So You Think You Can Dance Recap: Better Eight Than Never

Welcome to this week’s recap of FOX’s sparkly spectacle, So You Think You Can Dance: The Search for Nigel Lythgoe’s Favorite Contemporary Dancer Who Used to be Ryan but Who is Now Sasha and Who Will be Someone Else by the End of the Evening. Your regular recapper, Michael Slezak, is enjoying a well-deserved vacation, so please be gentle with me, your caffeine-guzzling TVLine virgin Gino Carlino.

The Top 8 dancers were each paired with All-Stars from seasons past to start the show, and then paired with each other for their followup routines. Mary Murphy liberally dropped her trademark “woooooos!” The judges hinted several dancers were shoo-ins for the finale. And guest panelist Lady Gaga threw deadly footwear, dissed NappyTabs, and wept openly. So let’s dive right in, shall we?

Sasha Mallory (with Pasha): Jonathan Roberts, Quickstep
While Sasha and Pasha performed it admirably, the Quickstep isn’t a dance that inspires you to pick up the phone and vote. Guest judge Rob Marshall immediately tipped his hand as to what kind of judge he would be by spewing out a string of superlatives to describe Sasha’s performance. Among them: “astonishing”, “beautiful”, “elegant”, and “classy”. Nigel concurred, saying that Sasha was now his favorite dancer, replacing Jordan, who replaced Ryan, also known as She Who Smiles at Inopportune Moments.

Caitlynn Lawson (with Ivan): Marty Kudelka, Hip-Hop
Caitlynn was paired up with Season 2’s Ivan for a lyrical hip-hop routine set to Mario’s “Let Me Love You.” I started to come around to Caitlynn after last week’s sterling Argentine Tango, and I think she built on that momentum with this performance. She and Ivan were perfectly matched and totally connected to each other throughout the dance. Overall, the judges were a bit muted with their praise — “really good job,” said Mary — though at one point Nigel said something about Caitlynn needing to open her legs more, which caused me to close my eyes and retreat to my happy place.

Jordan (with Ade): Tyce DiOrio, Jazz
With the notable exception of last week’s Broadway Jazz number, Tyce DiOrio has been the kiss of death (or at least the kiss of maiming injury) for contestants this season, and this routine — which had something to do with a secret rendezvous set to Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” — was no exception. Once again we were treated to Jordan playing a saucy sex kitten, and while the naughty minx routine was fun at first, it’s become one-note and tiresome. I get it, the girl is sexaaaay. She can stretch her legs really far and she does a mean hip thrust. Now show me another emotion, thanks ever so much.

Melanie Moore (with Neil): Mandy Moore, Contemporary
Moving from one end of the choreography spectrum to the other, front-runner Melanie and season 3’s Neil brought everyone to their feet with this exquisite Mandy Moore contemporary routine. (Hats off to whoever’s decision it was for Neil to dance shirtless; I can die a happy man now.) When Melanie ran across the stage and took that gravity-defying leap into Neil’s waiting arms, the season-defining moment we had all been waiting for had finally arrived. It doesn’t get much better than that. And for Melanie, it probably didn’t get much better than this parting shot from Gaga: “I would hire you tomorrow to dance on my tour.”

Ricky (with Anya): Jason Gilkison, Jive
I really want to like Ricky, I really do. There’s no denying he’s got some major talent and charisma, and his solos have been by far the best of any of the contestants this season. But he was far too stiff and rehearsed in this mediocre routine. He never looked comfortable at any point; he definitely had the steps down, but he certainly wasn’t feelin’ it. Or, as Mary and Nigel respectively noted, he missed that body-ticking action at the start of the routine, and lifted Anya like a “slab of meat” at the midway point. Luckily for Ricky, none of the judges pointed out that he was also totally out-danced by his All-Star partner.

Jess (with Lauren G.): Napoleon & Tabitha, Hip-Hop
In the past, Napoleon & Tabitha’s routines were always hit or miss for me, but this season I think they’ve been spot-on. This was another great routine from the hip-hop duo, but unfortunately, Jess was not up to the choreography about a cheating guy asking for forgiveness from his lady. Like Ricky before him, Jess got the steps down okay, but I wasn’t convinced he was feelin’ it. I’ll say, however, that his performance improved as the dance went along. Also on the plus side, the kid seems to have taken Neil Patrick Harris’ comments from last week to heart; there were no signs of The Mug Face interfering with his performance. The judges noted this as well, with Mary saying his was making progress from week to week, and Nigel adding that he has “matured significantly” since the beginning of the show. Gaga, meanwhile, took the first of two pointed jabs at NappyTabs, telling Jess his dancing outshined the choreography, which focused on a literal flower that the pop star found unnecessary.

