It’s always fun to see the first finals week of "So You Think You Can Dance," where pairing breakdancers with ballerinas and forcing them to learn the salsa is often disastrously entertaining.
True to form, this season’s finals opener delivered on the entertainment, but for a different reason: The dancers have done their homework.
With three seasons to look back on, this year’s finalists must have learned from past contestants and trained outside their usual styles. How else can you explain Twitch, the breakdancing "Boss" doing Broadway-esque double-turns or Susie the Cuban salsa dancer waltzing with the grace of an English royal?
Apparently Susie’s hips do lie, but she'd better watch out, because Chelsea Traille seems more than happy — and well-equipped, I might add — to take over as token booty shaker. Joined by partner Thayne Jasperson, the two contemporary dancers cha-cha’d like Charo and set tongues wagging everywhere.
And while Katee Shean likely would have crumbled in a Latin number, she did manage to hold her own next to breakdancer Joshua Allen in a hip-hop routine worthy of an Emmy. Which is something to be said for a contemporary dancer who seems more likely to spend weekends in the library than the club.
The time used perfecting her popping, however, also could have been spent on her personal skills. After nearly losing her top-20 spot by telling the judges she wouldn’t come back if she didn’t make it, Katee’s trying a little too hard to be that "likeable" girl. Instead, she just comes across like a pageant queen, and she’s not winning Miss Congeniality anytime soon.
Then again, at least Katee’s never had Nigel tell her she has "the personality of a tree." No, that crown goes to Chris Jarosz, ironically paired with Comfort Fedoke, who has enough personality to fill a forest. Love her or hate her (I’m still undecided), this self-described "real hip-hop dancer" certainly is keepin’ it real. And love or hate the jive (hater here), these two somehow sold it.
Among this elite group it’s really no surprise that Matt Dorame and Kourtni Lynd, Jessica King and Will Wingfield and Rayven Armijo and Jamie Bayard made up the bottom three couples (despite the judges' attempts to convince us that Gev Manoukian and Courtney Galiano belonged there).
Not that any of them were actually bad, but this is a whole new class of contenders, and Matt’s "broomstick where the sun don’t shine" vibe or Jessica’s occasionally shaky landings just won’t cut it.
I will say Rayven and Jamie were definitely fighting the odds from the beginning. Of the entire top 20, they’re the only two who hadn’t received any real camera time until now. Then they’re forced to compete first and finally given a routine memorable only for a part where Rayven pulled Jamie’s pants to his ankles.
Not for nothing, but Jamie grabbing his crotch in underwear two sizes too small for him is no fond memory. And what’s with all the crotch-grabbing, anyway? That hasn’t been cool since Michael Jackson was cool … which was a really long time ago, dude.
Still, even with the deck stacked against them, the couple had the opportunity to redeem themselves in their "dance for your life" solos, which instead they botched completely.
You knew Jamie was going to blow it as soon as he opened his routine by tossing his jacket to the floor and undoing a button on his shirt. First the pants, now this … does he realize this isn’t "So You Think You Can Strip?" Sadly, the jacket thing was his best move, too.
Rayven, on the other hand, is apparently a skilled pointe ballerina who chose instead to come out looking like the bride of Chucky on demi pointe (lame ballet, not on toes). To her credit, she kept her clothes on and did a spinning jump kick that could make Jean-Claude Van Damme jealous. But it was also the only impressive part of her entire solo. For someone who’s supposed to be "dancing like their life depends on it," needless to say, I expect more.
So, it was a tearless send-off as Rayven and Jamie were rightfully sent packing, but the first cut won’t be the deepest here.
The days of Cedric the one-trick popper appear to be over as this year’s dancers come ready for windmills and pirouettes alike. With a group of finalists this strong, finding the weakest links to send home is going to become very difficult very soon.
Good dancers make for sad goodbyes, so prepare for heartache, America.