Since midway through last season, SYTYCD producers have been hammering it into us how great season six is going to be. In the midst of the lackluster season five, it was tempting to think that maybe they had been saving the good stuff for the fall season, but also easy to fear that they were making fantastic, empty promises to keep us around through the show’s decline.
After meeting the season six Top 20 tonight, I think it’s safe to give into that former temptation and get suitably psyched for what looks to be an awesome season. Sure, Mia Michaels may have announced her departure from the show last week, and sure, Tyce’s megalomania has gotten to the point where he’s almost unwatchable—but SYTYCD isn’t about the judges, despite what Mary and her Hot Tamale Train would have us believe. (I pray the show never gets to the point of American Idol, where the judges are often a bigger part of the show’s culture than the contestants.) And this set of contestants looks pretty damn spectacular. Let’s review:
First off, the night’s biggest surprise: The year of the tapper has finally arrived. Nigel is psyched. Earlier in the auditions, I questioned the likelihood of Nigel’s early proclamation coming to fruition, but what do you know: Bianca becomes the first top 20 tapper in SYTYCD history. And holy crap, Phillip becomes the second! This third guy, Peter, who we’ve never seen before this point, clearly has no chance and is just being brought in for dramatic tension. Wait, what? Peter too? Yes, counting enthusiasts, that’s three tappers in the top 20 (though I suspect, based on the way he seemed to struggle through Vegas, that Peter might be a sacrificial lamb who’ll get the boot early).
And the breakup of the usual contemporary glut continues with a trio of hip-hop-styled dancers also making the top 20. My personal favorite, Russell, seemed like an early lock in Vegas, but you never know with those rascally judges—but yes, the night of “firsts” continues with the show’s first top 20 krumper making it in. Kevin is less memorable, but seems likable, while Legacy is another who has “early out” written all over him. Legacy = Tony. Count on it.
Then of course, we have the couples. It wouldn’t be a SYTYCD top 20 show without a little dramatic tension, and this episode had its fair share. (I’ll admit to tearing up a couple of times, but I also bawl at that phone commercial with the lost dog, so that’s not saying much.) First, there was the slightly manufactured emotion of Mollee and Noelle, who conveniently became best friends forever during auditions. Not saying their connection isn’t genuine—as a former teenage girl, I’m well aware how fast those intense friendships can form, especially in a high-stress environment like Vegas auditions—but man, were they milking it. But not to worry girls, you’re both through to the top 20, though Mollee, who looks like she stepped out of a casting call for the newest Disney Channel tween series, is told she needs to mature in her dancing, and quick-like. Another baby, Nathan, who was a holdover from season five auditions for being below the age cutoff, received a similar critique.
Then there was the real emotion of ballroom showdown. This was some masterful plotting and editing on the producers’ part, I must say. With only one female and one male slot left, four ballroom dancers remain: married couple Ryan and Ashleigh, Karen, and skeevy Gene. Now, Ashleigh has kinda rubbed me the wrong way since her face-pulling audition, and the judges have been swooning over Ryan from the start, so it was easy to see where this was going. And of course, Ryan beats out Gene for the final spot (thank God, I couldn’t look at him and his terrible shirts for another week), and Karen fills the other slot. Cue Ryan and Ashleigh both looking absolutely crestfallen (and Genevieve reaching for the tissues). But wait! An earlier entrant into the top 20, Paula, has informed the judges—in flashback—that she can’t be on the show because she received a movie contract. (Too bad, I really liked her, based on little more than looks, but still.) So Ashleigh in too! The Great SYTYCD Fake-out Of ’09! Pretty sneaky, sis.
So we have three tappers, three hip-hoppers, and three ballroom dancers. Mollee is a jazz dancer, as are cute-as-a-button Ellenore and Pauline, whom the judges loved enough to ignore the fact that her gross-looking ankle injury prevented her from doing the final Broadway and solo rounds in Vegas. The remaining eight are all contemporary. Okay, so maybe that glut isn’t completely broken up. But there are some interesting contenders hiding in that writhing, heavens-reaching mass (which includes the aforementioned Nathan and Noelle). There’s Billy, who made Adam Shankman cry and is putting his Julliard scholarship on hold to do the show. There’s Victor, who pulled a Kupono by nixing his stupid haircut to get back into the judges’ good graces. And then there’s serial crier Kathryn, whose ridiculous crescendoing, high-pitched emotive style was funny, then annoying, then kind of mesmerizing. Seriously, every time she spoke she eventually spiraled off into some frequency that only dogs and Mary Murphy usually operate in. We know nothing about her dancing at this point, but maybe the producers will keep putting her in the bottom three just to wring more of those weird squeals out of her.
And let’s not forget Jakob, Channing, and Ariana who… well, I’m sure they did something. It’s only an hour show, you can’t get to everyone. But this season’s top 20 reveal did a much better job of creating some sort of storyline for most of these contestants than last season’s crop, most of whom were plagued by anonymity for the first few shows. And, unlike in previous seasons, we’ll actually get to see everyone dance before the competition starts proper, in a special introductory episode next Monday (which Donna will be covering). Let’s dance!
• Hey, how about that snazzy new intro?
• The judges were all about the fake-out tonight: “So the answer is no… we’re not going to listen to them because you’re IN!” And so on and so on and so on. Even Cat got in on the game when she walked by a visibly stressed Mollee, who exhaled in relief, only to have Ms. Deeley pounce on her from behind. These poor dancers’ nerves.
• Oh, but Bianca’s reaction was great: “Why’d you do me like that Nigel??” So cute.
• This is a very multi-culti, very attractive group. Seriously, there’s like, a lab somewhere breeding these people specifically for this show, right?
• There are some seriously creative name spellings going on this season, so forgive me if I botch a few for the first couple of weeks.
• For some reason Fox hasn’t been updating its SYTYCD press site, so no photos of the top 20. Sorry.