Tadd (with Lauren F.): Mandy Moore, Contemporary
Tadd may not be the greatest technical dancer, but in terms of showmanship, he is second to none. While this piece did not appear especially difficult (says the lazy couch potato), Tadd made it quite entertaining despite getting accidentally smacked in the face by Lauren F. (and losing his hat) midway through the routine. His charisma should carry him safely through to next week, and quite possibly all the way to the finale. The judges seemed to enjoy it as well, with Mr. Marshall in particular saying that Tadd is “very, very special”, in a creepy, man-who-lives-down-the-street-with-18-cats kinda way. But I digress.

Marko (with Allison): Sonya Tayeh, Contemporary
Sonya Tayeh said that this piece was about “causing that damage to someone and you’re basking in the guilt of it, but it moves you to want to change.” That’s a lot of dance to live up to, and Marko and Allison did not disappoint. Allison dances with a depth and level of emotional maturity not seen by many other dancers on this show, and Marko was able to match his All-Star partner step for emotional step. Marko’s mom was in the audience and he dedicated the piece to her, apologizing for “being a bit of a brat” and saying that he was sorry and that he loved her; his mom then stood up and said that she loved him too. Awww! Somebody pass me a Kleenex, and pass one to the sobbing Gaga, too! And someone give this guy a pass to go directly to the finale without passing ‘Go’ or collecting $200.

Caitlynn and Tadd: Jonathan Roberts, Foxtrot
For their second dance of the evening, Caitlynn and Tadd performed a lackluster Foxtrot, all but cementing Caitlynn’s place in the Bottom 2 girls tomorrow night. To me, they looked like a couple of kids trying to dance like their parents. The judges, however, had slightly different opinions. Mr. Marshall said that it was “just sparkling from beginning to end.” Oh, and elegant and stylish, we can’t forget elegant and stylish. Gaga said it was amazing, too, but then she completely lost me when she started talking about Caitlynn’s hands, and how they were screaming “I’ve won a lot of trophies!”, and Gaga said she’s won a lot of trophies too, but she put them back in the closet, and…and…the end. Moving on…

Marko and Ricky: Napoleon & Tabitha, Hip-Hop
Whenever I see dancers break out the props I start to worry; is it really necessary to be dancing around with brooms? I think not. Paired with Marko, Ricky was exposed as the weaker dancer. There was one good moment during the routine when both dancers leapt up for this giant kick leap thing (that’s a technical term, look it up), but other than that, the dance left me a bit cold. In the words of the insightful Randy Jackson, for me, for you, for me, this routine was just aiight. (Side note: Did anyone else wish the producers had cut to a reaction shot of NappyTabs when Gaga called their choreography “contrived”? Rob Marshall tried to spare the choreographing couple when he countered that the routine was “exquisite,” but his praise didn’t really erase the fightin’ words from the “Born This Way” songstress.)

Jordan and Jess: Jason Gilkison, Rumba
Latin dances never do the contestants any favors, and this Jason Gilkison number was certainly no exception, as Jordan and Jess moved across the stage with as much fire and passion as Michelle Bachman and her husband on their wedding night. (Zing! I’m here all week folks!) The guest judges were divided in their opinions; while Rob Marshall said that Jordan and Jess “brought out the best in each other,” Gaga said that as an artist, she would have interpreted the song (Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain”) differently. Ooh snap! Take that Gilkison!

Sasha and Melanie: Sonya Tayeh, Jazz
The producers definitely saved the best for last; this was easily my favorite dance of the night, Neil’s shirtless exhibition notwithstanding. With Sasha and Melanie paired up as a couple of kick-ass dancing warriors, the two strongest contestants in the competition went head-to-head in a delightfully powerful, mesmerizing routine, which inspired Gaga to throw one of her freakishly large platform boots on stage to the dancers and the other to Sonya in the audience. (Was it just me, or was Sasha having a bit too much fun with that boot?) Sayeth Gaga: “Everyone else can pack up and go home because that was the performance of the evening.”

Will Go Home
Ricky and Caitlynn

Should Go Home
Ricky and Jordan

So what do you think SYTYCD fans? Did I get this right, or am I way off the mark? What about this week’s guest judges? Were they entertaining and insightful (Neil Patrick Harris), or just reciting the thesaurus (I’m looking at you, Robin Antin)? Sound off in the comments below! Just remember: This is my first time at the TVLine rodeo, so be gentle with me! –Gino Carlino