So You Think You Can Dance: Season 11, Performance Finale

E: Hey there, dance fans!  What a couple of excellent weeks of dancing that was!  I can’t stop re-watching both episodes, the top four and the top six.  Okay, maybe I’m slightly surprised to see Zachary make the cut over Casey, definitely bemused to learn that marvelous magician Ricky feels a bit inadequate when compared to bigger guys, and very pleased that Jacque’s last episode would make me so sorry to see her go ( that WW2 inspired solo! And “99 Red Balloons” as a delicate, gorgeous love song?  Sleeping at Last and Sean Cheesman, you amaze me.), but for the most part, this is where we’ve been heading all season.

It takes me a couple seconds of the opening to realize that the pairs entwined on stage are Valerie with Jessica, and Zack with Ricky, but it’s clear from moment one that they are in fact couples, in Travis Wall’s lovely, lyrical ode to marriage equality.  Not that anyone ever uses the words, but it seems clear to me that’s what it was. I’m a little surprised at the show for going there (what with contestants coming from conservative states and the show being on the renewal bubble), but also definitely impressed.  It’s tender and beautiful, the dancers in all white; the support between the two couples made me think of HBO’s brilliant, moving documentary The Case Against 8, which you should absolutely see if you haven’t yet.  I tend to associate the loathsome “The Wind Beneath My Wings” with funerals, so that was a distraction, but the schlocky, sentimental words aren’t inappropriate for a wedding, either, which is much more the feel of the piece, and RyanDan’s cover offends me less than Bette Midler’s original.

There’s no bad associations to stop me from adoring Cat’s silver fringe dress, though, or from being happy to see guest judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  When the dancers arrive, we get a good sense of what they’re going to be doing next; Jessica’s dolled up like a pin up girl, Valerie’s clearly African Jazz, and Ricky’s hiding something under an enormous flannel shirt buttoned up to his neck.  And I’m thrilled to see so many eliminated dancers in the audience (Emilio continues to cheer louder than anyone, which makes me love him to bits, and my daughters go nuts every time he’s on screen) as well as some exciting choreographers.  Travis!  Tanisha! Stacey!  Phoenix and Pharside!  Nakul!  Spencer!  Marquette!  Yes!

As ever, the four dancers get to work with an All Star, and with each other in every possible combination. First up, Valerie and Ricky get Sean Cheesman and African jazz, the idea of the piece being a race between different animals.  Valerie wears a cheetah bikini and skirt (kind of kilt/school girl uniform like, only in pieces instead of pleats) and Ricky these crazy patchwork harem pants over a bodysuit covered with stark black body paint/tattoos, and they dance to DJ Chus’s “Voices of Savannah.”  And this cracks me up a little, because I’ve just been to the gorgeous, cultivated city of Savannah for the first time, and so that’s where my mind went instead of the African savannah where the wild animals are.

And, I like it.  I pretty much always like African jazz.  You just want to join in, don’t you?  It looks like great exercise, but it mostly just looks like so much fun. (Which is what would make it great exercise, am I right, because you just do it instead of thinking “one more repetition” or whatever.) The pair stomp the heck out of it. “I so wanted to bring on a baby Simba,” Cat laughs.

Beginning a night of many quotations and bon mots, Nigel tells us that losers quit when they’re tired, and winners quit when they’ve won.  Valerie and Ricky are winners (even though they can’t both win).  I can’t entirely make out what Cat is saying – is she calling Nigel Yogi-like, or Yoda-like?  I suppose either one fits.   We don’t need to worry about either of you in the survival of the fittest, Mary assesses, because you knocked that out of the park.  Jesse apologizes for taking so long to come on the show, but assures the dancers that he’s been watching all season and is so pumped to meet them. He can’t call them the most improved because they were great from the start (really, because I think Valerie’s grown a ton), but he can reference Mike Tyson’s tattoos (huh, fair) and claim that he taught Sean everything he knows.

