So You Think You Can Dance Performance Finale Recap: Four Under Par

The competitive portion of So You Think You Can Dance‘s eighth season ended not with a “Woohoo!” but rather, with the bang of Nigel Lythgoe’s harsh-truth gun — and we didn’t even have Tyce Diorio to blame. Yes indeed, midway through the proceedings, Uncle Nigel, the man behind the curtain (and at the head of the judges’ table), abandoned the “best ever” hard sell we’ve come to expect and admitted the evening’s trajectory had been “a little disappointing.”

So the question looms: What went wrong? Maybe our final four dancers — Melanie Moore, Tadd Gadduang, Sasha Mallory, and Marko Germar — were suffering from such extreme end-of-season exhaustion that not even an ice-cold and delicious bottle of Gatorade G Series could revive ’em. Maybe it was the choreography, which seemed bereft of spectacular, “did I just see that?” moments, and in a few cases, proved mind-bogglingly lame. Maybe it was a combo of middling music, peculiar outfits, and aggressive lighting. Or maybe it was the wilted word salad (“thank you,” “strength,” “beauty,” “integrity”) served up by guest judge Katie Holmes, so violently blank that I will not mention her name again for the rest of this recap.

So You Think You Can Dance: The 12 Best Routines of Season 8

I dunno. Maybe I’m being too tough on the telecast. Had this been an average, workaday SYTYCD episode, it would’ve been perfectly fine. But when you’re dealing with a performance finale starring four budding superstars of dance, the specter of high expectations hovers in a perpetual aerial right above the stage. At least Cat Deeley delivered when it counted, delivering a number of priceless zingers while sporting a strapless cream-colored minidress featuring intricate metallic embroidery. Anyhow, without further ado, let’s review how the dances played out:

Melanie and Marko (Disco: Doriana Sanchez)
I know some folks probably groaned when they heard the SYTYCD performance finale would kick off with a disco number, but that’s probably because they’ve forgotten the sheer awesomeoness of Janette and Brandon’s “Loving Is Really My Game” (which I’ve just watched twice on YouTube). The aggressive strobe lighting scheme for Marko and Melanie’s number was a definite distraction from the dancing here, but ultimately everything about the dance seemed labored, as if the duo was performing with lead-soled shoes. Mary and Nigel correctly pointed out that Marko’s lifts, in particular, were a struggle, but I wish they’d also pointed a finger at the costumer responsible for the pair of violet sequined napkins slapped onto Melanie’s frame. Blech.

Sasha and All-Star Mark (Contemporary: Sonya Tayeh)
To me, this was one of the night’s few standout performances — despite an unwelcome encore of the “Sasha’s Life of Hardship and Misery Confessional Hour.” (This ain’t a race to win “America’s Favorite Backstory,” honey.) Sonya sketched a disturbing and skittery portrait of a woman fighting her demons set to Deadmau5’s “Raise Your Weapon,” and the almost disfigured poses Sasha and Mark struck were a revelation. Particularly stunning was Sasha’s transition from a lift into the “wheelbarrow claw” (as I like to call it). As Mary pointed out, when Sasha is at her best, she dances with an “intensity and clarity about what needs to be done,” which in this case, countered Nigel, involved beating up Lady Gaga’s principal dancer.

Tadd and All-Star Joshua (Hip-Hop: Lil C)
Is it possible Nigel Lythgoe is a secret member of the “Keep Your Shirt Off, Tadd” Fan Page? How else to explain his tepid response to the underdog b-boy’s explosive performance — in which he sported a brown puffy vest and proved to be faster, crisper, and harder hitting than Season 4 champ Joshua? Granted, this wasn’t the most exciting routine of the evening, but it was fast, furious, and physically intense. And it allowed She Who Will Not Be Named to make her one salient point in a two-hour telecast: Tadd’s flashy red sneakers served to highlight just how fleet his feet are. (Shoutout to Cat for pointing out those trainers would be what Dorothy might wear if The Wizard of Oz was set in the ‘hood.)

Melanie and All-Star Robert (Contemporary: Stacey Tookey)
Is there a “Keep Your Shirt Off, Robert” Fan Page? I think Cat might be curious about that (OK, me too), seeing how she sneakily drew her hand across the Season 7 hunk’s chest hair after he and Melanie finished what was an emotionally riveting piece set to Sinead O’Connor’s cover of “Sacrifice.” To me, the routine was more about the quiet moments in between the movements, the overall flow and musicality, than in any singular death-defying move. The end result seemed to leave the judges a wee bit cold — Nigel declared it “beautifully done” without the slightest hint of enthusiasm — but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get chills from the look Melanie gave to Robert as she walked away from him at the end of the piece. That riveting bit of theater was not lost on Kenny Ortega, who said he’d line up to work with the pixie-haired beauty, and ended up saying “yes” to Cat’s queries about whether there might be a role for Melanie in the choreographer/director’s planned/blasphemous remake of Dirty Dancing.

