So You Think You Can Gobble: 8.14, “Top 12 Performance”


Well alrighty then, here we are at the last week with our established couples. After this all the surviving dancers will be split up and be repaired with a different partner AND a different All-Star dancer from previous seasons each week. So this time everything counts. This time the performances will serve as a farewell to what in some cases have proven to be remarkable partnerships.


Cat Deeley, looking supercute (as always) in a silver sparkly affair with feathery fringe, introduces us to our judges. Joining the dynamic duo of Executive Produce Nigel Lythgoe and scream queen Mary Murphy will be fan favorite choreographer Sonya Tayeh (woo hoo) and one of the funniest guys on television, Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Each couple will perform two routines tonight. First up…

1. Sasha & Alexander (First Performance)
Style: Paso doble
Choreographer: Tony Meredith & Melanie Lapatin
Music: “Alley Dash/March of the Trolls” by Taylor Long/Rick Powell
This paso doble is fairly unique in that both partners are meant to be equally powerful and aggressive. I’ve never had a problem with Alexander, I’ve been quite fond of him in fact. But this one is Sasha’s to lose. While the choreo is far from the best example of the paso we’ve seen on the series, Sasha throws herself into it convincingly. The costumes are pretty great, black and silver, with Sasha’s vest covered in some kind of fringe that caught the light when she moved. She also was sporting some cool Borg-esque skull bling. And props to Alexander for waiting until after all the judges gave their critiques before making the dedication on behalf of the choreographers to their friend’s battle with cancer.




2. Jordan & Tadd (First Performance)
Style: Contemporary
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Music: “Brotsjor” by Olafur Arnalds
I have complete faith in Travis, but a piece about women that take advantage of weak men? With Jordan as a vulture and Tadd as a dying man? Interesting. He says that he took a general concept for the routine and worked each dancer’s strengths into it as they rehearsed. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why he should win all the Emmys. Jordan is dolled up in leather and feathers and looks like she’d be right at home in a Sonya piece, and Tadd gets to show off some of his b-boy acrobatics, with one particularly cool jump, layout and horizontal spin. Also, he gets to break her neck at the end, which, y’know… that’s always a good time.




3. Ryan & Ricky (First Performance)
Style: Broadway
Choreographer: Spencer Liff
Music: “”All I Need Is The Girl” by Frank Sinatra
Ricky is a guy outside a theater imagining the woman in the movie poster comes to life and dances with him. He looks pretty good in the Sinatra role, with the suit, the tie, the fedora. And he clearly outdances his partner. I’m just not sure what the disconnect I (and everyone else it seems) has with Ryan is, but for whatever reason I never feel anything for, with, or about her. Depsite not being a fan of hers, or this performance, I did actually think it was slightly better than the judges gave it credit for. All four of them gave it a thumbs down. For my part I thought it was slow and rather boring, but I thought the dancers were smooth in their movements, and contrary to some of the critiques I thought they both were emotionally engaged (not engaging, mind you.) But whatever.




4. Caitlynn & Mitchell (First Performance)
Style: Hip hop
Choreographer: Christopher Scott
Music: “Break the Chain” by Lupe Fiasco feat. Eric Turner & Sway
One of those “message” pieces that are so hit-or-miss for this show. This one is sadly a miss. A piece about children in Uganda being abducted and forced to fight in war. And the dancers have to wear message t-shirts. Admirable intent, extremely poor execution. In terms of learning a style outside of their comfort zones, I’d say Caitlynn and Mitchell did…passingly well. I think Mitchell was perhaps the stronger hip hopper, with the harder hits. But for more of the performance they were separate, so we didn’t get a lot of the back and forth rhythms I like in couples hip hop routines. And I really have no idea what any of the choreography had to do with kidnapped or forgotten children. Abstract movements can, in the hands of some choreographers and dancers, convey complex ideas. I didn’t feel it here at all.




5. Melanie & Marko (First Performance)
Style: Tango
Choreographer: Louis Van Amstel
Music: “Triptico” by Gotan Project
No storyline this time, just passion. And that’s appropriate, because the tango performed by technically brilliant but “soulless” dancers can be a train wreck, while passionate and soulful dancers can make it explode on the stage, even if they’re not the most technically proficient. Fortunately, Melanie and Marko are both passionate AND skilled. I mean, c’mon, could these two be any more in sync when they move? Highlights of this particular piece for me include Marko lowering her actually off the edge of the stage, and of course the final lift where she falls backwards, is thrown between his legs, flips and is pulled back through to land in a stance on the floor in front of him. It’s interesting to hear Nigel comment that during dress rehearsals earlier in the day the routine had serious problems, but that they blew it away in the actual performance. And Jesse tells them that they have that certain “spark” that real performers have, and that win or lose they’ll both have that for life.




6. Clarice & Jess (First Performance)
Style: Lyrical hip hop
Choreographer: Christopher Scott
Music: “Just The Way You Are” by Boyce Avenue
This piece is about a woman that is insecure about her appearance, and the boy that paints her beauty. As a dance it’s pretty simple, but it turns out to be quite emotionally effective. Clarice has always been a fantastic dancer, so it comes as no real surprise how well she pulls off the hip hop choreography here. Jess is likewise able to adapt his theater dance style well. However Jess’ real struggle this season has been to overcome what has appeared at times to be a kind of arrogance or cockiness. I’ve never felt it as strongly as the judges have, but regardless I think casting him as the loving artist offering comfort and reassurance to his muse here may have helped break through that personality barrier just a bit. I was genuinely moved by this one. Also, we get this exchange during the judges critiques: Jesse: “Clarice, do you have a boyfriend?” Clarice: “Yes I do.” Jesse: “I do too, but I think we should get married.”




