ENLISTED/IAVA Contest Winner: Lewis Nelson

3 02 2014

EnlistedLogoENLISTED on Fox and IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) teamed up to send three lucky winners to some Super Bowl parties in the New York area with some of the show’s stars. Lewis Nelson was one of those people. I was eager to know about this wonderful veteran and his adventure.

IAVAI noticed that you were part of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army. That has such a noble history going back to World War II. How did you become part of this division? Is it someplace you apply to or some place you are asked to join based about your skills?

The Army always tells soldiers assignments are based on the “Needs of the Army.” That being said, every soldier can fill out a sort of ‘wish list’ of assignments they’d like to have. It’s not a specific unit, but a base or geographical area. I majored in history in college and for one of my WWII class assignments, I wrote a paper on the Battle of the Bulge, particularly the role of the 101st Airborne Division. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with the unit, especially after reading Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers (later released as an HBO miniseries). I put Fort Campbell, KY, as my top choice and luckily they were in need of a junior solider in my career field!

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Parker Young, Lewis Nelson, Geoff Stults

You are a combat veteran so you have seen action I presume in Iraq and/or Afghanistan? How many times have you been deployed?

Yes, I deployed twice to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. I first arrived to the unit in 2003 after they had already departed for Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom I or OIF I). I joined them near the end of that deployment mainly participating in convoys and redeployment operations (the process of moving a deployed unit from combat back to their garrison base). I returned in early February 2004, almost exactly 10 years ago today. Later that year, the 101st Airborne created a 4th brigade combat team flagged the 506th Regimental Combat Team (Currahee). This was the same unit that was featured in Band of Brothers. I volunteered to join the new brigade and in late 2005 deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, for a full 12-month tour, returning in November of 2006 (OIF IV). I was medially retired from active duty as a staff sergeant (SSG) (E-6) in 2008, but have also deployed to Afghanistan twice as a civilian, for six months in 2012 to Kabul and four months in 2013 to Jalalabad (I just returned mid-December 2013).

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James Marsden & Lewis Nelson at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

Did you have family at home while you are deployed? I have family in various branches of the Armed Forces and it has always been difficult to see the sacrifices they make at home while their loved one is away.

The quick answer is yes. When I left for Iraq in 2003, my son was only two weeks old. Leaving him was hard, especially with all of the unknowns that first year of conflict in Iraq. When I deployed the second time, we also had a little girl, who was only six months old when I left. I unfortunately missed her learning to crawl and learning to walk, but through the beauty of the internet, I got to see it virtually! Their mother is true hero to me. She’s been so strong, able to essentially handle being a single-mother every time I leave the country. She also stayed at home with all three of our kids during my two tours to Afghanistan. To further prove she’s a hero, she’s now a volunteer firefighter and training to become a paramedic.

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Geoff Stults, Lewis Nelson, Erin Wilkinson, Craig Washington & Parker Young at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

How did you hear about the ENLISTED contest?

I follow @EnlistedonFOX and the main actors of the show on Twitter and saw the contest advertised by the cast. I’ve also been an avid supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who helped sponsor the contest, so I may have seen it through one of their tweets as well.

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Terry Crews & Lewis Nelson at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

Did you watch the show prior to this?

Ironically, I was almost a vocal dissident of the new show when they started advertising it. I fully assumed the show would mischaracterize the service, and I didn’t want to watch. But then I heard Geoff Stults talk to a Washington, DC, morning show, Elliot in the Morning, and was impressed with what he had to say. After being convinced the show was making a great effort to support the military, I gave it a shot and loved it! I immediately followed the show and their main characters on Twitter; I even downloaded the ENLISTED iPhone app and wrote a short review of the show on my own, very neglected blog http://baghl.com/2014/01/20/heres-why-i-couldnt-hate-enlisted-on-fox .

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Craig Washington, Lewis Nelson & supermodel Bar Refaeli at the Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party, Liberty Theater, Times Square

When did you learn you had won and what was your and/or your family’s reaction?

I received a phone call from IAVA just after lunch-time on Wednesday, the day after the contest ended. Funny story, I actually thought the contest included a trip to the Super Bowl. Some of the initial tweets about the contest made it seem like the contest included the game. I even jokingly tweeted that I’d definitely win since I didn’t like either team! When I got the call from Christina at IAVA, someone I had actually worked with at an IAVA event in Baltimore back in 2011, I just remember saying, “No way, really? I actually won?” It was my birthday that Saturday and I already had plans with my best friends to go to Atlantic City, so I had the mixed emotions of happiness, combined with the “oh no, what about my other plans?” Luckily my friends were excited for me, and we all decided to reschedule our Atlantic City trip. I was still pretty excited after getting the email from Christina confirming it did not, in fact, include tickets to the Super Bowl.

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Model and actress Brooklyn Decker, Craig Washington, & Lewis Nelson at the Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party, Liberty Theater, Times Square

Were you the only winner or did they pick others?

There were three winners, all of us Iraq or Afghanistan veterans that are no longer on active duty.

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Nelly performing at the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel

Had you been on active duty how would that have worked? Because it was a special event, would you have asked for special leave of absence, or something else?

All three of the contest winners are civilians, but if it had been military, we would have just told our leadership about the contest and requested leave. Unless there was some crazy circumstance, almost any command would willingly authorize the time off!

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Wristbands from Leather and Laces, the Maxim Big Game Weekend Super Bowl Party at eSpace, and the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel

Had you ever been to New York City before?

This was my fourth trip to New York City, with all three prior trips being focused on hitting all of the tourist sites. My first and second trips to New York City were in 2000 and 2001, so I visited the World Trade Center prior to 9/11 and then again in December of 2001, while I was on leave from basic training for Christmas (I enlisted the day after 9/11). I also took my two girls to the city just last June. I absolutely love New York City, the culture, the city, the restaurants, and the events. Now that I realize I can get there and back for $60 on a bus from Washington, D.C., I may be going back more often! It helps that I have a cousin and a few friends in the immediate area.

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ESPN First Take

Who picked you up from the airport (or did you rent a car to get to the hotel?)

The contest included round-trip airfare on Southwest Airlines provided through IAVA. Being so close here in DC, I didn’t see a reason to fly. I instead came up a day early (I booked a room at the same hotel IAVA provided for Friday through Monday) and took the DC2NY bus. While IAVA provided instructions for how to get from the airport to the hotel, we were pretty much on our own to get there and be ready at the hotel lobby Friday night.

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Cam Newton at the ESPN First Take filming

Can you share which Super Bowl parties you attended?

Sure! The Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street, Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party hosted by Bar Refaeli and Brooklyn Decker at Liberty Theater, Times Square, the Maxim Big Game Weekend Super Bowl Party at eSpace, and the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel.

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Desean Jackson at the ESPN First Take filming

Were there any standout experiences for you?

Hanging out with Geoff and Parker was definitely a great time, so let’s just assume that was the best experience in itself. Other highlights included a five-minute conversation I had with Terry Crews about football and the military (he’s really a stand-up guy), and then a very similar five-minute conversation with Brooklyn Decker. She is definitely a supporter of the troops, and I got to talk to her about some of her time on the show The League, which is one of my favorites.

