'So You Think You Can Dance' Recap: Meet the [Mostly Unfamiliar] Top 20!

This season's callback week was exactly as riveting as we've come to expect of the show. Despite some upsetting dismissals of people we'd been pulling for, the finalized Top 20 nonetheless appears extremely promising.

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This season's callback week was exactly as riveting as we've come to expect of the show. Despite some upsetting dismissals of people we'd been pulling for, the finalized Top 20 nonetheless appears extremely promising.

Yeah, see, we talked about this. Hopefully you didn't become overly attached to anybody you met in the first four weeks of auditions, because most likely they were casually eliminated from contention during one swiftly edited montage. Looking at the final Top 20 as determined by this week's callbacks, fully half of them are people we'd never even laid eyes on before. The producers obviously know what they're doing when it comes to casting; we have no quibbles with their ultimate decisions usually. But why even put us through the emotional gauntlet with so many touching backstories? Couldn't the auditions have put a bigger emphasis on the dancers that would make the finals rather than dead parents or Alopecia? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to have met those beautiful athletes, but still: It was often tough to feel entertained by TV so thick with heartache this week. Poor Jaja!

That being said, come on, get real, So You Think You Can Dance is amazing and this week's callback episode was no different. Cramming what felt like several weeks' worth of events into two jam-packed hours, this was one dense block of dancertainment! The L.A. (well, Pasadena) callbacks entailed several rounds, each focusing on a different style of choreographed dance. Not only did this afford us glimpses of our favorite choreographers (Sonya! Travis! Dreamy Christopher Scott!), it focused on the dancers' versatility, which is by far the most important skill to have on this show. An amazing solo is one thing, but can a dancer learn four dramatically different routines each week all summer? That's what these callbacks were for. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Which is why the solo as ultimate do-or-die arbiter has never made complete sense to me. I realize there ain't no drama like no-one-to-help-you drama, but when has being a superb soloist done anyone a lick of good on this show. Hi, I have slight quibbles with this fantastic show sometimes. —Joe Reid]

A panel of six judges (including tWitch, the traditionally unwatchable Adam Shankman, Olympic figure skater Tara Reid Lipinski, and occasionally frightening prima ballerina Irina Dvorovenko) sorted through over 157 dancers on our behalf. Obviously their critiques were more focused and technical than the audience-pandering ones of the audition rounds, and of course there was another factor at play that SYTYCD wasn't quite as candid about: Physical aesthetics. Let's be real, television is a visual medium and the only thing more valuable than expert dancing skills on this show is being attractive as h*ck. Mary Murphy even sort of alluded to this factor in one of her final you-made-it fakeouts: "At this point it just comes down to casting." That explains the huge discrepancy between who we meet in the audition rounds and who makes the Top 20, and that's why there's kind of a lack of suspense when a dancer just doesn't seem very young or cute. Sorry, but that's how it works on this show; it's only a meritocracy until it isn't.

Like, I'm not sure if the all young guys were asked to dance semi-nude or if they're just savvy about what the judges want to see, but this sort of thing was a regular sight this week:

Note: Not a complaint!

It's almost too heartbreaking to go through all the initial dance rounds, so rife as they are with fallen angels, but we can at least talk about the highlights. For example: 

Hi Christopher Scott!

Anyway, so after four weeks of watching hip hoppers stun the crowd only to struggle in choreography, it was downright refreshing to watch all the jazz and contemporary dancers struggle to learn hip-hop choreography. For this entire first hour the main point of victory became whether someone could sufficiently step outside their genre and maintain a high level of skills. This is how we lost Marie Poppins and a number of other early favorites, including the cute blonde kid from the first episode whom Nigel informed had given the best audition he'd ever seen.

Also, at one point a girl chipped her partner's tooth with her elbow and had the bleeding gash to prove it:

Then Travis Wall and All-Star favorite Mackenzie choreographed a contemporary routine to Sia's "Chandelier." Good song! (Sonya Tayeh chose a Disclosure song, so there was a lot of good music here this night.)

The cycle repeated for a few rounds of this: More and more difficult choreography, more and more familiar faces falling by the wayside.

Then came group number night, which, as on American Idol, is designed mostly to drive the dancers into total emotional meltdown. And you know what? That's honestly a very valuable test seeing as the possible contestants will be put through a hellish gauntlet of rehearsal, performance, and promotion over the next few months. What's one frustrating all-nighter compared to that?

