E: Tears! Injuries! Breakdowns, emotional and physical! That’s what Cat promises us we’re going to get in Vegas week, the most grueling four days in dance. But unlike Hollywood week, what we get the most of is actual performing. Guess what? The dancers are supportive of each other! Though there are few instances of sullen behavior, pouting and bad attitude, you see far more encouragement, consolation and cheering. Maybe because dance is a social art, these artists are in it together. And I love it.
Cat tells us the 181 dancers who’ve arrived at Planet Hollywood are in for 8 rounds: Solos, Hip Hop, Broadway, Jazz, Group Round, Ballroom, Contemporary, Final Solos. And we find out that the panel of judges charged with winnowing those contestants down to the Top Twenty will be Lil’C, Debbie Allen (holla!), Adam Shankman, Tyce Diorio (bah) and of course Mary and Nigel. The promos promise a lot of rudeness from the panel, which makes me a little nervous.
There’s no such issue at the start, though. First up in the solo round is Hampton “The Exorcist” Williams , and he makes half the panel of judges cry. Adam and Mary are no surprise, but Tyce? I don’t remember ever seeing such a thing. The theater full of watching dancers goes similarly berserk. I have to say, he’s cool, but I don’t quite get the tears, not with the miming and lip synching and such; is it just me? At one point he actually uses his finger to follow the track of a tear down his cheek. For real? No, I don’t quite get it. I guess you just have to be there; if Debbie Allen is moved by him, who am I to doubt? I’ll skip ahead and say that he quickly realized that he couldn’t do choreography, and bowed out to yet another standing O from the judges.
The judges cut 2 of the first ten soloists. Among those who stay: Janelle Issis, the gorgeous, supremely skilled belly dancer who’s wearing the most fantastic gold cape (and the butterfly top from her extended audition package – awesome!), robotic popper Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer, this really cool ballroom couple (the woman has short blond ringlets), Eliana Girard the pole dancer, Witney Carson the sexy ballroom dancer, and Dareian Kujawa the formerly homeless boy saved by dance. Among the 51 fallen: Tim Conkel, the cheerfully player/martial artist/Selena Gomez fan. Duh. Dude never should have been sent on in the first place.
Once the solos are done, we hit the choreography rounds. Comfort and tWitch are up with a really fantastic hip hop routine; get these two to the live shows as choreographers, please! I loved it. I’ve always thought that we start with hip hop in order to give the b boys a leg up, figuring that it’ll be easier for the street dancers to pick this up than any other style, and that it’ll give them a chance to get used to the whole concept of choreography. They’re among the biggest casualties anyway, because it’s just too hard to pick up choreo as a street dancer. I’ve already noted that Hampton is among the fallen; so to is Andre Rucker of Dragonhouse, who just up and leaves, saying goodbye to Cat instead of the judges (not cool, dude, not cool). Once the dancing begins, the judges cut the second Dragonhouse b boy, Boris Penton (now favoring a yellow strip between his cobalt blue mohawks) and – gasp – mother of two Bree Hafen and praying mantis Gene Lonardo. Say it ain’t so! I know, I know, I was convinced Gene couldn’t do the partnering, but I thought he’d last longer than this! And poor Bree – the age limit’s going to stop her from auditioning again.
The remaining Dragonhouse dancer, Glitch, makes it through, as do the folks mentioned above, as well as Aussie ballet dancer Daniel Baker, Amelie-like pixie Amelia Lowe, and fresh faced ballroom dancer Lindsay Arnold. It turns out she’s rooming with super sexy Witney Carson, and even odder, that the two have been great friends since they were 9. Ah, the small world of competitive ballroom. At least in Utah. They’re quite the blond power couple, though.
