Get your texting fingers ready, people, because this is it: The first live show of the season. Well, the first totally live show. In fact, I know it was live because Cat Deeley accidentally referred to Mary Murphy as Mia Michaels while she was introducing the judges. We’re off to a good start in Season 9.
No one went home tonight, but the contestants’ longevity depends the most heavily on this episode, because whoever sucked tonight is going home next week.
That’s right: Four dancers—four!—will be sent home at the end of next week’s show. Whoever couldn’t get America behind them after four minutes of screen time this week will suffer the consequences by getting the ax next week. America would cast its vote after this show, and the night’s laggards will be toast next week.
The top 20 kicked off the telecast with a full-cast, terror-at-the-workplace, Mad Men-y number set to a very sinister, Requiem for a Dream-esque track. After that, Cat introduced them all for the first time, and I spent most of that time wondering how I would spell all of these names correct for the next 10 weeks (Chehon? Dareian? Witney with no H? Clearly, Jef with one F belongs on this show, not on The Bachelorette).
The guest judge for this week was Kenny Ortega, joining “the legend” Mary Murphy and “Lord of the Dance” Nigel Lythgoe. After Nigel reminded us to vote early and often because four people will go home next week, Witney and Chehon—the first couple up—were given nine seconds each to tell America everything it must know about them. Witney with no H told that she’s afraid of crickets and has a big family. Chehon with too many H’s talked too fast about his bilingual brain. Their samba routine was supposed to be super sexy and, as Chubbs Petersen would say, all in the hips, which was clearly meant to favor Witney and force Chehon into a fierce departure from the ballet he’s accustomed to.
Nevertheless, Chehon was really working those hips, even if it was distracting that he was dressed like Marc Anthony in 1985. Witney, as usual, was wearing something that was pink, barely there and a size too small, and her hair was big and her countenance was even bigger. Together, they were cute, animated and exciting, if a bit tacky and over the top. That’s the nature of the samba beast, I suppose.
Nigel told Witney “the firecracker” that she looked and danced like a star—heck, she is a star. Meanwhile, he told Chehon the afterthought that he needs to stop overcompensating for his turnout by turning his feet in and making himself bowlegged; he also needs to have more fun with it and remember that this is not classical. Personally, I don’t see how there was any way that either of them could have been more over the top, but I’ll take Nigel’s word for it. Mary seconded the fact that Chehon had major foot issues, and she still thinks Witney is on the train (vom). Girl is getting the Class-A Lauren Alaina Treatment, and it’s only the first week. Kenny kept his critique totally realistic by telling Witney she was like Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, but hotter. Glad we’re keeping our feet on the ground, here. As Cat ran through their phone numbers, I wondered if votes for either of these two still count if their names are spelled wrong.
Next up, Tiffany told us her nickname is T-Mahar-Star and George Lawrence II told us that his dad is George Lawrence I. Thanks for that. And thank God for normal names!!! Sonya choreographed their classical routine about star-crossed lovers who melt into butter when they’re together because she was going for something totally original. In all seriousness, these two had a legitimate genuine connection, even if their routine did look and sound a little bit like Disney On Ice. I dug it. Against all odds, they did somehow accomplish the art of melting into each other. I couldn’t tell if they were making out when the lights down at the end, but I’ll allow it, anyway.
The two of them weren’t quite at train-level for Mary, but regardless, Tiffany and George rendered her breathless by surrendering themselves to the choreography. Mary told George he was one of the best dancers in the competition, and her praise for Tiffany wasn’t quite as effusive, but she was impressed nonetheless. Kenny spent most of his critique kissing Sonya’s booty before going on a tangent about how the routine made him nostalgic for his own youth. Nigel told George and Tiffany they were a wonderful couple of superb dancers, and they performed through the ends of their fingertips.
All around, no complaints here. I worry they were too forgettable, especially on the heels of Witney and Chehon’s firecrackery-ness, but hopefully America appreciated their subtlety.
In her nine seconds, Janaya told us that she hates Chucky and loves Shamu; her partner, Brandon the Stepper, told us he’s allergic to dogs and his brother just broke the world long-jump record for eight-year-olds. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. Their hip hop routine told a story of a struggle with addiction (glad we were keeping it light this evening!), and in the rehearsal, it came complete with a very dramatic smashing of a beer bottle which was sadly cut for the live show. It was definitely very Save the Last Dance for Me, but unlike George’s and Tiffany’s routine, this one was lively and modern and was set to music that was produced in this century. Technically, was it as impressive as the first two routines? Not at all. Will it get more votes? Most definitely.
