Don’t Call it a Comeback
Season Five, Top 18 Performance Show
I’m not quite an authority on dancing, nor do I really have the endurance to really comment on every single one of the Top 9’s dances during tonight’s performane show. As a result, I’m going to focus on the most interesting element of the week for me, which is seeing how the two surviving couples from the Bottom Three (Asuka & Vitolio and Jonathan & Karla) manage to bounce back from rough first weeks, plus offer some general thoughts on who I liked, and how the night went overall.
What I found from this perspective was honestly quite interesting, as you see how the luck of getting the right dance combines with the producers’ efforts to provide a moving story, as well as the dancers themselves stepping up to the plate to try to stay alive. The judges don’t want dancers to be down and out this early in the competition, nor are they going to purposefully try to sink someone, so these dancers are fully capable of making a dramatic comeback, winning the hearts of the judges, and winning over America at the same time.
Whether these two couples have done that…well, I’m not quite so sure, as it’s kind of tough to make that call without understanding the show’s dynamics.
Staying out of the Bottom Three 101
Step One: Get the Right Dance
For Asuka and Vitolio, this one came together pretty quickly: the waltz is within Asuka’s ballroom lexicon and the slow speed and lack of footwork could help Vitolio work more with its slow rhythm. It was also, however, enough of a departure for the judges to make direct note of how Asuka was able to move beyond the showboating of latin ballroom to deliver a stoic and emotional performance, so they even got points for stepping outside of her comfort zone.
As for Jonathan and Karla, getting Contemporary made it so Karla was more comfortable, and as she was the first person to be saved from the Bottom Three it’s clear that she’s the stronger part of this pair. It was enough of a departure for Jonathan that it gave him room to impress, and Mary’s gushing praise that he was better in this style was the perfect sign of adaptability that the show always strives towards.
Step Two: Show Some Personality
Asuka and Vitolio are the most boring couple on the show right now, and I mean that in the nicest way. They just don’t bounce off the screen, and they don’t seem to really interact with each other in anything but the more stoic of fashions. People want to see them rough housing or fake bickering, but instead the show makes their dance to be “The Orphan Waltz.” Falling back on Vitolio’s life story isn’t a bad move for their ability to relate with the audience, but it seemed a bit forced and didn’t really help Asuka at all.
The little piece on Jonathan and Karla was more cute and pedestrian (Karkla dances hip hop! Jonathan likes to sing but can’t actually sing!), but they had a style that is generally more comfortable for the audience (contemporary tends to always affect the judges/audience more than other dances, even when not performed as well). That makes their display of emotion more in line with what people expect, and a pleasant change from Jonathan’s smiley face from last week.
Step Three: Dance Memorably
There was never really a question that Asuka and Vitolio were capable dancers, even during last week’s unfortunate broadway routine, but here they got to shine: Vitolio performed admirably in the dance designed around his story, and Asuka had just the right combination of elegance in general and shocking power/grace in big moments (I don’t know what to call the giant split thing, but the power of the image was enough to ensure that the dance would be memorable).
Jonathan and Karla danced well also, although I wasn’t quite as convinced of their greatness as the judges were. It seemed a lot of the dance was just Karla thrashing around in his arms, and when he was dancing he seemed very stiff compared to what I’m used to seeing from contemporary. They also had the experience of working with an unknown choreographer, which could go either way: either the fans will really like the dance and remember the young Canadian who choreographed it, or they’ll forget about it and not pick up the phone. And, the song will be a big help: Falling Slowly went from obscurity to being memorable for millions of Americans when Kris Allen performed it on American Idol, plus it’s frakking awesome and memorable in and of itself.
Step Four: Get Right Comments from Right Judges
There’s always talk on American Idol about whether or not America actually listens to anyone other than Simon: Paula’s incoherent, Randy’s incoherent, and Kara was as useless as the other two, really only leaving Simon as someone who is respected for having an opinion. If people are going to listen to the judges, as opposed to spiting them for saying something bad about their favourite singer, they’ll listen to Simon before they listen to the others.
I don’t quite know how the SYTYCD world works. Do people listen to Nigel, who always seems a bit stodgy and who always gets the last word? Or do they listen to Mary, who for all of her ridiculous enthusiasm and screaming occasionally offers some legitimate critiques? And can anyone wait through Li’l’ C’s obnoxiously long metaphors and anecdotes to hear what he has to say about the dance itself? I don’t really know, which is why it’s tough to know who these dancers really want to have on their side, pimping them out when they’re trying to stay alive.
Both dancers, perhaps coincidentally or perhaps through producer interference, got their first comment from Mary instead of Li’l’ C, and she was quite coherent through both. She had a lot of praise for both couples, welling with emotion for Asuka and Vitolio and praising Jonathan’s ability to be even better at a new style than his own (which is kind of a burn, but in context was quite impressive), so it was a good first impression…as long as we think people listen to Mary Murphy. It did mean that Li’l’ C was a bit more abrupt than with others, and in general the judges had plenty of nice things to say about them. Overall, they were some solid critiques that will serve them well.
Step Five: Hope Other People Screw Up
Amazingly, this is what it really comes down to – no matter how well you might dance, chances are there is going to be another couple who dancers better, or dances just as well, or who is memorable enough that even a bad performance will keep them alive. Couples like Ashley & Kupuno (whose hip hop routine was panned by the judges) and Philip and Jeanine (whose Tango was similarly destroyed) may have danced worse and received worse critiques, but they also could have built up fanbases that will shift from rewarding the best dances to keeping their favourite couple alive. If enough of that has happened, and no couple completely falls apart on stage, then there’s every chance that even everything else working in their favour won’t keep these couples alive.
In the end, I think that Jonathan and Karla might have done enough to make it through, while I’m still not convinced that Asuka and Vitolio have shown enough emotion and personality to overcome the others dancers doing far more in those areas. Jonathan and Karla might lack a story, but he looks like he’s the American Billy Elilot and everyone loves a good underground dancing for freedom (or in this case, his life). Vitolio has a good story, but it’s not a particularly upbeat one, and I don’t think their emotional and powerful dance will be enough to save them, even on a night when a few couples cleared the way for some shakeup. But, America’s pretty finicky, and this early on anything can happen.
- Overall, it seemed as if this night was much weaker than the one before: only Max and Kayla really lived up to their previous performance, and even then it wasn’t quite as impressive as their fiery dance from last week. It just seemed like people were just far enough outside of their comfort zones, or struggling a bit with the grueling schedule, and things just didn’t come together the same way.
- I’d say that Jason and Caitlin were the big failure in that regard, coming off of an impressive (if overrated) Bollywood routine into a limp hip hop routine that just didn’t connect in the way it needed to – Jason was sloppy as hell, and it ended up feeling way too cute. It would have been too saccharine for even a Tabitha and Napoleon routine, and this was Shane Sparks – that just isn’t going to cut it.
- In terms of surprises, Brandon and Janette managed to get through the dreaded Disco routine without falling apart, a sign of two very strong competitors. Sure, Janette made the one little tumble, but it was managed well and the combination of lifts and everything else came together into a strong routine that keeps them on the map.
- Speaking of Brandon, as foreshadowed, tomorrow night brings what we’ve all been waiting for – Mia Michaels choreographing Brandon, as she takes on the group routine. That’ll make for some inriguing results, and I only wish they’d show us the behind the scenes to see how much of their feud was Michaels posturing for attention in Vegas.