There are at least a dozen compelling storylines on which I could choose to focus my recap of So You Think You Can Dance‘s Season 12 performance finale.
We had Nigel Lythgoe’s oblivious (but nevertheless grotesque) attitudes about two guys dancing together — so deeply rooted in homophobia that even Kim Davis might roll her eyes and sigh, “Brit, please.” We had the judges working overtime to make sure that Hailee Payne’s dazzling display of artistry wouldn’t upend the long-supported Gaby-Jaja final two. We had Gaby making the most of her pimp spot by nailing a jaw-dropping tap routine (and invoking the memory of Vanessa Williams’ tragically forgotten Dance With Me with her choice of solo music). And then, of course, there was Jaja, fumbling the ball at whatever yard line you don’t want to fumble the ball — and actually having her tepid animation called out by Nigel (and to a lesser degree, Paula).
Did I mention the chilling reminder that our eventual winner will have “the opportunity to dance with Jennifer Lopez” during her Vegas residency? That’s very different from saying the winner “will dance with Jennifer Lopez” — and makes me fear poor Gaby (oh, c’mon, we all know she’s got this in the bag) will be rewarded with nothing more than a chance to cut to the front of the line in the midst of some soul-crushing weekend-long open call.
Before I get to my rankings of the week’s routines, let me give you Nigel’s words, verbatim, after a gorgeous Travis Wall contemporary routine featuring Hailee as a woman helping Gaby get past her “fear of being accepted” and proving that “love has no boundaries.” (Ummmm… thanks for the nostalgic trip back to 1954, SYTYCD? But just so you know, it’s 2015 and we’d all be fine with a lesbian love story — really!) “I wish guys could do this together and feel comfortable in doing it. There’s something about girls that can do it and it feels honest and beautiful, and guys find it really difficult — which is a sad thing for me — to be able to have that kind of honest relationship,” sputtered Mr. Lythgoe.
Host Cat Deeley — who’s an Emmy nominee for a reason — promptly shot back that Kent and Neil’s duet from Season 7 disproved Nigel’s theory. But what’s stunning — and I’ve used this space as a bully pulpit to point out this fact before — is that SYTYCD has delivered so few male-male or female-female relationship numbers over the course of 12 seasons (while not having a single contestant mention a same-sex partner or crush on camera), that it just can’t be coincidence. Nigel’s antiquated attitude feeds the show’s gay panic — and at the same time, the show’s failure to acknowledge the sexual orientation of its dancers reinforces a convenient “you’re not connecting with your opposite-sex partner” narrative that is frustrating to anyone who’s not offended by the idea that Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres have hosted the Oscars in the last five years.
OK, I’ll stop kvetching and get to the business of ranking this week’s two-person routines:
Routines (Ranked Worst to Best)
10. Jaja and All-Star Cyrus (Hip-Hop/Animation, Christopher Scott) | I was shocked to hear Nigel describe this “sequel” to the Twitch-Cyrus Season 9 duet as disappointing, but to me, that let Jaja off the hook too easily. Her animation was on-point in the opening half, but by the time she came out of her “glass cage” and began to shatter the laboratory, she lost any sense of machine/robot realness and just looked like an average chick going through the motions. Considering she was dancing in her own style, the lack of fire was as head-scratching as it was irksome.
9. Virgil and Jaja (Contemporary, Stacy Tookey) | On paper, this should’ve been one of the great moments of the episode — if not the season. But aside from Jaja’s radiant face at the close of the piece — a sign of her reconnection with the lover from whom she’d drifted apart — this one felt like two performers, out of their element, rotely working their way through steps they didn’t fully understand.
8. Joshua and All-Star Virgil (Hip-Hop, Pharcyde and Phoenix) | Physically, this piece had some electrifying energy — with tiny Virgil surfing on Joshua’s back, and the All-Star hurling Virgil like a tantruming toddler tosses his toys — but Virgil’s silly facial expressions and generally light touch were so incongruous with the aggressive music and Joshua’s beastly swagger that I found my attention drifting away —to Tuesday-morning tasks, to the label on Cat’s killer dress to the daily “is there anything in the fridge aside from sauv blanc and a package of beets?” nonsenserie.
