E: I had to get something in before the show finishes, didn’t I? Life’s been more than a bit overwhelming, but I have to say something, even at a rush. The performance finale was a night of swoony, swoony dances, of standing ovations and kisses and fanning and tears. It’s been a beautiful season and it’s too short and I just haven’t had enough time. If this is the end of my beloved show (which I desperately hope it’s not) at least it will go out on a high note.
Instead of a recap, I just want to look at some pertinent questions. Who’s going to win tonight, and which pieces will the judges choose to replay? What was the best of season 14?
If we’re going to talk about a winner, my gut says the frontrunner is Lex. Only Lex and Taylor have remained out of the bottom three all season, first of all. And Lex is not just astonishingly technically brilliant as a contemporary dancer, but excels outside his style to a level rarely seen on this program – and this program is pretty much the only place you see dancers even attempt to cross styles unless you count pop stars on Dancing With the Stars. He’s jaw-droppingly wonderful at contemporary, hip hop, Broadway and tap. Okay, so ballroom was a bit of an Achilles heel, but he only had to go there once.
Lex was also gifted with a classic winner’s story line (Lex has no personality!) which could help him win viewer’s affections. The show highlighted his rehearsal time giggles and his every smile on stage. I hate the way the show puts this – obviously he has a personality, it’s just not an expressive one. He turned out to be pretty expressive as a dancer, even if he’s still prone to being glum while talking on camera. Finally, he may be pushed over the line with a Peeta-like confession of love for the similarly awkward Taylor. I’m a little mad at myself for not calling this when the two of them stared awkwardly at each other in the rehearsal package for their first duet (they seemed almost weirdly self-conscious!) and can’t help laughing that I noticed how much more comfortable Taylor seemed trying to be sexy in the rest of the finale, never more so than in Mandy’s sultry jazz piece “Black and Gold” with Koine.
I’m not really sure why I think it’s not going to be Taylor, who is pretty damn fantastic and was tagged early on as the dancer to beat. Maybe her routines just haven’t amazed me to the level of Lex’s. Maybe I feel like her bashfulness (adorable though it is) holds her back. Maybe it just feels like the show made less of a deal about her. Maybe her storyline (Taylor needs to come out of her shell!) has had less clear of an arc. Who knows. I could be wrong. But think of the tension if these two are the final two! How Hunger Games! The Star Crossed lovers of Season 14! And who knows. She’s sweet and gorgeous and incredibly talented.
As wonderful as both Lex and Taylor have been, however, both their competitors have it over them in performance value. Perhaps that slight age difference gives twenty-somethings Koine and Kiki over their 19 year old fellow contestants. I can see why the judges praise Taylor’s long lines, but Koine packs so much emotion and character into everything she does. She commits fully to every routine, and so I enjoy watching her differently than I enjoy Taylor and Lex, not merely to appreciate her impressive aesthetic skill but to be entertained, to be drawn into a different world. I would say she disappears into each role, but it’s more than that; each role brings out what feels like another genuine, authentic side of Koine. I’m incredibly impressed with her. Who knows? She could have a brilliant career as an actress as well.
And of course Kiki doesn’t have the physical flexibility of the other dancers, and he can’t jump like Lex, but he too packs something extra. I think it’s impossible to overstate his on-stage chemistry with Jenna, and the really interesting place this puts fans who know she has a real life boyfriend. (I count among those fans judge Vanessa Hudgens, who squealed “it’s love!” and threw her hands over her head when Jenna broke down over their partnership ending.) He’s a great partner, he’s a real character, he elevates the game of every person he dances with, and he just shines. He too has a good story line: Jenna saved him at the Academy when he totally failed at learning the choreography. It’s almost suspicious how great he’s been on the show in comparison. He’s certainly an underdog, the dark horse Jenna spoke of. And honestly, most of my favorite routines of the season are his.
I think I’d be happy to see any of these four win – they’re all deserving – and the only one I really count out is Koine, which is a shame. This is to say that I think Lex is the likeliest winner, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Kiki take it (we know Nigel’s predicting a male winner) or Taylor.
Normally, I write up a whole piece about the best routines of the season, hoping to figure out which ones will be danced over again. Sadly, this year I just haven’t had the blogging time, but I do want to comment on this a little. The performance finale already featured my favorite routine of the season, Kiki and Jenna’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (albeit to a less lovely version of the song – what was up with that? did they play it the first time without securing the rights?) along with other favorites of mine (“More” tap!) and the judges (“Change if Everything”) so I have less at stake in whatever the show chooses to reprise. That said, the routines I’m still hoping to see include:
How Can They Not?:
“Caroline,” Kiki and Jenna hip hop
“You Don’t Own Me,” Koine and Marko hip hop
“Dancin’ Fool,” Kiki and Jenna Broadway with canes
“L-O-V-E,” Koine and Lex Broadway
“An American in Paris,” Lex and Taylor Broadway
“The Man That Got Away,” Taylor and Robert Broadway
Routines I adore that probably won’t replay:
“Ending” Mark and Comfort’s brutal contemporary
“Say You Won’t Let Go,” Logan and Allison’s gentle, good morning hip hop
“The Letting Go,” Sydney and Paul contemporary
Ones that might happen:
“Bodak Yellow,” Taylor and Robert hip hop
“Humble,” Lex and Gaby hip hop (but for the love of God, change out Gaby’s wig!)
“You Matter to Me,” Lex and Taylor contemporary (because who can fight the combined forces of Mia Michaels, Sara Barielles and kissing?)
“Memories,” Koine and Marko contemporary
“I’m Better,” Kaylee and Cyrus alien hip hop
“DKLA,” Kaylee and Cyrus homelessness contemporary
“The Rain,” Kiki and Lex hip hop
“Rock Around the Clock,” Koine and Marko jive
Finally, my favorite group numbers (which Cat often chooses as her replay):
“Brand New,” Mandy Moore’s season opening routine from Academy Week
“Strange Fruit,” Travis Wall, topical contemporary
“You Should Be Dancing,” disco, Val Chmerkovsky and Mandy Moore
“Ya Ya,” Luthor Brown’s fabulous tribal flavored hip hop
“Derniere Danse,” Brian Friedman’s super cool French jazz
“Mi Gente,” Nappy Tabs bravura opening for the performance finale
“Still I Rise,” Sean Cheesman spoken word contemporary
“Call Me Mother,” Mark Nakamura jazz
As you can see, I really really love the group numbers. Usually they don’t actually perform them again, but still. They rule. And so does this show. Ah, finales! You’re so bittersweet!