So You Think You Can Gobble: 8.06, “Week One: Top 20 Performance”

And with that, Season 8 of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE is out of the gate! There’s a lot of ground to cover in Week One, so let’s get to it.

First thing’s first, we have our first guest judge: Megan Mullally. I’m not going to lie to you, I was extremely skeptical of what I thought was “stunt casting” here, and I expected it to devolve into some kind of comedy schtick. But as it turns out she was fantastic. For one thing, she actually has a background in dance, so she knows what she’s talking about, more or less. But beyond that she was just really focused on giving sincere critiques. She paid attention to the dancers, took notes, commented on the routines in an intelligible way. I’ve gone from being skeptical to actually willing to see her back on the judges panel again at some point.

Next, Cat Deeley (with some spectacularly hot “sex hair”) breaks the bad news to us that we already have an injury. Contemporary dancer Mitchell Kelly strained his elbow during rehearsals and on doctor’s orders must sit out this round of the competition. He’s in the audience, visibly upset. I’m having uncomfortable flashbacks to last season and the tragic loss of Alex. Here’s hoping Mitchell makes a speedy recovery and gets a chance to prove himself next week.

And finally it’s time to introduce the couples. The Top 20 are now paired up into ten couples who will perform together for the first few weeks of the competition. Each week viewers will vote for their favorite couples, and the three that get the fewest votes will then give solo performances, from which the judges will decide one guy and one girl to send home. If the guy and girl eliminated are from different couples, the remaining halves of those couples will be paired together and the show will go on.

Make sense? Good.

Ladies and gentlemen, he first couple for Season 8 is…

Jordan & Tadd
Style: African Jazz
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman
Music: “Riding the Waves” by Afro Celtic Sound System

This is a tough style to start off the season with, but both dancers (one jazz, the other hip hop) do a fantastic job. It’s not the most powerful African choreography we’ve seen on the show, but it flows well and allows each dancer to perform to their individual strengths. They’re both powerful, but Jordan is more graceful, whereas Tadd has just a touch more of the “tribal athleticism.”



Sasha & Alexander
Style: Contemporary
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Music: “Stupid (Mark Bell Mix)” by Sarah McLachlan

While all the choreographers on this series are amazing, there are a small handful that just move me beyond words. Travis Wall is one of these. The routine he’s put together here tells the story of a man whose guilty conscience about his behavior in past relationships comes back to haunt him. The conscience in question here is played by Sasha, and by haunt I mean kick the crap out of. So many dance routines involve physical damage such as bruises and scrapes and pulled muscles. This one is all about the violence, and in the rehearsal footage we see Alexander take more than his share of knees to the face and elbows to the midsection. And even at the end of the actual performance, he collapses to the floor and cracks his head pretty hard. But despite that (or perhaps because of it), the performance was great.



Clarice & Jess
Style: Broadway
Choreographer: Tyce Diorio
Music: “Me and My Baby” by Liza Minelli

One of my least favorite choreographers, one of my least favorite styles, and I’m not really a HUGE fan of either of these dancers. But to be fair it’s still far too early to just be writing people off, so I’ll try to keep an open mind. There’s no question that Jess, a confessed musical theater nerd, has the chops and then some to pull off this routine. In fact, while Clarice did a fine job, the entire thing felt pulled back and subdued. Jess could have danced this choreography in his sleep, and seeing him restrain himself to match his partner made it kind of awkward. But I’m sure when they draw a jazz routine in a future show and SHE is in her element and he has to work a bit harder then things may feel a bit more even keeled.



Ryan & Ricky
Style: Lyrical hip hop
Choreographer: Christopher Scott
Music: “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Lighthouse Family

The story is two lovers who are separated and Ricky is dancing with the memory of her. Hip hop tends to give me some of my favorite dances over the years, and while this isn’t up there with “No Air” or “Bleeding Love,” it was very good. LOVED the song choice, and both dancers were very musical in their movements. They fell slightly out of sync with each other in some of the quicker steps, but they definitely had chemistry, which tends to pay off over the long haul on this show.



Caitlynn & Mitchell
Style: Jazz
Choreographer: Sonya Tayeh
Music: “In For the Kill” by La Roux

Since Mitchell is out this week with an injury, Caitlynn dances this routine with Season 7 star Robert Roldan. They perform a jazz piece by perhaps my favorite choreographer, Sonya Tayeh. It’s a piece about conquering fear, and Caitlynn certainly does that. She has some amazing lines, and her control through the various lifts was impressive. I particularly loved the “shadow walking,” with both dancers held in close to each other and moving their feet in sync as they moved toward the audience. And of course it doesn’t hurt that Robert is a purty, purty boy.

Sadly, Mitchell will automatically be in the Bottom Three for tomorrow’s elimination due to his injury. The small taste we got of him in the rehearsal footage showed he has a great personality and I really hope he gets to survive long enough to actually dance for us.



