We’ll start with the surprising news: Wayne Brady? A very satisfactory So You Think You Can Dance judge. His vaudevillian humor and instincts dovetail nicely with the required theatricality of SYTYCD contestants, so I was happy to hear him offer praise and criticism in that regard. He was certainly more capable of analyzing contestants than the blankly jovial Minnie Driver, who — in case you forgot — was a judge on this show. So strange.
The final day of auditions brought with it a few thrilling characters, including a few who narrowly missed my Top 5 readout. Among the also-rans: Courtney Thurston earned herself a disqualification from this list by choosing Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love” and patting her heart repeatedly to illustrate THE POWER OF LOVE. Even Peabo Bryson’s like, “That’s a little cheesy.” Trapeze expert Elyse Frelinger moved gracefully, but her Mira Sorvino-esque good looks aren’t compelling enough quite yet. There was also a traditional and good-humored Mongolian dancer, which makes her a combination of Genghis Khan and Madeline Kahn, but not good enough for this list.
Still, we’ve got five applicants who qualify. Ranked and ready, for your judgment:
5. Jenna Johnson, Cha-Cha-Charge!
Jenna Johnson’s cha-cha skills were distinctly above average, which is something I can’t say for the name “Jenna Johnson.” She swung and swerved and kicked with an Ultimate Fighter’s agility, and that harshness is somewhat rare in the cha-cha realm. Though she earned her ticket to Vegas, the most exciting part of her routine was her partner Landon, who is a bit too young to audition for the show. I imagine the scene-stealing rookie will be a serious contender for SYTYCD in coming seasons — that is, if there are coming seasons! Ay-yiy-yiy! — because I believe those jutting hips spelled out “I’m ready to win the 2014 season” in beautiful cursive.
4. Tucker Knox: Triumphant Shirtlessness
I’m the opposite of someone who cares about sob stories, but Tucker Knox’s sobs were adorable, so that changes everything. The curly-haired Juilliardian survived a car wreck that broke his spine, mangled the rest of him, and rather unceremoniously ruined his life, but he recouped and re-upped his skills, which strikes me as a defiant gesture. Better yet, he moves wonderfully, combining contemporary and gymnastic maneuvers with shirtless chutzpah. We’re not quite at Chehon-level shirtless chutzpah, but we’re in the same ballpark. I wouldn’t be surprised if we found out Chehon’s chest was made of cast-iron and liquid fire, by the way. Not that I’ve tried rendering it in sculpture before. No, never. Heh.
3. Nico Greetham: Whip-Smart
Nico Greetham may have the name and visage of a children’s book character (Would you flinch if I told you he was Cat Deeley’s teenage brother?), but never you mind: The 18-year-old slammed around that stage, employing his legginess like a whip and pulsing with gunshot choreography. I’m always going to root for contestants like Nico who compel us with fierce starkness over another majestically pretty contemporary routine, and thus, I’m willing to forgive the fact that his routine was a tad short. It’s possible we have the new Kent Boyd on our hands, though Kent never had a fiery Colombian mother like Nico here. Damning aside: His mom should soooort of be ashamed for screaming so loud in the middle of his routine.
2. BluPrint Follows Cyrus’ Plan
Please don’t forget that Cyrus’ continued non-elimination last year was a pain in the ass. He was very good, but he didn’t compare to mah man Cole Horibe and his sexified samurai stylings, or many other dancers in the competition. It appears we may have a sequel to Cyrus in the form of BluPrint, Cyrus’ onetime collaborator who is an electrified, fizzling, cheeky animator too. I’m always surprised that the judges don’t remark about how witty animators can be, because their way of incorporating (or, rather, being) the music is so clever, as well as athletically impressive and difficult. I loved Mary’s reaction to the routine, as her whooping and clapping seemed to occur spastically, without an artificial air.
1. Jasmine Harper
Surprise! Both of my Top 2 picks are acquaintances of Cyrus. How about that? Something.
Jasmine Harper looks like Kelis as dressed like Charmaine from The Cosby Show. Newsflash: I love that. In fact, she’s wearing the colors of the set of Scrabble from 1989, and that means she wants me to love her. Mission accomplished. She detailed her dating history with Cyrus, which apparently ended last year during Cyrus’ run on SYTYCD. Scandalous? Maybe, but this girl completely stands on her own as a stage-owning dynamo. While a not-too-cloying Destiny’s Child rendition of “Amazing Grace” played, Jasmine exploded and grasped and rejoiced and raged during her contemporary routine, giving off the air of a modernized Alvin Ailey Revelations solo. For me, this was the clear best routine of the night, as it succeeded in being both professionally proficient and personally revealing. This was a dance about Jasmine, and for that she’s just become a frontrunner in the competition. As Kelis would say: This girl’s bossy!