Opening number: The women are wearing white nightgowns and have Pinterest hair. The men are wearing white suits. Nobody's wearing shoes, and they're dancing to an extremely overwrought version of "The Wind Beneath My Wings." Not my favorite routine ever on this show.
Your final four are Jessica Richens, Valerie Rockey, Zack Everhart, Jr. and Ricky Ubeda.
Travis Wall did the opening number, which is why the men were touching each other in a possibly non-platonic way. He's just about the only choreographer they let get away with that.
Ricky and Valerie are up first with an African jazz routine. White people doing African jazz always makes me a little nervous -- especially when they're costumed in "native garb," like these two are. The routine itself is interesting, though. Sean Cheeseman gave them an extremely challenging routine with some interesting, almost gymnastic-like moves in it.
Nigel says he's "breathless" from watching it, because of the stamina and energy required. Mary uses the word "animalistic," which also makes me nervous. Jesse Tyler Ferguson starts his critique by saying he's glad to be here tonight because, "African jazz is the style I trained in."
Jessica and Zack get Spencer Liff for a Broadway routine that involves stairs. Jessica is a bit scared of the stairs. I can't help but remember the amazing staircase number Zack and Valerie did as tappers in the first episode. Jessica is costumed not unlike Jessica Rabbit (although because she's dancing, she gets illusion netting to prevent any accidental nudity). It's an odd routine to a song with alternating slinky-and-slow-spots and fast-and-percussive-spots.
Cat makes the Jessica Rabbit comparison immediately. Mary praises Jessica for her work on the stairs -- and mentions Jessica Rabbit again. I wonder if these kids even know who Jessica Rabbit is, given that the movie came out a good decade before they were born. Jesse thinks Jessica and Zack could hold their own on a Broadway stage tomorrow.
Zack and Valerie are paired for a Tyce D'Orio contemporary routine. Valerie comes out with a visual assistance cane, so expect a sensitive and realistic portrayal of a person with visual impairment. Just kidding: it's a prop and gives Valerie a reason to stumble with her hands in front of her like a drunk zombie. I wish these two had been given an exuberantly happy number to dance together.
Jesse says Tyce gave Valerie a challenge with the character of a blind person and she nailed it. Nigel loves that their choreographers touched on such difficult subjects. He talks about Travis' opening number and then compares tonight's "blind woman" routine to last year's "breast cancer" routine. Do I really have such a cold, black heart that I'm impervious to these "touching" routines?
Now it's time to match up Jessica and Ricky, who get a jazz routine from Ray Leeper. In rehearsals, Jessica looks like she's wearing bandages for possible a shoulder injury. This is a good routine for Ricky and his infinitely movable body, as welll as for Jessica and her showmanship skills. Still, it's one of those songs without much rise and fall, so I get a little bored with it.
Nigel has loved these two as a pair since they did a Sonya Tayeh number in the opening episode. He says they fit together like "Anthony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet," - uh, Nigel, those couples didn't really turn out so well. Mary calls the number "funky and fun." Jesse calls them adorable Sprockets. I'm sure they don't get that reference, given that it's from a "Saturday Night Live" sketch from the decade before they were born.
Jason Mraz is here to perform, so the dancers get a break to breathe. Mraz isn't always my cup of tea, but he's a far better singer and musician than we've had the rest of the season.
Nakul Dev Mahajan is here to give Valerie and Jessica a very girly Bollywood routine. He admonishes them during rehearsal that you can't make the moves your own, you have to do them like the style prescribes.
Mary says Valerie and Jessica couldn't look more adorable tonight. She compliments their looks again and then says nothing really specific about the dancing. Jesse says he thinks he lost eight pounds just watching that routine. Nigel blathers on a bit, but the upshot is he liked it.
Pharside and Phoenix get the pairing of Ricky and Zack. They're going to have one dancer as the king of clubs and one as the king of diamonds. Those are the two lower suits in bridge, so I'm not impressed, really. The routine is fun and maybe my favorite so far from these choreographers. It's hard-hitting in parts, in a way hip-hop hasn't been in a while on the show.
The boys are so happy with the performance that they're jumping around on their way to Cat. The judges are giving it a standing ovation. The choreographers are ecstatic, and the crowd's going wild.
Jesse jokes that the routine is a representation of the relationship between Mary and Nigel, referencing a crazy leap done in the routine. He also comments that Ricky and Zack look like potheads who haven't left the house in a week. Nigel makes a joke about his nose and seems to be flipping off someone by rubbing his nose. His audio is cut and we see a weird shot of a section of the audience sitting completely still, not clapping or reacting in any way. Bizarre.
