So You Think You Can Dance, Next Generation: Dance Academy, Volume 2

E:  Because that’s how I roll this season, I’m going to start with some dissatisfaction.  Having a Top Ten just doesn’t work for me.  It’s too few contestants, and forced some really brutal cuts.  And clearly, there had to have been pressure on the All Stars to pick personality over skill to get some of the younger kids on the show.  (Maybe I’ve been watching too much Unreal, but I can’t help seeing manipulation everywhere.)  All that said, most of the Top Ten is pretty impressive, and I’m excited to see more of them.  Bland Maddie Zeigler, not so much.

The remaining thirty contestants have two choreography rounds to impress their All Stars, starting with hip hop.  Tabitha and Napoleon teach the routine in a terrifyingly short 90 minutes, which features a lot of interaction between a pair of dancers. First up are Robert and Comfort’s teams, beginning with Josiah (whom we’ve barely seen, but wow, he slaughtered it!) and Tahani, then moving on to Sage and Aniyah, Gavin and Logan (the latter of whom rocked it), and 10 year old pixies J.T. and Phoenix.  While the last two dancers clearly have the choreography down, they flail, and fail to capture the style.  If it were me, I’d boot them both; only Gavin looked a little unsure but was still more pleasant.  This is where I suspect producer manipulation (don’t let all the kids be older and accomplished, it’s boring!), because it’s otherwise explicable that Gavin goes home with Robert drawing gasps from my children by flatly declaring that he can’t connect with the boy, and itty bitty J.T. and his big personality stays.

As is usual, hip hop results in two contestants dancing for their lives: Logan, who seemed pretty damn fantastic at the choreography, actually, and Phoenix, who wasn’t.  This should have been an easy cut for Comfort, but it wasn’t.  Even after the two danced for their lives, I still would have kept b girl Logan over the tiny blond animator, but Comfort chose the other way.

Stand outs in the round?  Daniela, Emma, Kida, Jade, Ruby, Romeo, Jake and Avery.  I’m somewhat skeptical about Jake in general, but he was on point here.

And you know what’s extra painful about the new format?  Every single kids cries when they cut.  Big gulpy sobs into their parents’ shoulders, with sniffles and gasps as they try to control themselves enough for an exit interview.  It’s excruciating.   Ballroom standout Lev and robotic animator Merrick are among the fallen this round, and it hurts to see them so distraught.

At 4pm, the remaining thirty contestants are hustled back into the ballroom for some uplifting words from their All Stars, and then another 90 minutes to learn a Travis Wall routine.  (Maddie Zeigler is as enthusiastic as she gets about this, because Travis is her favorite all time choreographer.) Though Travis tells us he’s not dumbing down the choreography, he doesn’t have the dancers interact: instead, all three remaining team members will perform together, giving us a clear picture of who gets the style and who doesn’t.

We start by watching Kathryn’s team, who bring her to tears with their stunning execution.  And they are wonderful.  She’s gutted at the thought of cutting one of them, but eventually forces herself to lose Quinn so she can keep Avery and Tate.  I can’t imagine that she’s not going to pick Tate in the end, which you’d think would make this easier, but between Avery and Quinn (who are both terrific) it has to be a tough choice.  At my house, we thought Quinn and Tate were more in sync with each other, but I guess that didn’t matter.

Sasha cuts Ashley, who we don’t know much about.  I guess being in sync does matter to some of the All Stars, because after his other two dancers look slightly better together, Robert cuts Sage off his team, which is a bit of a horror. I mean,  Josiah was brilliant, and it seems like J.T. (who is admittedly an astounding leaper) is off the table, so there’s nothing else for him to do.  Still it should have been a battle between Sage and Josiah if skill were the point.  Gaby keeps Emma and Ryan, sending lovely tapper Lucas home; it’s the right call, but it’s painful to watch him clutching his mother and hear her say, it’s okay, we’ll just work harder.  Jenna sobs while she cuts Dougie (we know she wasn’t going to go with a wild card pick but still), and Comfort slices Aniyah (ouch).  Jonathan loses Victoria, Joshua Tre, and Fik-shun J.J.; the hip hop boys are highlighted, because they performed incredibly well.  How Kida did those leaps?  He’s one to watch, no question.

And now we’re left with twenty dancers, more solos (which we don’t see), and interviews between the All Stars and their prospective contestants.  We get a montage of the All Stars sounding contestants on The Bachelor: I don’t know how I’m going to pick between these two, it’s painful, it’s hard, I’m going to have to go with my gut, I can’t decide.    Wrecked because of her connection with the tiny dancer, Kathryn chooses Tate over Avery anyway; this comes as a surprise to absolutely no one who’s watched the show, but it’s particularly painful for the two girls, who now consider themselves best friends.  Sasha picks Jordan, which feels good (look at her celebrating with her grandma!).  In another non-shocker, Fik-shun goes with star-in-the-making Kida.  Despite some interview clips telling us that Jenna cried tears of pride over adorable floppy haired Joshua in the contemporary round, she too falls victim for the need to pick tiny contestants and goes with flirty, producer-favorite Jake.  (There’s actually a hilarious bit where she asks Joshua if he could lift other contestants or even her, and he says he has experience lifting bigger girls.  One look at Jenna’s face sends him spinning. “I mean taller.  The word is taller.”) In the absolute worst decision of the bunch, Robert goes with funny producer-fave J.T. over the far superior dancer Josiah.

You know who the producers don’t seem to like?  Joshua, who chooses Sheaden, a contestant we’ve barely seen, over Romeo, another contestant we’ve barely seen.  Boo.  Seriously.  I’m very excited to see more of Sheaden in the live shows and hope he can overcome air-time bias.  Paul makes me cry by praising his last two contestants, Ruby and Sophia, for their maturity, discipline and hard work before going with the dancer in his style; I’m glad they highlighted how wonderful Sophia is, but this is yet another moment I really really wish they had a top twenty.  (By the way, between Tate, Kida and Ruby, all three kids who were fought over by All Stars, have made the show.  No surprise.)  Gaby, who’s been the most calm and self-possessed of the All Stars when making her choices throughout the entire process, surprises no one by picking firecracker Emma over the very strong competition, Ryan. (Here I don’t mind them going with a big personality, because Emma backs up her excellent performance quality with skill.) Between excellent choices Daniela and Camila, Jonathan goes with Daniela. I fully expect to see her mom Anna during the live shows, which could be a blast.  Finally, Comfort is faced with Tahani (too cute?) and Phoenix (raw, but not as good with choreography), and rightly picks Tahani after seeing signs she’s able to get down as well as up.

And that’s it.  What do you think of the Top Ten?  Do you wish there were more contestants?  Do you think that some All Stars were pressured into taking very young kids to make the show more dramatic, or am I being paranoid?  Or are you still longing for the way things used to be?  Also, do you think that Cat’s opening up her traditional Fourth of July BBQ to the little contestants, or will it be all All Stars? Let me know what you think!

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