Many of the celebrities we met throughout the night, including Terry Crews, James Marsden, Ari Sandel, Josh Hopkins, Brooklyn Decker, and Bar Refaeli, were very supportive of the troops and happy to meet us. We felt very welcomed in the VIP sections of these parties, places I never imagined I would ever be sitting. It was a far cry from a plywood tactical operations center adjacent to Sadr City in Baghdad.

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A T-shirt ESPN First Take gave out depending on which team they wanted to win.

Who from the cast of ENLISTED were with you? What are they like?

It was just Geoff Stults (SSG Hill) @geoffstults and Parker Young (PFC Hill) @parker_young. We were also accompanied by two of Geoff’s friends who were also wonderful people! I was just telling my best friends at home Geoff and Parker were just like most of my other guy friends and if they lived here, and weren’t celebs, we’d likely be friends. Both are very personable and fun to talk to about life, military, their show, etc. They were really great around their fans (who often recognized them on the street and asked for pictures) and also wonderful about introducing us to people and explaining we were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. And of course, just like the show, Parker is definitely just like a younger brother to Geoff! I actually feel bad because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Parker at the end of the night – if you’re reading this, thanks for the fun evening brother!!

How long was the trip, from the trip day up to the return day back?

I didn’t necessarily follow the program because I came up a day early and then left a day early. The contest itself provided a hotel from Friday to Monday, with the activities starting at 9 pm Friday night through 2 am Saturday morning. One of the other vets and I actually stayed with Geoff and Parker until 4 am before catching a taxi back to the hotel. IAVA provided the transportation, hotel, vehicle and driver for the night, and met us at the hotel Friday night to make the introductions. Saturday through Monday we were provided a hotel room and just encouraged to go enjoy being in New York City! Since the contest didn’t include game tickets, and since I’m not a Denver or Seattle fan (Go Packers!!!), I actually took the bus back to DC and watched the game with my friends in Virginia.

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Lewis Nelson, Geoff Stults & Craig Washington saying goodbye after a night of Super Bowl parties (4:00 a.m. by the way)!

The show has gotten some feedback from people on the internet in the service who are upset that it is not respecting the Army (for a wide variety of reasons). What would you say to them?

I was one of them, but I changed my mind. The actors attended a short boot camp at Ft Bliss with actual drill sergeants they could watch on FOX’s YouTube channel through a series of webisodes. They also have a crew including multiple military advisors—both former commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers—who joined the show after the Pilot episode (so I’d tell them not to judge the show on the Pilot alone). They also have to remember this show is a comedy and I’d hope they can look past the obvious parts of the plot that would never happen in the military and focus on the characters. If they were straight male soldiers, I would point out the fact that they could just enjoy Angelique Cabral as SSG Perez—she’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the show! The show has already hit a few topics very close to home, even for me… such as the more subtle signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shown in “Pete’s Airstream” or the sadness and joy of family separation and reuniting from combat deployments shown in the episode “Homecoming.” There are also quite a few comical moments many soldiers should instantly relate to from garrison life. Finally, I would encourage them to watch the show because the show’s writers and producers, Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce, really respect the military. They and the cast are working with veterans’ organizations, such as Operation Gratitude and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, to support the troops and help raise awareness for military issues.

(You can help support these great organizations by clicking on the links above or below).

Biography

armyLewis Nelson is a 36-year old former Army staff sergeant with two combat tours to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. He enlisted in the Army in Charlottesville, VA, the day after 9/11 and served seven years active duty as a cryptologic linguist before being medically retired in 2008. He is a father to three children age 10 and under and now resides back in Charlottesville, VA, where he works as a DoD employee and freelance web designer and social media strategy consultant. In addition to supporting IAVA, he is also an active member and webmaster for an American Legion Post and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). You can follow Lewis in Twitter at @lewisnelson or Instagram @baghl

All pictures were provided by Lewis Nelson and I wish to thank him for letting me borrow them for the blog post. 





Glee Preview: The New Rachel

12 09 2012

Thanks to FOX VIP, I had the privilege of viewing episode 1 of Season 4 of Glee, “The New Rachel.” Not only does the title reflect what is going on with Rachel (Lea Michele) in her new surroundings in New York City, but also back in Lima, people are wondering, “Who is the next Rachel Berry?” Artie (Kevin McHale), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Blaine (Darren Criss) or Brittany (Heather Morris)?

When we last saw Glee, Rachel Berry was off to New York City ready to conquer the world. Like many freshman at universities all over the world, she has to find her way, to reinvent herself, dealing with life on her own, with a roommate, and in the big city. She will have her successes, failures, and temptations, but she is an adult now, making her own decisions.

Some of the new faces we see in this episode are: Kate Hudson (Cassandra July), the Sue Sylvester of NYADA; Becca Robin (Kitty), the new old-Quinn of Lima; Alex Newell (Wade “Unique” Adams); Melissa Benoist (Marley Rose); Jacob Artist (Jake Puckerman), Whoopi Goldberg (Carmen Tibideaux); and Dean Geyer (Brody Weston).

The NYADA scenes have a feel of the original Fame movie. The comedy as always is spot-on. Was that Melanie Moore from SYTYCD on there in the background? It is! It is! And oh Lord, Dean Geyer in a towel. And about halfway through I swear I saw Kent Boyd from So You Think You Can Dance, too.

I was curious how they were going to be able to meld the two locations into a show without losing from either one. Would they focus on one location and alternate it all season or mix the two up? I should have never doubted. Both are highlighted without detracting from each other, in fact, enhancing one another.

It would not be a good Glee episode if it didn’t have its moments of tear-shed, and indeed I did, briefly. There is a break-up, updated information on some of our graduates, and a happy reunion at the end. You could not ask for a better way to start a new season, a new sound, and a new chapter. It works.  Make sure to watch Glee on Thursday, September 13, 2012, on Fox starting at 8:00 Eastern/7:00 Central.





Video Tribute to My School Mate Who Died in 9/11 Attacks

10 09 2012

I went to pay tribute to my school mate Al Maler (Class of 1980 another alumni, Eric Stahlman, and first-responder Andrew Desperito when I went up for my high school reunion of Patchogue-Medford High School. My heart goes out to the families of those who died in the terrorist attacks that took place in New York, Washington DC, and in Pennsylvania, all who died in the planes, to all the military families whose loved ones died in the military engagements that followed, and to all the people who volunteered that day who are now ill or have died as a result of illness that resulted in working on the site. May those who died rest in peace.





My Visit to the National September 11 Memorial

8 09 2012

My Visit to the 9/11 Memorial

Three times I have tried to write this blog. For one reason or another they mysteriously disappeared from my computer. No doubt my son with autism had a role in that. I could imagine him looking at it, saying to himself (because he is nonverbal): “This is crap.” DELETE. So I am trying again.

In July, I headed up to Long Island for my high-school reunion. It was an epic trip. I’ve been up to the New Jersey/New York area many times since 9/11/2001 but it never involved going into the city. I was born in Brooklyn. I went to Patchogue-Medford High School on Long Island. When my son’s godmother asked me what I wanted to do in addition to my reunion, a trip into the city was very high on my to-do list. I needed to go.

