Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SYTYCD 14 - Top 10 Recap: MOVING FORWARD BY GOING BACK TO BASICS


Well, hello again, Dance Fans! It's been a long time since last we met here. I've been blogging over at CrazytownBlog for the past several years, and during that time While Not Making Other Plans was taking an extended nap. But then Crazytown suddenly went the way of the lost city of Roanoke this spring, and SYTYCD live show recaps still had to happen, so here she is, boys! Here she is world, WORLD! It's the reawakening of the blog just in time for Cat Deeley, ageless as ever, to preside over two hours of (mostly) live dancing and the reveal of Season 14's top 10. Grab a glass of Frosé and get comfy, because we have a lot of Our Show of Shows to .



A note on the season as a whole before we get to the dancing. I'm very happy to have the show back again and with grown-age dancers this summer. As is the case with every season, the format has been tweaked and most changes will only be revealed to us right when they show up on screen. The season was billed as "Back To Basics" which means adults and more ballroom, but beyond that, expect new twists and budget-saving techniques all over the place. For the auditions, we only got an hour of airtime a week, so even though there were only two audition cities this year, they stretched on for over a month in TV watching time. Contestants first performed for this year's judging panel comprised of EP Nigel Lythgoe, Returning HotTamaleTrain Engineer Mary Murphy and brand new judge Vanessa Hudgens, who I loved in Grease: Live and I won't have a word said against her! Instead of "Vegas Callbacks" the top 100-something auditioners went to the "Academy" which I assume was an (admittedly rather beautiful) facility somewhere in LA. Here's where the first really big change happens, Instead of the whole group vying for spots in the Top 20, the judging panel disappears entirely and instead the season's 10 All-Stars get to pick a team of 4 dancers they like best and then whittle that group down to just one contestant who will join them as their partner for the Live Shows and thus be in the running to be America's Favorite Dancer. 



I was iffy on this change, because in order to succeed, contestants really had to match well with one All-Star instead of just being an overall great dancer who can look good with any All-Star. I felt like there were some really fantastic and unique dancers who got cut early in this process because of this change. Also the show's narrative shifted from the contestants trying to make it to the Top 20 to being more about the decision-making drama of the All-Stars. It's more in line with how The Voice handles its Mentor-Judges. I'd rather be invested in the contestants' journeys than the All-Stars' Sophie's Choices. But hey, it's Season 14 of this beautiful Dance Show That Could. As long as Cat Deeley is still hosting, the producers can make whatever changes they want to try to keep it on the air and I will show up for it. But please, no more Juniors!



So tonight we find out who each All-Star chose from their top two options... except we don't get to see any of the dancers' reactions to the news. For each reveal, there's a cutaway from the tape of The Green Mile back to live stage and the selected dancer just runs out to perform. Weird. Are they saving that footage for a future clip package? The not-selected dancers really gets shafted without a proper goodbye. Anyway, Cat Deeley is in the house with her stunning red Stella McCartney dress and Tamara Mellon shoes. We've got a lot of dancing to enjoy together, friends. Here we go with the Top 10!



Wait, I lied! Before we get to the contestants, we get more All-Stars dancing together which I will never turn down. The lovely group number with choreo by Stacey Tookey and set to "Knocking On Heavens Door" by RAIGN is notable for 2 things: 1) There's a new set and the set has STAIRS! Welcome back to the show, Stairs! I feel like we haven't seen you for at least 10 seasons! Also, there are now cameras and lights EVERYWHERE! Seriously, what a nice upgrade! This is the stage of the future!! 2) There are only 9 All-Stars on stage! Where the F is Allison? Injured already? NOOOO!!! She is in the audience with her arm in a sling and Twitch by her side. I hope she can return next week because it would be really unfortunate if she picked her Top 10 contestant and then never got to actually dance on the show with him. Okay, NOW to the Top 10 reveals and dances.



