After an arduous process that put the season 15 contestants of “So You Think You Can Dance” through the gauntlet of auditions, Academy training and tryouts, and even a surprise final round of cuts, the live shows finally got started on Monday night, August 6. The top 10 performers — 5 men and 5 women — finally competed live in the hopes of winning America’s votes. So who withstood the pressure, and who disappointed when it really counted. Follow along below with our live blog for all of the minute-by-minute developments as they happen.
The five men in contention during this live round are Cole Mills (Latin ballroom), Darius Hickman (contemporary), Slavik Pustovoytov (hip-hop), Jay Jay Dixonbey (jazz) and Evan DeBenedetto (tap).
The five women in the running are Genessy Castillo (contemporary), Magda Fialek (Latin ballroom), Hannahlei Cabanilla (contemporary), Jensen Arnold (Latin ballroom) and Chelsea Hough (jazz).
On paper the three contemporary contestants — Hickman, Castillo and Cabanilla — might be at an advantage since seven past winners of “SYTYCD” had a background in contemporary dance: Nick Lazzarini (season 1), Sabra Johnson (season 3), Jeanine Mason (season 5), Lauren Froderman (season 7), Melanie Moore (season 8), Ricky Ubeda (season 11) and reigning champ Lex Ishimoto (season 14).
But when we polled our readers their favorite competitors were Latin dancer Arnold and tapper DeBenedetto. Season 2 champ Benji Schwimmer had Latin dance experience, and in season 12 Gaby Diaz made history as the first tapper to win, so one of them could certainly follow in those rhythmic footsteps.
Find out how the first live show went below in real time starting at 8:00pm (all times listed are Eastern). And watch our exclusive interview with Emmy-nominated “SYTYCD” choreographer Mandy Moore at the bottom of this post.
8:00pm — Time for the top 10 to perform live! They’ve had a while between graduating the Academy during the taped shows and performing live for America now. Let’s hope they’ve all gotten into fighting shape and improved any of their stylistic blind spots.
8:01pm — Getting started with an eerie, gold-adorned contemporary group number to “Dream State” by Son Lux. Excellent, especially given that that style certainly isn’t in everyone’s wheelhouse.
8:04pm — That opening number was choreographed by Travis Wall — not too surprising as it felt very much in his hypnotic, emotional vein. Cat Deeley congratulates him on another Emmy nomination, and he’s already starting to build his Emmy reel for 2019.
8:05pm –Surprise! Cat Deeley announced that the winner of the season will not only claim the grand prize money. They will also join the cast of the upcoming live musical “Rent” on FOX.
8:07pm — Cat introduces the judges, and there’s a special guest: sitting with Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy and Vanessa Hudgens is “SYTYCD” all-star Twitch.
8:08pm — First couple of the night: Jay Jay and Jensen. They’re performing a samba choreographed by Jean-Marc Généreux. Jensen is feeling the pressure because she’s the ballroom specialist, so she needs to easy Jay Jay into the dance style. He seemed to struggle with the lifts during training, but their personalities seemed like just the right fit for each other. “Mad Love” by Sean Paul and David Guetta.
8:11pm — That final lift looked like kind of a hot mess, but in general I thought Jay Jay was splendid outside his discipline. Mary thought they were “great,” thought she wanted more hip rolling from Jay Jay. Nigel thought Jensen was as good as he expected her to be, but Jay Jay exceeded his expectations. He adored Jay Jay’s “samba hips.” Vanessa thinks it was an “amazing way to start the show.” And guest judge Twitch thinks it was an “incredible start to the duets” and admires their mutual “trust and commitment.”
8:15pm — More good news for Jensen: she just got engaged to her boyfriend. And her “Dancing with the Stars” star sister Lindsay Arnold is also in the crowd to support her. Good night all around for Jensen!
8:20 p.m. — The second couple of the night is revealed as Hannahlei and Cole and they’ll get to know each other as partners to a Tyce Diorio routine (“They Won’t Go When I Go”) that involves trust falls that any new couple would have trouble mastering.
8:23 p.m. — The piece was a bold and apocalyptic contemporary piece that they both danced with a raw intensity that felt perfectly matched to one another. Nigel was ecstatic about Hannahlei’s performance, dubbing her straight away as this season’s “warrior princess.” He was equally complimentary to Cole, who he said is a rare male ballroom dancer that handles contemporary well. Twitch also loved it, calling it “so much beautifulness,” and overall joined the rest of the panel in thinking that together they made connections with each other and that Cole looked like a natural contemporary dancer.
8:32 p.m. — Next we’re introduced to Chelsea and Evan, our third pair of the night, as they rehearse their Ray Leeper jazz routine. The piece, choreographed to a remix of Janelle Monae‘s “Make Me Feel,” is a chance for Evan to nail down his connection to Chelsea as well as to prove that he can evoke masculine energy that the judges have missed in the past.
