So we've got a top 20! Sort of! And that means America needs to get a good look at them — the ones who said yes and didn't get injured or whatever the excuse might be, at least — so we can pick our favorites. Here's my take as the competition gets underway:
Legacy: Leave it to Tabitha and Napoleon to start their routine off with steps that looked like those nothing moves Legacy did between stunts in his auditions — but going somewhere and changing levels, transitioning and expressing the music. I noticed Legacy hitting the moves in the opening number, and while he still seems like the weakest of the men in terms of flexibility and technique, I'm willing to be proven wrong.
Kevin: His popping and locking doesn't thrill me the way Twitch's did back in the day, but damn if he didn't throw everything out onto the stage during Vegas week. I thought he looked comfortable on stage, and I'm going to scream the first time he nails a Sonya routine.
Russell: Big strong dude, but not quite strong enough to throw Legacy around his shoulders three or four times … that particular stunt almost didn't come off, but Kevin saved it with his jumping-of-the-stage topper bit. Again, I was impressed by his work ethic in Vegas, and I'm pulling for him all the way.
Nathan: Now that Billy's gone, he might be the front-runner among the men. The quickness of his turns and flourishes, combined with a deceptive strength under his grace, is pretty remarkable.
Ariana: Of the group that did Tyce's "Crying" routine, I was most captivated by her. Easy to overlook because she's small, but appeared fearless and dynamic in this number.
Jakob: There's nothing wrong with his dancing — those lines he created with his legs during jumps and kicks, wow — but I worry that he doesn't show quite as much personality as the other men, at least so far.
Channing: She's the big blond, and she's certainly got chops, but I still was seeing her more as a technician than an expressive artist during this number. The "acting! thank you!" veneer was a bit more visible than with any of the others during Tyce's number.
Phillip: We didn't see much of Peter or Philip in Boston or Vegas, compared to Bianca and Evan's brother. But here they all in the top 20. The smooth suave style suited Philip with his big smile and compact movements. I imagine that will serve him well in other styles, too.
Peter: I'm less certain about Peter. He looked uncomfortable all cleaned up and off the street, and that smile was less than genuine. He probably has a more athletic style that wasn't shown off in this routine, and might be able to grunge it up in a hip-hop routine in a way that Evan never could. Still, if I had to lay odds on one dancer for an early exit, I might "tap" him.
Bianca: She was the real class of the tap group — a tall drink of water who did a few acrobatic moves as well as showing personality to burn. I predict she'll be an audience favorite even as she struggles in ballroom.
Mollee: This girlish blonde got dinged in Vegas for not being adult enough in her dancing. But in Sonya's sex-charged routine, she was the clear stand-out, seeming to have as much energy as the other two dancers put together. She seemed to stumble through the power moves, but my eyes were drawn to her through the entire number.
Pauline: I'm afraid she disappeared a little for me during this number. Neither as extroverted as Mollee nor as elegant as Ellenore, she didn't do anything that made me remember her. Needs to draw the perfect partner to become memorable in competition.
Ellenore: She stood out in the opening Wade Robson number for her confident, elegant movement. But I don't think Sonya's choreography served her well; she's not outre, she's cool fire. Her gorgeous lines and mature performance skills should give us plenty more chances to see what she can do.
Billy: Well, Billy's gone due to "illness," Fox announced today. Disappointing because of all the dancers, I'd most like to watch his fast-slow movement for hours on end. R.I.P. Billy. (He's being replaced by California hip-hopper Brandon Dumlao.)
Victor: I tried to watch Victor since I knew Billy was not going to be part of the show, but frankly, my eyes kept sliding back over to Billy. Victor has strength and presence, and maybe without Billy upstaging him, his own brand of grace will appear more impressive.
Noelle and Kathryn: Noelle is the more confident women in the top group this season, but that number didn't give us much to hang our hats on for either of the women. They did fine, but they were too evenly matched. I'd give the edge to Noelle in the group just for overall presence, but I'd take Ariana over either of them right now.
Karen: Poor Karen had to be the gal in black in the trio samba, which meant that she didn't pop visually as much as Ashleigh in white. Technique-wise, she wasn't as impressive as Ashleigh either, but I want to see her with her own partner.
Ryan: Probably the man who stood out most in the opening group number, Ryan has the potential to go far — handsome, graceful, charismatic, tall, he's bound to dominate any stage he's on.
Ashleigh: Lord, I hated the faces she was pulling in her audition, and I was rooting for her to get left behind in Vegas (which she almost did). But I had to admit that she was well matched with Ryan and danced with extraordinary confidence.
So my early favorites: Ryan and Nathan among the men, Ellenore and Bianca among the women. Let's get ready to rumble!
- Mia Michaels said an abrupt goodbye to SYTYCD over her Twitter feed last week. Adam Shankman is the new permanent third judge, and I say better his weepy ass than just about any of the other possibilities.
- We start off with a Wade Robson speakeasy-esque jazz routine, which accomplished its purpose — making all the dancers look sexy as hell — quite admirably.
- The plaid tutus in Sonya's number were hideous, I'm sorry, and they actually distracted from the sexiness that was intended. Mollee, Ellenore and Pauline were ten times sexier in the rehearsal studio than on stage in those travesties.
- The judging was pretty useless tonight, too. I enjoyed seeing the dancers do numbers, but I don't know that I wouldn't prefer an extended "road to the final 20" package for each one, including as much audition and Vegas footage as the producers could dig up, especially seeing as some of these dancers we're almost seeing for the first time tonight.