‘So You Think You Can Dance’ 16 recap: It’s the ‘Final Cut’ as the Top 10 girls are whittled to an elite 5

This week, the Top 10 female dancers who made it through the Academy rounds are paired with an All-Star guy for a choreographed duet. The twist? It is outside their own style. In our live blog recap below, we detail which five will survive and compete on the live shows on the latest episode of “So You Think You Can Dance. (All times ET/PT on Monday, July 29.)

9 p.m. Host Cat Deeley declares that the Academy “was the most grueling week our dancers have ever endured.” I believe she might have that observation on a tape loop – but I digress. “In the end, 20 survived. But it’s not over yet. Tonight, the Top 10 girls must take the stage for the final cut.”

9:02 p.m. The girls will be paired with an All-Star male and a ”legendary” choreographer. If that wasn’t enough intimidation, they must dance in a style outside their usual comfort zone. As Cat says, “The stakes have never been higher.” Another tape loop moment.

9:04 p.m. First is contemporary dancer Mariah Russell, 19, a Nashville native (see photo above). Cat asks her, “What is the biggest thing you’ve learned over the past week?” That would be ballroom. She is doing salsa with Season 5’s Jonathan Platero – something she has never done before. Choreographer Oksana Platero – Jonathan’s wife — assures her, “This rhythm is very fast, but you are going to have a lot of fun – especially with him.”

SEE Exclusive video interview with ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ host Cat Deeley

9:05 p.m. Jonathan knows that ballroom is outside Mariah’s bailiwick, “but as long as she can sell it and perform it, America is going to fall in love with her.”  She is clearly trying to fulfill judge Mary Murphy’s wish from last week that she “sells it.” Her hair is doing its own choreography as she twists and turns, and a few of the more acrobatic moves proves she is quite limber. Mary particularly was blown away by the lifts, calling them “stunning.” Dominic Sandoval commends her “fearlessness” and Laurieann Gibson praises her for showing “the fire and the fight I’ve been looking for.”

9:07 p.m. Next is salsa dancer Melany Mercedes, 24, of the Bronx. She says “the Academy has been intense.” Lucky girl, she’s getting to do hip-hop with Season 10 winner Fik-shun and overseeing the routine are choreographers Randi & Hef. Fik-shun says, “She’s got that salsa fire.”  Melany prances about like a hip-hop pony to V.I.C.’s “Get Silly” and she looks like she’s having fun. Dominic, who knows a hip from a hip, suggests she gets a little more grounded with the groove. Nigel tells his fellow judges, “It was all on one level for me.” That does NOT bode well.

9:10 p.m. Ashley Sanchez, 24, of Miami is yet another ballroom dancer. She notes that she barely got through the Academy’s contemporary rounds. She has to do contemporary again in a routine designed by Jaci Royal. Her partner is Season 14 winner Lex Ishimoto. Ashley says she is going to “eat, sleep and beat this routine.” Her striking eyes lend drama to her movements, but Nigel Lythgoe tells her, “There wasn’t enough emotion for me. I want an important statement. You gave me a whisper.” Dominic thinks her performance was “a missed opportunity.” Laurieann tries to be more positive, saying, “I felt you had a breakthrough. I felt a freedom. And, for me, that is the first step to becoming what they are asking for.”

9:14 p.m. Next is hip-hop dancer Anna Linstruth, 19, from Las Vegas who messed up a bit doing her own style during the Academy. She is dancing jazz with Season 8’s Marko Germar and her choreographer is Ray Leeper.  He tells her “make it a little more girly vibe.”  Marko is upbeat about her progress. Mary exclaims “Holy smokes!” after she pretty much nails her choreography. Dominic continues the praise: “A smart dancer is  someone who can take something they’re not used to and make it theirs. And I think that is what you pretty much did just now.” Laurieann is also a fan, but warns her not to walk like truck driver.

