We've finally made it to the Las Vegas callbacks, the SYTYCD version of Hollywood week. The competition gets leaner, meaner and obscener as 160 dancers are whittled down to the top 20. This means the occasional flip-out by a contestant, several hospital visits and more "WTF?" facial expressions by judge Tyce Diorio. Fortunately, it also means no more Nigel planting a plane ticket to his eyes in an effort to be cute, or surprising, or idiotic, or whatever he's going for.
This is the week in which the strongest, most versatile and truly unique dancers are selected. They dance in five different styles with knotted tailbones, bonehead partners and bloody feet. It's actually probably the most riveting part of the competition. So let's dive right into the recap.
First, the bad news: Personal favorites Patty Anne Miller and Princess Lockeroo, who I predicted had more up their sleeves, turned out to be one-trick ponies and were eliminated the first day of the callbacks, along with robo-dancer Hero McRae, Irish stepdancer Mary Kate Sheehan and Kristen Dobson.
The set up for the callbacks is intense: five rounds of differing styles (hip hop, ballroom, Broadway, group and contemporary) are bookended by solo performances. A dancer has to pass all the rounds (or a free pass if they're a judges' favorite) to stay in the game. The mega-panel of judges (Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, Tyce Diorio, Debbie Allen and Jason Gilkerson tagteaming with the injured Adam Shankman).
Round 1: Hip Hop. Judges' favorite Chyna Smith is out of her element and kind of just stands there, prompting Nigel to say "What the [bleep] is she doing?" When the judges ask her if she thought her performance was strong, she replies "hell no," and I have to give the girl some credit for being realistic. The judges ask her to redo it later.
B-boy Wadi Jones, who we haven't seen before, pushes through crippling pain in his legs to give a strong performance and makes it through.
Round 2: Broadway Tyce is choreographing this one, hoping to showcase what he calls "the seedier side of Broadway." Okay. The girls are told to be trashy, but the boys have a greater challenge in trying to find their characters. Still, a lot of dancers so far out of their element are really able to bring strong performances to the stage.
B-boy Lil O had great chemistry with his partner, and both made it through, along with Jordan Casanova, Wadi, Jesse Leprotto, D.C. Chapman and Robert Taylor Jr. Sister act Natalia and Sasha Mallory also move on.
We're also re-introduced to Jeremiah Hughes, a contestant who's tried out before and made it to Vegas multiple times (we're treated to a visual of Nigel with totally '00s hair) before being eliminated, but he's probably best known as the guy who lost his temper when he forgot the steps to the contemporary round. This time, his timings off, but they let him through anyway.
Round 3: Ballroom. Jason choreographs a jive number for the dancers, who are ecstatic about it until their feet start bleeding. Sasha Mallory and Ryan Ramirez are in the same group and make it through, but Sasha's plus-size sister Natalia encounters problems when her shrimpy partner isn't strong enough to lift her properly. Her dancing is fine, but they find her a stronger partner for a do-over. Uh, judges? Why didn't you think of that before and save this poor girl the embarrassment. Needless to say, with her new partner, her lifts are better, higher and faster, and Nigel comments that there are no words to the joy she brings to the performance. Word. She makes it through.
Alexis Mason, sister of previous winner Jeanine Mason, keeps doing that weird thing with her mouth, and Tyce says there's no flair in her performance. But, she gets to come back and dance a solo of her choice, and I cry foul. Seriously? I can understand giving someone a do-over, but at least make them dance the same steps like Chyna and Natalia had to. I guess we all know who the judges' favorite is.
Round 4: Group This has to be my favorite, because dancers work through the night choreographing their own routine with three or four others, and the mixture of no sleep, adrenaline and ego makes drama happen. D.C. Chapman abandons his group, which includes Natalia and Arielle Coker, and hides out in the bathroom for a while because he thinks they're ignoring him. "Why does this always happen to me??????" Ariell whines. The group also has a problem when Natalia's blood sugar drops and she has to be hooked up to an IV, but they manage to pull it all together in time for the round. Their athletic performance comes off as a bunch of solo performances instead of a group performance, but the judges loved it and they all go through to the next round.
Wadis group is a regular get-along gang and dance a Broadway number (the fact that these yungins could detect Broadway in "Rich Man's Frug" from Sweet Charity was impressive enough) with precision and playfulness. Mary says it was one of the best routines she's ever seen on the show and Fosse would have loved it. They all make it through.
Round 5: Contemporary This is historically the most stressful and difficult round, and emotions run high for dancers who get this far only to be cut.
It wouldn't be Vegas week without a few trips to the hospital (the intensity of the competition always results in an injury or two). Ryan Ramirez goes to the hospital with what could be a broken tailbone, but it turns out it's just deep tissue bruising (still sounds painful, though). With only a few minutes to prepare, she rocks the contemporary round and goes through.
Natalia also goes to the hospital when her blood sugar gets dangerously low, and she is diagnosed with diabetes. She misses the contemporary round, but the judges let her dance a solo to help them make up their minds. Later, they ask her why they should let her go through, and her response is a tearjerker. She was the biggest girl in her class, but her mother told her not to pay any attention to the other kids because she had this talent, but she never fully believed it until she got this far in the competition. "I want to inspire, to let anybody feel what I've felt over the past week," she says. Mary dabs her eyes a bit. Natalia makes it through.
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So do Robert Taylor Jr., Wadi Jones, Lil O and some guy in a romper all make it through, along with Jeremiah Hughes.
But Arielle Coker, who's made it this far several times, is cut once again. "I guess it wasn't meant to be," she says without emotion. Chyna Smith, who we predicted wouldn't get this far, also leaves, along with Kimberly Piedad, Amber Williams and Chase Thomas. Alexis Mason is ruled "not mature enough" to go through, but the judges tell her to keep trying.
D.C. Chapman cries like a baby and tells the judges he can't face people at home, but Debbie Allen is stern with him and says that making it this far is a success and tells him she will find him a coach to help him if he'll accept it. "I'm gonna kick his little ass" she says.
Tonight: the top 20 will be chosen from the 31 remaining dancers.