Invasion of the Fan Perspective: SYTYCD’s Top 8
July 7th, 2010
You could argue that tonight’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance is, in itself, fan service: after some have complained that the series’ switch to an All-Star format has taken away from the audience’s engagement with the dancers, the series took an opportunity with the Top 8 in order to bring back the old format as dancers performed two dances (one with an All-Star, and one with one of their fellow competitors). As someone who has been underwhelmed by the supposed benefits of the All-Star format, I was pleased to see the series return to its roots, and I actually quite liked the balance between the individual and paired performances – it was a twist of sorts on the “Paired Dance + Solo” structure the show has worked with in the past, and I preferred it to those episodes as I’ve always found the solos to be pretty uniformly boring.
However, fan response to the show’s seventh season invaded the series in another, less formal, fashion in this week’s episodes, as the fans were acknowledged within both the rehearsal packages and critiques for a number of the dancers. The series has acknowledged its fans before, but I’ve rarely seen them viewed as such a force within the competition in both explicit and implicit fashions, which is contributing to what has been a very intriguing (if not necessarily even) season for the series.
Cat Deeley claimed to be playing Devil’s advocate when she interrupted the judges’ critique of Adechike’s performance, but in reality she was playing fan’s advocate. Her interjection was the one positive spinoff from Alex Wong’s unfortunate injury, as the show had time to fill with a dance being cut from the show and so Cat was more talkative than usual. And considering how fantastic she is as the show’s host (which is why I truly hope she garners an Emmy nomination in the morning), it’s no surprise that she takes that opportunity and points out the judges’ hypocrisy: two weeks after letting Jose off the hook for a sloppy Bollywood performance because he put his own spin on it, the judges criticized Adechike for bringing too much of his personality to the dance. While the studio audience’s support of her comment was largely in support of one of their dancers who was “under attack” rather than a legitimate acknowledge of the level of hypocrisy the show was dealing with, the comment speaks to concerns that I’ve seen voiced from many viewers in regards to Jose sailing through the competition on a smile.
What’s funny is that I agree with the judges’ comments to Adechike: he was flailing about without any discipline, and there was none of the power that we’ve experienced in the strongest Bollywood routines (and that Alex might have been able to capture more successfully). They are entirely right that he allowed the character to overtake his performance, embracing the joy of the dance without grounding it within the power that we know he’s capable of (as evidenced by his auditions which focused almost exclusively on that power). However, Cat is quite right that the judges didn’t hold Jose to the same standards, and I was disappointed that Mia ended up basically saying “Jose is cuter” as opposed to coming out and saying that Adechike should know better. The show has accepted the fact that Jose doesn’t know choreography, and so his enthusiasm and a few pointed toes is enough to get him positive reviews: Adechike, by comparison, has been shown to be technically strong, so they have set different expectations for him. I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable, and is something that the judges would obviously do over the course of the competition, but it’s not something they can really publicize, as they’re supposed to remain objective for the sake of helping the audience judge the dances in ways we’re not really able to.
This season has seen a lot of negative response towards the judging and the competition as a whole, and Cat raising those concerns (albeit framed as her own observation) was part of a trend of sorts. On the slightly inconsequential side, I was surprised that the producers allowed Lauren’s discussion of Kent’s voter base go through, if only because the show hasn’t always acknowledged the role which voting bases play in the competition. Yes, we know they’re there, and the teenage girls are certainly madly in love with Kent, but Lauren spent more of her rehearsal/reveal packages discussing her fear of Kent’s voter base turning on her, a scenario that’s scarily likely (although I think the performance was strong enough for both of them that they’re easily safe). It was a small moment, and certainly not a breaking down of the fourth wall considering the show doesn’t particularly have one, but it keeps the voting a major component of the performance shows when paired with the judges’ discussion of Robert’s inability to stay out of the Bottom Three.
That discussion went in an interesting discussion as soon as Nigel admitted to having gone to the forums in order to discover why people don’t like Robert, after which he explicitly tried to persaude viewers that Robert is not, in fact, arrogant. Earlier in the episode, Nigel made mention of his conversations with fans (likely on Twitter) about going too easy on Jose, and that shows an engagement with the show’s audience that is quite admirable. However, the image of an Executive Producer and Judge searching through message boards to discover what people don’t like about a contestant, and then going on national television to tell those people that their opinions are invalid, is a little bit bizarre. I don’t think that anyone can accurately claim that Robert is arrogant from the limited screen time he has received, but I do think that Robert’s behaviour during critiques has been “fake” enough that I can see why some viewers would read that as arrogant. And while I think that there’s a place for Lythgoe to talk to Robert about it behind the scenes if he’s concerned about Robert’s chances, the plea to America seemed to go beyond “America, you’re getting it wrong” to “America, you’re being petty.” It’s not as if America is voting against Robert, they simply prefer different dancers, which isn’t necessarily going to change just because Nigel assured us he’s a nice guy (which, really, isn’t the issue at play here).
We’re reaching the point where the show is going to turn everything over to the fans, with the judges having no say in who goes home, so it’s only natural that the fans and their concerns should start to play a larger role. However, in Nigel’s comments you see their resistance to turning this over to American’s democratic choice, a task which becomes even more challenging with Alex Wong (the perfect blend of technical professionalism and audience support) likely out of the competition with a ruptured achilles tendon. At this point, there’s not much standing in the way of Kent walking away with this thing, a fact which is going to make for a very interesting response from the judges when America takes over (which I presume will arrive with the Top 6 or Top 5, depending on how they feel things are evolving).
- I’m with Mia and Adam on Adechike’s Jazz performance with Courtney, but I think that Mandy Moore’s uninteresting choreography really did them in: there wasn’t enough dancing for the character to become connected with the style, meaning that the brief interlude of legitimate dancing didn’t feel like part of the same performance.
- Kent and Lauren had the best performance of the night with their Travis Wall contemporary piece (which brought a close to the battle between Wall and Lythgoe, who was supportive towards the choreography) – while Billy and Katee’s Broadway piece was technically strong, the emotion inherent within Travis’ most successful contemporary pieces is going to win out in the end, and I thought this was another winner.
- It should be an interesting morning for many of these folks, and you’ll see it on the show tomorrow night: chances are that a number of choreographers will be up for Emmys, including likely Wall (in his first year of eligibility) and perhaps Stacey Tookey (who is also, I believe, competing for the first time). Personally, I’m rooting for “anything but Tyce’s Cancer Dance.”
- Alex’s injury is a truly heartbreaking situation, which could put a damper on tomorrow night’s show: he terminated a contract for this opportunity, so to see it end with injury is a tough pill to swallow, especially with how great he was last week.