Nigel then asks how the giant playing cards on stage were moving during the routine; Cat tries to jolly out the stagehands behind each of the cards but they're having none of it. Nigel says that at first appearance, these two guys are the least likely to tackle this routine. Ricky says, "You're telling me." Mary screams a lot. She liked it.
Valerie is back, paired with All-Star Aaron Turner (Season 10) for a tap number. I love that they're letting her wear her red tap shoes. I also love that her tap shoes are more like men's tap shoes than the high heel versions that a lot of female tappers traditionally wear. It's a great routine for tapping -- it's about more than the tapping and it uses the tapping as character beats, expressiing frustration or emphasizing a point. That was some wonderful choreography from Anthony Morigerato.
Nigel calls out two pretty women in the room: Mira Sorvino and Sofia Milos. That's random. Nigel is having a tapgasm. Mary says Valerie was the perfect partner for Aaron tonight. Jesse confesses he still has a huge crush on Aaron. He's also excited to see Valerie in her style.
And now we get the first of the "Look back over the path of the contestant this season" montages with Ricky. The elf has skills. Ricky's no dummy, performing his solo shirtless in skintight jeans. The judges give him a standing ovation while he hugs Cat. Cat is such a trooper, embracing a naked sweaty man in her super-cute dress.
Ricky lucks out by getting to dance with All-Star Kathryn McCormick (Season 6) in a Stacey Tookey routine. Ricky's crazy flexible body and weird movements are well-suited to Tookey's style. The dance's story is about suicide.
Mary chokes up giving her comments. Ricky's crying and, in the audience, Stacey is wiping away tears. Mary praises Ricky's feet and says he takes her breath away. Jesse calls the pairing of dancers and choreographer a Dream Team. Jess starts clapping and says, "Hey Ricky, you're so great / If you were older, we could date." Ricky blushes and pulls his shirt over his face. Nigel talks about suicide a lot and the room gets really somber again.
Valerie's first audition reminds me again of why I fell in love with her right from the beginning. CUTE. AS. A. BUTTON. We get to see a brief clip of that staircase routine with Zack. I hope during the results show we get to see it again. Oh, how cute -- she's dancing to Amy Winehouse's "Valerie," because why not? Definitely works better than the Steve Winwood song with her name as the title.
All-Star Aaron is back and it's the first time he and Zack have seen each other since they were cut together in Season 9. They're performing to "Piano Man" in another routine from Anthony Morigerato. I can't think of a better way to court the youth vote than tap dancing to Billy Joel. Kidding aside, it's a great routine, harnessing the athleticism of tap as done by two men.
Jesse loves Zack's versatility and growth over the season. Nigel blathers on a bit to get to the point that it was sensational. He talks about how tapping is a bit like playing percussion. Mary says Zack has been laying passion out on the stage every week.
Jessica says people have been "asking me my whole life about auditioning for 'So You Think.'" She calls it "So You Think" again later in the interview and it sounds so weird. Let's see, her solo: Writhing around on the floor to a stripper song, releasing her hair from beneath a hat, then smiling and pirouetting. Yep, that's Jessica.
Travis Wall has choreographed a routine for Jessica and All-Star Robert Rolden (Season 7). Travis says the routine is about, "Will I be missed if I leave this relationship?" He wants Jessica to release her "inner sexual, sensual beast." I'm sure she'll find that a challenge.
I'm ready for someone to ask her to portray a character who's not beautiful and unattractive. She's a pretty girl who performed overtly sexual dances in her auditions and all they've given her are routines that rely on her looks and seduction skills.
Nigel discusses a moment in the routine that he says shows Jessica's acting skills. See rant above about how much "acting" they've asked her to do. Nigel claims that he gets dogged on Twitter for not liking Jessica and I don't know who these people are who are saying that, but they're wrong. Jessica is a young, cute, sexy blonde — Nigel's default favorite kind of dancer. The only thing that could make her more perfect for Nigel is if she were a tapper.
Mary says Jessica keeps growing as a dancer. Technically she is a terrific dancer, but I just don't buy that she has the same kind of breadth and depth in her performance that some of the best dancers on this show (Melanie Moore, Travis Wall, Eliana Girard, Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, Allison Holker, Ade Obayomi, Ellenore Scott, Will Wingfield, Brandon Bryant) have given us over the years.
We are reminded that, in Atlanta, the judges sent Zack to choreography for his initial audition. When he watches the recording of the live show, he can't believe he's seeing himself dance on TV. Aw, cute. His solo is set to a really cool instrumental guitar version of "Superstition." You know, even if he doesn't win this thing, I think he's got an interesting career ahead of him.
Predictions: This thing is Ricky's or Jessica's to lose. Personally, I'd give it to Ricky as the best dancer and Valerie as my favorite dancer.
See you next week for the encore performances and the crowning of the winner.