Jessica and Zack have the next slot, and they’re the reason that Spencer Liff is here.  Excellent. I’m sure Jessica can do way better at Broadway than that weird Tyce magic carpet routine.  (Of course, Spencer vs. Tyce, you know how I’m going to vote!)  The two have a rendez-vous in an underground club – literally and not merely stylistically, because Jessica has to descend some stairs and is terrified of it.

The routine opens with Zack sitting at a bistro table, snapping his fingers like the gangster in the dream ballet in Singing in the Rain – and with Jessica poking a slim leg out of the curtains, it is again very reminiscent of Cyd Charisse in that dream sequence.  When she bursts open the curtains, she’s wearing a glittering, floor-length ruby gown with so many cutouts it needs to be held up by a nylon bodysuit; serious va va va voom.  Perhaps it’s more of a surprise how confidently Zack pulls off the gangster role, suave and thuggish at the same time in his black suit and black fedora. I just adore his knowing look at the camera.  I’m immediately thrilled to hear the opening bars of “Hernando’s Hideaway” but I’m less accustomed to the Ella Fitzgerald version, with its quick, jazz sections interspersed between the more familiarly slinky bits.    I find it quite terrific.  Jessica mugs more than I want her to, but she’s gaining ground the fight against her facial expressions with every show.  They both look to the camera as the two are about to lean in for a kiss, and Zack ends the routine by putting his hat over the camera to insure a little private time.

“Jessica Rabbit!” Cat coos, and she’s so right I’m mad at myself for not thinking of it, and the crowd goes wild.  Mary calls them cute Broadway babies, exclaiming over Zack’s leap from the floor and commiserating over the terror of dancing down stairs.  Jesse did On The Town himself, and claims they should just be able to call up Broadway and get any job they want.  Because it works like that when you’re a good dancer!  He does a funny little film noir gangster voice for this imaginary phone call.  It’s cute.  This has been a good season for Broadway, Nigel reflects,  talking about Fosse’s choreography for The Pajama Game (the movie that “Hernando’s Hideaway” is taken from) and how Zack’s been coming on so strong since mid-season.  Though Jessica took a lot of harsh criticism from the start, she’s grown into a beautiful woman.  (Which, whatever.  Beauty was never her problem.)

Like last year, Cat’s giving us a choice of routines for the finale, a hip hop trio this time instead of Travis Wall triple header: we can pick between Emilio and Jasmine’s Pharoah and the snake parable “Get Low,” Casey and Brooklyn’s Wildabeast exercise program “Hustle Hard,” and Carly and Serge’s slinky creepy skeletal “Senile.” Like there’s any question? I certainly hope you all voted for “Senile”!

Next up, Tyce Diorio with a contemporary routine for tappers Valerie and Zack.  Man.  This has been such a lovely, Tyce-lite season.   Why break that streak now?  Ah well.  His idea is that there’s an obstacle in the way of their endless love.

Of course he’s not going to tell us, but it’s very clear from the opening moments of the routine as Valerie, eyes closed, taps with a walking stick that the obstacle in question is her blindness.  So really, even though it’s not a Broadway routine, it’s all about story-telling. Valerie does a truly lovely job with this; she’s very convincing, and light as the butterflies on her little blue dress.  What’s just gorgeous, however, is the light in her face when Zack (dressed in a tan pants and an old fashioned henley and suspenders) scoops her up from the back; she knows him from his touch, and that touch makes everything in her world okay.  Now, sure, you can say that there’s something a bit patronizing to the disabled here; he’s always rescuing her from disaster, from walking off in the wrong direction or falling, but what I appreciate is the clarity of the storytelling.  My husband grumbles over routines like the famous Breast Cancer piece; if Tyce hadn’t told us in the rehearsal package what that was about, would we know?  Well, there’s no question here.  We know.  We know these two love each other, too.  I’d never heard Sade’s “Pearls,” but it was pretty perfect. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but well done, Tyce.