I still cannot watch video from that dreaded day without panic rising up into my throat. Many of our friends lived outside the city, but many of them worked in the city. The question was “where?” It took about 2 weeks to locate them all. I found out many years later that I knew one of the people who died there. Class of 1980, Al Maler, was working at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower on that day. His co-worker, Eric Stahlman, also a Patchogue-Medford High School alumni also lost his life, but he had graduated many years earlier. With the passage of time and memories faded, extents of conversation lost, I still do have visual memory of Al, remembering his athleticism, his kindness, his smile. He was around my friend, Phil Bender, quite a lot because of his involvement in the service organization of our school for the guys, “Key Club.” There was a third person I wanted to look up while there–Patchogue first-responder Andrew Desperito, who was from Brooklyn.

As I remember him…

We had tickets to go at 4:30. The tickets are free, but they need to control how many people are going in. Security there is tighter than at the airport. President Obama was also going to be in New York City on this same day, so perhaps it was even more secure than usual. I oddly ran into a person I knew 20 years ago in Sugar Land, Texas who worked at Target; he still lives there, and here we meet up 1500 miles away. I braced myself for the raw emotion. My thoughts were with the families. “Good God, if I feel this way, I cannot begin to imagine the depth of their pain.”

Security is tight.

From the time we walked near the area, I knew I was walking on hallowed ground. When the 7 buildings collapsed, they carried dust clouds. Those dust clouds also carried what was left of some who died, which extended out from the area for blocks. Forty percent of the families have never received the remains of their loved ones.

Circles of the debris field.

The site is beautiful, peaceful. There are plaques that go around the pools of water where the North and South Towers once existed. On those are names of the people who died, not only in this attack on this site, but the people who died on all the planes, the Pentagon, and the 1993 terrorist attack. Below the parapets is a space where you can put your hand in and touch the water. All the sensory features add to the experience–light, touch, sound.

There is a computer over near the not-yet-opened museum where you can look up the names and see what section of parapet their names appear.

The computer area…

As I did with the Vietnam Memorial wall when it visited Houston, I walked around both towers, looking at every single name of those who perished, lingering only at the names of the people for whom I was searching, touching the name to say, “I’m sorry, and thank you.” What I was sorry for? For the evil that existed in the world, for any role that our country may have played in the events leading up to that day, for the politics that rule the world, catching innocent people in the crosshairs. And my thanks–for the contribution that their lives had and will continue to have in generations to come, to their families who were not present when I visited, the example they set of how to have hate touch their lives in the most personal way possible, yet choose to stand up and say, “We will not continue the cycle of hate.” They had many hurdles to overcome just to put the names of those who died onto the final bronze parapets. Thirty-two representatives of various family organizations had to work together to come to consensus. Congress could take a lesson from these people’s collaboration.

Paraphrasing from the book produced by National Geographic, “A Place of Remembrance, Official Book of the National September 11 Memorial”: “By 2006, they came together. The nine groups would be organized by location and circumstances in which the victim found themselves during the attack. Around the North Tower pool, people working in or visiting the tower; those aboard Flight 11; victims of the 1993 bombing. Around the South Tower pool: Those working in or visiting the south tower, those aboard flight 175, the Pentagon victims, Flight 77 victims, Flight 93 victims and first responders. The names of colleagues were kept together; first responders were organized by headings indicating their agency and unit. Then the kin of the victims who asked for specific names to be inscribed together (like husband and wife, or siblings, or best friends, or ‘in some cases entire families’ were honored.”

I found myself lingering on other names, too. I had heard that the babies of pregnant women were also mentioned at the site, but seeing the actual inscription is powerful: …and unborn child. Coming home with the National Geographic book added insight into the names where they show how families were grouped together, sometimes with different names.

The unborn remembered…

Alfred Russell Maler’s name resides at N-54; Eric Stahlman at N-46; Andrew Despeirto at S-18.

My school mate, Al Maler.

I began to get very irritated. I noticed that not everyone was respecting the site for the sacred place it was. There were families taking pictures, smiling and laughing right in front of the names of the dead. Seriously? You couldn’t have turned around and taken it around the tree that is 180 degrees to your current position? I understand taking pictures of the parapet–I did myself–but not having a grand old time as if you were visiting the Statue of Liberty.

According to my friend, she saw a woman doing a “sexy pose” for her boyfriend or husband right in front of the parapet names. I am glad I did not see that because I would have been in her face, admonishing them for their inappropriate behavior.

I went to visit one of the 9/11 Memorial workers to try to help me understand this because it was really bothering me (and writing this, I am still moved to tearful emotion in my search for understanding). Tim told me that when it was just the families and friends at first, it was a solemn place but one of friends coming together, having experienced a similar pain, who had become a much larger family. But as it had become a “tourist site” people do not have a connection with the names and with that came a change in how people acted. I told him I did not buy that argument. I had zero connection to the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall. It was touring and was put in a park. At the wall, there were tears, people speaking quietly, silence, prayer, and that included young children. There was a park area surrounding it and that is where laughter and running and playing occurred. I asked Tim if he could explain where all the buildings were going up. And then I realized I had a video camera and if he could be so kind as to explain that to me again and allow me to videotape. He was kind enough to oblige my request.

On my way out, my hope of treating the site with respect was renewed. A woman was explaining to two children, obviously born after 2001, the magnitude of the tragedy that occurred: “In 2001, this was the site of the most terrible thing that ever happened on US soil…” I was not going to be nitpicky about other horrific events, like the Civil War battle of Antietam where more than 23,100 people lost their lives, or Pearl Harbor, but it was refreshing to see lessons being taught. These children would learn about the other tragedies further away from their tender life span as they grew.

I stood in front of the gift shop and took a deep breath. A friend at my high school reunion said she was put off by the gift shop. I stood there changing my mind yes, no, yes, no, to the point that I drove my friend crazy. I finally decided I needed to form my own opinion and went in. I also felt like I may regret it if I did not go in. I felt myself becoming claustrophobic and quickly scanned the items available. A magnet or a pen that said, 9/11 Memorial? I don’t think so. I knew that the purchase would help maintain the memorial, so a purchase was important. So I quickly picked two items–an American flag that contained the names of those who died, and a golden retriever stuff toy that had “search and rescue” to honor all the service animals from that day and of their continued service when their mission turned from search and rescue to helping alleviate the sadness of the people still trying to clean up the area. And then I saw the National Geographic book.

The flag with all the names on it.

Search & Rescue Dog

Life moves on. In a city as big as New York, where property is at a premium, building anew has to occur. As a Christian, I am embarrassed by people of my own faith who persecute people of Muslim faith just because of the radical extremists. The Mission Statement from the National September 11 Memorial is this: “Remember and honor the thousands of innocent men, women and children murdered by terrorists in the horrific attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001. Respect this place made sacred through tragic loss. Recognize the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others, and the compassion of all who supported us in our darkest hours. May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance, and intolerance.”  Sayings on materials sold in the gift shop are “In the darkness, we shine together” or “United by Hope.” Survivor Bruno Dellinger, from the 47th floor of the North Tower shares in the book, “You had in this building people from all over the world, all religions, all colors of skin. All everything. All social backgrounds and they lived in harmony. Everyone was very proud to be a World Trade Center tenant, one way or another, working in the World Trade Center. And for me, those flags that were in the lobby of the Trade Center represented a utopia that only can exist in New York.”