I mean, did they cut a swath through Day 2 or what? First up is Tyce and Broadway, with some ridiculous story which involves everyone drinking a glass of spiked water, and then going crazy with lust. And hello, does Witney vamp it up! Girl is seriously good at what she does. Lindsay’s also terrific, and gorgeous, but it surprises me to see I can’t follow the story through her moves. It’s probably just the comparison. In general the contestants excel at this routine (nice; sometimes Broadway – with its storytelling component – is the death of the most promising contestants) but the judges take this time to rip into one of last year’s also rans, Alexa Anderson. She’s not giving them enough face! She’s dead from the neck up! It’s true, she is a little Barbie that way. Adam snaps that he’s tired of putting her through based on what they know she can do as opposed to what she’s giving them. Ouch. They put her through anyway, and the gorgeous girl sniffles into her triple bra. (Which, what is that? Tell me it’s one garment and not three actual lace bras layered on top of each other. Because good lord! Isn’t one bra irritating enough?) She’s got quite the 80s look, that one, with her vivid make up and curls and Madonna-esque tops and yes, those leopard practice pants.
No sooner do we see newly dismissed wacky Teddy Tedholme grumping about how he’s never coming back again (your loss, buddy, not ours), but we’re on to Sonya Tayeh and jazz! Huzzah for round 4! “Are you ready to fight for your right to stay?” Sonya asks the contestants, pumping them up. Her routine, she tells us, is all about strength, aggression, texture and musicality. The arrogant but fabulous b boy Shafeek Westbrook is not, in fact, ready to fight for his right to stay, and puts his aggression in the wrong place. He’s partnered with bacon-loving Danielle Dominguez, and it’s just sad. She gets through despite the fact that’s he’s not trying; Nigel calls him on his bad attitude, which continues loudly right out the door. It’s a shame, dude.
What’s even more of a shame is that Danielle sweetly volunteers to help another contestant (at this point, there are not enough women left to partner the men) and gets kicked in the head for her troubles. She struggles to complete the routine, but collapses after and is taken off by the medics, poor sweet kid. Her head-kicking partner gets sent home. We see Adrian Lee blaze through, and that ballroom dancer with the short blond hair. And then there’s burlesque dancer Rachel Applehans. Yawn! She’s dismissed, but begs for the chance to dance for her life (“I promise you, I am a star” – yack) and improbably, the judges let her.
Cyrus struggles through, partnered with Lindsay; Debbie Allen tells him to take classes, but they let him on, which reduces him to tears. I just love this guy. Isn’t there something about that combination of manliness, artistry and emotional awareness that’s so appealing? Or is that just me? Naw, can’t be. Amelia Lowe struggles. She ought to shine here – she fully expects to shine – but doesn’t. Her partner was great, though. She’s given the chance to dance for her life as well.
Rachel’s prepared a routine where she dances in a man’s oxford shirt and tie. It’s exactly what you would expect, including a bit where she runs around with the tie in her teeth. You can tell from the look on Sonya’s face that Rachel’s done. We already knew you were sexy, the judges say. We wanted to see if you could be something else. And that’s such a valid point, but did you tell her that? Because that would have been helpful. Typically the solos are for people to show off, you know, what they normally do. Maybe they did and we didn’t hear it? “Next time, put on more clothes and dance,” Debbie Allen advises. Ouch! But delusional Rachel doesn’t care. She’s proud of what she did. “I know I’m a star,” she insists. Sigh. That’s 16 dancers gone in this round.
Just as Sonya’s face told us all we needed to know about Rachel’s chances, the blissed out, dreamy look in the choreographer’s eyes gives us the end of Amelia Lowe’s story. And oh, wow; we all knew this ‘dance for your life’ would go differently from the last, and it lives up to every expectation. She does this perfect and of course retro piece to the theme song from To Kill a Mockingbird, and it’s pure magic. It sings. “I get it,” Sonya nods, beaming. Stern Nigel, on the other hand, votes not to keep Amelia; he smartly observes that she won’t be any good for the show if she can’t bring this magic to other people’s choreography. Mostly he’s being pissy, and clearly he knows she’s getting through, but it’s an important warning. “I am so ready to make you love me,” Amelia pledges as the judges all sigh their yeses.
And now for the truly evil portion of the show – the group routines! Challenge number five, the start of the second half. Youch. Once assembled in groups of five or six, the dancers receive a random piece of music, and must choreograph their own number. The good news – met with a huge cheer – is that they can pick their own teams. The bad news is they pretty much have to stay up all night to plan and rehearse.
