'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Michael Jackson night

Top 8 contestant Jessica Richens (R) and all-star Will Wingfield perform a Contemporary routine to "Earth Song," choreographed by Mandy Moore.
Top 8 contestant Jessica Richens (R) and all-star Will Wingfield perform a Contemporary routine to "Earth Song," choreographed by Mandy Moore. (Adam Rose)

Apparently this going to be an all-Michael-Jackson night. Blergh. I expect to see way-too-many crotches being grabbed tonight. It'll probably take a crowbar to get Rudy's hand off his junk.

On an editorial note, allow me to apologize for getting some of the All-Star dancers announced last week, and the week before, wrong. I write this recap pretty much live with the show airing. SYTYCD doesn't see fit to say or display the All-Star dancers surnames on the show, nor do they put the information on their website. So I'm left to my own devices with only a first name, a small picture, and my GoogleFu. If y'all want to follow me on Twitter (@amywatts), I'll absolutely take any help I can get ID'ing dancers.


Anyway, on to tonight's show. Our top eight, in order of introduction, are: Jessica Richens, Zack Everhart, Tanisha Belnap, Ricky Ubeda, Valerie Rockey, Rudy Abreu, Jacque LaWarne and Casey Askew.

The shiny robot opening number to "A Place with No Name" was done by Michael Jackson's choreographer, Travis Payne.


Regular judges Nigel "Smooth Criminal" Lythgoe and the "Off the Wall" Mary Murphy are joined tonight by "Pretty Young Thing" Jenna Dewan Tatum. If you've not seen "Witches of East End," I highly recommend it. It's a deliciously campy, soapy bit of fun.

In addition to the couples routines, we're also getting solos from each of the dancers tonight. Tanisha is up first. She's wearing a bikini and three-quarters of a skirt. As in, it only goes three-quarters of the way around her waistband, entirely open over the front of her legs.

Ricky was inspired by Victor Smalley (Season 6), who gave him a scholarship to study at his studio. This week, he's dancing with Jaimie Goodwin (Season 3) in a Travis Wall contemporary piece. In the interview, Travis says that he's told Ricky, "I want his bones to try to escape his skin."

They're dancing to Michael Jackson's cover of the Charlie Chaplin-penned standard, "Smile." In case you're not familiar with it, it's a song called "Smile" that is extremely, extremely sad and is always performed at the tempo of a funeral dirge.


I wish they hadn't put Jaimie in such a long flow-y skirt - it not only obscures the lines at times, it also seems to get in the dancers' way a little bit.

Ricky admits to Cat that he was crying a little bit even before the routine started. He admits to being a complete sap, keeping all of Cat's cue cards and things to paste in his journal.

Jenna loved it and particularly praises the connection between Ricky and Jaimie as partners. Mary loves it so much she manages not to scream like a banshee. Nigel says that Ricky is now at the point where he's almost transcending technique.

Cat reveals that Ricky is safe and he literally jumps for joy. HAPPY ELFIN LEAPS! She also goes on to reveal that next week, he'll be dancing with All-Star Anya Garnis (Season 3, Ballroom).

Zack taps at us while wearing a trilby. Oh, Zack.

The person in Valerie's life who inspired her to dance is dance instructor and studio owner Kathy Simpson. Valerie calls her "Miss Kathy," which is SO Southern to me, but maybe Indiana is Southern in that way.

Jean-Marc Genereux is pitting Valerie in a samba battle against Ryan Di Lello (Season 6, Ballroom) to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." It's weird to see her with the long extensions and in a skimpy costume. Where's our little Valerie?

Uh-oh! Looks like she maybe didn't quite master the samba rolls. She also looks like, I don't know, she's holding back? Like how when judges critique a dancer for dancing "too safe."

Mary says Valerie looks gorgeous. I hate when the first thing said to a female contestant is about her physical appearance. Mary compliments her on finding her grounding in the high heels. Mary's very enthusiastic about the dance, with only a minor criticism.

Nigel says Valerie looks "vivacious" tonight. Nigel says he's forgetting last week's routine -- SO WHY BRING IT UP? Don't be a bummer, Uncle Nige.

Cat lets us know that based on last week's votes, Valerie is safe. YAY! And her All-Star partner for next week is Twitch (Season 4, Hip Hop)! Great news on both counts.