The commemoration of the 9/11 National Memorial will be on livestream at 8:30 AM Eastern time, 7:30 AM central time. I will get Patrick on the bus for school and will tune in. You do not have to actual visit the National Memorial site to help support it. Donations can be made (click here), or you can purchase items on-line from their gift shop (click here). I will proudly be displaying the flag purchased on our front lawn along with ribbons and flowers. My school mate’s smile will be forever inscribed in my memory.

Someone asked me, “If it so sad, why do you go?” The same reason why I sat through “Schindler’s List” or people go visit The Holocaust Museum or people visit the concentration camps throughout Europe. We must never forget. But we have to take those lessons we learned in those horrific moments in our history and learn from them, or we are doomed to repeat them. And we keep repeating them. We can learn from the words of Mr. Dellinger and the example set forth by those families of the victims of 911. Choose love.





So You Think You Can Dance Mia Michaels’ Night

21 08 2012

This is my 100th blog post since moving to this site. Exciting, yes? I had a fabulous trip to New York and will have some blogs, including my moving trip to the 9/11 Memorial Site.

I know. I’m very late with this review. I was behind before I went on vacation and I’m even further behind now that I am back. Tonight the top 14 faced a third elimination. The dancers had two weeks off. The Olympics gave my DVR a break from exploding from overuse. Tonight two very special judges were in town after performing for the Dizzyfeet Foundation’s National Dance Day gala, Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt of The BalletBoyz from the UK. While the show was away, Tabitha and Napoleon welcomed their son, London Riley D’Umo, into the world.  Of note, someone on Facebook has been pretending to be them, but this is the legitimate Facebook page for them, and you can see pictures of the baby on there.  Congratulations!

Tonight’s show would see the return of our favorite Mia Michaels’ routines. Mia Michaels and Travis Wall are my favorite contemporary choreographers on So You Think You Can Dance. They seem to be able to tap into the emotional center of my brain that leaves the deepest, long-lasting impressions. Whether it be chills or tears, I have never forgotten the original dances.

Mary and Nigel will be bringing bias to the table tonight since they were present for the original Mia choreography where Billy and Michael would be bringing a fresh perspective, judging the dances on tonight’s performances alone.

The opening group number showed us a new dance from Mia. The song was “Hanging On” by Active Child. Was this the first group CPR by our dancers? I could feel the power of the fine line between life and death, although I could see where it could also be the symbolism of the life and death of a relationship on a more simple level. I also hoped those roses were de-thorned.

Dancers: Cyrus and Eliana
Inspired Dances: Cyrus had been inspired by Brian Gaynor’s audition. Brian is now one of Cyrus’ roommates at Dragon House. Eliana’s inspiration was Wade Robson’s Peace Dance with 10 dancers interpreting the same movement.
Mia’s Dance: The Door Dance originally performed by tWitch and Katee Shean
Song: “Mercy” by Duffy

My thoughts: Cyrus’ and Eliana’s kiss looked “icky” and not full of hot passion. Cyrus was able to ignite his own locking/popping style that made it stand apart from tWitch. I would never believe that Eliana is a ballet dancer because she was that awesome at contemporary.

The judges: Nigel pointed out Cyrus bringing out his own flair but also that he needs to drop the tension in his shoulders. Eliana showed us that she is great at creating these characters because ballet dancers usually focus on technique first and character second. Mary said Eliana was “swagger-welcious” and that Cyrus brought his own swagger to the group. Michael said they were strong performers. Eliana would have him begging for mercy for sure and there was a good use of props. Billy said that something that should not have worked did work fantastically.

Next we saw some clips of National Dance Day and how much it was spreading globally.

Dancers: George and Tiffany
Inspired Dances: For George it was Wade Robinson’s Ramalama group dance from season 2. For Tiffany it was when Ellen was on the other side of the door on Mia’s door dance and moving into the tWitch/Alex Wong “Out of Your Mind” dance. She hopes to be on The Ellen Show.
Mia’s Dance: The Hometown Glory dance originally performed by Katee Shean and Joshua Allen in Season 4.
Song: “Hometown Glory” by Adele

My thoughts: I had chills from the beginning. It was phenomenal. I know it was only two dances so far tonight, but this one became my favorite of the night (until the last routine).

The judges: Mary felt like we needed to call 911 because we witnessed a murder this evening on stage. She thought it was phenomenal, that Tiffany was soft when she needed to be and powerful when that was needed. The assisted lift was perfect (my note–did she mean the assisted run?) She said George elevated the role today. Michael felt like it had fantastic energy. It was a great match up to each other. Tiffany got so into character, but maybe too much because she didn’t look like she needed any help whatsoever from George in the assisted run and that was the point (she needed to be lifted). He felt like she needed to pull it back a bit. Nigel felt like we finally saw the best from George this evening. Tiffany over-egged the pudding, but would prefer that and trying to calm it down, versus not giving enough energy and having to ramp it up.

Dancers: Will and Amelia
Inspired Dances: For Will it was the group routine where Nigel got kidnapped in season 4. For Amelia it was Melanie and Neal’s routine “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Mia’s Dance: The Butt Dance made famous by Evan Kasprzak and Randy Evans. Interestingly, Amelia seemed surprised, but there is a French feel for it and her audition was French-inspired. Mia was probably remembering that when this routine was assigned. Amelia looked like she might feel uncomfortable with everyone looking at her butt for the evening.
Song: “Koop Island Blues” by Koop

My thoughts: While it might be technically challenging and does elicit an emotional response from me, it was not goosebumps. I could feel Amelia’s discomfort at the thought of everyone looking at her butt. There was a height difference, too. Evan and Randy were shorter. Also Evan’s Broadway experience allowed him to shine the character more than Will’s contemporary background. Please also see my notes after hearing what Nigel had to say. George and Tiffany’s routine still my favorite at this point.

The judges: Nigel felt that Will was trying to bring the character out. He said Amelia needed to bring more character. He noticed that she was looking at the floor much of the routine. At this point, that comment from Nigel made me feel like, “Yeah, do you think so?” Perhaps knowing everyone was looking at her butt made her a little self-conscious and perhaps psyched her out a bit. The first thing Nigel said was that he had Randy’s butt in his mind for the last 3 years! I like Nigel but that is a little creepy. Even the most seasoned dancer would have felt weird hearing that. Mary liked it. Felt it was too big and maybe the character needed to be pulled back more. Was Will entranced by Amelia’s butt? Absolutely. She also felt that Amelia maybe looking down at the floor was her attempt at being coy. Having nothing to compare it to, Billy felt it was very strong, musical, and endearing. Both dancers were wonderfully in character. There were moments when subtlety would have been good, but it overall was great.

Dancers: Janelle and Dareian
Inspired Dances: For Janelle, it was the Mark Kanemura and Chelsie Hightower’s “Bleeding Love” routine. For Dareian, it was Kent and Neal’s Season 7 routine by Travis Wall “In The End” routine.
Mia’s Routine: The “bed” routine done by tWitch and Kherington Payne
Song: “Dreaming With a Broken Heart” by John Mayer

My thoughts: This might be their strongest routine yet, but I did not have chills, the kind I got seeing the original. They might be bringing their A-game too late.

