I realize we’re a week off from the finale, but now’s as good a time as ever to ask the tough question: What is missing from this damn season of So You Think You Can Dance? I still say SYTYCD is the greatest reality-competition on TV; I still say it’s an explosive That’s Entertainment!-type spectacle every week; and I still believe Mary Murphy’s hair and face are the same dynamite color that I’m calling This-Ranch-Hand’s-Been-Dead-For-Days Orange, but season 10 manages to fall short as addictive television.
Strange considering the choreography still rules, the judging is 100% fantastic if you disqualify Carly Rae Jepsen’s appearance (Thank you to this week’s guest-judge Jesse Tyler Ferguson for that scathing, hilarious aside about her failed guest stint, and the talent level is impossibly high. Why aren’t we impossibly high?)
For me, the problem is that the dancers don’t actually appear to be having much fun, and they don’t feel particularly obligated to emanate star quality. They’re working their asses off, but last season’s Cole Horibe interjected some goofiness into his discipline. His co-contestant Witney Carson lived to be saucy on that stage. This season, Jasmine Harper’s work is equally astounding — and her unthinkable leg extensions are architectural wonders — but I’m not detecting a personal sense of ebullience.
Even Amy Yakima, with her mile-wide smiles and ferocious contortions, feels merely peppy, not exuberant. Aaron and Fik-Shun are mega talents, but their unending cheer seems more coached than organic. All I’m saying is it’s hard to root for any one dancer when they’re all equally focused and satisfied with technical precision over X-factor magnetism. Bring me some Madonna-on-Bandstand carnality! Some Benatar shoulder shrugs! Some hungriness!
Which is not to say our six finalists didn’t bring it. They sure did. But I’m torn when it comes to picking my personal favorite and electing one of these kids the new Rhythm Nation dictator. Here’s a rundown of the nine partner routines.
Paul and Kathryn: All Kathryn’s Jazz!
A solid show-starter, and not just because all-star Kathryn began it wearing a gigantic stiltwalker “dress” (which was actually just a clever, ladder-draped illusion): The energy of this dance was relentless and fun, with both Paul and Kathryn thrusting around in a way that suggested “mating season at the Kit Kat Klub.” Unfortunately, Paul’s plasticine grins paled in comparison to Kathryn’s vivacious sexuality, and my eyes were glued solely on her fearless mug throughout the routine.
Hayley and Joshua: I “Roar” For More
Downright bizarre that Hayley danced a boxing-themed hip-hop routine that really, really resembled Katy Perry’s performance of “Roar” at the VMAs on Sunday. Same boxing ring, same triumphant fist-pumps, etc. Hayley even wore tight braids in the Katy style, and that made me fear that she was going to release a midtempo ballad that I can’t believe anybody likes. Choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo alerted us beforehand this routine hinged on the “hardness” of the movements, and if we’re being honest, Hayley couldn’t deliver in that department. She’s a beast, but not a knockout-dispensing hurricane when it comes to Evander Holyfield mimicry. If I had to compare her to a boxing icon, I’d go with Barbra Streisand in The Main Event. Joshua, meanwhile, riveted me with his pugilistic gall. Oscar de la Hell-yeah, or something.
Aaron and Melanie: Glisten Without Prejudice
For a Broadway routine, this was almost unassuming: Aaron and beloved champ Melanie cavorted and spun to George Michael’s “Faith,” matching that song’s snap-along energy with breezy flair. They both beamed and shined in every one of the routine’s big gestures, and even if the peppy shebang didn’t add up to one of the night’s more memorable routines, at least we were dealt a moment of unobjectionable fun. Melanie’s strength and control of her limbs? Still sick, y’all.
Fik-Shun and Witney: It’s Witney, B*tch
Ugh, cruel producers. They paired Fik-Shun, a ragtag b-boy who doesn’t blink much, with the foxiest foxtrotter who ever foxed on Fox, Witney “Voluptuous Vulpine” Carson. I love Witney so damn much. Mary tried comparing her to Marilyn Monroe, but you and I both know Witney is a near-doppelganger for the more sinister Jayne Mansfield. With every one of Witney’s spellbinding spins, I expected Mariska Hargitay to just fly out of her. Fik-Shun worked through the same problems with form he usually has, but he was no match for Witney’s unflappable charisma and coolness. And that is a fak-t.
Jasmine and Neil: The UGHPossible Starring Naomi WHATs?
Bad news, everyone: This was dumb. Tyce Diorio gets a look in his eyes when he’s explaining his choreography, like, “Everyone? Everyone? Gather ’round. I’ve figured out this world. And I’m going to illustrate my profound knowledge using a maudlin contemporary routine set to Colbie Caillat. Hold on tight, mortals.” This week he used windblown garbage to illustrate a tsunami (slow clap), and Jasmine and Neil had to act like they were reenacting key scenes from The Impossible. And God, were they, because this was hopelessly overwrought. Step for step, Jasmine was flawless. And eye-popping in her extensions and strength, of course. But how can you root for a routine so designed to make a cry-happy Mary Murphy jolt to her feet in a senseless blaze of “emotion”?
Amy and Alex Wong: Bolly Good Fellows
You know what Bollywood routines look like, and this was one of those. Plenty of single-leg bopping, “screw in that light bulb” hand choreography, and sequined snazz. Hey! That’s Bollywood! God, Alex Wong is gorgeous. His chest pulsed in that crazy vest like he was the naughtiest H&M employee ever. Amy gave us the toothy grins and sheer effort we expected. I’d have written this off as a successful, if unremarkable routine, but for some reason it ended with Alex rubbing Amy’s feet, and that creeped me out. So, unremarkably snazzy and creepy.
Paul and Hayley: Aw, Softest Proclaimers Ever.
Yes, Paul and Hayley served up emotions and poetry and light in this routine curiously set to a ballad version of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — but it’s more important that we discuss Mary Murphy’s reaction to the whole thing. Covered in tears and her typical butterscotch glaze, Mary cried out to the duo, “Is there anyone else hoping you’ll become A COUPLE?” Now, the sentiment is fine enough, but on a show where none of the contestants get to divulge whether they’re gay (or so it seems), maybe vocalizing a heterosexual fantasy about Hayley and Paul is a little ridiculous and groan-worthy. The fact that Jesse Tyler Ferguson announced he had a crush on Aaron was a pretty good antidote to this, thank God, but Mary: Maybe it’s time to let the other Marys on this show choose their own destiny, OK?
Amy and Fik-Shun: Ushered Away
Am I nightmaring here, or did Amy and Fik-Shun suddenly have very little chemistry between them? This Usher-soundtracked jam required the two buds to bump off each other like dynamos, and I felt like I was just watching Amy attempt to “ratchet” up her flygirl routine while Fik-Shun strutted around her. I’m glad both of these cats are headed to the finale, but I’m hoping they get a bigger and cooler last hurrah than this next week.
Jasmine and Aaron: Silver Streak
Aaron has perhaps the most impassioned fanbase in this competition since he just oozes underdog status, but I thought this routine — like many this season — was all about Jasmine. Did you see that 270-degree roundhouse? The one where her right leg ended up parallel to her horizontal torso as she (ahem) stood on her left leg? I can’t guarantee that Jasmine is the only female competitor able to contort that way, but it’s certainly become a signature superpower of hers. As of now: I want both of these guys to win the whole show, but I suspect they’ll have to put up a mighty, Tyson-sized fight (Sorry, Hayley!) to walk off with the prize.