So You Think You Can Dance: The Top 16 Maintain Their Buckness

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Julie here, filling in for Elisa who's traveling this week. Maybe she traveled into the minds of the So You Think You Can Dance producers with last week's plea for expert guest judges. Well, kind of: We still have a guest celebrity judge (squeakster Kristin Chenoweth, here to huck her new country album). But we also have a guest expert judge, Lil C.

For seasons now, I have been all, "Lil C, stop trying to make buck happen. It's not going to happen." But this season, I've changed my mind. I think Lil C has stopped using "buck" to mean (as I read on Wikipedia) "a level of intensity that a dancer reaches when krumping; this level of intensity is shown in the form of more expressive and creative moves." Instead, it now means "whatever the hell Lil C wants it to mean."

Case in point: Here's what C's been up to lately: "I have been a busy little buckster, maintaining my buckness, I decided to take my elocution to music, getting my rap on, the lyrical content and whatnot."

That was fetch. I do love Lil C's elocution, music or not. Or whatnot. I think I'll try to transcribe everything Lil C said verbatim.

A jazz-baby-looking Cat Deely explained that the dancetestants were broken up into two groups for an extra two numbers. The judges will take the performances into account when deciding who to send home. Also: It's time to share supercute pictures of the dancers when they were wee.

Group One Danced a Tyce Diorio Broadway Routine

It was girls vs. boys vs. chairs, as Ryan, Clarice, Miranda, Sasha, Marko, Chris, Tadd, and Mitchell slinked around to "Hit the Road, Jack" by Ray Charles. I was perturbed by the combination of very Broadway costumes with aviator sunglasses. It's like someone threw Liza Minelli into the Matrix. But I was also just plain scared for the dancers -- the lighting on this new stage is dark and distracting anyway. If you're going to put your dancers in sunglasses in the dark, don't make them jump over chairs. (Nobody got hurt -- the routine was danced well, though the choreography was unmemorable -- but I worry.)

Sasha and Alexander Danced a Dee Caspary Contemporary Routine

Tiny Dancers:

Sasha was a tomboy whose first performance was as a frog in Thumbelina. Alexander was a nerd who wore bow ties.

The Dance:

Dee explained that Sasha was representing Alexander's lost love, or soul, or something, evoked by the piano music ("Belong" by Cary Brothers). That's pretty cheesy, but Sasha had such a fluid ferocity to her movement that I didn't care. Alexander was very technically proficient, again, but he just doesn't have Sasha's charisma. I'm already impatient to see Sasha with an All-Star. But still, I thought this was haunting … right up until Sasha's hands suddenly wormed onto the keys from inside the piano, Carrie-style, and turned "haunting" into "horror." It was creepy -- just look:

Judges' Reactions:

Nigel: "Sasha, I really feel your movement with you" (I agree); thinks Alexander needed to control the audience's emotions better (I agree).

Mary loved Piano Hands.

Kristin got peed on by a frog once. Also, she loved it. (The dance, people.)

Lil C Verbatim Review: "It's very difficult to achieve that in which Dee Caspary has requested of you, but I must say I don't think I've ever beared witness to seeing it done quite so effortlessly. You two are the perfect representation to how mellifluous the piano keys are. Sasha, you are eight notches above perfection, oh my gosh. Loved the piece, loved you guys dancing, love to see you even more. Amazing."

Caitlynn and Mitchell Danced a Jean-Marc Genereux Samba

Tiny Dancers:

Caitlynn was also a tomboy. Mitchell took up dance late but his first performance was as Leroy in Fame. Buckness!

The Dance:

Jean-Marc gave the pair a "hot and spicy" samba (to "Put It in a Love Song," by Alicia Keys featuring Beyonce) and said something about Speaker Hips that broadcast the beat. To me, Caitlynn was a little slow in the leg, but Mitchell nailed the super-tall samba stance. He looked the part -- and shook the part. As a couple, this team doesn't have zazzle yet, but I think they'll grow into it.

So You Think You Can Dance Top 16: Caitlynn/Mitchell
Image courtesy FOX

Judges' Reactions:

Mary thought it was great -- they were living the samba.

Kristin loved it and went off on an extended riff on "Shut the front door." I generally love La Chenoweth, but as a funny judge she's no Debbie Reynolds.

Lil C Verbatim Review: "We might need some ventilation. We're gonna need some ventilation. There was so much bass generating from them hips up there. I need y'all to turn them decibels down on that ballroom buckness. Real deal! Yes! Y'all murdered it, everyone's seen it, shoutout to Jean-Marc, always. And Mitchell, you say you were a tardy bloomer -- better late than never."

Nigel: "Mitchell is the Chris Rock of SYTYCD." What the HELL does that mean?