The judges: Michael thought it was “wow!” The choreography and the ideas about it were wonderful. He was worried about Dareian’s lines. If he gets over that hurdle, he’s got it. Janelle had a great performance but he found himself looking at her hair oddly rather than the choreography. He did not know why but he just did. Billy said that it was difficult or Janelle because the movement is all about Dareian and not her, but they did well. Nigel said this was Mia Michaels at her best. For Dareian it was the first time he felt personality out of him and Nigel felt what Dareian was feeling. Janelle is at her best when he can see Janelle’s eyes smiling and her hips moving. She did not stand out tonight. Dareian’s technique was stronger than the original done by tWitch. Mary agrees with the comment on technique. There was no passion and at the end felt that it was overacted by Janelle. Dareian needs to fix his feet.

Dancers: Audrey and Matthew
Inspired Dances: For Audrey it was season 1’s Brian Friedman’s disco routine performed by Melody Lacayanga and Nick Lazzarini. (I did not watch season 1 of this show). For Matthew it was the 80’s jazz piece in season 7 by Ade Torbert and Lauren Froderman.
Mia’s Dance: The loss of Mia’s father and the reunion in heaven originally performed By Lacey Schwimmer and Neil Haskell.
Song: “Time” by Billy Porter

My thoughts: I thought Matthew was the star in this piece. Just watching the “making of/behind the scenes practice” brought tears to my eyes, but watching Mathew at the beginning where he smiles at first seeing his daughter (Audrey) and then the breath he took was he first caught sight of her had me in tears. Audrey was great, too, but I was watching Matthew more. They were able to make the transition I thought between the chemistry of a couple in love from previous weeks to the energy of a father and daughter. My new favorite of the night. I was a little shocked at what the judges had to say about Matthew, so after hearing their comments I watched it again and I could see some of what they were saying that he could have been more playful, but I think their comments were a bit too harsh.

The judges: Mary was very emotional, sharing that when Mia originally choreographed the song that Mary’s father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and the song gave her courage to take leave from her business to go be with her father in those final times. Mary, however, did not feel the passion or truth in this piece tonight from Matthew. She thought Audrey was the shining star. Billy said there were amazing things from Audrey and the first pirouette was flawless. He felt Matthew needed to disguise the effort of the dancing that weighed into it. Nigel felt that when Neil did the dance, it showed the playful man that Mia’s father was, that Matthew needed to bring fun into Audrey’s life. He felt Matthew was a little too focused on the dance steps rather than being a dad joined up with his daughter. That character that was needed did not come across.

Dancers: Witney and Chehon
Inspired Dances: For Chehon it was Melanie Moore’s Atlanta audition. For Witney it was “Danielle’s” audition in S4 (that turned out to be Travis Wall in drag).
Mia’s Dance: The bench routine performed by Season 2 Travis Wall and Heidi Groskreutz
Song: “Calling You” by Celine Dion

My thoughts: It was hard for a ballet dancer like Chehon to move into a contemporary style that requires him to loosening up a little. Regardless I still got chills when Chehon was lying on the bench with Witney under it. Not as good as Heidi and Travis’ routine, but that is some hard competition to live up to. They did a good job, but this dance is so iconic and it was TRAVIS WALL.

The judges: Nigel was pleased. He felt the passion came across. He also explained what the dance was about. Apparently Mia was in love with a gay man who was not going to be able to return the same kind of love to her. Mary felt they pulled it off. She wants Chehon to let go a bit more. She thought Witney was “wow” and was remarkable tonight. Michael asked Witney is she was a Salt Lake City girl, and said that Salt Lake is a fantastic place for dance (without really commenting on Witney’s dance tonight). He told Chehon he always had a job with The BalletBoyz if he ever wanted one.

Dancers: Lindsay and Cole
Inspired Dances: For Cole, it was Mark Kanemura in Season 4. They are friends and are from the same dance studio. Lindsay was inspired was Travis Wall and Benji Schwimmer’s nerd dance on the finale of season 2.
Mia’s Dance: The “Addiction” routine originally performed by Kupono Aweau and Kayla Radomski in season 5.
Song: “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles

My thoughts: Cole was spectacular. This was indeed my favorite routine of the night. When he ran his lips up her leg in a gesture of him “the addiction” consuming the whole of her, I got chills. Lindsay did a great job, too, but Cole was mesmerizing in his robotic-like movements.

The judges: Billy was impressed. Both have versatility in bucket loads, something that is needed for the business. Mary said this was the best performance from both of them. Kupono was a bit more sinister, but Cole was a quirky kind of demented, but it worked. Lindsay was amazing. Nigel said they came out on top tonight of everyone. Cole’s performance was quite chilling.

Eliminations

George, Dareian and Matthew are in the bottom 3 for the guys and Amelia, Janelle and Lindsay are in the bottom 3 for the girls. The judges wanted to see all of them perform solos before they made their decisions.

Amelia danced to “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I prefer Kris Allen’s version. It does not look like she is dancing for her life. Janelle did a belly dance routine to “Inta Omri” by Elie Attieh and she, too, does not look like she wants it. It was fun but there was nothing remarkable or stand-out about it. Lindsay did a dance to “Hip Hip Chin Chin” by Club des Belugas. I felt like out of the three girls she wanted it more and I think her routine with Cole tonight is likely to save her.

The guys looked more poised to fight for their spots. George danced to “So Long, Lonesome” by Exploding in the Sky. He really wants it. There is something about George that reminds me of the painter Thomas Kinkade. When George dances, he lights up the stage. Dareian came out fighting, dancing to “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” by Joshua Ledet. Unfortunately he has underperformed his peers most of the season and has not made a real connection with the audience. Matthew danced to “Delicate” by Damien Rice. Out of the three guys, I was not so sure he wanted that spot so badly, like he had written it off that it would not be his. But out of the three guys, I think they’ll put George through.

Nigel said the judges would save Lindsay mostly because of her performance in tonight’s routines. For the boys, they would save George. Dareian really needed to fix his feet and they felt Matthew was not connecting with the audience (I would disagree with them on that).

As a personal note, I think that Cyrus, as much as I adore him, should have been up there instead of Matthew because he has been getting by without a great technique, but it is about America’s favorite dancers, not the “best” technical dancer. Next week the couples will be broken up and they will be paired with all-stars from previous seasons.

Who will go home this week based on their performances on Wednesday? I think Cyrus should be in the bottom 2 and maybe Will is in trouble. Witney and Audrey might be in the bottom 2 for the girls. The voting is going to get more difficult. I am looking forward to seeing Eliana paired with an all-star. She, I think, is the most underappreciated dancer in the show. It’s time for her to have a moment in the sun.





So You Think You Can Dance — Top 20 Dance Again & First Elimination

22 07 2012

So You Think You Can Dance — Top 20 Dance for a Third Time

I don’t know about you, but this entire format this year has me very confused. Why the change? The first week traditionally has been for us to meet the Top 20 and get a chance to see them dance. Then the second week, traditionally the top 20 dance, we vote, and then the next day, the 3 people with the lowest votes in the girls and the guys get to dance for their lives and the judges choose who is going home. However, the second week, the top 20 danced, and then there was no show the next day. When I heard they would tell who was going home the next week, I thought to myself, okay, so they are going to make us vote again, give the Top 20 a third week to dance so we could thoroughly enjoy them, get to know them, etc., and then on the next-day show, they will add the two weeks’ votes together, and continue on. However, that was not the case. The top 20 danced, but based on the votes, based on what they saw this week and last week, and with additional input from the choreographers from this week and last week decided who was leaving tonight. Nigel reminded us that they were not “voting people” off, but rather sending home the people who did not receive the most votes. Personally it is a game of semantics–like is the cup half empty or half full. I inquired with my OFFICIALFOXVIP contacts if this was just a one-time thing because of scheduling difficulty with the other shows and apparently this is the way they are doing it this year. On one hand, it makes it better for me because trying to type up a blog on Wednesday night before the Thursday show is very difficult. On the other hand, it seems kind of cruel to the dancers. They do not know if their previous week’s dance is going to put them in the bottom 3, and that will translate in the dances they perform on Wednesday night, which in turn will turn into the votes they get for that dance and whether or not they are in the bottom 3 the following week. It sounds like a mind game. I know Nigel Lythgoe is not like that, and I do not know if it was a demand of the network, but I do not like it.