7. Sasha & Alexander (Second Performance)
Style: Jazz
Choreographer: Tyce Diorio
Music: “That’s Life” by Aretha Franklin
Prop Alert! Lamp post ahoy! Not sure what the story was here, but that hardly matters, because this is quite possibly the best piece Tyce Diorio has ever done on this series. Alexander has never been freer, more fluid and graceful that he was here. He’s been good, though maybe a bit overshadowed all season long, but this was his strongest performance by a mile. And Sasha was just ferocious! From the supported walk/crawl across the stage at the beginning to her leap into his arms and wild, emotional abandon, head back and arms spread wide as he spins her around…just truly, truly spectactular. It’s never happened before, and may never happen again, but a Tyce piece is about to get my highest rating…




8. Jordan & Tadd (Second Performance)
Style: Broadway
Choreographer: Spencer Liff
Music: “Out Tonight” from Rent (Original Broadway Cast)
A sleeping princess awakened by a kissing prince. Starts out promising, but sort of peters out about a quarter of the way in. After showing Jordan having difficulty with the acrobatics in the rehearsal footage, the actual performance completely cuts out ever lift and complex move. Sad that two truly gifted dancers who have had some great showings in prior weeks would have their final dance as a couple go out with such a whimper. Only truly memorable thing for me out of this travesty is Tadd’s quirky costume, which he gets to twirl dramatically a couple of times.




9. Ryan & Ricky (Second Performance)
Style: Cha cha
Choreographer: Louis Van Amstel
Music: “Tonight (I’m Loving You)” by Enrique Iglesias feat. DJ Frank E
There’s…there’s just not much more I can say about this couple that I haven’t already said a thousand times. I thought Ricky kind of nailed it, while Ryan was just sort of there. And that final pose looked like something straight out of the Kama Sutra!




10. Caitlynn & Mitchell (Second Performance)
Style: Contemporary
Choreography: Travis Wall
Music: “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin
Caitlynn is supposed to slap the shit out of Mitchell at the opening of the routine, but as we see in the rehearsal footage she just can’t bring herself to do it. But when the real performance starts, she manages to effectively knock his block off. That doesn’t stop him from pulling out some truly remarkable lifts and assists though. Some super fast and intricate moves, including one scary jump and lift and drop into the splits that looked like it could have KILLED Caitlynn if it had gone wrong. And the song choice certainly didn’t hurt either.




11. Melanie & Marko (Second Performance)
Style: Contemporary
Choreographer: Dee Caspary
Music: “Skin & Bones” by David J. Roch
This one is about a couple slipping into and out of the light, dubbed by Jesse Tyler Ferguson (and the entirety of the internet) the “Moth Dance.”  Just. Fucking. Amazing. Both dancers moving around a single bare bulb suspended above the stage, and it’s magical the way they get so close to it, twisting and twirling and reaching around it, without ever once actually touching it. One move in particular (at about the 19-second mark in the video below) features Melanie reaching up for the light as Marko tries to pull her away, but there literally seems to be an invisible tether binding her to it; he pulls her but her outstretched hand stays near the bulb and holds her in place. I’ve watched the piece multiple times and I’m still not sure how they do it. A brilliant, moving finale to what has been probably my favorite couple in all of SYTYCD. And instantly in my pantheon of favorite routines, right beside M&M’s Season 8 premier, the “Statue Dance.”




12. Clarice & Jess (Second Performance)
Style: Jive
Choreography: Tony Meredith & Melanie Lapatin
Music: “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” by Robert Randolph & The Family Band
A super, super fun routine. Fast and furious and fun, fun, fun. The one and only awkward bit in this is the size difference between the pair, with Clarice towering over poor Jess (whom my wife calls a pocket-sized Danny Zucco), making the lifts a tad uncomfortable. But at least he tries. And a few times the choreography actually takes advantage of the size disparity by having her toss and spin HIM around. I have to say I was just slightly disturbed by that bouncing split he did while clapping over his head to the music, though. Umm…ouch.




And so with that we bid adieu to the pairs we’ve grown to love (or tolerate). Some had, in my opinion, better send offs than others. But it’s all done now. As the judges themselves said, I’m looking forward to seeing the dancers split up so that we can see them with fresh partners and different dance dynamics. All save Melanie and Marko, who truly seem to have a magical alchemy between them. Still, bittersweet though it may be, it will be good to see them working off different partners as well.

One thing is clear from this episode: Jesse Tyler Ferguson is the best guest judge yet! AND he got Cat Deeley to cry on stage by calling her out as the best reality TV host, and predicting (correctly, as it turns out) that she would FINALLY get that Emmy nomination she has so richly deserved for years now.

What say you, Gobbler Nation? What were the good, the bad, and the ugly in these routines? Was JTF truly the greatest, or is my Modern Family bias showing? And who else wet themselves when he and Cat let slip that Neil Patrick Harris will be appearing as a guest judge soon?!? Let us know here in the comments or by e-mail at

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