Miranda and Robert Danced a Tyce Broadway Number

Tiny Dancers:

Miranda wore a lot of oversized bows and tiny wedding dresses. Robert liked to imitate Michael Jackson.

The Dance:

So Miranda is a high-class hooker (in the piece, people), and Robert is a man who loves his music, performed to "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing" from the Sophisticated Ladies soundtrack. Had I not heard Tyce's backstory, it would have just been two people dancing -- I didn't get the characters at all. Robert's job a lot of the time was to stand while Miranda did the harder dance work -- kind of like a DWTS routine. Miranda was technically proficient, but this dance was the "meh" of the night for me.

Judges' Reactions:

Lil C Verbatim Review: "Miranda, you leave me in awe every time I see you dance. With legs like that, who needs arms? You don't even need em! For me, I feel like it's still early in the competition but you're going through a lot of transformations already, like you're metamorphosizing the most. Rob, you have the kind of personality that one can only receive if the planets are in perfect alignment when you're born. That is such a treasure. I want you to keep practically applying that to every style you pull out of the hat. Good job."

Nigel and Mary: Miranda has really grown.

Kristin: Raved.

Melanie and Marko Danced Lyrical Hip-Hop by Tabitha and Napoleon

Tiny Dancers:

Melanie was always performing, and wearing crazy-elaborate cowgirl and Bo Peep getups. Marko was a spoiled brat who learned discipline through dance.

The Dance:

The premise is that these two are best friends, but Melanie is about to marry someone else when they both realize that True Love was right there in front of them the whole time. (Is NappyTabs' mission to choreograph every date-night movie plot, ever?) But they both danced the hell out of "I Got You," by Leona Lewis. The emotion on Marko's face, the intricacy of the beginning, and Marko's long slide to a joyful real kiss were all incredibly moving -- maybe all date-night movies should just shut up and dance.

So You Think You Can Dance Top 16: Melanie/Marko
Image courtesy FOX

Judges' Reactions:

Lil C Verbatim Review (in response to Cat's query: Was it buck?): "It was most definitely was. I think people need to realize as choreographers -- you guys are pulling a style out of a hat, but for us as choreographers, it's a raffle for us too. We're asked to construct masterpieces but we're given a toolbox, and I think that Tabitha and Napoleon were excited when they opened it up and saw a pair of limited edition Swiss army knives. Plain and simple, you guys are a power couple and this whole section right here in the beginning, that was EXTRA BUCK. The connection so crispy, so clean, so beefy. NappyTabs shoutout."

Nigel: Thought it was a brilliant concept and that this is a pair that breathes together.

Mary: This is the couple to beat. She asked how hard it was to perform that kiss ...

Nigel: Kissed Mary!

Cat: "Ew, that's like walking in on your mom and dad, gross!"

Kristin: Praised it all ... then kissed Lil C, knocking his fake glasses off!

Nigel: Swooped in and also kissed Lil C!

Lil C: "I think it might be time for a commercial break."

Ashley and Chris Danced a Sonya Tayeh Jazz Routine

Tiny Dancers:

Ashley was a shy, goofy kid. Her first dance was as a be-tutued three-year-old. Chris has six siblings. His first performance was to recite a poem about a rabbit party.

The Dance:

I usually dread Sonya's numbers as much as Chris seemed to this week, and for good reason. This week, Sonya was inspired by graves and Beetlejuice -- and, look, I adore zombies as much as the next blogger, but they've got to have some fun with it. A lot of jerky movement to flashing lights and droning music ("Lights Go Down" by Telepathe) is not Fun Zombie. Dancewise, there was some good B-boying by Chris and ridiculous leg extensions by Ashley, but not too much in between. I think they're in danger.

Judges' Reactions:

Nigel: Didn't connect with the music, the characters or the choreography.

Mary: Thought it was beautiful and Chris has grown.

Kristin: Says she's the Paula Abdul of SYTYCD, because she loves all the dancers, but the number wasn't to her taste either.

Lil C Verbatim Review: "I think what's interesting about Sonya's work all the time is that she gives you a character, she gives you a story. But what she also does is she gives the technique that is being featured in the dance, she gives that a character as well. So she patently applies that formula to every facet of the routine. And it's mindblowing, it's just crazy. Ashley, for me you're the sleeper cell of this competition, every time you come across it's like oh yeah I forgot about her, how can I ever, she's amazing in everything that she does. Excellent job, keep being a silent assassin. Chris I see you. Buckness."

Clarice and Jess Danced a Jean-Marc Foxtrot

Tiny Dancers:

Clarice was a cute dancing baby. Jess' childhood nickname was Jess the Mess.