Having said, that, let’s get on with the performances this week. We had Adam Shankman, guest judge, on tonight and the barrage of funny plugs for “Step-Up Revolution.” The group dance was choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon D’Umo to the song: “The Beautiful People (District 78 Remix) by Marilyn Manson. I started having déjà vu. Didn’t we see a song choreographed to this song before? I looked it up and turns out I was right. Comfort Fedoke and Chris Jarosz performed to it, choreographed by Tyce Diorio, in week 3 of season 4, in 2008. See a YouTube clip from the episode.

Even though it was a repeat, the dance was slightly different and it was zombie-esque (I like the word “esque” lately) and had hints of the Thriller dance.

The show opens and Adam thinks Cat is like a big sexy tomato. Cat invites him to take a bite. I love when Adam Shankman is on. He has the BEST lines.

Dancers: Cole and Lindsay
Choreographer: Christopher Scott
Song: “Teeth” by Lady Gaga

My thoughts: It was a lot of fun. Cole was great and definitely played the nerd wonderfully, keeping in character throughout the judges’ critique. Was Lindsay a nerd’s dream or did the nitrous oxide do things to Cole’s head? What a happy gaseous delusion! Christopher Scott’s routines are kind of hit or miss for me. There are either brilliant, or seemingly hastily put together.

The judges: Adam thought the American Dental Association should adopt the routine. Cole was freaking him out (in a good way). He thought Lindsay was holding her sex kitten in and needed to really attack it. Nigel certainly thought it was incentive for Great Britain to go to the dentist. He felt it was a bit immature. He thought Lindsay was playing to the audience and not to Cole. Mary said the routine put a smile on her face. She felt Lindsay needed to be vampier. Part of the show is acting and she will need to bring that. Cole is a lean, mean dancing machine.

Dancers: Amelia and Will
Choreographer: Sonya Tayeh
Song: “3326” by Olafor Arnalds
Story: Two souls are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

My thoughts: I could feel that weight and the oppression of their souls. I had goosebumps, the first tonight. They had stunning lines. Amelia and Will have great chemistry. In this dance, they moved as one. WOW! It was my favorite routine of the night.

The judges: Mary screamed: “OOOOOOOO!” Sonya was right on top tonight with this beautiful routine. Will and Amelia brought it to life. Will was rising to the occasion. They have gone another floor up in her eyes. Adam gave them a standing ovation. Of Amelia, he said he was completely lost in the piece and it took him on a journey. Will 1,000,000% “Stepped it up” (movie plug). It was brilliant. Nigel said that not only had Travis grown, but Sonya, too, has show tremendous growth on the show since she joined. She said Amelia was great a great, quirky dancer. Both Will and Amelia were absolutely brilliant dancers.

Dancers: Amber and Nick
Choreographers: Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo
Style: Tango
Song: “Tanguera” by Sexteto Mayor

My thoughts: My eyes were drawn to Amber immediately and not because of her red dress. There is one spot where she almost looked at the audience and lost her character. There was a lot of hard footwork being performed by both Nick and Amber. It was intense.

The judges: Adam thought it was hot. Amber was spectacular, a fire-breathing dragon. Nick was a brilliant partner but he vanished a bit. Nigel thought Amber made herself look good, a cobra ready to pounce. Nick was very strong and it showed. Mary said it was a difficult routine. Nick and Amber made it not look like work. Amber was a fire out there and she was in awe. She gave a “hats-off” to Nick; he did great.

Dancers: Audrey and Matt
Choreographer: Sonya Tayeh
Song: “Hear Me Now” (Dri, Lind and Lukka Mix) by Steed Lord
Story: The robotic struggle between men and women

My thoughts: It was hard hitting and angry. You could feel the struggle. It was my second favorite routine of the evening. These two have great chemistry together and are superior dancers.

The judges: Nigel loves the “stank steps.” They were incredible and are one of America’s favorite couples. Mary said they, too, were one of her favorite couples, and quite the dynamic duo. They maximized everything. One of her favorite routines tonight. Adam said tonight belongs to Sonya. Audrey was “friggin brilliant.” He told Matt if he kept it up like that, it was his competition to lose. It was amazing and for them to stay in the zone.

Dancers: Dareian and Janelle
Choreographer: Christopher Scott
Song: “My Girl” by The Temptations
Story: A wedding proposal

My thoughts: It was the first kiss of the season, which promptly some fun from the judges, more fun than this routine unfortunately. Mary said she was not getting into this kissing thing this season, so Adam fake-kissed Nigel. It was fantastic. This routine did nothing for me. Dareian was the stronger dancer of the two, however. I think Christopher Scott did not do such a great job tonight with his choreography. Maybe he is the type that needs awhile to prepare, to think things out. He needs to learn how to Twitter-up his dance routines. Less than 140 characters but strong thoughts that resonate with people.

The judges: Adam felt Dareian was more invested than Janelle. Nigel said that so much depends on the choreography and it was a little uninspiring. Both are better dancers but they have to bring it, too, as Adam pointed out. Mary said the routine was sweet and it was just okay.

Dancers: Brandon and Janaya
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman
Song: “Bring On The Men (From Jekyll & Hyde: The Gothic Musical Thriller) by Linda Eder
Style: Broadway — Hot romance book gets the girl frisky

My thoughts: It was a very fun routine with high energy. Some of the moves were great. Sean Cheesman is another “hit or miss” choreographer for me, but this one, I liked.

The judges: He felt like Brandon “stepped it up” (movie plug). Janaya’s lines were great and she played the crowd. Nigel thought it was brilliant Broadway and agreed with Adam. Janaya brought something this week that she did not have last week. Mary thought it was the most entertaining routine of the night. The stepper (Brandon) was “stepping it up” tonight with energy. Great acting from Brandon and Janaya was amazing. Cat thought it was fearless.

Dancers: Cyrus and Eliana
Choreographers: Melaine LaPatin and Tony Meredith
Song: “I’m Shakin'” by Jack White
Style: Jive

My thoughts: I am a huge fan of Cyrus. He brings his personality and enthusiasm to every dance; however, his lack of technique is beginning to show in a big way. Eliana is always wonderful. The routine was lively. Cyrus tries so hard and I am so proud of him.

The judges: Mary said Cyrus’ feet were not quite right, that his posture goes in and out. He is doing great partnership. Her star is still showing for Eliana. She is a phenomenal dancer. She was cookin’. Adam said that he was amazed Cyrus got through it. Eliana was the hardest working woman tonight. Nigel said that at some time Cyrus will hit a brick wall. Cyrus has to connect the dots and needs to fill in the blank spaces. Eliana has a tough job with Cyrus. She has to compensate a great deal for Cyrus’ lack of knowledge.