Sasha and Marko (Broadway: Spencer Liff)
Call me cranky, but I didn’t entirely disagree with Nigel’s lack of enthusiasm for this routine about a dorky waiter fending off the advances of a ravenous vamp, but my real problem was in the character and costume forced on Marko. I mean, wouldn’t the piece have had more heat and sparkle if he’d been styled as a sexy waiter, or a desirable bartender, rather than some sort of Asian math-geek stereotype? And wouldn’t it have made more sense for Sasha to try to seduce him if he’d been allowed to be the hottie he was born to be? That said, there were several spectacular moves in the midst of it all: When Sasha held Marko’s leg in one hand, and the duo played tug of war with a napkin with their other hands, and Marko gave that little flick of his foot as a way to say “what the heck is going on here?” And of course, there was that daring maneuver in which Marko leapt up to straddle Sasha’s hips, then fell to the floor (risking his tailbone, as Mary noted) and into a backwards somersault/handspring.

Sasha and Tadd (Cha Cha: Mark Ballas)
When Tadd smacking Sasha’s booty is the highlight of the choreography, and when the music is as icy cold as Basement Jaxx’s “Raindrops,” you know it’s time for someone (whose name rhymes with Stark Phallus) to take his guyliner and oversized ego back to Dancing With the Stars and leave SYTYCD alone. Yeah, Sasha and Tadd played it with all the energy and elegance of two slugs gliding through a dish of salt, but Fred and Ginger rising from the grave couldn’t have breathed life into this stinker. (Side note: Could Sasha and Tadd’s body proportions have seemed any more incongruous — especially with Sasha in those crazy-killer heels. It was like pairing up an American Girl with a Ken Doll…somehow these two individual figures were not meant to be paired up.)

Marko and Lauren (Contemporary: Tessandra Chavez)
Tessandra declared her intention to create a “failed love story” that was emotionally and physically challenging, and darn if she didn’t succeed in those two goals. Performing a style I like to refer to as “stylized writhing,” Marko and Lauren never once seemed to have a moment of stillness, frantically filling the stage with a surplus of anxiety and heartbreak. I’ve got to admit I was more impressed by the stamina required, and the commitment Marko and Lauren displayed, than the emotional outcome of the story they were telling, but it was nonetheless nice to see Marko (who might very well run fourth in the Season 8 voting) get a shining moment in the performance finale.

Tadd and Melanie (Broadway?: Ray Leeper)
After last week’s non-love story between a choreographer and his muse, and this saucy little nugget about a tough gal catching her hot-but-cheating man in flagrante delicto, I kind of hope the future holds many more Tadd-Melanie collaborations. Kenny and Nigel were right that Melanie was serving hardcore attitude before the dance even began — I thought of her as similar to one of the hardscrabble sisters from The Boxer, but decked-out with more elegance and sex appeal — and Tadd was stupendous as a “Hey, baby, it’s not what it seems” cad, the kind that gets forgiven all too many times on the basis of his looks and charm. That move where Tadd arched backwards and Melanie walked him across the stage was a hoot, and as Cat noted, “When all else fails, bring out a pair of comedy boxers!”

Sasha and Melanie (Contemporary: Stacey Tookey)
Bravo to Stacey for breaking some new thematic territory and pairing Nigel’s Top 2 as suppressed ’50s housewives looking to break out of their white-picket prison. Everything about the piece was so hauntingly contained that it gave the impression Melanie and Sasha were on the brink of some sort of explosive movement. But much like their characters’ escape from social confines, that release never came. That moment where Melanie gasped and placed her hand over her mouth, or the point where Sasha grabbed Melanie’s hand — part playmate, part anchor — created riveting, indelible images I won’t soon forget. As Kenny noted, one couldn’t help but wonder about the inner lives of Sasha and Melanie’s character: Where they came from, where they’re going, how their lives will turn out. If that’s not a display of the power of dance, I don’t know what is.

Marko and Tadd (Gumboot Stepping: Chuck Maldonado)
There’s really only so much a couple of guys can do when saddled with faux pick-axes, light-up hard hats, and shiny coal-miner jumpsuits, so I won’t embark on a sentence about how Tadd and Marko were slightly out of sync from beginning to end, or how Marko’s energy began to lag and mess with the precision of his moves only a quarter of the way into the routine. Let’s just say that if Nigel wanted to drive home his “a girl will win!” mantra, this was probably the right routine with which to close the show.

Best of the Night
Melanie-Sasha
Sasha-Mark
Tadd-Melanie

Worst of the Night
Sasha-Tadd
Melanie-Marko
Marko-Tadd

Should Win It All
Melanie

Acceptable Alternative
Sasha

Also Acceptable
Shirtless Tadd

And now it’s your turn. Conspiracy theorists discuss: Did Nigel cross a line by putting the Gumboot Stepping last and then handing the “thanks for playing” card to Marko and Tadd? Could one of those boys ride a wave of sympathy/anti-establishment backlash to victory? Or is the Melanie-Sasha (or Sasha-Melanie) one-two punch too much to overcome? Who will win? Who should win? And what will you remember about Season 8? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!