The Dance:

Jean-Marc was smart to pick Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" and give this dance a strong story -- a Sinatra-esque crooner who dances with a fan at the Rainbow Room. I'm betting Jess won't be great at pure ballroom, but he sure can Rat Pack -- he was precise and dynamic as usual. Clarice wasn't as interesting to watch as Jess, but was graceful and floaty. I'd like to see her dance ballroom with an All-Star at some point.

Judges' Reactions:

Mary: "Wow! Wow! Wow!"

Kristin: This was her favorite performance. She praised Clarice's grace and called Jess Gene Kelly, which clearly made his decade.

Lil C Verbatim Review: "I know how much Jean-Marc loves loves loves dance, like it's ridiculous. You two just put a face on the smile of his heart. Jess, your physical artistic expression is the definition of sophistication, my friend. As a performer you are a phenom, most definitely, hands down. And I've decided to say it to you now, because if the next time I see you is in Buck Alley, I may be feeling a little bit different."

Nigel: Solid. Clarice's dress is "a spider's web of bling."

Ryan and Ricky Danced a Contemporary Routine by Sonya

Tiny Dancers:

Ricky did his friend's choreography instead of his own (which is impressive -- he did it well). Ryan was a very shy bunny.

The Dance:

Sonya clearly put her heart and soul into this dance, to Robyn's "With Every Heartbeat." She was pulling on very literal heartstrings: Ryan and Ricky were bound by a ribbon of cloth that seems to spool from Ryan's bra … oh, that's probably meant to be her heart. The dance was supposed to signify the ending of a relationship -- Sonya created it for her father. Ryan's bra/metaphor ribboned out in a very rhythmic gymnastics way, and I give both dancers credit for making the interaction with it look effortless -- it didn't give me a prop-fail anxiety attack like most of that kind of dance does (like Janine and Phillip's chain dance, for instance). Again, I'm itching for some new partnerships. Ricky really is an amazing dancer, with beautiful lines, but I was hoping Ryan would go last week and I didn't see anything to change my mind this week. I'd like to see Rickey paired with someone less humdrum … like Sasha.

Judges' Reactions:

Kristin: Thought they both conveyed the emotion, and adored Ricky's turnout.

Lil C Verbatim Review: "Sonya is the artistic director for everything that is both abstract and concrete about emotion and movement. It shows and shines through with every piece that she does. Number two, you guys are also a power couple in this competition, murdering every week. And more so, I don't think, let me impress upon the fact that you only get seven hours to deliver this caliber of a performance. You guys are getting standing ovations, people have to rehearse for months at a time to get that. This is uncanny; this is unbelievable; and it's phenomenal. Buckness."

Jordan and Tadd Danced a NappyTabs Hip-Hop Routine

Tiny Dancers:

Jordan used to growl at people. She looks like Lil Snooki in her baby pics. Her first dance was to the Spice Girls. Tadd was a nerdy kid whose first dance was a Pilipino cultural dance, in traditional costume.

The Dance:

Way to keep it classy for the tween viewers, NappyTabs: It's about the morning after a hookup, in which the dancers fumble for clothes and look embarrassed to "Memories" by David Guetta. But how else are you going to enable Tadd to put on and take off so many clothes in one dance? His physical skill and timing hopping into his jeans and out of his shirt was impressive, and Jordan was cute and didn't go all Pussycat Doll on this dance (which would have been creepier than Nigel and Mary's kiss, though not as creepy as Piano Hands). And she was in character, if not as energetic or specific. This ended up more fun than trashy, and I'm thinking the couple was cute enough to keep America voting for them.

Judges' Reactions:

Lil C "for Sensible," says Cat, "but was it buck?" Verbatim Review: "First of all, now I know why Jordan wasn't returning my calls or answering my texts last night! It's 'cause of your new haircut Tadd, I see what's going on. Shoutout to NappyTabs again, the concepts are endless, endless. I loved the concept, the execution. I will say this: When you're getting down into certain grooves, you got to make sure you're using your whole body. You can't isolate different sections of your body when it comes to dancing. You got to dance all the way to the bone. But loved it, you guys are amazing, greatness."

Nigel: The story overwhelmed the dance but it was fun.

Mary: "Do not put your pants on like that unless you have a B-boy certification."

Group Two Danced a Dee Caspary Contemporary Routine

Jordan, Ricky, Melanie, Jess, Ashley, Alexander, Robert, and Caitlynn danced an intricate contemporary about medieval poisoning to "Poison & Wine" by the Civil Wars. It was more visually arresting than Tyce's, with arrangements suggesting historical dance, and lovely movements and arm placements, though the last bit looked a little too Ye Olde Jonestown for my taste.

Predictions for the Bottom Three

Chris and Ashley

Ryan and Ricky

Robert and Miranda

With Robert and Ryan going home.

But what did you think?

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