Casey does a solo full of spins, pirouettes and flapping of hands. It's evidence for my argument that not all dancers are good choreographers.

Rudy's solo is his idea of masculine. Bare chest, dramatic museum, "look at my wingspan, I could kill you all" choreography.

Casey's biggest inspiration is his two dance teachers, "Miss Terry and Miss Mandy," Terry Schulke and Mandy Rogers. Is this a thing now? Calling dance teachers "Miss [Firstname]"? Sheesh. I'm old. My dance instructors were either Miss/Ms./Mrs. [Lastname] or in one memorable case, a Dr. [Lastname] who we were also allowed to address as "Madame." And these women were all dance instructors in the heart of the South!

Casey's doing a Christopher "Pharside" Jennings and Krystal "Phoenix" Meraz routine that has him playing the victim of black widow spider Comfort Fedoke (Season 4, Hip Hop), who kills with a kiss. The routine is to "Xscape," and there's a large spiderweb made of rope on the stage.

Casey's hair is looking second-stage Bieber this week and I do not approve. I also fear that Comfort might be outdoing him in this routine. I mean, it makes sense when it's her style and not his at all. Although, I will say, if I were 16 years old, Casey in this outfit and dance would be my idea of sex on a stick.

Nigel says Casey is growing and growing each week. He says the routine is very theatrical and allows for some relaxation of technique in the style. Jenna says he has incredible stage presence, without overdoing it with things like overblown facial expressions. Mary says what I was thinking when she admits it's a little hard not to watch Comfort. But she loved it anyway.

Results: Casey is in the bottom two. America! Don't do this to me! I need my Casey to stick around.

Jacque's solo is a very quiet, subdued affair, performed en pointe.

Tanisha gives credit to Kellie Messerly as her biggest inspiration for dance. Tanisha says Kellie has mentored her not only in dance but in life. Stacey Tookey is pairing her with Nick Lazzarini (Season 1, Jazz) for a jazz routine to "She's Out of My Life." Nick is totally in love with Tanisha's hiccups, which are in full force during this week's rehearsals.

I was bored, but that was mostly because of the song and the part of it they chose to use. Jenna compliments Tanisha's core strength, but wanted to see just a little bit more emotion in Tanisha's face. Although she says that's a nitpick, really. Mary notes that the song was one of Michael Jackson's slowest, but with one of his most beautiful vocal performances. She tells Tanisha she thinks the choreographers can do anything they want with Tanisha.

Nigel echoes both Mary's earlier compliments to Nick and Jenna's praise of Tanisha's core strength. But he wants to see Tanisha show more vulnerability in her dancing.

America has voted Tanisha into the bottom two. AMERICA! This on top of Casey? I'M NOT HAPPY WITH YOU, AMERICA.


Jessica is here to do her solo and it's hairography, followed by writhing on the floor, then a series of spins, then more floor writhing, and finally a yoga pose.


Rudy's inspiration is contemporary choreographer Kevin "Tokyo" Inouye. Tokyo says that Rudy clearly loved dancing but was just "not good" when he started. Rudy says that the most important advice Tokyo has given him is to fight for what you want.

Allison Holker (Season 2, Contemporary Jazz) is here to work with Rudy on a contemporary routine to "Dirty Diana," choreographed by Ray Leeper. Allison's strong, almost muscular, dancing and the tone of the song are both a good fit for Rudy.

All three judges are giving a standing ovation. Mary says Allison went all-in on that routine and Rudy went right there with her. She calls it spectacular. Nigel says Ray inspired Rudy to be a different person tonight, and that the only thing that wasn't great about the routine was the pirouettes. Jenna compliments Allison and Ray, calls Rudy phenomenal and sexy and there's a lot of talk about a particularly scary lift that almost went terribly wrong during dress rehearsal.

Cat announces, to my great surprise, that Rudy is in the bottom two. I'm really surprised -- this means Zack got more votes than Rudy. I'm not surprised, though, in that I predicted that ballroom last week wouldn't help Rudy get votes. What I am worried about is that, in a Casey/Rudy bottom two, Casey the Cutie might be the one sent home.

Valerie, tapping her solo to an upbeat song while wearing sequined black leggings, red patent tap shoes and her big giant smile (and a shirt. She wasn't TOPLESS, you pervs!) is making me very happy.

Mark Goodman, a "legend" in the tap dancing community, is Zack's biggest inspiration. Mark talks about how Zack was a shy kid until he'd start dancing, when his personality just blossomed.