I have to say, I wasn’t really getting the struggling-alcoholic vibe, but the judges didn’t seem to mind. Kenny stumbled through a critique in which he commended hip hop as a genre for telling a deeper story. Nigel called out Janaya for her “supple back” and told her she needs to get down deeper and dirtier when she’s doing hip hop, then gave Brandon credit for choosing Janaya over vodka. Things got real for a second when he told both of them they need to be much better if they want to avoid getting voted off quickly, and Mary, too, told Janaya she needs to be grittier, then agreed that Brandon did an excellent job of getting into character.
Next up were Alexa and Daniel. Because all we knew about Alexa at this point was that she’s dead inside (thanks, Tyce and Adam!), she spastically informed us that she loves red lipstick and sprinkles, even though they don’t taste like anything. Daniel Baker the Australian told us he is Australian and that he’s related to Crocodile Dundee. Again—is he serious?
Their quirky, sexy number promised to take a lot of stamina and required serious teamwork, given all the twisting and lifting and potential for falling. The two of them, dressed in red satin suits from the Hollie Cavanagh Collection, began their number in a cage and definitely got the most points for teamwork and agility. They weren’t lying—this routine was a B-word. Even without their bright red costumes and their blinding blondeness, these two showed up everyone who came before them. I don’t know if any of the other pairs had the athleticism, concentration or the flat-out talent to pull this one off.
Nigel said the routine was admirably intricate, but given the level of difficulty, it was hard for the two of them to forge a connection with one another—and he told them to be careful of “smiling for the sake of it” instead of finding a genuine emotional connection to the material. Mary said the routine was exciting and red-hot, but agreed that Alexa and Daniel didn’t have much of a connection. Kenny admitted the routine was remarkably difficult and appreciated their ability, but in one of his only cogent critiques of the night, he wasn’t incredibly impressed with their performance itself. Somehow, though, I don’t think the lack of connection is going to hurt them this week. Must be all that red.
NEXT: Amber hates sausage
Next up, Amber told us she used to run track, loves bunnies and hates sausage. Ballroom dancer Nick told us he took 23 course credits (this year? this lifetime?) but, in the most self-congratulatory possible way, doesn’t recommend it to anyone. Nick—who, by the way, isn’t dramatic at all—somehow managed to find a way to feel the pressure crashing down on his shoulders despite the fact that this ballroom routine fell right into his wheelhouse, while Amber merely shrugged and got on with the show.
I was a little distracted by Amber’s pretty white princess dress, but even I could tell that the climax of the routine was perfectly in tune with the climax of their track. It may or may not have given me chills. In terms of a connection, these two had the best one tonight, and it was doubtlessly enhanced by excellent choreography. (Props, Jason.)
Mary said the whole routine was dreamy and floaty and flowy, and Amber’s leg and arm extensions were superb. Kenny went with a word association technique to formulate his own critique: “Fluid. Flowing. Lovely.” Nigel compared Jason to a Dance Mom because he was so hard on poor little Nick during rehearsals, then told the ballroom stud that the tough love brought out the best in him. In the future, however, Nick needs to refrain from grimacing while dancing. Despite the glowing critiques, though, Nigel gave both Amber and Nick the Simon Cowell Kiss of Death by telling them he was crossing his fingers for both of them because he didn’t quite think they inspired the audience enough to earn votes.
Next: Silent Movie Amelia. In her requisite nine seconds, she told us she’s named after Amelia Earhart because her cool tattoo-artist dad likes planes. Will, her partner, told us he sometimes gets confused and thinks he’s Simba from The Lion King. Or something. Tabitha and Napoleon saddled them with a jazz hip hop routine based on “cool cat characters” that takes place in a seedy back alley, then criticized them in rehearsals for not taking it seriously enough.
Apparently, they had no problem getting serious for the live show, because their routine was somehow goofy and gritty and old-timey but still cool and sassy. Maybe it was all the leather they were wearing. This was definitely one of my favorites of the night, and apparently, the audience felt the same way—Amelia and Will two got the loudest applause of the night. The routine was both classic and modern; it was both funny and intimidatingly good.
Kenny told Amelia very creepily that if he had a kitty like her, he’d play with her all day. Clearly, it was past his bedtime. Nigel told Will and Amelia they were one of the best early partnerships and commended them for their personality without having to try too hard. Mary said they were purr-fect—hilarious—then gave Tabitha and Napoleon props for creating the perfect routine for these two dancers. Most importantly, this performance was certainly the most memorable thus far. These two are totally safe.
Janelle the belly-dancer was up next. She likes to cook and likes roller coasters. Her partner, Dareian Kujawa, can do an excellent Donald Duck impression and used to play hockey. They were both saddled with a fast, African dance-inspired routine that was even more difficult than Alexa’s and Daniel’s.
