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'America's Best Dance Crew': Judges take the spotlight

September 14, 2009 |  6:51 am
Usually, despite whatever craziness erupts from the table, the judges are still overshadowed by the performances on "America's Best Dance Crew," which is a good thing. But in this week's episode, and even in the MTV Video Music Awards that followed, the judges seemed to take the spotlight away from the performance (just a little, but enough).

Let's start with the performances, which is where the focus should be anyway.  Time for the group dance, and with the crews doing a tribute to Michael Jackson, you know that they wanted it to be really great.  And their "Smooth Criminal" routine, with Rhythm City's Alonzo Williams getting the spotlight, was one of the show's best. I don't think there's been a group performance that has been as together and precise as this was (even the Janet Jackson in the second season, though that one was awesome, too). With crews like Rhythm City and We Are Heroes, that should've been expected, and Afroborike and Massive Monkeys got their chance to shine as well. I put it a mini step below the Missy Elliott performance and group dance, but hey, if Michael Jackson performed with them like Missy Elliott did ... maybe it's apples to oranges.

On to the show. Only four crews left, and there's no real need for a dramatic pause. We Are Heroes and Afroborike were the crews America voted to keep around, and Massive Monkeys and Rhythm City are the crews that had to battle it out to stay alive for now. We'll explore this a bit later. We (myself and colleague Deborah Netburn) asked the crews which judge they feared/wanted to impress most, and here were the responses from Afroborike and Massive Monkeys.

We Are Heroes, the first crew to perform, didn't impress JC Chasez, who seemed to be the judge of choice that crews wanted to make an impression on.  It was a bit ironic that the crew that put out Vogue Evolution last week was given Madonna's "Vogue" as their "MTV Video Music Awards" performance to emulate.  The women said that they wanted to keep Vogue Evolution's spirit alive, but they put their own flair on the dance and song.  Their ruffled mini dresses and fans were great spectacles, giving the performance a theatricality that Shane appreciated. Looking at it straight on (many in the audience were at angles), the fan section was a wonderful image that Chasez said may have been the group's signature moment -- though he only thought that the performance was "OK."  During the taping, there was also ample time spent on exactly what was written (Heroes) on the girl's bottoms under their dresses. Mario Lopez was just curious. Sure.

Next up was Afroborike, the group that most would pick out in a game of "who doesn't belong here." America likes them, though, and their sexy stylings have won over the judges a bit, too.  That sexiness would continue as they took on Britney Spears' "Slave 4 U."  Maybe the best concept of the day, the guys hung suspended by chains and the girls danced around them -- but only for a little while.  They broke into some choreography that didn't seem too challenging, but was done cleanly and with lots of energy and Latin flair, prompting Lil Mama to say that it was "the most exciting choreography" that she ever seen from the group.  Both she and Shane spoke about Afroborike definitely stepping it up, with Shane also saying that their intro was the dopest that he's ever seen on the show. Eh.

Massive Monkeys, the only b-boy crew left, got what might initially seem to be an inside gimme. Performing N'Sync's "Tearing Up My Heart," a song that JC sang lead on, the Monkeys came out with energy and a desire to do well for crew member Tim's cancer-stricken mom.  Not sure if anything really stood out, but there was some breaking (long headspin), popping and playing to the crowd/judges. There wasn't a whole lot of intricate choreography, but it was a wholly entertaining number that excited the crowd and the judges. Shane didn't think there'd ever been a standing ovation like the one they received. Eh.

That slid right into Rhythm City's Chris Brown routine.  Performing "Wall-to-wall," the crew started out with the guys on top of lighted platforms a la Chris Breezy on tables at the Video Music Awards recently.  Dressed in suits and hats like Brown, the crew hit some tight choreography with linear formations and threw in a couple of flips -- one a dangerous-looking backwards flip over another crew mate.  Great presentation, determined dancing .., then controversy.

For the audience at the taping, it was an eternity. The judges deliberation was, we were told over the loudspeaker, the longest session in "America's Best Dance Crew" history. Anyone watching the show saw the judges' passion, and that continued as they made their decision.

Shane's position: This is a battle, and Rhythm City didn't look like they were battling. JC's side: This is a show, and you come to entertain the voting crowd with clean dancing and cool moves -- like Rhythm City displayed.  Lil Mama seemed to come down in the middle, agreeing with both.  But let me break the tie and say that Shane is wrong.  Of course everyone comes on the show with the will and desire to win, so in that sense, it's always a battle.  But not the street kind that it seems Shane makes it out to be (I could be wrong).  Ask Jabba Wockeez or Super Cr3w -- even ask the Massive Monkeys if this is a battle.  It definitely is not, and that shouldn't be how Shane bases his judging. If that's the case, make the show be face-to-face like in the first show's elimination format. Crews aren't out there to impress or belittle each other.  Backstage, they're best friends and supportive professionals who do what they do and leave it to others to decide. They're there to win over the crowd and win over the judges, not battle each other.  Come on, Shane!

OK, done with that.

Rhythm City was sent home.  Yes, maybe the audience should've voted differently to have two other crews in the bottom, but there are only four left. Someone's favorite was going to be there. It just seemed that like Kaba Modern, Fanny Pak or Supreme Soul, it wasn't yet Rhythm City's time. All of this is not to say that Massive Monkeys is not a deserving crew -- it was definitely a close call. For a change, though, it was not the audience's vote that was off ... it may have been the judges.

Shane's crankiness, JC's nitpicking, and Lil Mama jumping onstage during Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' performance at the "Video Music Awards"?  Maybe there's something in the water over at "America's Best Dance Crew?" Before they all go over the edge, we were at least able to finally catch up to JC and get his assessment of this season so far.

-- Jevon Phillips