E: Okay, so. If you have seen the episode, and you read this site, you can probably guess at least two of my reactions without me telling you. Since this is a blog, however, I guess I need to actually tell you, and not just make you guess.
First, I can’t believe they’re dragging out the Academy one more week, and now we’re not going to get any live shows until August. We’ve had a freaking month of the Academy! I’m sorry, that’s so not cool. At least this episode featured actual dance routines, but geez, man. What are we going to get, four live shows? Why must you keep breaking my heart, SYT?
Speaking of which, you know the other thing. Worst elimination decision ever. Best dancer of the season gone, and WHY? Boo, hiss, stupid judges.
So, okay. Each of the ten contestants are paired with an All Star; one of the show’s choreographer’s will make them a piece in a style not their own. It’s a fair enough test, given that we have to be here and doing this. Which I wish we weren’t. But okay.
First up is Hannahlei Cabanillo, who will be dancing a salsa routine with Jonathan Platero, which will be choreographed by his wife and partner Oksana Platero. (I am mesmerized by his strange, terrible ponytail mullet. I mean, he’s got great hair, but this style? To each their own, I guess. ) Each girl gets a little interview with Cat, so we learn that Hannahlei’s best moment of Academy Week was when the judges told her she had never disappointed them. Which, wow, kind of makes them sound like abusive parents who have dozens of children competing for their love. It’s a little unsettling.
The routine’s set to J. Lo’s “El Anillo” and it’s a flurry of insane lifts. It’s liftapalooza. Hannahlei doesn’t do a ton of moving on her actual feet (she’s mostly posing while she’s on the ground) but holy crap, some of the stuff she does is insane, leaping and turning in air and nearing dropping to the floor. And that it’s out of her style? Is she just preternaturally gifted? The judges are pretty astonished – Vanessa by her core strength, Nigel by her fearlessness, Mary by all the tricks. They love it. I put a smiley face next to her name in my notes; if I had to guess, I’d say they’d put her through.
After Hannahlei comes Magda Fialek, who’s wearing her denim boyfriend shirt again to perform a Mandy Moore routine with Robert Roldan. She tells us that she’s concentrating on feeling the piece, on pure and authentic emotion, and hopes the truth of that will be enough. (She also tells us her favorite part of the week was hip hop, because she came into Academy Week thinking she had negative swag, yet the judges ended up being really impressed.) . Robert thinks she deserves a spot on the show, and when we see them dance to an acoustic version of “What About Us” I can’t help but agree; she matches him well, and you do really feel the emotion and struggle. There’s this incredible move where he stands on one foot, other leg extended, and spins while she’s draped over his torso and back leg which manages to be striking technique and emotion at the same time. Vanessa (who is wearing a flowered dress with a plunging neckline, super dark lipstick and red eye shadow that’s my least favorite trend because it makes the wearer look like a sickly vampire) sobs unabashedly. Mary’s voice cracks as she admits the extraordinary performance got her too. Even Magda (her own face clear of make up, vulnerable) gets choked up at the judges’ praise.
She gets a smiley face, too. (By the way, I follow an SYT group on social media that shared this video, and almost all of the fawning comments were about Robert. It made me sad for Magda that so many people who love the show didn’t even seem to see her. Can new contestants ever catch up?)
Performer 3 is Dayna Madison, who Cat incorrectly identifies as a contemporary dancer, is doing cha cha with Paul Karmiryan as choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin. Of course they’ve given her ballroom, which she felt was her weakest point in entire week. She does way better her first stab, but not nearly at Hannahlei’s level – and the comparison is made easier because she’s dancing to J. Lo and Pitbull’s “Dance Again.” Mary thought it was very good, but occasionally uncomfortable and definitely lacking in chemistry. She gets good notes from Nigel, and also from Vanessa who lauds her great attitude and the fact that she looked like she was having the time of her life. Somehow I get the over all feeling from the judges that they’re letting her down easy – that they liked it, and want her to feel good, but they’re not sold – and so she gets a frowny face with a question mark in my notes; my gut says it doesn’t look good.