Spencer Liff greets Zack in the studio with a hearty "Welcome to Broadway!" In this routine, Makenzie Dustman (Season 10, Contemporary) is a small-town girl fresh off the train, who encounters smooth-talking city slicker Zack. Wait, ZACK is the city slicker? OooooKay. It's all to "The Way You Make Me a Feel," which I hadn't realized until right now is a perfect choice for a Broadway number.

This style really suits Zack, from his dancing to his looks to his technique.

Quick aside: On this, of all nights, I wish they still did Disco as a genre. Can you imagine Doriana Sanchez getting her hands on "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough?" Man, what a missed opportunity.

Cat greets Zack by pointing out the good news: He's clearly not in the bottom two. Next week, he'll be dancing with All-Star Du-Shaunt "Fik-Shun" Segall (Hip Hop, Season 10). Interesting! I'm surprised we're getting a non-opposite sex pairing before the final.

Nigel points out that Broadway is maybe the most like tap of all the genres. He wishes Zack had "used his thighs more" (EW. I do not want to think about Zack's thighs). Jenna points out that there's an incredible amount of control and showmanship required in good Broadway dancing. Jenna echoes Nigel's comments about Zack growing every week. Mary continues the theme that Zack is growing. Gee, wonder what the producers decided Zack's story line is…

Ricky's got the last solo of the night. It's delicate and precise, as befits a woodland nymph, even if he does lose his footing a bit during a développé.

Jacque credits her older cousin, Christianne Jordan, as her inspiration for getting into dance. She's dancing with Stephen "Twitch" Boss (Season 4, Hip Hop) in a routine choreographed by Dave Scott, who says Jacque needs to get out of her head to get into the routine.

We get an apocalyptic setting for "Slave to the Rhythm." Jenna says the ballerina was not there and loved Jacque's neck rolls and body rolls. Mary talks about the tricky isolations and challenging choreography of the routine, and how Jacque conquered it. Nigel thinks Jacque probably used parts of her body she's never used before in her ballet dancing.

Results: Jacque is in the bottom two. Which means Jessica is safe. AMERICA, YOU CONTINUE TO DISAPPOINT ME.

Jessica doesn't think she'd be the dancer she is today without Talia Favia. Favia originally scared Jessica because she had purple hair. TERRIFYING.

She's in a Mandy Moore contemporary routine with Will Wingfield (Season 4, Contemporary). Y'all, I don't EVEN know how I mistakenly said we were getting cute little white boy Will Thomas instead of the magnificent, and African-American, Will Wingfield. I must have COMPLETELY spaced out on that one. I cannot apologize enough to both Wills.

Anyway, Will and Jessica are dancing to "Earth Song." Will is the embodiment of nature and Jessica is someone who's living too much in the fast lane. Cat confirms for Jessica thar she's through to next week's show and announces that she'll be partnered with All-Star Ade Obayomi (Season 5, Contemporary).

Mary gives a long-winded explanation as to how Jessica is now the epitome of a finalist on the show. Maybe I can hope that voters will rebel against the obvious pushing of Jessica toward the win? Especially after Nigel gushes all over her.

It's interesting that we didn't get any songs off the "Thriller" album tonight. Too iconic or too expensive?

Popping troupe Control Freakz do a really cool routine to a bit of contemporary orchestral music. It's cool and sleek and entirely unexpected. I love it.

Elimination Time: They've got the four safe dancers lined up underneath the judges' table, so we can see everybody's reactions all at once.

Tanisha and Rudy are asked to step forward. And they're the ones going home tonight. Rudy is bawling his eyes out and Tanisha is entirely composed and collected. They could not be more opposite.

Fact: Tanisha and Rudy were the only two dancers to do ballroom routines last week. Now maybe it wasn't that strong a genre for Rudy because it's not his background, but Tanisha was right in her wheelhouse and gave a stunning performance. Maybe the show shouldn't assign ballroom routines after it gets down to the Top 10, because they DO NOT seem to get the votes.

Quickly we're told that Casey gets Makenzie Dustman and Jacque gets Will Wingfield for next week.

Y'all, since Valerie was the only dancer to do a ballroom tonight, I'm VERY, VERY worried about her. We'll see if she gets eliminated on next week's episode, on which Christina Applegate returns as a judge