SYTYCD Recap: Electra Boogaloo!

So You Think You Can Dance continued a Season 8 tradition on Wednesday night of bringing us an inoffensive guest judge who lobbed softballs and/or followed the Nigel Lythgoe party line. The latest variation on this theme, Carmen Electra, brought a supple, new-age-y twist to the role, but she might have been just as effective if she’d held up placards with emoticons conveying her feelings about the various dances: “Happy,” “sad,” “sexy,” and “I’ve run out of vocabulary words.” The one thing that confused me about Electra’s judging stint, though, was her response to Cat Deeley’s question about her dance credentials.

Seriously, Carmen, you’re going to bore us with tales of being named Miss Dance Ohio when a quick Google search reveals you’re the star of such legendary workout videos as Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease: In the Bedroom and Carmen Electra’s The Lap Dance and Hip-Hop? Plus, I may or may not have in my CD collection your self-titled 1993 debut featuring the classic chart-topper crapsterpiece “Go-Go Dancer.” That video had you shaking your moneymaker, working the pole like a 9-to-5, and performing a series of impressive handsprings. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of! (Click here if you’ve never witnessed this stunning/tragique piece of art.)

Anyhow, while Carmen neither raised nor lowered my enjoyment of the two-hour telecast, fellow first-time panelist (and former SYTYCD contestant) Travis Wall brought a winning mixture of boyish enthusiasm, specific critique, and gentle honesty to the table that has me hoping it won’t be the last time he plays the role of judge. Travis’ contributions were especially appreciated on a night where much of the dancing and choreography fell short of the high standard set over the last few weeks. Let’s break down the duos in chronological order:

Melanie Moore and Marko Germar (Jazz: Ray Leeper)
We’ve only been through four weeks of live, competitive performances, but already it’s next to impossible to envision a finale that doesn’t involve Melanie and Marko, whose delectable combination of outré performance and dazzling technique allows them to shine even when she’s swathed in Spanish brothel drag and he’s relegated to wearing orange satin pants and black criss-crossed suspenders over his naked torso. This week’s routine, set to Lady Gaga’s anthemic “Americano,” contained speed and brute strength — and felt a little bit like a Paso Doble on steroids. I gasped at the one lift where Marko hoisted Melanie upward and she threw her legs over her head in a way that was both spastic and refined. We even got Marko down on his knees and thrusting his pelvis with abandon, like a firefighter strip-o-gram. Travis went for brutal honesty when he declared Melanie was “by far” his favorite dancer in the competition, but Nigel’s tired questions about Marko’s one foray into drag brought the night’s best zinger from Cat: “He didn’t inhale, Nigel.”

Sasha Mallory and Alexander Fost (Hip-Hop: Shaun Evaristo)
I’m not sure if this routine was already a limp noodle when Sasha and Alexander got ahold of it, or if it was the dancers themselves who boiled the life out of the steps, but either way, it’s probably going to result in a Bottom 3 debut for the ferocious Ms. Mallory. (If she gets sent home, I may have to boycott the rest of the season. Seriously.) The couple’s intro package was so ominous — and so packed with doubt about Alexander’s ability to deliver real hip-hop attitude — that it left the fabulously appointed Cat Deeley “praying to the god of swag.” And unfortunately, the duo’s moves resembled a stomach halfway through Thanksgiving dinner: sluggish, a little bloated, and not entirely comfortable, or as Travis pointed out, Sasha and Alexander were “slushing through it.” I did enjoy that move where the dancers flipped ever so gingerly in opposite directions, and I agreed with The Lady Electra that (as usual) it was hard to look at anything or anyone other than Sasha, despite that caked-on yellow eyeshadow. (Someone in the makeup room is not your friend, grrrl!) There are weaker guys left in the competition than Alexander, but part of me wants him gone soon, so maybe Sasha can finally score herself a partner that can match her on-stage intensity.

Jordan Casanova and Tadd Gadduang (Waltz: Toni Redpath)
The last thing you want to hear in your intro package is repeated references to the phrase “kiss of death,” but here’s hoping Jordan and Tadd won’t get booted over their perfectly fine (but not particular thrilling) waltz about a siren luring a sailor to his watery grave. I appreciated Mary Murphy honing in on the way Jordan held position through the entire floor sweep — and I agreed with her that the Pussycat Doll wannabe excelled at the “explosion lines” that peppered the performance. But there was a heaviness here that weighed down the rise and fall of the dance, and I suspect the couple’s costumes — Jordan in seaweed chic with a barnacle bodice, Tadd in sailor garb that was tragically buttoned up — were at least partially to blame. Mary’s tepid summation — “Was it dreamy and romantic? Yes it was.” — pretty much summed up the ho-hum not-bad-ness of the routine.