Dancers: Alexa and Daniel
Choreographer: Dee Caspary
Song: “So Long My Friend” by Yanni
Additional info: The bath tub is the water drowning the words.

My thoughts: They are good technical dancers. They did much better this week, but I really hated last week’s piece. However, by the end of the song, I realize the chemistry really is not there. I don’t know what exactly it is. Is Alexa shutting off her heart again to protect it like she did in Vegas because she does not want to fail, thus really fulfilling her own destiny with her thoughts? Do she and Daniel not have any chemistry off screen? I hoped the title of the song was not going to be their ironic fate. I loved the blue outfit that resembled the water. It was beautiful.

The judges: Adam complimented Dee on a beautiful routine. He told Alexa and Daniel although it was beautiful it was a bit chilly. He is not sure exactly what was missing. It was missing the passion. They were not connecting. Mary agreed with Adam. There is no chemistry between the two of them. Nigel said it was danced brilliantly but there is no chemistry.

Dancers: Tiffany and George
Choreographers: Melanie LaPatin and Tony Meredith
Style: Foxtrot
Song: “I Want To Be Loved by You” by Sinead O’Connor

My thoughts: Sinead O’Connor? Really? That was the biggest surprise to me. I suppose I have not kept up on her career. It was my third favorite routine this evening. My eyes were drawn to George, but they did a tremendous job. I love George’s energy; it is always happy and calm. He is such a smooth operator. I also loved her costume.

The judges: Mary thought Tiffany did everything perfectly. Adam was madly in love with it. It reminded him of Fred and Ginger. They “stepped up” (movie plug) to a whole new level. It was “in-freaking-credible.” Nigel they could be the “Opening Act” for anybody. They should be a lesson to every couple on the show.

Dancers: Witney and Chehon
Choreographer: Nakul Dev Mahajan
Song: “Tandav Music” by Aatish Kapadia
Style: Bollywood of course

My thoughts: It was high energy. Bollywood has to be one of the toughest dances out there, especially because of the hand moves, but also it requires a great deal of stamina and strength. Chehon did the better job of the two. Nakul looked so proud of them. I would not have known Chehon was a ballet dancer tonight. He took the constructive criticism he received last week and applied it.

The judges: Adam said it was the first time he saw joy in Chehon. Witney needed to extend her neck. He still felt chemistry between them even though they were apart during the dance. Mary said it was so much better this week for Chehon and that he was on fire tonight. Nigel thought Chehon was fantastic. He cannot believe that Witney was doing knee turns. He also noticed with khattak in the dance routine.

The Results From Last Week

Based on last week’s votes, Janaya, Alexa, and Witney were in the bottom 3 for the girls. When the camera flashed to Alexa, she knows she is leaving. She looks down and cannot smile. Janaya and Witney are there with their chins up and smiles on their faces. The bottom 3 guys were Nick, Daniel and Chehon. Nigel said that the votes were for people America liked, but they have to stay unemotional about their decision. They were the best 20 dancers across this season. After talking to the choreographers, seeing them dance this week and last, they were saving Chehon and Witney. I imagine the Bollywood routine helped to save them.

Extra Bonuses

There was a great segment about the movie “Step-Up Revolution” coming out. Jamal Sims is the choreographer, but so are Travis Wall and Mia Michaels, Mia also playing the role of “Olivia” in the movie. Adam Shankman is the producer. It features several SYTYCD alumni including Stephen “tWitch” Boss, Tony Bellissimo, Phillip Chbeeb, and Kathryn McCormick.

Speak Out and Step Up (movie plug): What do you think of the decisions this week? What do you think of this new format? Let us know!

Note: I’m headed to New York on Thursday. Since it takes me about 4-6 hours to get this blog done, I do not think I’ll be able to do a detailed blog and pack Wednesday night. I’ll try to get something up, although it likely will not be in this regular format. I appreciate your support for this blog. I’d love to get more comments on it and have a discussion.





So You Think You Can Dance — Let the Voting Begin

12 07 2012

So You Think You Can Dance — Top 20 Voting Begins

The evening started out well with a Mad-Men-ish dance, choreographed by Christopher Scott, to the song, “Architect of the Mind” by Kerry Muzzey. The judges for this evening were our resident judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy with the guest judge the fabulous Kenny Ortega. Many goosebump moments happened for me this evening.

What We Learned in 7 Seconds About Our Contestants

Witney Carson is 18, plays guitar and the drums, likes to golf, has over 100 relatives and is afraid of crickets. Chehon Wespi-Tschopp is 23. He was born in Chicago, but grew up in Switzerland. He is a ballet dancer, thinks in 2 languages and finds it hard to talk really fast. Tiffany Maher is 19. Her nickname is T-Maher-Starr, has “baby hands”, had a pet duck, and likes going to the beach. George Lawrence II is 19 and loves the color green. He loves collard greens, hates being outside, is camera shy and had a pet frog (want to bet he named it Kermit?). Janaya French is 20, wants to meet Shamu, loves fuzzy socks, hates orange candy and thinks Chucky is her worst nightmare. Brandon Mitchell is 27, from Kansas City, Kansas, is allergic to cats and dogs. His brother broke the world’s record for the long jump for 8 year olds. Alexa Anderson is 19, loves red lipstick, being outside, watermelon and puppies. She can eat frozen yogurt for every meal and her favorite topping is sprinkles. Daniel Baker humored things up by playing up America’s stereotypical idea of an Aussie. He is 24, puts shrimp on the barbie, throws boomerangs, has a pet kangaroo, is related to Crocodile Dundee and owns vegemite. Right. Amber Jackson is 21. She loves track, bunnies, and skating. She hates sausage and sleeps with stuffed animals. Nick Bloxson-Carter is 20, just took 23 credits and does not advise anyone else to be quite that insane. He loves movies, hanging out with friends, laughing, and the beach. His dad works at the Playboy mansion. Amelia Lowe is 18. Her dad is a tattoo artist. She was named after Amelia Earhart because her dad loves to fly planes. Her mom is a Pilates instructor.  Will Thomas is 19. Orange is his favorite color. He believes he is Simba. Janelle Issis is 24 and from Birmingham, Alabama. She likes the movie, “The Color Purple”. She can cook. She loves roller coasters. Dareian Kujawa is 20. He left home to join the circus. He used to play hockey. He hates spiders. He loves the color blue and can mimic Donald Duck. Eliana Girard is 21. She hates raisins, is addicted to “True Blood” and loves the word “Alfred.” Cyrus Spencer is also known as Glitch, is age 22, a Pisces (I knew I liked him for some reason!), has a dozen pair of gauges (earrings), is addicted to shoes and loves basketball. Audrey Case is 18 and is from Oklahoma. She reminded us that she can make fart noises with her neck. She collects elephants and loves Taylor Lautner. Matthew Kazmierczak is 21. He loves hiking, is definitely a cat person, is terrified of sharks, has 6 tattoos and is terrified of the mannequin that was in the room with him at the time of the interview. Cole Horibe is 26 and is a walking cliché. He is an Asian male who is a ninja martial artist. He liked math when he was “young” (oh please, like 26 is old?), and is part of the descendent line of the 47 Ronin Samurai. Lindsay Arnold is 18, likes food, hates spiders and tomatoes, cannot cook and gave someone stitches once.