It was set to a rousing drumline and involved lots of crawling, writhing, pulling and pushing on the floor, and it was definitely the most impressive performance of the night: Both Janelle and Dareian were both perfectly in sync, and neither of them missed a single step, which was a major blessing—the routine was so fast that if either of them had, it would have been totally over. It was immediately evident that these are, technically speaking, two of the top dancers in the competition.
Nigel loved the routine and said that, unlike Alexa and Daniel, these parnters were truly connected to one another. He insured Janelle’s place in the competition by running through Janelle’s abundant injuries and giving her major props for still managing to stand upright, then he gave Dareian some credit for his opening-number pirouettes (quite impressive, I must say). Mary called the routine a “jungle dance-off” in which both competitors finished dead even, and Kenny said they set the place on fire. None of the judges were remotely worried that either Janelle or Dameian would be in trouble next week, and they’re probably right.
Next up was what I’d been waiting for all night: Cyrus! Oh, and Eliana the ballet dancer. He is a Pisces and loves basketball, and she loves True Blood. Well, she’s my new favorite! Their Hairspray-inspired Broadway routine, choreographed by Tyce, was quite a departure for our resident animator, particularly because he’s never done choreography. Oh God.
This was much more the Eliana show than the Cyrus show, but he seemed pretty content to kind of hide behind his partner’s talent. It wasn’t a bad performance, but he didn’t really … do much. As Nigel might say, there weren’t really enough moves. Overall, the whole thing relied a bit too much on the acting and not enough on the dancing, but judging by Tyce’s excessive clapping and mugging and jumping up and down, he wasn’t all that disappointed.
Mary raved that Cyrus and Eliana brought more than enough personality and heart to the stage, and I have to agree. Aside from Amelia and Will, this was the only other couple that seemed semi-alive during the performance, and honestly, that’s what a Broadway routine is all about. Kenny said he felt like he was in New York, watching in a Broadway house. Nigel kept it real and told Cyrus he’s not yet a great dancer, but he still immerses himself 100 percent, which helps him get away with it. He told Eliana the routine didn’t really show off her full skill set, but she’s still the benchmark against which all the other females will be measured this year.
NEXT: Audrey and Matt Unchained
Next up, Audrey told us she can fart with her neck. We already know that. Her partner Matt is a cat person with six tattoos. Travis Wall choreographed their routine, based on Titanic—the centerpiece, of course, was the infamous nudey-Kate Winslet couch. Well, not that exact couch, but one that was supposed to look exactly like it.
I’m pretty sure “Unchained Melody” didn’t exist when the Titanic set sail, but I’ll let it go. This was a little corny and angsty for me, but it was one of the few classical routines of the night and really showed off both Audrey’s and Matt’s skill sets, unlike too many of the night’s routines. A lot of the choreography revolved around Matt tossing tiny Audrey all over the place, but it worked because he managed to do it rhythmically, in perfect time with the music. They were cute together, and they got the first standing O of the night.
Nigel enjoyed the routine more than anything else of the night because the choreography was so well-coordinated with the music, and because the dancers’ technique was perfect. Mary seconded the fact that Travis hit the jackpot when he drew these two dancers because it was so easy to choreograph for them, and she commended Matt for his emotional maturity and called Audrey perfect.
Last but not least was The Other Broadway Girl, Lindsay, who really likes food and really hates spiders. Her partner, “Karate Kid Cole,” calls himself a walking cliché because he’s an Asian male ninja. I love him for that comment. Jason gave them a fiery, dramatic paso doble in which Lindsay was supposed to be an evil poison that infected Cole.
The routine began with Lindsay wrapped around Cole’s back—literally, she looked like she was a bug poised to bite him—and I don’t know whether it was the ultra-dramatic music or the ultra-dramatic costumes, but I dug this routine. Talk about getting into character—these two did it, and for me, it was particularly impressive given the age discrepancy between them. Lindsay is 18 and Cole is 26, but they gelled and got another standing O.
Kenny called this one of the most fantastic performances he’s ever seen on this show, and Mary shrilly insisted that this was the best paso Jason has ever choreographed. Nigel agreed that it was the best paso doble he’s ever seen from a male on this show, and he commended Lindsay for refusing to let Cole overshadow her. Perfect way to end the show! Two thumbs up!
When all was said and done, here’s how I’d rank the top 20 ranked on the first live show:
10. Amber and Nick
9. Janaya and Brandon
8. Tiffany and George
7. Alexa and Daniel
6. Eliana and Cyrus
5. Witney and Chehon
4. Janelle and Dameian
3. Lindsay and Cole
2. Amelia and Will
1. Audrey and Matt
What did you think? Who are you voting for? Who was overrated and who didn’t get enough credit from the judges? Most importantly, who has you worried heading into the first elimination week?
[Photo Credit: Fox]