Fik-Shun Stegall and Dassy Lee (Hip-Hop) —  Choreographer: Popin’ Pete, “Shake Your Pants” by Cameo. Fik-Shun chooses Dassy over Kyle and I'm not really surprised because Dassy is awesome and Fik-Shun already did the "mentor-a-younger-me" thing when he won last season with Kida. This routine is a lot of fun. They both have personality and moves for days in their favor. What's agains them is that Dassy and Fik-Shun are just a smidge out of sync at times, they spend a lot of time seated in those chairs and Dassy's hat cast a weird shadow over her face at times. Overall, it was very good, but not the explosive WOW you hope for from the first routine of the live shows. The judges are very encouraging toward them. Wait, are we already voting people off tonight? We are. But no more numbers? Just texts and internet votes? Okay. I've really liked Dassy since her first audition. I want to see more from her. I think there's a lot of potential in this partnership and Fik-Shun definitely knows how to win this show, so don't count out Dassy just yet!



Allison Holker and Logan Hernandez (Contemporary) Choreographer: Tyce Diorio, “Protocol” by Leon Else. There was not a lot of drama in Allison's decision for those of us who already knew Zachary joined the Broadway cast of CATS, taking over for former SYTYCD-winner Ricky UbedaWORK! as Mr. Mistoffelees. The surprise here really is that Allison is injured, and we have to call in an All-Star Sub to dance with Logan. So welcome back to the stage Season 9 contestant Audrey Case, who totally nails the routine on just a few hours of rehearsal like the total pro she is! I wonder if the All-Star Subs have to shadow rehearsals so they have a basic idea of what's going on should they be called into service at the last minute. Logan danced and partnered well. I was missing the emotion from his face a bit, but that might be a combo of nerves at having a new partner and being on the younger end of the field at 18 years old. In the judging, Nigel basically told him he's gonna need to work his ass off and let his natural personality come through, reminding us that someone is going home already next week, and with Allison currently on the sidelines it might be a tough road for him.




Jenna Johnson and Kiki Nyemchek (Cha-Cha) Choreographer: Dmitry Chaplin, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” by Shawn Mendes. Thank goodness. Jenna was pissing me off during the Academy, seemingly bending the rules all the way through her final 2 decision, until they almost broke. Nothing against Kevin “Konkrete” Davis Jr, but Jenna saved him from being eliminated from another All-Stars team, ultimately dumping three of her own dancers to keep him around. Then while all other contestants had to each dance the same routine with their All-Star, Konkrete got a special routine from Jenna so he didn't have to dance the same style as Kiki. WHAT GIVES, SHOW? Nobody else did this. But in the end, Jenna went with ballroom pro Kiki anyway. (I like to think Mary Murphy staged a behind-the-scenes intervention with her, in which Mary said, "DO NOT ROB ME OF THIS!") When Kiki and Jenna finally dance this routine together, her decision makes total sense. I love a contestant on this show who can really lead in a ballroom routine and not just get dragged around by his partner and "keep up." She could never have danced in her own style like this with Konkrete. Of course Mary loves every second of it. Nigel thinks that Jenna outshines him even though the whole point of the dance is to show off his partner. Whatever. I like Kiki. Jenna might have been stirring up drama at the Academy for no reason, but I'm sending votes his way!



Cyrus Spencer and Kaylee Millis (Contemporary/Hip-Hop Fusion) Choreographer: Tessandra Chavez,“Clown” by Emeli Sandé. Blue-haired Impavido is now known as blue-haired Kaylee. I pegged her from the beginning as someone who would make the live shows. She just has that spark. I don't know that she is a great pick for Cyrus, though. Cyrus is dancing tonight out of his style and comfort zone tonight, and he wouldn't be if he'd chosen Havoc instead. But then again what would Cyrus and Havoc done when they got a dance in one of the more classical categories? Cyrus wouldn't have been able to elevate Havoc's game, just as he struggles to support her in this routine. The routine is kinda heavy and awkward. It's not bad, but it comes off looking like a struggle. Kaylee's dress doesn't seem suited for the routine either, so I'm not sure what the costuming dept. was going for there. The judges don't like it and aren't shy about saying it was subpar. Even Vanessa goes in, saying Kaylee needs more, “weightlessness and breath.” Welcome to the judges' table, Vanessa!