Couples Dances

Dancers: Witney Carson and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp
Choreographer: Louis Van Amstel
Dance: Samba
Song: “Jump” by The Cube Guys and Lucinana

My opinion: I loved Witney’s pink dress. Chehon did well being a ballet dancer and worked the audience well during one of the moves, but he is too straight in his posture. Witney did a great job.

The Judges: Nigel thought Witney was a star. Chehon needed to relax more and enjoy the music. Mary pointed out Chehon’s foot work, but moved his body well across the floor. Witney got a 1st class ticket on the hot-tamale train. Kenny thought Witney was like Marilyn Munroe in “Some Like It Hot” but hotter. He told Chehon to surrender to the music and agrees pretty much with Nigel.

Dancers: Tiffany Maher and George Lawrence II
Choreographer: Sonya Tayeh (Dance is about the stars being aligned for a couple and they realize each other and who they are.)
Dance: Contemporary
Song: “Turning Page” by Sleeping At Last

My opinion: Goosebumps. I had them when Sonya was just describing the dance, the emotion that the feel towards each other (I am a hopeful romantic at heart) and goosebumps while it was being performed. I have always rooted for George and hoped that his dad could see that he really is a fantastic dancer.

The Judges: Mary said it left her breathless. She said that George is one of the best dancers in the competition. She commented how connected the two of them were. Kenny said they both surrendered, and it reminded him of youth. “You spilled it.” Nigel thought it was superb and loved the arabesque in the lift.

Dancers: Janaya French and Brandon Mitchell
Choreographer: Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo (who looks radiant and like she is going to give birth at any moment). The story is about addiction and the choice between it and love.
Dance: Hip-Hop
Song: “Take Care” by Drake featuring Rihanna

My thoughts: It was average. Brandon got the feelings of anger across well but I did not feel the struggle. Not exactly sure why.

The Judges: Kenny believed the story and thought they did a great job. Nigel thought Nappytabs was very clever to hide some of their flaws through this dance. Mary believed Brandon but felt Janaya needed to be more gritty.

Dancers: Alexa Anderson and Daniel Baker
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman
Dance: Jazz (it is supposed to be sexy, quirky).
Song: “Hey, Hey (DF’s Attention Vocal Mix) by Dennis Ferrer

My opinion: I felt absolutely no chemistry between these two. It was intricate, but sexy and quirky? No. Their faces showed that there were really thinking about all the movements and not really feeling the dance. And they had that one face (smiling) the entire dance. I have had a problem with Alexa’s facial expressions in the past (smiling during a song whose lyrics were sad, for example). Is that the dancers’ issue or the choreographer by making the routine technically difficult? Not sure. Maybe a bit of both. It was my least favorite dance of the evening.

The judges: Nigel hopes the audience can appreciate the level of difficulty. He did not see the chemistry either. Mary said that Daniel looked like he was enjoying himself. Kenny thought it was a demanding piece. He thought they were invested in the exercise but not in the performance.

Dancers: Amber Jackson and Nick Bloxsom-Carter
Choreographer: Jason Gilkison
Dance: Viennese waltz
Song: “Nights in White Satin” by Tina Arena

My opinion: This dance is something you see on Dancing With The Stars. For the audience of So You Think You Can Dance, it usually is the dance of death or at least puts people in the bottom 3. I thought it was beautiful and flowed very well.

The judges: Mary said it was dreamy. Kenny thought it was fluid and flowing and loved it. Nigel told Nick to watch his facial movements.

Dancers: Amelia Lowe and Will Thomas
Choreographers: Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo
Dance: “Unconventional hip-hop” — Character pop. Sophisticated kitty meets alley cat (may explain why Will thinks he is Simba)
Song: “The Lovecats” by The Cure

My opinion: I liked this a great deal. It was upbeat and playful. It made me smile. One of my favorite dances of the evening.

The judges: Kenny thought it was fun and charming and loved it. Nigel thought they were “smitten kittens.” He thought it was terrific and memorable. Mary thought it was “purrrfect.” She commented that it made you happy.

Dancers: Janelle Issis and Dareian Kujawa
Choreographer: Sean Cheesman
Dance: African Jazz
Song: “Jungle” by Hilight Tribe

My opinion: They did a great job. I’d have a headache after dancing like that.

The judges: Nigel loved it. Mary said it was exciting. It was like a jungle dance-off and they both came out as winners. Kenny thought it was universal and was like watching 2 flames dancing across the stage.

Dancers: Eliana Girard and Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer
Choreographer: Tyce Diorio
Dance: Broadway
Song: “Run And Tell That” by Hairspray (Original Broadway Cast)

My opinion: I am such a fan of Cyrus. Ballet meets the animator and it worked! It was fabulous and so much fun to watch. Tyce was so proud of them. Another one of my favorites this evening.

The judges: Mary said she had never seen Tyce worked up that much before in her life. This will be “googled up”, i.e., watched over and over again. She said, “Winners are ordinary people with extraordinary hearts” and Cyrus lays his heart out on that stage. Eliana was a ballerina who could get down. Kenny felt like it was watching a Broadway performance right on a New York stage. Their personalities were on fire. Nigel said Cyrus is not the best dancer but he always gives 100% of himself. Eliana is the benchmark for the other girls in this competition.

Dancers: Audrey Case and Matthew Kazmierczak
Choreographer: Travis Wall
Dance: Contemporary (story is on the Titanic after the sketch scene)
Song: “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers

My opinion: I did not think the song was going to work because we associate that song with “Ghost” and not the movie The Titanic, but it worked. I had goosebumps. For someone who was joking around during the interview and rehearsal, Matt turned on the hot factor. It looked like they were totally and completely in love with each other. It was on fire. I think my favorite dance of the evening.

The judges: On their feet! Kenny thought it was an exquisite choice and was brilliantly danced. Nigel thought it was his favorite of the night and it was a very special moment. Mary loved it.

Dancers: Lindsay Arnold and Cole Horibe
Choreographer: Jason Gilkison
Dance: Paso Doble (instead of a bull and matador, Lindsay’s character was going to be like poison to the warrior).
Song: “Unstoppable” by E. S. Posthumus

My opinion: I normally do not like these dances but they pulled it off. I figured they were going to do something big having the pimp spot of the evening. I had goosebumps. My goosebumps never lie. It was hot.

The judges: They were standing once again. Cat made a comment that Cole had the “blue steel” look (from Zoolander). Kenny thought it was electrifying, mesmerizing and the most fantastic dance he has seen on this show. Mary thought it was the best paso doble Jason has ever choreographed on the show. Lindsay was fabulous and fiery. Cole was “oh my God.” She said it was a beautiful paso doble. Nigel said it was the best paso doble ever done on this show.

After tonight, here is my list of favorites in some semblance of order. It is hard to rate them because they really are so good.

Guys: Cole, George, Matt, Cyrus, Will, Brandon, Nick, Dareian, Chehon, Daniel (sorry Daniel fans; it was this particular dance that put him in the bottom for me.

Girls: Audrey, Amelia, Lindsay, Eliana, Janelle, Amber, Tiffany, Witney, Janaya, Alexa (again, the dance was what put her on the bottom of this particular list).

Who are your favorites? Who is your top 3 and bottom 3?