Miranda & Robert
Style: Latin
Choreographer: Jason Gilkison
Music: “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars

Haven’t really formed an opinion on Miranda yet. She’s definitely cute, and judging from this routine she’s got skills, no doubt. I just haven’t had enough time with her to really feel strongly one way or another. Now Robert, on the other hand…he was an early favorite for me from his auditions. The whole “Wooo Man” bit will get old pretty fast, so I hope that fades away. But his charm and spirit is infectious. Megan Mullally calls him her Top 20 crush. The performance was really great, but Robert needs to be careful that he doesn’t fall into the Kent trap. Last season runner-up Kent was frequently criticized for always having a goofy grin on his face no matter what the material he was dancing called for. He got over it, so hopefully Robert will as well. Because the groovy Urkel mystique won’t be appropriate once we get into the waltzs and paso doble’s.



Missy & Wadi
Style: Jazz
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman
Music: “Judas (Rehab Mix)” by Lady GaGa

First of all, Sean Cheesman’s choreo here, about a pair of “sexy demons” that escape from Pandora’s Box, is freaking fantastic. And Missy totally kills it. She is sexy AND demonic. However, the star of this routine is unquestionably Wadi Jones. He’s credited as a hip hop/b-boy dancer, but Nigel mentions that he’s actually a free runner, jumping over cars and running up walls, etc. And great googly moogly he gets to show some of that off here. He’s so sweet and kind of soft spoken in the interview segments, but he is a monster on the stage, flipping and leaping and spider-crawling across the floor. Absolutely awesome!



And now we get to the “I’ll be in my bunk” portion of tonight’s episode…

Melanie & Marko
Style: Contemporary
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Music: “Turn to Stone” by Ingrid Michaelson

I am unashamed to admit that I squeed like a teenage girl when this couple was announced. Both these dancers have been my Top 2 favorites from day one. I’d said aloud to my wife earlier in the show that I was crossing my fingers these two would end up together, but I never thought in a million years it would happen. But lo and behold, there is a god. The chemistry with these two is electric. And as I mentioned before, Travis Wall is in the choreo elite as far as I’m concerned. He has brought me to tears with his routines more times than I can count in seasons past. Tonight is no exception. The story of the dance is that they are two statues which come to life at night and move together, ultimately becoming one statue by the end. Which reminds me of seeing Neil Gaiman at a reading here in Alabama where he read his story “Feminine Endings” and the significance it holds to his relationship with his wife Amanda Palmer. (I’ll include a video at the end of this article so you can enjoy it too.)

The dance is just absolutely stunning. It’s officially the first chills and tears moment of the season for me. I’ve already watched it three times, with many more viewings to come. This one is going on The List.



Ashley & Chris
Style: Hip hop
Choreographer: Christopher Scott
Music: “Forget You” by CeeLo Green

This one is just damned fun! I mean I’m not sure how you can do a routine with this song and not have it be fun. But it helps that both of these dancers are funny and charming. Here they get to play a couple that discover that they have each been cheating on the other at the same time. Kind of a dark story, but… DAYUM it was just fun.



Iveta & Nick
Style: Quickstep
Choreographer: Jason Gilkison
Music: “Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet

I’ve had a hard time warming up to Iveta, I’m sorry to say. She is phenomenally talented, obviously. But I haven’t connected with her on an emotional level yet. Hopefully that will come with time. And Nick is another problem, because he’s a tap dancer. Tap has had a difficult history on this show, and it’s really not the most popular style with the audience. So much so that Nigel kind of snuck this guy in on us, without any screen time in the audition or Vegas episodes. However, having said all that I will confess that this guy has such a great charisma and fun personality that I find myself really liking him. Also I think past seasons have taught the choreographers how to work better with tappers so they don’t seem quite so out of place. As a tapper Nick clearly has the talent for the incredibly fast footwork needed for this routine. The surprise is how well he did with his upper body, keeping it straight and tall, shoulders back, arms rigid. Iveta suffers only in the sense that she is so supremely gifted at ballroom styles that this routine is completely effortless for her. The real test will come when and if she makes it long enough to step out of her comfort zone and into other styles, like hip hop or bollywood.




And I think that’s it. A truly remarkable start to the new season. This will be a real challenge to pick who stays and who goes, everyone is just so amazing. But tomorrow night the axe has to fall for two of the dancers. Who do you think it will be? Who blew you away tonight, and who deserves to go? What did you think of Megan Mullally? Am I the only one already desperately in love with Melanie & Marko? Please tell us what you thought. You can leave a comment here on the site or better yet e-mail us at


Bonus Feature 

One thought on “So You Think You Can Gobble: 8.06, “Week One: Top 20 Performance”

  1. Since my watching of SYTYCD was interrupted last night by breaking news and then live coverage of the riots downtown, I missed all but two dances. I saw Sasha & Alexander and Clarice & Jess. The first two are among my favourites but Melanie & Marko are probably top for me, so thanks for posting that video. So beautiful. I also agree about Travis Wall – definitely a bright light!

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