E: You didn’t think I was going to get ahead of myself, did you? Give you information out of sequence? Post a spoiler? Never!
What I am going to do is plead with FOX to make sure this is not the last live SYTYCD episode I ever see. Please please please, number crunchers and big wigs at FOX. So You Think You Can Dance isn’t just a summer treat (though it certainly is that). And it’s not just a platform that breaks new musical acts, or an extended audition for Dancing With the Stars, though it’s that too. Didn’t you hear all those dancers saying how they’ve looked up to this program their whole lives? This is a unique space in the world of television. It’s not just an amazing outlet for creative genius, it’s become an institution. Not only do dancers not get the recognition and glamor that, say, singers or chefs or fashion designers do, they work incredibly hard to excel at their art with little hope of financial remuneration. Would you really deny them this one chance to show their skills? And deny us, the public, the pleasure of seeing them, of connecting with others and with ourselves in new and beautiful ways?
Seriously. Don’t make me beg. Renew the show.
I am also going to start by saying that I was kind of disappointed at the omission of several routines in last night’s parade of the season’s best work, and baffled by the inclusion of a few others. No ballroom and no group routines! I’m not shocked, but I am a little bummed. That said, it was still a terrific night of dance. And no where was this more evident than in the gorgeous opening number created by Broadway vet Warren Carlyle. The dancers wear white ties and tails, as befitting the momentous occasion (though as usual the girls don’t get pants), and there’s lots of group dancing in lines but also lots of cool solos from Emilio (breaking!) and Valerie (tap!) and Casey (spins!) and Ricky (pretending to play the trumpet). I’m feeling quite nostalgic, looking at Rudy mugging, and Teddy wagging his eyebrow at the camera, and watching Stanley pratfall. I love it. Love the ragtime, love the song (“Dr. Jazz” from Jelly’s Last Jam), love every single thing about it.
And, check out the massive judging panel! Mary looks lovely in a full length yellow gown, sitting on the outside of Nigel who’s wearing a handsome and rather fashion forward black tone on tone suit. Next to Nigel is – YES! – that great dame of dance, Debbie Allen, then Jenna Dewan Tatum, Adam Shankman (WOOT!) and Tara Lipinski. Cool. Cat’s looking sleek in a metallic gray mini-dress with a mesh overlay, sparkles, long sleeves and a mock turtleneck.
Mary starts us off by picking “Like Real People Do,” Travis’s love song for Jessica and Casey that made the judges see both dancers in a new light. I knew there was no way we wouldn’t see this one. It’s even lovelier than I remember, in large part because of the light, but also the amazing tenderness between the dancers. Did Casey stagger during one of the lifts? He did. Yikes.
During the course of the evening, Cat takes us through some memorable audition moments, the first being Courtney Barnes, waacker and Wendy Williams imitator.
Then we have Debbie’s pick, which she tells us is a transformative routine from her two favorite dancers of the season. It’s Ricky and Valerie, in Pharside and Phoenix’s “Turn Down For What”! Aw, cool! I was kind of expecting her to go for “The Vow,” but nope. It’s deliciously powerful, rich in character, and the side split leg wave is as awesome as I remember.
I really messed up when I didn’t add the routine Zack chose to reprise to my list. It was always clear he would want to do “Europe, After the Rain,” the duet he did with Amy about Sonya’s lost friend. I don’t know what I was thinking, forgetting that.
We only get to see Nigel’s pick, Ray Leeper’s “Dirty Diana,” after a lengthy explanation of how awesome Dancing With The Stars (or as Nigel half-jokes, Dancing With The Stars of So You Think You Can Dance) was for letting Allison off her contract for one night so she could dance it. I’m still baffled by her presence on that show, but that’s okay, I’m just glad she’s getting recognition for how fantastic she is. The routine kicks ass. (After it’s history, I was more than a little scared that Rudy was going to drop Allison since he literally only managed to catch her during their first live performance, but no, it went beautifully.)