For Genessy Castillo, Academy Week has been a struggle with her self-confidence. Sometimes she does well, and sometimes she thinks she gets in her own way. She has worked on hip hop, and feels really great about working with Fik-shun and Christopher Scott; right away the two dancers share a fun energy. Their piece, set to N.E.R.D.’s “Lapdance,” has a kind of peppy groove to it, with lots of deep knee bends and knee turns. I would say it’s not amazing, but it’s really enjoyable, partly because these two kids keep giving each other huge smiles, and are both deep in the pocket.
The judges can’t contain themselves. You put in the work and it shows, Nigel enthuses. And that reverse attitude knee turn! Holy cow! Mary loved her attitude, and says it was clear Fik-shun loved dancing with her. “Mutual,” Genessy calls out, nodding.
I put a question mark next to her name, without an emoji of any kind, because as well as this went – and the judges are unreservedly enthusiastic in a way that definitely feels positive, and much less patronizing than with Dayna – she did struggle through the whole week more than anyone else left in the competition.
After Genessy we have Brianna Penrose, the marvelous tapper who’ll be giving us a Jaci Royal contemporary with Brandon Bryant. Aw, it’s cool to see him! He thinks the tapper really turned it out. Brianna lets us know that she choreographed her final solo herself, and the judges (especially Nigel) didn’t like it. Ouch. I’ve suddenly got a bad feeling about this. Maybe it’s because it’s Jaci, who’s routines are hit or miss? They dance to Gordi’s “The Bitter End” and it’s very, I don’t know, contemporary. Brandon’s shirtless, and the two of them roll over and around each other a lot, and even stick to each other a couple of times. After Magda gave us such a beautiful, heart-felt piece, you can see Brianna’s not doing as well as the show would want her to. Vanessa’s positive, but Mary mentions that even with all the passion Brianna put into the piece, it still felt labored, and Nigel (who couldn’t look away during the performance) just dumps all over her. It was plodding and heavy and the lifts and transitions didn’t work, and, and, ouch. Definitely a frowny face.
In the sixth position we have the underseen but definitely intriguing Chelsea Hough, who like Hannahlei is doing salsa with Jonathan and Oksana. They take a completely different tack with this piece; more character, more feet on the floor and hip swiveling, less tricks. (There was a cool drop lift thing at the end, and this crazy split, but it wasn’t non-stop like Hannahlei’s.) I like it, but I know other fans of the show who felt it didn’t really stand out.
“Your hips don’t lie,” Nigel quips (ew), and Mary loves that Chelsea was so in it and made difficult moves (like the split) look easy. After they dismiss her, the judges say that she’d been going down their list but now is up. Huh. I give that a question mark.
Stephanie Sosa talks about losing her brother in the start of Academy Week. Not in the death sense, obviously, just in the competition. She’s dancing contemporary with Lex Ishimoto to another Mandy Moore piece, and geeks out over working with the show’s reigning champ, which is pretty adorable. She’s really endearing, altogether. Though they don’t have costumes (no one does), they’re dressed in black and white, and the contrast is nice. James Blake’s “Limit Your Love” is the song, and – my heart sinks. It’s pretty clear she’s not on the level they want; not bad, but not a stand out. Lex has more to do, with is very frustrating, Mandy. It wasn’t liquid, but it was stronger than I expected, Mary says. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t a wow, Nigel tells her, and Vanessa agrees, although she too can’t help geeking out over Lex. With regret, she gets a frowny face.
Our next contestant is Sydney Moss, who’s wearing a cute red dress that’s very La La Land, and talks about the show offering dancers an unparalleled platform for their careers. She gets Paul, Dmitry, the cha cha and “Breathe” by Jax Jones featuring Ina Wroldsen. Paul thinks she’s going to blow everyone away, but somehow it’s all wrong when they do it for the judges. I’m sorry, not all wrong, but it just doesn’t gel. Not bad, but I wanted more, especially more connection, Mary says. Nigel didn’t think she really felt the music, and Vanessa is in like, not love. It was monotone. Poor Sydney hopes they’ll put this last piece in the context of the whole week. Ballroom is such a killer! I put down a frowny face.
