‘So You Think You Can Dance’: Game changer?


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This was an interesting season. In terms of the talent, I enjoyed it more than Season 6 (I think most people, even the producers, agreed that somehow, Season 5 didn’t work as well as Seasons 4 or 3). But it felt a little bit disjointed, partially due to the World Series and the holidays (which is why we’re seeing a Top 6 and not Top 4 in the finale). And while I enjoyed having a winter ‘SYTYCD,’ it seemed to take a back seat to some other shows this season -- it feels more like a spotlight show in the sleepy summer.

This finale encapsulated the general ‘I was really close to loving it’ feeling I had all season. For one, I missed the Top 4 same-sex combos. How great was the Russian dancing from Season 4 or the two princes dance from Season 3? Can we imagine how Ryan would have danced next to Russell? We know that Ellenore and Kathryn would have made a great couple.


And speaking of which, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I felt a little bit manipulated the big Ryan and Ashleigh Di Lello dance. I don’t think that the judges would have made such a big deal about their performance if they weren’t married to each other. It was fine, but frankly I’ve seen Ryan have better chemistry with Ellenore Scott or Kathryn McCormick. And the way the judges reacted, you’d think something truly groundbreaking had happened (like, say a gay married couple had performed on the show). They are a married couple that happens to perform professionally -- it’s nice to see them dance together but nothing to cry about.

Also, one last gripe: Cat Deeley has been doing a lot of fake laughing all season, most frequently when she walks onto the set.

But I had to get the negative stuff out of the way because really, those issues aside, it was a very good finale. It started strong with a sexy Kathryn and Ryan samba -- I loved how at the beginning she basically used his body as a jungle gym. I actually can’t see Ryan winning the competition because he is almost a better partner than he is a solo dancer, but that’s why I like him. Adam Shankman correctly stated that this season was about the ‘rise of Kathryn.’ I liked Ellenore all season long, but I really loved seeing Kathryn grow throughout the competition.

Ellenore and Jakob kept it rolling with a Broadway dance from ‘Fosse’ that exhibited what I could only describe as finale-worthy dancing. I especially loved Jakob’s heel turns. I disagreed with the judges saying it was the most gorgeous Ellenore had been all season just because I think she’s been gorgeous all season.

Next, Ashleigh and Russell performed a Sonya Tayeh jazz dance, and due to either the choreography or his skills Russell pretty much stole the show. Ashleigh couldn’t seem to hide her disappointment when the judges largely extolled Russell’s skills and development throughout the season, a topic that brought Mary to tears.

Ellenore and Ryan were reunited for a robotic Garry Stewart jazz dance that I had a feeling, as it was happening, that the judges weren’t going to like as much as I did. I liked the stiff movements and the non-characters they had to portray. But Nigel Lythgoe didn’t get it, picking on the choreography more than the performance, although Mary Murphy at least found it unique.

Ashleigh and Jakob also came back to their original partnership with a Jean-Marc Généreux fox trot that I couldn’t find anything wrong with, but despite what the judges said, I found their chemistry to be among the least engaging of those this season. Compare it with Ellenore and Russell’s paso doble that came next: Ellenore totally grabbed the screen with her silhouette, until, of course, Russell slid into the screen on his knees. It was a badass performance, in short.


I never managed to fall in love with Jakob the person but I can’t deny his dancing skills. His technical skills shined in an memorable Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson contemporary dance that felt like a classic as it was happening -- I could imagine it being a hit on the ‘SYTYCD’ tour. And as good as Jakob was with his lifts and leaps, Kathryn matched him at every step. Adam Shankman proclaimed the dance a ‘game changer’ and Nigel proclaimed Kathryn his favorite girl.

I wish that we had seen Ashleigh and Ryan dance Latin ballroom since we’d been waiting all season for this potential pairing. It would have been nice to see them do what they do best on such a big stage. It was a typically beautiful Travis Wall dance, but you know, I can’t help but wonder how it would have gone featuring, say, Jakob and Kathryn.

Finally, Kathryn and Russell finished off with a Tabitha and Napoleon D’Umo hip-hop dance that was robotic like Ryan and Ellenore’s dance but more beloved by the judges (was I the only person who raised an eyebrow at the choice of a Chris Brown song?). I felt bad for Kathryn that her final dance found her dancing hip-hop alongside Russell since I couldn’t imagine that it would be the best venue for her, but Nigel found her to be as gangsta as he was.

There is only one person in the competition who I’d be annoyed to have win but I feel bad for calling her (er, or him) out -- but I would be happy with any five of the six remaining dancers winning the title of America’s Favorite Dancer, which is a pleasant position to be in. The season might have had a few growing pains settling into the fall schedule, but talent-wise it was one of the best.

-- Claire Zulkey

Ryan Di Lello, Ashleigh Di Lello, Ellenore Scott, Russell Ferguson, Kathryn McCormick and Jakob Karr. Credit: Kelsey McNeal / FOX