Last year, Paula Abdul was the head judge for So You Think You Dance Australia. Cool! (I didn’t realize that the U.S. was the first country to start the show – I guess I figured Nigel kicked it off in England before bringing it here, but nope. Another reason you should keep it going, FOX – it’s inspiring the world!) As has happened before, the winner – a lad named Michael Dameski -got a performance slot here, and his solo is totally gymnastic, insanely bendy, and completely awesome. The crowd goes insane, and Michael – clad in black leather leggings and these strappy wrist gauntlet things – beams, looking like he can’t believe his luck. Afterwards, we get some audition footage of the supremely somnolent Gerard Swayne and his little crush on energetic Mary Murphy, and a montage of Cat finding new ways to say Shazaam, and hitting Nigel in the face with the mike.
Valerie’s favorite is – again predictably – “Sing,” her duet with Zack. I think I like it even better than the first time; I love listening for the different rhythms, and I love how they changed up the ending so they’re both sitting, back to back on top of the stage. They’re adorable.
Cat introduces Little Beast and Sir Blaze, otherwise known as Les Twins, an awesome dancing duo. Then we get Ricky’s choice, which is “The Vow,” and while I probably appreciate it more than the first time, I still don’t feel like it works with the music like I’d want it too. There’s too much stuff, even if it’s gorgeous stuff. I can see more of Sonya’s inspiration, but still, it leaves me cold. I’d rather watch 9 year old J4 meet tWitch and dance with Cyrus and Fik-shun.
And I’m definitely thrilled that the Twitter vote ended with Serge and Carly (my loves!) getting to perform “Senile.” It’s as bony and fabulous as ever. There’s an extended clip show about the supernatural bent of this season, which is fun enough, but mostly because I really like those creepy routines. And I love to see the judges standing at the end of the routine. Well done, Carly and Serge!
Less well done: the little cameo by Jasmine and Ciara, in which we don’t get to hear about Ciara’s struggles in the business like Valerie, Jessica, Ricky and Zack do. Lame, Degree. Not that I don’t want the show to have sponsors, and not that I don’t love them using Jasmine in their commercials, but surely that could have been more interesting?
I’m stunned when Jenna picks Tanisha and Rudy’s “You Need” routine from early in the season. Of course I’m completely thrilled that another of my most beloved dancers gets to perform, but if you were looking for a great Sonya piece, why not “Latch”? And if you were looking for great Rudy and Tanisha pieces, you could have picked “Good Kisser” or “Seduces Me” or virtually anything else they did and I would have been thrilled. So it’s a weird experience for me; I probably appreciated it more than the first time, but it feels like such a wasted opportunity.
Anyway. Enrique and Sean Paul. Time to get a snack!
It’s so great to be home, sighs Adam. How I missed you! After a bit of ham, he asks to see “The Anti-dote.” Awesome. It’s completely fierce, and I swear that Ricky and Zack change the ending pose, too. Just all kinds of fun. I’m not at all surprised to see it, but I’m super excited for Pharside and Phoenix anyway.
And when it’s done, Cat brings Jessica and Valerie out, along with an envelope. The dancer is fourth place is – Zack. He’s disappointed (and I’m kind of surprised, because I thought he killed it in the performance finale) but there’s a lovely tribute video, and a huge hug from Cat. “I’m going to squidge you almost to death here,” she murmurs.
Completely baffling me, Tara using her pick on the totally underwhelming NappyTabs pharaoh/snake routine,”Get Low.” I love Jasmine and Emilio (and man, did my daughters got nuts – the youngest is especially enamored of him) so I wish I was more excited about this. Obviously I do get teary eyed – yet again – over Christina Applegate telling eating disorder survivor Dani Platz that she sees and understands the way in which she makes her brokenness part of the beauty of her art. Weep!
Speaking of funny guest judges, Jesse Tyler Ferguson stops to chatter with his “spirit animal,” Travis Wall, for a goofy faux audition which culminates in him pulling out the ticket he’s bought himself to Vegas. This leads to a great montage of the whole season: Erik Silky Moore, who is an artist. The strippers. Christina Applegate’s wedgie dance. The bad tempered Dragon House guy. Caleb Brauner. Jaja. Christian the hot bearded guy. Marie Poppins. Valerie’s skirt getting stuck to the swing. Nigel getting the mike in the kisser. Over all the performance clips, we hear the judges encouragement. That’s why we do this. It is a work of art. Dance has the capacity to touch the human spirit.