Gaby Diaz and Lex Ishimoto (Tap)Choreographer: Anthony Morigerato,“More” by Bobby Darin. I thought for sure that Gaby picked Evan when they announced heading into commercial that she'd be doing a tap routine after the break. After all, Evan is the tapper. But no, she picked Lex and is having him perform in her style. It's a good routine, but Gaby shines so effortlessly in it and Lex is clearly working at times. His arms are not at ease during some of the more complex tappa tappa tappa that the routine requires of him. He does do some boffo flips and tricks that let you know he's always got something in the tank to wow you. In weeks to come, I think Lex's versatility and training will be an asset to him in a way that this routine didn't fully show off. Instead, this really played into Gaby's wheelhouse and she stole the show. Nigel tells him to rehearse his personality which sounds like terrible advice on a human level, but Vanessa counters that she likes his sweet and shy personality. Mary goes for someone where in the middle recalling how back in Season 9 they said week after week that Chehon had no personality, and he went on to win the whole thing! Dreams come true, bitches! A breakthrough for Lex is on the horizon!



Comfort Fedoke and Mark Villaver (Hip-Hop) Choreographer: Luther Brown, “REDMERCEDES” by Aminé. I love Comfort. She just gets better and better each year, which is insane to me because she already started out amazing. How is there no awesomeness plateau with her year after year? Anyway, I really wasn't sure if Comfort was going to go with Deja or Mark, mostly because we didn't see a lot from either of them during the Academy. But then the routine starts and DAMN! It had to be Mark. These two are SO GOOD together! Personality, swagger and chemistry for DAYS. The routine is so fun and they both let loose and nail it. Afterwards, Mark is still bouncing everywhere while Cat tries to reel him in so the judges can do their thing. Easy, dude. Cat may have two hours tonight, but there's a lot to get to before she brings the show in on time. Nigel brings up Mark's resemblance to Bruno Mars and Vanessa thinks he looks like Rufio from Hook. He is kind of cross between them in a very attractive way. This is the kind of first impression you want to make with the audience in the live shows.



Marko Germar and Koine Iwasaki (Contemporary) Choreographer: Stacey Tookey, “Memories” by Alex Somers. I have to say I really liked Sofia and I hope if this show gets to do Season 15, that she'll try for it again. Koine is a fantastic partner for Marko though, and their routine is beautiful and effortless with great emotion between them. The lighting design does this starburst thing about halfway through that's just gorgeous. It has nothing to do with the actual dancing, I know, but still - attention must be paid. If I have anything negative to say about it, it's that it felt short. I could've used another 16 bars of dancing. Nigel of course comments on their chemistry and asks them if they've set the wedding date. Don't be gross about it, Nigel! Koine smiles and thinks, "First comes love, then comes the title of America's Favorite Dancer, then comes marriage." This girl has her priorities straight!


Paul Kamiryan and Sydney Tormey (Ballroom) Choreographer: Val Chmerkovskiy “All Stars” by Martin Solveig feat. Alma. So close but yet so far for Sofia! I feel like Paul couldn't make a wrong choice between his final two dancers. They both were amazing both on their own and while partnering with him. But there can be only one. Although, maybe in season 15 we can expand it to a Top 20 and each All-Star gets to choose two from the whole field? Guys, Val from DWTS is doing the choreo. I like when these shows are allies for the promotion of dance instead of rivals for dancers and choreographers. The routine turns out to be very solid. Sydney looks gorgeous and has legs for days, but there wasn't a lot of electricity between them. The song they are dancing to definitely has a beat but the vibe feels kinda mellow. The dancing was missing a little crackle of excitement that I expect when it's two ballroom dancers tearing it up in their own style. During judging, Vanessa notes that Sydney was lacking some oomph, and I'm relieved that V's actually going to point stuff like this out instead of just giving us variations on, "I loved it. You did your thing!" after every performance, like some 3rd-seat judges in the past were inclined to do. Was this routine enough to keep her out of danger? I'm doubtful. That's unfortunate because she danced well, but when we start with only 10 finalists and people are really knocking it out of the park, it's important to make a lasting impression in people's minds or you go home.