You totally passed that acting challenge, Jesse tells Valerie; I don’t know what it’s like to be blind, and I’m sure neither do you, but I believed that you were. He was struck as I was by Valerie’s face whenever Zack touches her, and lauds the dancers for creating an emotional connection without eye contact.  Though he babbles, he manages to hit on an incredibly important point; Tyce took a potentially heavy subject and filled it with joy.  Always ready to toot his show’s horn, Nigel praises the choreographers for taking on tough subjects, both blindness/disability and marriage equality (though again, he doesn’t actually name it as such). Referring as well to the way Valerie’s face lit up at Zack’s touch, he tells us he found the routine touching and remarkable.  It’s not a surprise the two of you are here, Mary smiles, and then flips the common response: she loved the look on Zack‘s face when Valerie touched him.

Perhaps tiring of the judging panel making silly dance moves behind her back, Cat introduces the next piece from the audience; because the judges are sort of twisted in their seats, we get to see that Jesse’s sweater is black in the front but white in the back.  Cool!  Instead of joking about it herself, Cat has Nigel say the word “Shazam!” and then accidentally smacks him right in the mouth with her microphone.  HA!  Excellent.

Jessica and Ricky have drawn a Ray Leeper jazz routine for their next number, and I’m of two minds about it.  First, I see that unlike previous finales no one is going to have to dance ballroom, which is interesting.  Second, Ray’s almost as much of a curse as ballroom.  I mean, the judges usually like him,  but only occasionally does he bust out a routine that gets his dancers votes.  Come to think of it, Sean Cheesman’s routines can go the same way, which might be trouble for Ricky.  Curiouser and curiouser.

The routine is vintage Ray; no real plot, just fun movement, high energy and scads of style.  The two are wearing black bodysuits with lots of cut outs.  The vibe is definitely beatnik, emphasized by Jessica’s “I Dream of Jeannie” ponytail.  It’s crisp, clean and powerful, very hard-hitting, with a bit of voguing thrown in.  “F… For You” by Disclosure featuring Mary J. Blige is a total Ray song.  All in all – well, when I re-watch, I skip this one.  It’s well danced; it’s just not necessary for me.  In the audience, Ray sticks out his tongue, so you know he’s pleased.

Of course what Nigel wants to talk about is how much he loves them as a pair, how perfect they are for each other.  Mary lauds the routine’s popping, which was clean and concise, funky and fun.  You’re the most adorable little sprockets, Jesse coos, and though everybody laughs I bet they have no idea what he’s referencing.  How could they?  I’m comfy in my sweats, Jesse continues, but the two of you seem to be most comfy in a full ponchet.  HA!  Then he takes a selfie with the dancers and Cat behind him.

I’m rather thrilled at this week’s musical guest – Jason Mraz and his all female backing band!  Long time fans of the show don’t need Cat to remind them that Jason’s “If It Kills Me” was used to great effect in Travis Wall’s first piece of choreography for the show – the piece, arguably, that began Jeanine Mason’s (successful) bid for the Season Five crown.  I love me some Jason Mraz, and I’m now a fan of his single, “Love Someone,” and I’m all about the cello and lap steel guitar in his band. Smashing.

And let’s keep going with our little Girls Rule the World theme here, because Valerie and Jessica are up with a Bollywood piece, as always choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan.  Nice!  I feel like the boys usually get the most exciting finale routine, what with people getting so wrapped up in what would make a routine “girly” – I can’t help thinking of Tyce’s hideous Broadway routine with dainty parasols for Courtney and Katee – but Bollywood should buck that trend.

And it has to be said that while the clothes are gorgeous (cropped aqua tops with black and white paisley skirts with banding in red and blue on the bottom, a red veil for Jessica and blue for Valerie), the dancing outshines them.  It’s fast, hard-hitting, exuberant, flirty and charming.  It’s maybe one of the best danced Bollywood routines we’ve seen on the show, too; there’s not one little dip in energy the entire time.  I love it.  It ends too soon!

