, other times aping his moves in front of him. Confusion! But not all the blame sits on Shane, since Kupono somehow forgot to put ''get comfortable with other styles'' on his ubiquitous to-do list. By the time they took their jackets off two-thirds of the way through to do the loosey-goosier section, that routine fell apart. The most satisfying thing about it was hearing Nigel admit that nobody understands Lil C's trippy quips. (Anybody have a Good News version of the "Tao of C" that I can borrow, since the King James text is clearly beyond me?)

Phillip and Jeanine: This is the one that hurts, isn't it? Nobody has more people pulling for him in this competition than Phillip — not the much-maligned Brandon, not orphaned Vitolio, not even Kayla, with her grammy and grampy in the house. But it has to be said: Chbeeb chblew it. Understand, I adore the guy, especially now that I know he's a smarty majoring in engineering physics. (And like Jeanine I've verged on furry with more than one teddy bear boyfriend.) But apart from a couple of flashy turns, Phillip looked stiffer and boxier than a man who can move his arms like water should. Jeanine, while not fantastic, did what she could, but there's only so much the person who's not leading can actually do. Still, there's mad love for Phillip, so all assumption is that he's probably safe ... for now.

THE RANDY JACKSONFor those routines in which the dancers don't click, the choreography doesn't fully work, or maybe there's just a hitch in the steps, there's the nebulous Randy Jackson rubric. We channel our favorite "Idol" judge who isn't Simon or Paula to say: ''For me, for you, personally, I didn't think that choreography was right for you. I mean, you did your thing, but it just didn't work for me. But you know what? You can dance!''

Randi and Evan: Whee! The first Randy is Randi! Sometimes stuff works out like that. But really, this couple epitomizes the spirit of the Randies. They were fun, fun, fun, and not just because they said it like they had a tick. Ray Charles' ''Shake a Tail Feather'' was a nice selection, even if I do prefer Tina Turner's. Randi and Evan could teach classes in selling a routine, so much presence and attitude did they have on the floor. And his split leap over her was awesome. You alllllllmost had to be Mary to notice that Evan wasn't quite getting the ''triple-step action.'' If Nigel wasn't there to point out the lack of ''snake's tongue'' retraction we might not even have known there were flaws. But that's why the judges are there — because even when they no longer control the outcome of who goes home, their technical knowledge is still helpful for us dance tyros. Also: Someone please tell Randi that I'm coming for her cutie puppy, so that I might raise him as my own. Thank you.

Asuka and Vitolio: We're friends, right, or something like it? Are we in the Circle of Trust? The Cone of Silence? The Parallelogram of Loyalty? Because I have to admit that I am anti-Asuka. It started in casting, when the judges fell all over themselves (tripped over their panting tongues, is probably more accurate) to say how sexy and dazzling she was, and how much better she was than her partner, Ricky. Bull! Ricky was so much better than she was that until the judges actually spoke, I was hoping they wouldn't be too hard on her. Then for him to get cut and her to get in — well, it just makes no sense to me. So far, I'm not feeling unjustified. The judges may have gushed over Asuka and Vitolio's anguished waltz, but this seems to be one of those occasions when Mary, in particular, lets the emotion of a moment overwhelm her judgment. Take a look at Asuka coming out of the splits as Vitolio dragged her on the floor: ungraceful. And his footwork was equally patchy. I'll keep them out of the bad category because the judges liked them and because I know I'm biased, but I just wasn't seeing it.

Max and Kayla: The judges loved it. I straight up did not get it. When Sonya isn't the oddest choreographer of the night (and Wade's nowhere to be found) something's up. Kayla was supposed to be some sort of princess (of Cirque du Soleil, I surmised based on that costume), while Max was the usurper of her throne. Maybe it was the way Brian Friedman blends hip-hop and jazz that I found disconcerting, but this routine seemed disjointed. I'm not sure I understand Mary's rationale for knocking Max, the inordinate praise heaped on Kayla in this particular number, or how one should take being compared to a ''young Kevin Spacey.'' But for once, when Lil C said ''It's hard to pick up Brian Friedman's vernacular,'' I realized I not only understood what he was saying, but I actually agreed with it. And yeah, it's also hard to pick up Lil C's vernacular, but to paraphrase a wise man, that don't make it not true.