Robert Roldan and Taylor Sieve (Contemporary) Choreographer: Travis Wall, “Change Is Everything (A Capella Version)” by Son Lux. During the green mile sequence between Taylor and Jonathan, I realized I've never noticed how much shorter Jonathan is than Taylor. When they were standing next to each other facing Robert, Taylor was towering over him! Was this some trick of the camera angle? Anyway, Robert picks Taylor and they do a Travis Wall routine and it blows everyone's minds. It starts with Taylor standing on Robert’s shoulders (!!) and then she rolls forward off of him to the floor ((!!!). The insanity continues from there. The gymnastic poses don't stop throughout and there is a strong emotional presence coming from Taylor supported by the haunting vocals of the song. Robert is the most solid of partners. It was weird that there was that time during the Academy where no one wanted to be on his team. That might have been a result of the weird persona he adopted as he'd declare, "I WANT YOU ON MY TEAM..." the delivery of which landed somewhere between Jeff Goldblum's and Christopher Walken's most creepily oddball characters. The dancers were all like, "Yeah... no thanks! I'll go with the All-Star who isn't scaring me right now!" But these kids should've remembered that SYTYCD loves Robert. He's always going to get the best routines and the best placement in the show and that will only help his partner succeed. Taylor has the skills and personality to win the show and she also has the right partner to get her to the finals. In judging, Mary calls it one of her Top 10 routines of all time on the show. We'll definitely be seeing an encore of it before we crown the winner. I can't wait! Again! Again!



Jasmine Harper and Robert Green (Hip-Hop) Choreographer: Chris Scott, "Perm” by Bruno Mars. Even though Jasmine's team got minimal screen time during the Academy, I still had a good sense of who Howard and Robert were from their original auditions. Poor Howard was in tears before Jasmine could even deliver the killing blow. Come back next year, Howard! I promise you the format will change again and that might give you a better chance! So even though all the other contestants ran out on stage to reveal that they made it, Robert is already set in his spot on the stage which is decked out like a minimalist beauty parlor. Jasmine turns his styling chair around for the reveal to the audience that he made it, and then together they dive into a fantastically fun hip hop routine that's big on energy, precision and sass. There are hairspray can props that are used to great effect creating clouds of mist around them as they dance. Everything about this routine fits Robert like a glove. It's a perfect showcase for him. I'm looking forward to what else these two will do together.


Now, it's almost 10pm and we have to wrap this up before the local news kicks in, but we can't roll credits just yet, because there is still an All-Stars and Top 10 routine to go! Choreographers: Wade and Amanda Robson, Tony Testa. “This Time” by Son Lux. Dude, Wade has not done choreo on this show in FOREVER. I wonder if one his conditions to return involved them adding stairs back onto the stage. He always made great use of those stairs. The routine is very cool and does not conform to traditional gender norms in the costuming which was refreshing to see. The All-Stars are in black and grey pants and hoodies, with flashlights in their mouths while turning giant lanterns into talking heads. The Top 10 are all pink cocoon goo to start and then blossom into tulle-skirted beings and then... i'm not sure what happens. They join up like the Skeksis and the Mystics during the Great Conjuction or something. I can't tell you exactly what the story was, but I liked the visuals a lot. Welcome back, Wade and company!



So that's our Top 10, America! 4 Contempos, 2 Ballers, 1 Popper, 1 Jazz Hands, 1 Hopper and 1 Breaker. I'm pleased with who made it through. I'm thrilled we're finally in the live shows so they can strut their stuff and we can spend some time with them! My understanding is the season finale is in the end of September, so that means we'll lose one dancer a week until the final four face off in the finale. But we'll have to wait until next week to learn just how they'll be eliminated. Will there be a bottom 3? A bottom 2? Will the judges decide? Will their be "dancing for their lives" solos? Who knows? They will tell us right before it happens. Here's how I split my 20 online votes among the contestants. I favored Kiki and Taylor this week, but everybody got some love. It was really based on my initial reaction to the routines. If I had two more available votes, I'd have given one each to Lex and Robert.



For now, I'll guess my bottom 3 for this week are Logan, Kaylee and Sydney. Early picks to win it all? I'll go with Lex or Taylor. But they've all got a fighting chance. Next week will be the first big test to see what they can all do. I can't wait! See you then, Dance Fans!

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