I want to be part of the gang, Cat coos.  Get a new line, Cat!  You could not look more stunning, Mary tells the girls, and then says that lightning has now struck twice on the stage, although since each girl has danced 4 times already I don’t really get the reference. Jesse thinks he lost 8 pounds just watching them. (If only, Jesse, if only.)  Bollywood calls for stamina, joy, energy, and an ungreasy forehead so those jewels stick on  – and they have all those things.   Cute.  He goes on to say that all of his friends have different favorites among the finalists, so they should all considering themselves in the running.  I wonder if this is true?  I mean, it’s been clear all season that Ricky is the judges favorite, and he’s never fallen into the bottom, but the best dancer is very often not the winner.  So, I don’t know.  Bollywood puts a smile on my face every time, Nigel tells us, and there are just so many influences in it and through it.  He tells Jesse he’s look great in the sari. I have it in yellow, Jesse quips; I look amazing, and I’m not “sorry” about it.  Har had, Jesse.

But the boys have to get theirs next, and, wow.  Phoenix and Pharside do the honors; their concept (theatrical as ever) is a battle between the King of Diamonds and the King of Clubs to find the crown favorite.  District 78’s “The Antidote” sets the mood.

And from the moment the two dancers pop out from behind two massive playing cards, wearing baseball jerseys with their symbols on them (Ricky in diamonds and Zack clubs), they’ve got the audience in their corner.   Stomping fiercely around the stage, the two battle it out, flipping, lifting each other, and performing lots of hard hitting synchronized sections.  It’s like they’re two other people – especially Ricky, whose face loses all its Harry Potter giggly awkward cuteness and becomes all biting angles.  (It’s harder for Zack’s face to lose its essential niceness, somehow, though his body is all aggression.)  Zack performs an amazing aerial.  There’s this funny move where Ricky jumps up on Zack’s shoulders, essentially knocking him over (but slow and controlled), and squats over his foe, holding up Zack’s head and lecturing him.  With his head at crotch level.  It’s intense.

The judges stand.  The choreographers leap to their feet, insane with the dancer’s skill and the crowd’s reaction. In the audience, standing next to Marquette and Nick, Emilio loses his mind.  I’m sorry for repeating myself, but I love this about him, his support for his fellow dancers.  Muttering about the unlikelihood of a tapper and a contemporary dancer pulling off that routine, Cat tries to impose order and fails.

When the pandemonium subsides, Jesse lauds the routine for the bravery of taking on the Nigel/Mary relationship via dance.  (Oh, come on, you can’t do better than that? ) The editors show us the crotch/head move again.  Now you know why my nose is broken, Nigel laughs, and no one joins him.  He has more success calling out the two crew members who stood behind the giant cards and moved them across the stage.  “You are the least likely swagtastic urban dancing dudes we’ve ever had on this show,” he continues, Mary screaming “EVER!” in the background, but with great choreographers and great dancers you can do anything.  Mary gives us her train whistle, and hoots that she loves her job and its unexpected revelations.  Phoenix and Pharside are a great addition to the show’s family, and Ricky and Zack are both kings in her book.

And now we’ve entered the All-Star/solo portion of the show!  Get ready for the best stuff.  Valerie of course has tap and Anthony Morigerato and Aaron, hurrah!  The story: Aaron wants Valerie to commit exclusively to their relationship, and Valerie doesn’t really think she wants to be tied down.

Perhaps because of the music he’s chosen (Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Love Me or Leave Me”), Anthony’s dressed his stars in some Golden Age of Hollywood duds; Aaron’s in a brown suit with a fedora, and Valerie’s in another cute little dress (purple t-length) with little gloves and a sweet hat and tiny black veil.  And it could not be more clear that she does not want to be tied down, and is mad at Aaron for suggesting it.  She stamps her feet fiercely.  It’s really fun and terrific; they tap and slide and talk with their feet.  And in the end, she seems to decide that yeah, she does like him that much after all.

The judges stand.

I am so full of love tonight, Nigel sighs.  Is it because Sophia Miles and Mira Sorvino are in the audience?  No, it’s mostly because he loves Anthony Morigerato.  (In the audience, Anthony blushes.)  And because he loves Aaron Turner.  And most of all because he loves Valerie Rockey.  He could not be more thrilled to have two tappers in the final 4 this year.

