Okay, enough screwing around. Let's get to why we're really all here: to discuss the current state of "So You Think You Can Dance".
Ade's jump on Thursday night... jesus h. unbelievable
If you haven't been watching it, which includes me for the first four seasons, you're doing yourself an immense disservice. This is no "American Idol", "Big Brother" or "The Amazing Race". This is a self-contained dance competition that will leave even a culture-less rube gasping for air after a brilliant move - if you don't cry at some point during each episode, you're made of clay. And this is coming from a guy with acidic sarcasm running through his veins, having avoided every "reality" show since they were invented.
"So You Think You Can Dance" may not effectuate the kind of cultural seismic activity "American Idol" does, but that's because people relate more primally to "Idol". It is possible to be an accidentally fantastic singer (see Boyle, Susan) and viewers can privately fulfill their own dreams to be discovered, no matter their age, weight or circumstance. SYTYCD offers no such dream: these contestants have physical skills you will never have, and they've labored harder in their artistic pursuit than you can possible fathom. If anything, it's closer to the Olympics than any other show.
That said, every dancer has their flaws, their distinct personality, and the judging can be infuriatingly subjective. Let's look at some of the issues, shall we?
permanent judges Mary and Nigel at right
The Judges - Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy are actually fantastic, whether or not you can deal with their personalities. Nigel's an old-school Brit with decades of dance to back up his critique, and Mary is 50% batshit catchphrases, 50% stunningly incisive commentary. Those two are the soul of the show, but unfortunately, there's always a revolving third judge who is generally full of shit.
Tyce was so mean to contestants in the first week that Nigel actually had to tell him to cool it - and even now, while more subdued, he doesn't bring anything to the table beyond repeating "we need to see more" and "you really gotta BRING it" (which is one of my least favorite phrases in modern culture). He seems to grade contestants as rivals, not as dancers, and it's very middle school.
Worse yet is Mia Michaels, who has no problem taking her personal issues out on contestants. She tried to get fan favorite Brandon booted off the show in the early going (leading Mary Murphy to start crying) and when he kicked ass and proved her wrong over the ensuing weeks, she came out with the old "I'm always toughest on the ones who show the most talent" canard - a disingenuous lie if there ever was one.
Kayla vs. Karla - Karla was a Filipino contemporary-dance whiz; Kayla is a platinum blonde, sheet-white jazz specialist. When the call-in vote left them near the bottom and they had to dance solos to avoid elimination, it became clear that the judge's fix was in.
Kayla's solo was horrific, the kind of trying-too-hard spasmodic routine that should have been embarrassing. Karla stayed elegant... but was eliminated. The judges have made it clear they have this thing for the blonde Kayla, and it makes one wonder why they even bother with the solos if their minds are already made up. Is it just to kill time?
Melissa the Ballet Dancer - I don't mean this in a rude way, but there's no way Melissa is 29 years old. I think it's a deliberate obfuscation on the part of the producers or Melissa herself to make sure people still vote for her. I don't have any proof of this, and I'd be happy to be shown otherwise... but if she's older than 29, I think it would actually be inspiring to many folks not stuck in the Hollywood tradition of constantly eating ones own children.
The Mormon Problem - If you watched the show last night, you may have been stunned by Evan and Randi beating Phillip and Jeanine in the voting. If you have ever been to Randi's home state of Utah, you wouldn't be.
Phillip is liquid pleasure, a lightning-fast contortionist who manages to look like both Roland Orzabal from Tears For Fears and my brother Sean. And Jeanine is my favorite dancer in years and years. She came into the competition with no fanfare, and proceeded to kick ass in EVERY STYLE, despite the fact that she has an actual ass, actual thighs, actual boobs and studied the decisively un-showy discipline of lyrical dance and ballet. She is a motherfucking STAR.
Phillip and Jeanine tackle the Broadway category
Then you've got Evan and Randi - both tiny, very affable, but somewhat limited. Evan is fantastic in musical theater and Broadway mode, and I will gladly line up to see him in a Gershwin revue. Randi gives it her all and is immensely talented, but... they just aren't the stars, and the producers - as well as the judges - know it.
Much is made of Evan's popularity, but nobody seems to be stating the obvious: Randi is from Orem, Utah. Anyone not knowing the power of my cousins and the other 2.7 million residents of the Beehive State need only look at California's disastrous Prop 8 outcome to see how Mormons can mobilize when needed.
Now that the judges have abdicated, and the contestants are picked solely by call-in vote, the producers have a problem. I can promise you that every single man, woman and child of telephone-dialing ability in Utah has (and will) vote for Randi until America does something about it. You guys should consider this a dry-run for 2012, when it'll be the Mitt Romney Problem.
Can anything stop Janette and Brandon? I can't really say anything about these two, and I don't want to try. Their tango on Thursday night may well be the most surgical and flawless two minutes you'll ever see on network television. Watch the video if it's still up. I'm pretty convinced these two will win this whole thing.
I hope these YouTube clips aren't taken down by the lawyers - it's also here
And yet... This show rises above the others because something always happens that blindsides you out of complacency. I'm not a fan of Mia Michaels as a judge, so I wasn't looking forward to her choreography. And I believed Kayla to be barely hanging on. And then, on Thursday night, Kayla and her much-maligned partner Kupono did a dance about "addiction" that, I don't know, I can't even write about it without tearing up.
I could barely look at Tessa afterward, knowing what she has been through, what so many of her friends had been through, and what mine are going through right now. And the dancing... Kupono as the addiction, with his never-wavering smile of malevolence, Kayla in red shards of a dress, unable to escape, as he palpates her arms and holds her by the neck... After one embrace, he discards her into the air, where she spins and lands six feet away, collapsing into near death, then shooting back up, drawn back to him for more.
It was transcendent, plain and simple. And it was on Fox Television, in the middle of the summer. Our culture may be desiccated and cynical, but any moment like that, seen by nine million people, means we've got to be doing something right.
Posted by Ian Williams at July 9, 2009 11:11 PM
if the video here doesn't work, try here