Clarice Ordaz and Jess LeProtto (Contemporary: Justin Giles)
I wasn’t remotely surprised — or annoyed — to discover that, as a child, Jess wouldn’t greet guests without his parents indulging him with a grand entrance. Yeah, I know, the guy is the living embodiment of jazz hands — turned up to 11 on the “look at me!” dial — but he’s so completely and totally consumed by dance that I have to kind of respect and appreciate his commitment. It didn’t hurt, of course, that Jess and Clarice brought a newfound sense of maturity and depth to my favorite piece this week, a stark, skittery contemporary routine about the end of an intense relationship. Every touch between the duo was infused with a disarming mix of attraction and revulsion, wistfulness and anger. I thought the costuming was a little strange — Clarice’s short white onesie, Jess’ short-sleeved dress shirt and V-neck vest — but Travis was right that the couple finally came to life this week. What’s more, this is the first time since her end-of-Vegas solo that Clarice has looked like a legit contender.

Ashley Rich and Chris Koehl (Salsa: Liz Lira)
Chris’ white sparkly vest and pantsuit were reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever, but the dance itself was a fever of the Wednesday evening variety — complete with chills, sweats, coughing, muscle aches, and general malaise. Throughout the performance, Chris’ facial expression was a combination of terror and embarrassment, while Ashley’s general lack of self-awareness allowed her to grin and shimmy blandly, barely noticing that the routine itself was a bloody piece of chum floating in the middle of a shark tank. Nigel was right that there were some impressive lifts in the mix — I dug that move where Chris hoisted Ashley as her leg pointed upward, parallel to her torso — but the rest of the routine wasn’t so much danced as it was endured. I typically appreciate some salsa in the SYTYCD mix, but these kids brought all the Latin authenticity of a bag of Doritos Collisions: Zesty Taco and Chipotle Ranch.

Ryan Ramirez and Ricky Jaime (Jazz: Chucky Klapow)
While I haven’t been able to shake the vibe that Nigel & Co. have “Team Ryan 4EVA” scrawled on the inside of their Tapper-Keepers, I also don’t think they did girlfriend any favors with a highlight reel showing her extensive background working with former SYTYCD judge/choreographer Mia Michaels and subsequent gig working on an episode of House. (Not exactly as charmingly low-rent as working on a Guam-based drag cruise.) But, hey, Ricky was the first male cheerleader at his school, so bring it on! Mary praised the duo for delving deep into their characters of doomed fashion victims, but I thought Ricky surpassed his partner in bringing to life these wackily macabre beings. (Ryan never can quite get her facial expressions on point, can she?) The slight echo of Season 2’s “Ramalama Bang Bang” certainly didn’t hurt, but I’ve got to credit Ryan and Ricky for successfully capturing the weird physicality of the choreography. Their interlocked chorus-line walk was especially nifty, and Ricky’s pirouettes were all kinds of powerful.

Caitlynn Lawson and Mitchell Kelly (Contemporary: Mandy Moore)
Here’s the thing: I wasn’t nearly as ecstatic as the judges about Mandy’s love-affair (set to Celine Dion’s “To Love You More”), but I still managed to get choked up watching injured Mitchell weep openly as the panel and the live audience gave the piece a standing O. Oh, don’t get me wrong: Caitlynn and Mitchell danced the tarnation out of the number, fearlessly (dare I say violently?) flinging themselves into each other with a series of lifts that far exceeded the difficult of anything else we saw during the telecast. And what’s more, I totally bought the gooey chemistry between the pair — which is all the more impressive considering the duo brought such angst and turmoil to life during their Stacey Tookey “armchairs” number back on Top 20 Redux night. But at the end of the day, I thought the routine could’ve used some quiet space, a little breathing room in the midst of all the crash-into-you, lovey-dovey action. Still my second favorite routine of the night, though. And yep, I’ve reached a point where Mitchell is as vital to my Top 10 dreams as Tadd, Jess, and Marko. (Bonus points for his unbridled voguing as the credits rolled.)

Which brings me to my countdowns of the night’s best and worst numbers:

Three Best Performances
Clarice Ordaz and Jess LeProtto
Caitlynn Lawson and Mitchell Kelly
Melanie Moore and Marko Germar

Should (and Will) Be Bottom Three (Yep, these lists are the same this week)
Ashley Rich and Chris Koehl
Sasha Mallory and Alexander Fost
Jordan Casanova and Tadd Gadduang* (This is what happens when you cover your torso, Tadd!)

*Okay, I’d accept Ryan and Ricky in this slot, too.

As for the evening’s group numbers, the women’s merry and vengeful widows definitely trumped the men’s seven stages of grief. The former piece — during which I couldn’t take my eyes off a menacing Sasha — was dark and sexy and oozing with humor. The latter was a triumph of concept over actual dancing, and even with its brief running time, it didn’t hold my attention.

What did you think of this week’s SYTYCD? What were your favorite numbers? Who will and should be in the Bottom 3? Is it time for the judges to start splitting up couples for elimination, or did Ashley and Chris make it too easy to continue the “ouster-in-pairs” Season 8 trend? And what did you think of Carmen and Travis in the judges chairs? Sound off below and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!