Ever since Valerie and Zack made the top twenty, Mary tells us, her Twitter feed has blown up with people asking for them to bring back Aaron as an All Star.  (Okay, I love Aaron, but does that make Melinda and Phillip chopped liver?)  Turns out that Jesse’s crush on Aaron is just as potent as last year; he was hoping it would subside, but nope.  It’s rendering him a bit blithery. He thinks Valerie’s the Michael Jordan of tap.

Before their solos, we get a little assessment of the season from each dancer.  For Ricky, it all comes back to his mom, who thought it was just fine for her son to dance (how sad is it that this is an issue?) and scraped together her pennies to help him get to the SYT auditions when he finally turned 18.  He was incredibly nervous at his audition, having watched the show his whole life.  Call Back week went pretty well, and his astonishing final solo was the best he’d ever felt to that point, so lost in the dance did he become.  (Why oh why did we have no one take him back to that weird place?  This season was sorely lacking in Sonya Tayeh and Mark Kanemura.)  After Cat called his name on the first live show, he literally ran backstage and cried.  (We get a different clip of him crying, after the “Love Runs Out” group routine; looks like Rudy wasn’t the only Scarlett O’Hara this season.)  He highlights “The Vow,” his Sonya routine with Jessica from the Top Twenty show, as the highlight of his time here as well as Nigel’s “frickin’ awesome” response to the piece when he called Ricky the magician of dance.  He’s been really happy that the judges have only had good things to say about him all season, even though it puts a lot of pressure on him – or he puts a lot of pressure on himself – to live up to those compliments. But really, he says, there’s a feeling you get when when your dream is coming true that feels like nothing else, and he gets to feel it every time he steps on the stage.

Shirtless, wearing rolled up jeans, Ricky dances to David J. Roach’s transcendent “Skin & Bones,” and it’s spectacular.  Ricky could solo all day long and I’d watch it; he just stretches his extensions out forever, further than you think is the furthest edge of his body’s possibilities, and I just love it.  If he’s choreographed this stuff himself, I think it’s clear what his post-dance career trajectory ought to be.

Not that I’m not getting a little ahead of myself.  First, he’s got to win this competition.  I mean, first he’s got to dance with his All Star, Kathryn, in his chosen style, contemporary, to a Stacey Tookey piece about a man hitting rock bottom and the angel on earth who pulls him out of his depression.  Since that emotion is something everyone can relate to, Ricky hopes that he and Kathryn can pull off the acting component and make people feel.

Going into it, I wonder again if this is one of those pieces where you don’t really see the story if you don’t know it’s there, but no, I think they’ve managed it.  Either way, the routine is gorgeous, but it isn’t simply that the dancing is beautiful and the dancers filled with emotion.  Or that Birdy’s “All About Angels” talks about angels the entire time.  Ricky stumbles, reaches, grasps, falls.  Kathryn, luminous in a white dress with long panels draped from her shoulder blades, embraces him, holds him up, puts his hand on her heart and looks deeply into his eyes.  He hangs on to the back of her dress as she moves with him, bringing him to a new rhythm, bringing him out of darkness.  In the end, she raises her arms so those panels of fabric are like wings, and he slips his arms into them so that he, too, can stand in white light, glowing, an angel himself.

And the judges are once again on their feet.  It’s mad, Mary says, spectacular, and the emotion in her voice makes Ricky (who was clearly trembling on the edge) spill over into tears.  He takes her breath away.  We’ve stood up for you every time you’ve danced tonight, Jesse asserts (untrue, there was no standing o for the African Jazz) and we don’t just give away standing ovations.  This was a dream team between Kathryn, Ricky and Stacey, and all he can really do is clap and rhyme like he’s doing double dutch: “Hey, Ricky you’re so great, if you were older we could date!”  Dude, you’re officially still a newlywed!  Take it down a notch!