9:18 p.m. Madison Jordan, 21, is a contemporary dancer from Lake Elmo, Minn.,  She tried out at the same time as her beau, Jarrod Tyler Paulson, 26, but he was cut during the Academy. Madison, who lost her hair when she was young after having a severe case of alopecia, says to Cat, “I haven’t been this challenged in my life. I’ve definitely grown.” She gets to dance with All-Star ballroom dancer Kiki Nyemchek from Season 14. They are doing a cha cha, choreographed by Sasha Farber and Emma Slater. She gets a round of applause and a “well done” from Nigel. However, his criticism of her slow walk across the stage gets shot down by the lady judges.

9:23 p.m. And yet another ballroom hopeful, Sofia Ghavami, 20, of Miami, is hoping to get through. She smartly auditioned with Kiki. During the  Academy, her attempt at hip hop got “a little rough.”  She is doing a jazz routine from Spencer Liff and is paired with Marko. She danced with Marko on Season 14 and tried out for his team. As he says, “This is her redemption moment.” Nigel is smiling as Mary said her performance was “stunning.” But Dominic says “it was flat for me emotionally,” but gives her execution props.

9:30 p.m.  Hip-hop dancer Sumi Oshima, 26, from Japan gets her chance in the spotlight. She gets to partner with Lex. She admits her sore spot in the Academy round was contemporary. She realizes she is getting a second chance doing a routine by Talia Favia. The first day, Sumi struggles “a lot.” But it helps that she has Lex by her side. For someone who is a popper, she exhibits strength and grace. Laurieann was impressed but she tells Sumi, “You must not dance in your head,” while Nigel adds she lacked emotion.

9:37 p.m. Oh, look! Another ballroom dancer, Nazz Sldryan, 21, from Glendale, Calif. She did fine during the Academy until she did her solo. For the final cut, she is doing hip hop with Fik-shun while being supervised by Luther Brown. She knows she has to “kick ass.” When she starts moving, she has  attitude for days. The cherry on the top? She ends her routine with a little fanny wiggle. Nigel says he has been “fighting for you this week.” Mary being Mary adds her, “Luther definitely put some soul in the bowl with you.”

9:45 p.m. Two more tryouts to go. Contemporary specialist Sophie Pittman, 18, from Collierville, Tenn., admits doing the cha cha last week was the hardest for her. Guess what? She has to do the cha cha again but this time she is paired with the great Kiki and doing a routine by Sharna Burgess. Kiki says she “has to portray confidence and not look like something she’s not used to.” Mission mostly accomplished. Nigel wished for more sharper hip action. Mary says that she could see her thinking and that she needs more from her.

9:48 p.m. Oh, look! Another ballroom dancer. Stephanie Soso, 19, of Salt Lake City, auditioned with her brother, Ezra. She is lucky to have the mighty Mandy Moore as her choreographer and Season 7’s Robert Roldan as her partner while she attempts contemporary. He calls his Stephanie “a powerhouse” but she needs to be more raw and vulnerable. Laurieann says she “danced it well but what was missing was you surrendering to the vulnerability — and I need that from you.”

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9:51 p.m. And away we go. The top 10 ladies are all beckoned. Says Nigel, “I think you just want me to shut up and tell you who got through to the top.” Yes, indeed. Mariah is told to step forward. Dominic tells her she has been one of his favorites. She is the first pick. Melany is up. She was close – but not close enough. Mary tells Stephanie that hopefully her brother, Ezra, gets through next week since he would be joining her.

9:55 p.m. Ashley is the next to be let go. Anna, meanwhile, secures her spot in the Top 5. Sofia is told her journey is over for now. Next is my favorite of the 10 – hip-hop specialist Sumi. Shucks, no Top 5 for her.

9:58 p.m. Laurieann tells Sophie, “Your last routine had us fighting.” But then the judge shouts out “Hallelujah!” and tells her prayers have been answered. Nazz and Madison hold hands as they await their outcomes. Nazz is told by Nigel that she really brought it tonight. But it didn’t make up what she did during the Academy. He tells Madison that she is a strong dancer but she needs to exhibit light and shade. But it’s her strength that places her among the Top 5 girls.

10 p.m. Next week, it is all about the guys. Tune into Fox at 9 p.m. ET/PT next Monday to see who gets through to the live shows.

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