8:35 p.m. — In the spirit of fairness, jazz is Chelsea’s field of expertise and in that sense Evan had his work cut out for him, but unfortunately he did not rise to the occasion. Evan seemed to struggle to keep up with Chelsea throughout, and she was hitting everything perfectly. As much as Vanessa loved it, she did acknowledge that there were a couple technical things that could be improved upon. Twitch backed that up by pointing out that there was a disconnect, or lack of continuity, in the overall performance.
8:42 p.m. — For her first dance, Genessy is paired with Slavik and they’re working through a hip hop routine from Luther Brown. As a hip hop dancer, the “Round and Round” performance was right up Slavik’s alley so it was up to Genessy to prove herself in a new style.
8:45 p.m. — During rehearsal Genessy said that working with Slavik was hard because she kept wanting to watch him dance in his own style. I have to say that seemed to continue in her on stage performance because it looked like she kept peering at him for guidance. I might be alone in my underwhelmed feeling though because by the end of the routine all four judges were in a standing ovation. Mary acknowledged that though it was hip hop, Slavik was still dancing a bit out of his style (he’s an animator, not a traditional dancer) and paid him high compliments. Nigel said they both made a great and difficult piece seem easy and doing that is not easy.
8:53 p.m. — That leaves Magda and Darius to join together as the last pair for another Travis Wall contemporary piece to “Glass Heart Concerto” that examines the strength (and vulnerability) of a glass door, requiring much more intricate partner work than most contemporary routines include.
8:57 p.m. — It was another passionate, romantic piece that left the judges speechless. Twitch told Darius he was excellent, but he expected that, and gave Magda praise for really going for it. Mary, too, loved what Darius did, even going as far as to say he dominated it and pointing out specific moves that impressed her. Nigel even thinks it’s a routine that they’ll be talking about for many seasons to come!
9:04 p.m. — In this next hour we will see all five pairs dance again, but this time in the style of the other part of the pair. First to hit the stage for a second time was Hannahlei and Cole for a pasa doble (Cole’s expertise) from Jean-Marc, who was determined to find ways of challenging Cole even in his own style.
9:09 p.m. — As an expert in ballroom herself, Mary noticed that Hannahlei lost the ballroom-ness at times, but overall thinks she did an amazing job at keeping up with Cole, who she said was “very strong.” Nigel also saw the lack of technique come through with Hannahlei though he admits that the choreography was so strong that it attempted to cover up the parts that Hannahlei was falling short.
9:15 p.m. — Jensen and Jay Jay returned to the stage for a jazz routine by Mandy Moore. With this routine Mandy wanted to push the athleticism because both of them are very strong dancers.
9:19 p.m. — Wow! This was my favorite performance of the night so far because both of them gave it their all, they had great chemistry and the choreo was on point. Nigel, however, pulled back his enthusiasm because he thought they were too overtly sexual when the routine didn’t necessarily call for it, and in the end he was left cold. Thankfully, Mary and Vanessa countered him squarely, calling both Jensen and Jay Jay amazing and flawless. They all agreed that the pirouette into a split jump that Jay Jay did was sensational.
9:26 p.m. — For their spin in his style, Evan and Chelsea met with Anthony Morigerato to practice the tap routine to “Singin’ in the Rain” that he choreographed for them. Gratefully Chelsea does have some tap experience, but a routine of this caliber is still a big challenge.
9:30 p.m. — While I think their chemistry did improve some this time around, it was just a bit and still seemed more forced than it should. Naturally the judges loved Evan’s performance in his own style and though Chelsea was noticeably not up to his level, Twitch made it clear that she was brave for taking on the challenge. Furthermore, Nigel emphasized that the show has never asked a non-tap dancer to attempt the style on the show and is thrilled that they (and the show) attempted to get people excited about tap.
9:38 p.m. — Next was Genessy and Slavik for a number in her style, contemporary, choreographed by Talia Favia about two people who have left their comfort zones for a new reality. Because he freestyles, Slavik’s struggle is to pick up choreography at the required pace.
9:41 p.m. — Okay I spoke too soon earlier–this was my favorite of the night! For me, the standout of the night is Slavik, who in this piece, managed to make his rough-around-the-edges style really work against Genessy’s more gentle and smooth approach to the piece. For Mary, the pair has gone to the top of her list and with their two performances tonight her mind is blown. Nigel lets us in on a bit of a production secret by saying that both of them were put through to the top 10 because they believed they are dancers that will grow throughout the series and for him tonight they lived up to that expectation.
9:50 p.m. — Tonight’s final dance came from Darius and Magda with their cha cha routine from Val Chmerkovsky who was inspired by the 60s in Spanish Harlem and the Bronx.
9:52 p.m. — Maybe it had something to do with Magda’s ravishing red dress and how Darius in gray blended into the cityscape set, but Magda really popped in this routine and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her! That being said, Mary was impressed with the work Darius put in even if he was off a few times and (as expected) referred to Magda as a “hot tamale.” Twitch said he felt like they weren’t even doing a routine, it was that good.
9:57 p.m. — Voting opened up for individual dancers which will determine who makes it through to the top 8 and which one guy and one girl will be eliminated in next week’s second live show.
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