Nigel, however, is deeply grateful that Jesse’s broken the mood; he has recently lost two  friends to “the stupidity of suicide” (and though he doesn’t say it’s certainly topic  in the zeitgeist because of Robin Williams) and the routine opened up a lot of pain for him. He stumbles for a quote from John Lennon and simply ends up saying that suicide is not in God’s plan for us (which, unexpected as it may be coming out of Nigel’s mouth, is definitely not a John Lennon quote).  He adds that for all his innate talent and hard work, Ricky will be a wonderful addition to the dance world, and a great ambassador for this program when he leaves it.

Tiny young Valerie valued her dance classes as time to escape from her two older brothers.  She’d actually planned on becoming a dentist, but after starting college, she realized her heart wasn’t there and so she moved to LA, heard about the SYT audition and went.  The editing implies that the judges reaction to her was uniformly rapturous, but we of course remember that she was forced to go to choreography, where she obviously succeeded.  And just as obviously her success continued through Call Back week and she made the show, hurrah. Her highlights are very clearly the Top Twenty duet with Zack – she’d always dreamed about doing a tap duet like that – and then the top seven girls routine (“Young and Beautiful,” a highlight for me as well) which was the first time she ever felt completely lost in a dance.  A low light, of course, was her routine with Ade which the judges just didn’t believe.  It’s hard to feel you’re putting something out without being able to make the audience feel what you feel, she admits, but then says it taught her a lot anyway.  She wants us to remember her as the tapper with the red shoes who likes pigs and works really hard to conquer all styles.  You got it, Valerie!  My daughters refer to you as the pig girl.  And that might have something to do with why my seven year old is not only becoming obsessed with pigs herself, but also suddenly refusing to eat ham.

Valerie’s solo is typically bright and upbeat, in beautiful synchronization with Mark Ronson’s “Valerie.”  Any time I can hear Amy Winehouse’s voice, it’s all good.  Valerie’s wearing white pants, a cropped red top under a checked button down, and her red shoes, and she looks like a sort of All American picnic, and I just want to hug her.  There’s just something about this girl, you know?

Aaron does double duty as a tap All Star (finally! I can’t believe these two had to wait till the finale to get their own style!) pairing up with Zack for another Anthony Morigerato routine.  This time, Zack’s a tired businessman, and Aaron’s the bartender helping him relax and process the day.  And “Piano Man” by Billy Joel’s the perfect, perfect choice of song.

And it’s truly great.  You can see Zack’s character’s stress dissolve through his conversation with Aaron’s bartender, until they’ve reached one smooth, seamless synchronization, a slow, easy fusion of sound and movement.  I can’t even.  That might just be my favorite piece of the night, and there hasn’t been anything I didn’t like.

I don’t know how you’ve possibly grown this much in a season, Jesse opines.  Is that true?  I know that’s the show’s narrative about Zack, but honestly I feel like he’s always been brilliant; my experience of the season was just watching that unfold.  He’s malleable as a true artist, Jesse continues, and he doesn’t know how any choreographer in the country wouldn’t want to work with Zack after seeing him on the show.  Aw.  Sweet.

After his meandering last critique – or perhaps simply after an uncharacteristically inarticulate show of emotion – Nigel feels he owes us an apology.  And the actual John Lennon quote, which is “everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.”  He then quotes that great doyenne of the American theater, Dame Christina Applegate, and tells Anthony Morigerato to shut up.  And then he realizes he’s misquoted again and tells him to shut his face.  He thanks Zack for articulating tap so brilliantly, for the incredibly textures of his sound.  In the rehearsal package, Zack has told us that he’s so excited to get to show us all his true passion; Mary disagrees, saying he’s laid his passion out on the stage every week.

Raised a mere fifty miles from the So You Think studio, Jessica has had people telling her to audition all her life.  And all her life, she too has waited to turn 18 and audition.  She was amazed at the judges’ response to her initial audition; she’d never thought she was that good.  Of course, getting forced to dance for her life shook her confidence again, not to mention  the curse of having her first three partners all get  sent home.  She completely thought the jig was up when she landed in the bottom during top fourteen week, and was shocked when the judges saved her.  (I know, I know, but I actually believe her; it’s so funny to see how knowing her sexy dances are because she’s truly, as she said before that first audition, this completely goofy, silly, young and awkward she is in real life.)  The routine she recalls as a highlight was her duet with Casey, “Like Real People Do,” which first garnered her great critiques from the judges.

