"SYTYCD" Season 16 Recap: Meet Your Leading Ladies

July 29, 2019

Well, unless Nigel Lythgoe (sir!) has something wild and crazy up his sleeves—which he very well may after 16 seasons—it is finally, at very long last, after half a summer and so much patience, almost time to meet the “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 16 Top 10.

Yeah, we’re not there quite yet.

On last night’s “Final Cut” episode, the Top 10 ladies were each paired with an All-Star and a “legendary choreographer” to learn some critical choreography. (Choreography from outside their comfort zone, that is.) Then, after one last performance for the judges, the 10 became five. Here’s what went down, and which women are headed to the live shows next week.

Mariah Russell, Salsa with All-Star Jonathan

The powerhouse Nashville native wowed everyone during her contemporary audition. And since she confessed that ballroom is what intimidates her, naturally she was given a salsa routine, choreographed by Oksana Platero, to perform alongside All-Star Jonathan. You’d never have known the style intimidated her, because she sold it! She nailed the sass, and there was no faking those speedy moves. She went into every lift with death-defying confidence and pulled. it. off. The judges praised her fire, fight, flair, and fearlessness.

Melany Mercedes, Hip Hop with All-Star Fik-Shun

Melany is a trained salsa dancer—not that you would’ve guessed it based on this chameleon-like performance. Melany slayed Randi and Hef’s fun and funky choreography, managing to fully hold her own alongside Season 10 winner Fik-Shun. There were times when she seemed more focused on the specific moves than just easing into the execution, but she said it felt amazing, and it was. Dominic wanted her to be more grounded, and Laurieann and Nigel said their eyes went to Fik-Shun because Melany was a little too smiley. Mary said this performance elevated Melany in her eyes.

Ashley Sanchez, Contemporary with All-Star Lex

This ballroom babe admitted she “barely scraped through the contemporary round” at the Academy. So it’s no surprised she got this style again, with choreography by Jaci Royal. (New personal goal: Audition for “SYTYCD.” Manage to make it to Academy. Intentionally bomb the contemporary round. Get paired with Lex as “punishment!” Be honest, Ashley, was this your plan all along? Because it’s not a bad one, TBH.) Ashley didn’t quite redeem herself with this performance, but it was mature and lovely. Nigel wanted more emotion and Dominic said it was a missed opportunity, but Laurieann called it a breakthrough and Mary said she was proud of Ashley.

Anna Linstruth, Jazz with All-Star Marko

Remember the cute blonde hip-hopper who somehow seriously struggled during the hip-hop round? That was Anna, Laurieann’s favorite. She showed up ready to give her jazz best, which was evident from the first eight-count of Ray Leeper’s choreography. The judges were ooh-ing and aah-ing the entire time, and Anna’s energy was on high, but technically, it was lacking. Still, Anna proved she’s a gifted performer and a ton of fun to watch. Dominic praised her for being a smart dancer, Laurieann told her not to walk like a truck driver (!), and Nigel said she really pulled it off this time.

Madison Jordan, Cha Cha with All-Star Kiki

Madison has been a fan and judge favorite since her first audition. She made the judges cry. She made me cry. And now, maybe the “SYT” producers wanted to make her cry, because they gave the contemporary goddess a cha cha, choreographed by Sasha Farber and Emma Slater. Madison performed the routine like a contemporary dancer doing ballroom—very pulled up, very technical, very graceful, very elegant. She could’ve loosened up a bit, but she did a darn good job. Nigel called it strong, Mary loved it, Laurieann called it “everythaaaang,” and Dominic reminded Madison (and us) that she’s knocked it out of the park consistently. Carry on, Madison!

Sofia Ghavami, Jazz with All-Star Marko

Sofia’s first audition this season was with Kiki—remember? She went on to mostly ace the Academy, minus a few hip-hop hiccups. This performance was sleek, sassy, and sharp. There wasn’t much in the way of chemistry between Sofia and Marko, but Sofia stuck most of the moves and looked good doing so. Mary called it stunning, Dominic said it fell flat, Laurieann noted that the routine was tough but that it was well done, and Nigel said she did everything that was asked of her.

Sumi Oshima, Contemporary with Lex

Sumi has been so much fun to watch throughout the summer. But as she dug into her choreography last night, courtesy of Talia Favia, she seemed like she was starting to crack. Until she didn’t. Maybe it was the pep talk from Lex (awwww!), maybe it was the realization that everything was riding on this one performance—whatever it was, Sumi summoned some serious inner strength and left it all on the “SYT” stage. Laurieann said it was unexpected, Nigel said it was just a bunch of steps, and Mary said she still has a lot of work to do. Love Sumi, but that feedback was ominous.

Nazz Sldryan, Hip Hop with Fik-Shun

Nazz + Fik-Shun + Luther Brown = dream team, right? Look, dancing with Fik-Shun is tough, because that guy commands the stage even if he just stands there and smiles. (Or doesn’t smile. It doesn’t matter.) But Nazz seemed up to the challenge. Was it the best performance ever? Maybe not. But it was fun, flirty, and a little cheeky, and the judges thought it was tremendous. They laughed, they cheered, they went all-in on Nazz.

Sophie Pittman, Cha Cha with All-Star Kiki

Pro tip: If you tell the “SYT” team which style is most challenging for you, they will definitely make you do that when it matters most. Case in point: Sophie had a tough time with the Academy cha cha, and now she’s at it again. Only this time, OMG. Sharna Burgess created choreography that played to Sophie’s strengths, and Sophie was absolutely committed to all of it, including those insane lifts. Technically, though, Nigel noted that she looked uncomfortable dancing in heels, and said it wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. Mary, Dominic, and Laurieann agreed.

Stephanie Sosa, Contemporary with All-Star Robert

Last year, Stephanie got cut right before the Top 10. This year, she got two presents: 1) contemporary choreography from Mandy Moore, and 2) partner Robert Roldan. And oh man, did she ever take those gifts and run with them. This routine was the final one of the evening for a reason. There were a few moments that could’ve been smoothed out, but overall, it was wonderful. The judges wanted even more—more energy from the limbs, more vulnerability, more openness—but, Mary assured, “you’re still a star.”

The Top 5 Ladies

At very long last, here are the five women who will be headed to the live studio shows:

  1. Mariah
  2. Stephanie
  3. Anna
  4. Sophie
  5. Madison

That’s it for us until next week, when we find out which gentlemen will be joining them. WE’RE ALMOST THERE, FRIENDS.