You probably know that on American Idol, this where things get deeply ugly. Deeply, deeply ugly. Refreshingly, there seems to have been ugliness, but the show decides not to air it. (It looks like most of involves hip hop country boy Asher Walker and his squinty eyes and his dreams of dancing with Justin Bieber, but we don’t find out for sure. Amen!) There is a modicum of drama, though; when she finally returns from the hospital Danielle Dominguez joins a group with elbow licker Audrey Case and ballet dancer Daniel Baker, dancing to “Somebody That I Used to Know”. Sweet Audrey’s happy to help her friend, but Daniel’s quietly unsettled at having to reconfigure the concept they’ve been working on for two hours. The group is the first to present themselves to the judges on a mere two hours of sleep (which Daniel fears was too much time off practicing); Danielle’s hideous out of synch and is ruthlessly cut, injury be damned. Phooey. I’d have thought she’d get to dance for her life! Out with her goes a boy named Charlie who may or may not have been my waif-like middle school dream date from the Salt Lake auditions.
Ballerina Aubrey Klinger (she of the short blond hair with the pink bangs) choreographed a routine in which 4 male dancers compete for her attention at the Prom. The judges fall over themselves to compliment it, and Nigel singles Aubrey out to say that she’s like a mini-Mia Michaels, a genius blessed by the muse Terpsichore. They’re all safe, but not everyone makes it through so well, and the dancers weep dramatically for their fallen comrades. Glitch, for example, confirms our impression of him a buff, snuffly teddy bear.
Last up, we see the self-styled Wolfpack, which includes Alexa Anderson, someone names Dres who was cut last minute last year too, and Adrian Lee. Alexa and the other girl had big 80s hair and sleeveless jean jackets. Seriously! What’s up with that? They dance to “Glad You Came” and you though she’s vowed to change, Alexa’s still wearing her Barbie mask, and the judges lose it. The exchange becomes so spiteful I want to throw things at the television. “I’m not enamored of your beauty anymore,” Tyce sneers. Holy crap! She quietly say she’s trying her best, and Mary – yes, even Mary – yells at her that even this doesn’t sound like she means it. Where’s her passion? Alexa breaks down in tears, and then the judges can exhale happily, because they’ve managed to break her down. It gives me an incredibly queasy flashback to one of my college drama professors. Yuck! Anyway, they keep her around; they’re content with having tortured the emotion out of her even if she hasn’t given them what they want in a performance.
And that was just the start of Day Three! Next up, Jason Gilkerson and Ballroom. Awesome. Also awesome; Cat referring to it as the penultimate choreography round. Jason’s got a Cha Cha which requires chemistry between partners, or else. Like Sonya (but not Comfort and tWitch) he joins the panel for the judging. Glitch – partnered with a fantastic dancer named Sumeria – stumbles utterly, but is allowed to dance for his life. He’s pumped. The round is the death, however, of Amber Williams (who?), country boy Asher Walker, and my favorite Dee Tomasetta. Boo! Then we get to see Aubrey Klinger and her pale, surprisingly flaccid belly, and her surprisingly soft moves. You can see that she’s not hard hitting enough, not crisp, and the judges – so glowing scant hours before – cut her without a second glance. I’m desperate for her to beg for a second chance; instead, she has a global meltdown about her future as a dancer. Just awful.
Lindsay and Witney surprise no one by rocking it. You know, I’d love for them to both get through to the top twenty; I am a little nervous they’re going to set the two up as competition for each other. Turns out the Stepheon “The Zombie” Stewart is still around – nice going, buddy! Maybe Glitch won’t be the only b boy in the top twenty! Eliana, krumper Mariah Spears (yay!) and snooty Swiss ballet dancer Chehon Wespi-Tschopp (hey, I wondered what happened to him; maybe there’ll be more than one ballet guy on the show, too!) also make it through. And guess what? Perhaps riding her judge induced breakdown, Alexa excels. She delivers the emotional content/performance quality the judges have been missing, and they go nuts; Adam stands up and howls.
Cat can’t believe that Glitch isn’t nervous, which is ridiculous. This is what he does; soloing for him is water to a fish. Choreography is hard; this is not just easy, it’s joy. Of course he’s pumped. And of course he blows everyone away. The boy is gifted. “I got somethin’ the world needs to see,” he says, and this is one case where it doesn’t feel like hubris to me. He dances to Messianan’s “Holy Ghost” and there are interesting overtones of religious salvation to the piece. It’s so clever and so stinking impressive I can’t stand it. The audience won’t sit down. Do I even need to say that the judges save him?