Ooh, it’s my favorite, Emily Carr! She of course recounts Travis saying he can’t wait to work for her, and we get to see her cry with joy. She’s working with Fik-shun and Chris Scott, and feels like her challenge is to keep up with her partner (huge) and to be memorable. Last week we saw enough clips of this to have me super excited for it.
Everyone starts grooving when the song begins, because it’s Montell Jordan’s excellent party jam, “This is How We Do It.” Good times! The piece seems much more challenging than Genessy’s – there’s tutting, there’s ticking, Emily flips her arms straight back behind her head over Fik-shun’s for a little bone breaking, and they’ve just got this great chill vibe. And, wow, they face each other and do this crazy worm/plank move, and I can’t even imagine the core strength that took. Then they do parallel kip ups, and again, wow. They finish with Emily flipping in opposite directions.
After asking if her shoulders are double jointed (they are), and letting her get in a funny line about being born this way, the judges start raining on my parade. It was fun, Vanessa says, but your energy wasn’t really equal to his. What? Mary thinks she was concentrating too hard (looks like she was really in the groove to me) and Nigel thinks the routine made her look like she wasn’t strong. Excuse me, what? Were we watching the same thing? It was fun and you did well, he finishes, but I’m stunned, and reluctantly give her a question mark. I mean, come on. They couldn’t possible leave her off the short list, can they?
The last dancer is the way over-promoted Jensen Arnold, who’s drawn Brandon and (surprise!) Ray Leeper. Step up for our first jazz routine of the night. She’s ready, she says. She’s so much readier than she was last year. She felt like she hit her stride in hip hop, and feels great about everything that’s gone before. Brandon tells her not to worry about this, either; be a goddess, and he’ll be her black panther. Say what?
From the very first strains of Marion HIll’s “Got It,” Jensen proves she’s got it. I was really fed up with the way the show was pushing her, but wow, I’m so impressed with her attack and her fierce character here. This is the almost first dance that feels like what we would normally get on the show, like a real routine. What happened to Little Miss Apple Pie, Nigel wonders, prompting Jensen to giggle. In true skeevy style he praises her for “maturing.” It was the most assured performance of the night, Mary says, and I think I agree. Brandon pushed you, Vanessa suggests, to places you’ve never gone. He was your hype man. I wanted to have edge, Jensen tells us, squealing “I did it!”
And, yeah, she gets a smiley face, darn it.
If you’re counting, my assessment at this point was that Brianna, Sydney, and Samantha will be out. Hannahlei, Magda and Jensen are in, but between Dayna, Chelsea, Genessy and Emily, I’m not sure.
Nigel calls them all on stage, and shows them the American Idol style chairs set out for the top five. Those who don’t make it should feel good about stepping into their future, because they were all great. First up is Hannahlei, whose personality really only comes out when she’s dancing – and is obviously in the top five. Take a seat! Brianna loses herself outside of her tap shoes, and off she goes. Sydney, too, didn’t have it today. Bye! Jensen was their favorite of the day: seat! It would be impossible to take all the ballroom girls into the top – or would it? Magda, take a seat. Emily, we’ve decided you’re not consistent. What? No no no no no! They send her home, stopping all over my fannish heart in the process. How could you do that?
Genessy ran under their radar for most of Academy Week, but not anymore. Sit! Stephanie steps up next. You made it so hard, they tell her. Please come back. So it’s left between Chelsea and Dayna, and though it was a difficult choice, they pick Chelsea to take the last seat.
And, okay, it’s not that they’re not great dancers. It’s not that I don’t understand why most of them are there. Buy whhhhhhyyyyy let Emily go? I’m having trouble getting past it.
And there it is. Next week they’ll do the same thing with the boys, but I won’t be around to recap it. See you at the live shows! Assuming they don’t find yet another reason to delay them, that is…