7. Jaja and Gaby (Jazz, Nick Florez & RJ Durell) | Jaja and Gaby attacked this dubiously conceived piece with Top 2 enthusiasm, but the bulky peasant skirts and floral headpieces overwhelmed the actual movement. And while it’s perhaps unfair to blame a dancer for failing to triumph over obstacles heavier than the anvil that fell on Wile E. Coyote, I wish the gals had managed to channel their inner Road Runners and “meep-meep” their way to a major Season 12 moment.
6. Hailee and Jaja (Hip-Hop, Misha & Nick) | This piece about female bank robbers was relentlessly high-octane — props to Hailee and Jaja for not collapsing into a panting heap at the end — but the choreography itself was like a hot dog at the Queen’s coronation. It didn’t quite feel special enough for the occasion.
5. Hailee and All-Star Marko (Jazz, Ray Leeper) | Is there any faster way for the production to promote voter ennui than by not providing a backstory to a piece? (Try to tell me SYTYCD producers weren’t pushing for a Jaja-Gaby finale showdown?) Yet while Hailee’s final non-solo piece was nothing more than “two sexy folks getting down to Janet,” she brought to the number a ferocity and heat that upstaged her excellent All-Star partner and proved she doesn’t need a detailed prologue to make us feel somethin-sometin’.
4. Gaby and Virgil (Lyrical Hip-Hop, Philip Chbeeb) | Please don’t judge me, but I’m not sure I really got “guy parting ways with his lifetime of beautiful memories” off this routine. Still, while Philip’s vision may not have come through, there was an awkward beauty in the off-kilter movements he created — and it was captured wonderfully by Gaby and Virgil. Indeed, as Paula noted, the “table top” with a stiff Gaby dissoliving into a body roll was mesmerizing, and the sequence with a prone Virgil lifting a contorting Gaby was pretty dang stellar, too. You can’t find stuff this well-built at Ikea, I tell ya!
3. Hailee and Virgil (Broadway, Josh Bergasse) | Broadway is always a tough sell in terms of vote-getting — and the fact that Hailee and Virgil “randomly selected” the style only bolsters my theory that Nigel & Co. want a Jaja-Gaby Top 2 more than anything. That said, this routine about a quite chick raging against the drummer who lives upstairs from her was clever, funny and even a little sexy. Hailee’s extensions, Virgil’s impeccable timing and the couple’s ability to convey a real sense of comic goofballery separated their performance from anything else that took place in the performance finale. And Jason Derulo yammering about Hailee losing character at several points in the piece only makes me more convinced of the opposite.
2. Gaby and Hailee (Contemporary, Travis Wall) | Gaby and Hailee told a riveting story with every tiny gesture as well as every technically challenging leap of this number. Whether it was a romantic love story or one of emotional mentoring, you could feel Gaby and Hailee’s hearts beating as one throughout — their final collapse and head nod as stirring as anything we’ve seen in Season 12.
1. Gaby and All-Star Zack (Tap, Anthony Morigerato) | I know a SYTYCD routine is a whopping success when I fail to take notes, and instead draw crude diagrams of how the dancers paired up and worked the stage. Why does my notepad have a box with a V-shaped bird in front of it? I cannot say. But as Gaby and Zack tap-tap-tapped and glided over a series of wooden boxes — with the Season 12 front-runner bouncing to the floor and back to her perch with mesmerizing speed — it was hard to imagine a scenario in which she doesn’t win the whole enchilada.
SOLOS (Ranked Worst to Best)
4. Virgil Gadson, “A Beautiful Mine”
3. Jaja Vankova, “Street Side”
2. Hailee Payne, “Cold Hearted”
1. Gaby Diaz, “Magalenha”
Should Be the Order of Finish: Gaby, Hailee, Jaja, Virgil
Will Be the Order of Finish: Gaby, Jaja, Virgil, Hailee
And now it’s your turn. What did you think of Season 12’s performance finale? Take our polls below, then sound off in the comments!