She chooses to do her solo in little black hot pants and a vest and hat, to a different version of “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” (Juliet Sims’ cover) than the one she used for her initial solo.  It’s very familiar.  It’s particularly weird since we’ve just seen a film clip of that audition, should anyone have forgotten it.  The music is different, and she’s splendid as ever, but it feels like a poor choice.  This time, the judges clap, but don’t stand.

Fortunately for her, she gets Travis Wall and Robert as her All Star.  Travis’s idea is that Jessica’s giving Robert one last chance to appreciate the complete, sexy awesomeness that is her before dumping his sorry ass.  He wants Jessica to unleash her inner beast.  And ooooh, he’s chosen Over the Rhine (love them!) and their gorgeous “When I Go” to set the mood.

And I must say, she does it well, although the best thing is that there’s no sexiness laid on top of the routine – it’s organic.  The stage is bathed in rectangle red light, stark and simple; Jessica wears a black teddy, and Robert simple pants.  Robert is a piece of work, cold and brutal, shoving Jessica, grabbing her by her throat and by her hair; really it’s intense all around, with Jessica grabbing her paramour by the chin, leaping onto his back, forcing him to pay attention.  “And I want to know, I want to know – will it make a difference, when I go?”  Finally we see the realization that she’s had enough, and after she’s smashed his face into her thigh, she stalks off.

That’s another incredibly Travis routine – they just keep coming, Nigel shakes his head, once he and the other judges finally sit down.  Nigel feels like people don’t understand how much he loves Jessica, so he takes the moment to tell us all that she is his favorite girl of this season.  I don’t really understand how people don’t know that, but okay.  Jessica was fire on the stage, Mary enthuses, and I felt every movement down to your smallest finger.  If greatness really does stay with us forever, then Mary hopes Jessica will always remember this day.  It’s a shame that you are Robert are so hard to look at, Jesse jokes, going on to call Travis and unending well of creativity, and say that it was his favorite routine of the night.

And for the absolute closer, we have Zack the small town tapper, who was born into dance because his mother owns a studio.  He too has watched the show his whole life and has been encouraged to audition as soon as he was able.  (Valerie, what’s up?  You seem to be the only non-lifer in this bunch.)  It turns out that he did audition when he turned 18, for season 9, and got cut (with Aaron) at the top thirty.  It sounds like he was too emotional to go back last year, but after seeing Aaron “kill it” he realized he needed to come back and keep tap alive.  But!  The judges really didn’t like his audition – fascinating info since we never saw it.  It turns out that Nigel actually hated his audition (machine gun tapping against boring music) and he barely squeaked into choreography.  Once there, however, the judges loved him, and he’s been riding high ever since.  He’s worked hard to show everyone what he can do, and credits his routine with Amy for turning him into a force to be reckoned with. Whether win or lose, he says, I’ve recovered my passion for dance, and that’s worth more than anything.

And, wow.  He dressed simply in a gray blazer over a white t and jeans, dancing to an instrumental version of “Superstition” by Adam Rafferty, and it’s stunning.  It’s a poem.  He’s so in sync with this piece of music – his dynamics are so varied and so beautiful – that he brings the judges to their feet once more. This is so clearly the best – and perhaps truest – we’ve ever seen him.  Well timed, Mr. Everheart.

And there it is!  Do we truly have a frontrunner, or is Jesse right that the winner’s circle is wide open?  Will Ricky, by virtue of being not only the most talented but also completely adorable, take the crown?  Or will Valerie out adorable him – or Zack out-narrative her?  I can’t wait to see!  Sorry for the late posting (things have been pleasantly insane here) but I’ll see you again tomorrow with routines that I hope and expect to see reprised tomorrow night.





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