And as if that wasn’t emotional enough – and yes, thank you, I am super emotional about the idea that this could be the end – we’re privileged to see a freaking awesome Sonya Tayeh/Christopher Scott routine for the touring group – the top ten and the All Stars. Set to Temptation Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” (which seems to have been used for the season history montage 5 years ago, unless I’m interpreting this video incorrectly) and it’s gorgeous. Set in a beautifully lit train station, beginning with the words “Even the smallest act of caring for another person is like a drop of water. It will make ripples throughout the pond,” it chronicles acts of kindness, largely from All Stars to the current cast members – first Fik-shun helping Jessica with her suitcase, then Kathryn and Robert helping out a bickering Tanisha and Rudy. Then the crowd parts for a panhandler, and Emilio doesn’t help him so much as sit with him and dance with him and move to understand his life. I’m not really sure who all the All Stars are – I see Fik-shun, Will, Robert, Kathryn, Amy, Jasmine, Marko, I think Jenna, and, I don’t know, is that Dominic in the hat? I’m confused. That’s still only 9. Is that, I don’t know, Courtney or Jamie? Anyway. Great breakdancing, clearly, and the joy of all their faces! The unison sections, especially that punching bit that Will leads? Wow. Look at Zack; instead of being downtrodden, he’s luminous. “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world,” the voice over finishes, awkward but potent. “That’s all who ever have.”
The top vote getting crew from the audition stage turns out to be The Wanted Ashiqz, who wear black pants, matching shiny blue vests and shoes and gloves – all except their leader, whose red vest hangs open over his chest. I love Bollywood, and I liked “Dhoom Again” (from the Dhoom 2 soundtrack) and I like their Bollywood/Hollywood sign (large red letters behind them in which the B can lose a few bulbs to transform into an H) but I don’t remotely understand how they could be the top crew. The studio audience loves them as much as the Twitter fans, however, so perhaps its just me.
Next up, Jessica’s favorite routine, which turns out to be her finale routine with Robert, “When I Go,” partly because she’s always looked up to Robert and Travis and loved working with them. It’s excellent, even better than the first time. I’m starting to be suspicious of the running order, though, because Cat shoos off Robert, calls out Ricky and Valerie, and reveals that Jessica is the third place finisher. Wow! Jenna is shocked. Jessica thanks the show for pushing her past her limits. And the experience of being with her fellow dancers and the choreographers and everyone involved in the show has been (as Zack said ) life changing. “I’ve never loved a group of people like I’ve loved them,” she cries. Aw!
I’m actually less shocked that Valerie beat out Jessica than I am that Jessica’s wearing her shredded outfit from the Travis Wall routine she and Ricky did at the start of their partnership, “Oh Darling,” about a girl trying to win back the one who got away. Huh. The judges weren’t jazzed about it at the time – they all said that Valerie need to work hard so as not to basically embarrass herself next to Ricky – but that’s what Cat wants to see again. Okay! And even though there were routines I’d have preferred to see, I’m really glad they did this, because it’s clear how much Valerie has grown. Her backbend – balanced on Ricky’s knees, arms crossed – is spectacular – and all in all, her dancing and her acting are miles better. Really great. The judges give a standing ovation to these noble contestants, who are even better partners.
And then Cat shows them both a montage of their time on the show, with lots of teary moments talking about their partnership and how much they truly love each other. Aw! And then she takes out the envelope, and tells us that Ricky Ueeda is – as we all predicted from day one – not merely the best dancer in the cast, but America’s favorite dancer.
That Ricky is a loud crier. Cat tells Ricky and us that she’s giving him the results card, because she knows he’s all about collecting mementos. Aw! I’m astounded he can gather himself up enough to speak, but he does so eloquently. “I’ve dreamed of this exact moment for so long,” he gasps, astounded and undone. Finally Cat relents, and he’s mobbed by 19 ecstatic dancers. Nick and Zack hoist him onto their shoulders, and they cry and cheer together.
That feels like a pretty fitting end to a lovely season. Contestants may change, choreographers move on, judges shift, but the show itself is both the same, and always new. For their camaraderie, their devotion, their prodigious skill, and their joy, these dancers delight and amaze me every week. I will be praying from now till FOX makes its decision sometime next year that the show returns. I want it for Jaja and Silky and Hailee and Justine and Christian and Novien and Landon and all the other terrific dancers who didn’t make it this time. I want it for my kids, and kids in dance classes all across America. I want this positive explosion of creativity and hard work to blast out of my television next year. I want it for all of us. I want it for me.