The last round of choreography belongs now to Mia Michaels’ heir Travis Wall, who’s looking for nothing less than technical and emotional perfection. Is that all? Get my smelling salts – Travis has set the routine to a Jason Mraz song. No way! “I Won’t Give Up” is the song’s apt title; the dancers take it to heart, clinging to each other, lavishing one another with compliments. Those pesky judges refuse to cut any dancers immediately; everyone performs, and then they call 34 our of the remaining 52 dancers to the stage. This group contains almost everyone we know (I think including the surprisingly low profile Jasmine Mason, who’s appeared only in the background all episode), so clearly they’re safe. But instead of cutting the 18 leftover dancers, they’re all given the chance to dance again. Some, like sock-wearing contemporary dancer Joshua Alexander and sexy Abigail Ruiz, are put through to the eighth and final round, but others, like Sumeria, and krumper Mariah Spears, are cut. Nooooooooooooooooooo! Dang, how long has it been since we’ve had a female hip hop dancer or b girl? Since Comfort in season 4, right? I hate that.
That was one of my least favorite cuts, but what can you do? She looked like she was doing a good job to me, but this round is often like that – it’s particularly hard to convey how someone’s messed it up. Now we’re on to the final solos. Wow! Roughly 40 kids (they don’t give us the exact #, but they don’t put too many through from the 18) for 20 slots. The odds are starting to be in the dancers favor. While they’re practicing, we get to see Joshua Alexander knock himself out cold learning a somersault flip, an event featured in the ads since last week. He does not get to dance, and his fate is uncertain. We get to see that unnamed blue eyed brunette in the lace top from the Salt Lake city auditions, as well as Audrey Case, and a mysterious fellow in a tux and cane. When Alexa dances, Debbie Allen theorizes she could win, much to Adam’s surprise. Hmmm. Hey, we haven’t seen him all episode, but there’s the other martial arts guy, Cole Horibe. And an extended, mind-blowing showcase for Chehon. I’m not sure I knew human beings could leap so high. He seems much more humble this time around, but I still have a hard time liking him.
Calling the boys to the stage, Nigel explains that it’s incredibly difficult to winnow them down, because at this point they’re getting rid of great dancers. And then he proceeds to cut four guys including Dres and Adrian Lee. Adrian manages to hold himself together with dignity, at least on camera.
When the girls are called up, it’s obvious that they’re a much smaller group. We’re looking not just for the best dancer but for originality, Nigel explains. Huh? So why’d you cut Mariah, you turkey? Anyway, it’s all a ruse, because they’re keeping all the girls. Which leaves us with 35 dancers for those 20 slots – 35 assuming that Joshua, who’s still at the hospital – is still in the running. It’s not quite clear.
So who makes next week’s top twenty? At least one, if not both ballet dancers (Daniel and Chehon); did we ever see what happened to first class idiot Stephen Jacobsen, the ballet dancer with terrible choreography? At least one if not both ballroom dancers (Witney and Lindsay). Eliana Girard. Amelia Lowe. Alexa Anderson. If they want diversity of style, Cole Horibe seems like an obvious fit, as does the inevitable Cyrus “Glitch” Spenser. Maybe The Zombie? Definitely Janelle Issis. Audrey Case has to have a good shot, too. Joshua Alexander and Jasmine Mason and Dareian Kujawa were pretty present today as well. The mysterious girl in the lace top? (I read somewhere that her name is Jill Johnson – no idea if that’s true or not, damn the editors of this show!) Of course, there were a lot of folks featured in the auditions who didn’t get a mention in this episode (Damon Bellmon, Megan Branch, Sam Lenarz, Leo Reyes, Jarrell Rochelle, Courtney Kirby, Jackson Alvarez, George Lawrence the Second, etc) so who knows? Maybe some of them will sneak in the top twenty – or other folks we haven’t even met yet. What do you guys think?
So, who’s your top twenty? Are you mad about any of the cuts? Should Aubrey and Danielle have been given the chance to dance for their lives? Is Glitch a total ringer for the win? Let me know what you think!