This group, One Love, did such a bad job that Nigel admonished them and instructed them to decide for themselves who should go home. We revisited them throughout the night in various states of duress, but when it came down to it they ultimately declined to send anyone home. And then, thrillingly, Nigel complimented them for their teamwork and kept them all! (Until he cut them all, obviously). But it was a nice moment. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Honestly, this whole sham. I don't mind when the show engineers "moments," but they have to be less obvious about it. Anyone with half a brain knows the "correct" choice is to choose to eliminate no one, thus proving you're all good people who should be patted on the head for your loyalty. Just like how everybody in ancient Babylonia (Israel?) knew the correct response to the whole "I'm just gonna cut this baby in half" gambit after Solomon tried it once. — JR]

Then it came down to final decisions, and this one was really tough:

Poor Jaja! She'd had a rough go of it in the early hip hop round (her hip hop skills seemed limited to her solo popping and locking), but then danced for her life and brought the crowd to its feet. I loved when tWitch straight-up screamed in delight at her. Later Jaja busted out an actual ballroom/cocktail dress and thoroughly nailed her ballroom routine. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Ehhhhh, A for effort? Not that my little heart didn't break for her at the end because it did.—JR] Ultimately the judges decided she needed more experience outside her genre and sent her home. I can't put my finger on why, but I'd become so invested in her throughout callbacks and this just stung so hard. I don't know. I guess I just really liked her spirit (and I have a weakness for female pop-and-lockers.) Oh well. Let's not dwell on those who didn't make it, and instead focus on those who did!

Ladies and gentlemen, your [mostly unfamiliar] Top 20!

This lady is very good at ballroom. She struggled a lot with the other styles, but the X-factor in the judges' decision most likely had to do with how camera-friendly she is. I mean, look at her.

Zack's a charming goofball tapper. It remains to be seen how fluid he'll be in the other genres (tappers don't tend to do super well in this competition), but his amazing ballroom routine with fellow tapper (and finalist) Valerie established him as a charismatic underdog worth rooting for.

I am honestly not sure who this person is, even after having seen this episode. At first I thought she was the semi-finalist from last year who the judges called "beastly" in her audition, but that ended up being someone else. So I don't know who this is. It's a SYTYCD mystery!

think Serge is a ballroom dancer. The biggest clue is that his name is Serge. Other than that, I'm at a loss.

No idea.

Oh, Emilio made the Top 20 last year but got his nose broken in the first rehearsal and had to drop out. Clearly the producers gave him a free ticket to callbacks this year, and he seems to still have his b-boy skills. Which is good because this season seems surprisingly light on hip-hop dancers.

Okay, I remember Tanisha! This was the girl who was a janitor at one point. Anyway, she wowed the judges this week with a ballroom solo. Have you ever noticed that there's a fine line between a ballroom solo and a burlesque routine? I guess her neon pink ostrich feather tutu wasn't helping matters either.

No idea. Ballet?

Valerie is great. She's a female tapper with tons of personality and Melanie Moore-esque likability. If she can prove she's versatile I think she could become a fan favorite, but what do I know? Very little!

This was one of the two New Jersey friends we met. Compared to his friend Rudy Nick's way more reserved and normal-seeming, but also seems like a very quick-footed ballroom boy. Should probably go far.

Bridget's dad died.

The funny thing about Marcquet, whom we hadn't met before this episode, was that everyone kept assuming he was a hip-hop dancer. WHY do you think they thought that? Anyway, he's good at hip-hop but he's really a ballroom dancer. Judges love that kind of combination.

Girl, who even ARE you?

[SIIIIIGH.] My favorite. Rudy did not wear a shirt for even one second during callbacks, but surprisingly it was his weird, ruddy personality that really sold me on him. If he isn't around for a while then I truly don't understand this show.

THIS was the girl from the previous year who the judges had referred to as a beast. (Right?) Anyway, yeah, she seems very formidable, as though she were built in a lab specifically to compete on this show.

This man is a stranger to me. He is allegedly a hip hop dancer, though? Prove it, stranger.

Jessica was the one who auditioned with a sexy solo set to "It's a Man's World" which is the most boring version of sexy that a girl can portray. The judges went a little hard on her during callbacks, asking her to dance for her life at one point, but there's a good chance it was just so that Nigel could creep on her lithe figure once again. Anyway, she'll probably do well.

Hi, Casey. I don't know who you are or what your deal is, but welcome.

Who are you.

RICKYYYYY. Oh dear, sweet Ricky Ubeda. Of course he made it. He was such a sure thing from the beginning that they even showed him getting chosen during the 'coming up later' segments. My favorite part was when he showed up to the final selections with a freshly shaven face and Nigel told him he liked him better with a beard. See, Nigel is an equal opportunity creep sometimes too! (I really love Nigel, I just want to make that clear, I have much affection for that man.) Anyway, Ricky seems great.

Guys, this episode was VERY dense with occurrence. Next week finds a more traditional format with actual, legit choreography and it will feel like a vacation compared to this episode. See you then!

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.