America's finest reality competition (I said it) celebrated its 200th episode this week and it was a real barn burner: The Top 20 were announced! Mia Michaels returned! Nigel revealed that there will be two winners (a girl and a guy)! It all went down in a surprisingly cool way: Rather than simply unveiling 20 new faces and expecting us to remember them all, instead the show introduced everybody one-by-one as they received news that they'd made the cut AND THEN they danced live for us. Not only did the 20 finalists seem more individualized this way, it was immediately clear that this is one strong group of contenders. As always! (This show is the best.)
Although the judges (including frequently lost-for-words guest-judge Zooey Deschanel) offered critiques after each number, this wasn't a competition week so the feedback amounted to lighthearted snap judgements. So that's what WE will do right now! Ladies and gentlemen, let's talk about the dancers!
Will Thomas (19): As the tallest and least hard-bodied of the guys, Will's got a big presence and a bigger personality. He seemed to have a hard time staying in sync during this Tyce Diorio number, but that four-people-and-a-bench routine was kind of a mess in the first place (not a Tyce fan). It doesn't look like Will will dominate anything talent-wise, but he's likeable and may receive a lot of audience goodwill.
Alexa Anderson (19): This '80s rock video-looking gal got A LOT of screentime during auditions, mostly relating to her arc of having been rejected at the last minute during the previous season. But she's extremely talented and assuming she continues following the judges' advice and revealing a better personality on stage, she could be a frontrunner.
George Lawrence II (19): George gave me Billy Bell vibes—a very young, shy, almost secretly talented kid who has the chops to win but will have a hard time connecting with lady viewers for some reason.
Amber Jackson (21): Amber might be hurt by last year's similarly lithe and edgy Sasha having gone so far. Her T-Boz haircut kinda distracted me, but she is one of the strongest girls physically and it'll be fun to see her adapt to other genres. Still though, there are A LOT of appealing girls she'll have to overcome in order to win and I just don't see that happening.
Matthew Kazmierczak (21): Nigel compared Matthew to Ryan Gosling, which, while flattering, is a comparison that does nobody any favors. Who could live up to that? Still, his dancing is strong and refined and he ought to go pretty far.
Janaya French (20): Janaya was so overlooked during the audition rounds that we didn't even get to see the judges tell her she'd made the Top 20. But what we did see was a very likeable girl who exuded a spirit similar to last year's winner, Melanie. Whoops, talk about comparisons a person can't live up to! Still though, I'm thinking Janaya might do pretty well.
Dareian Kujawa (20): Tiny hunk Dareian will be a blast to watch, but his admitted lazy feet might get him into a lot of trouble with judges looking for technical faults. Still though, he's pretty incredible on stage—at one point the gang launched him what looked like ten feet straight up in the air.
Amelia Lowe (18): Amelia auditioned with a gimmicky throwback routine—the judges felt she looked like a silent film star, but I'm leaning more toward "teenage Diablo Cody." Her technique is noticeably rougher than the other girls', but Nigel claimed he wanted star power and Amelia has that. I think audiences will really dig her and any occasional dancing weaknesses could very well count in her favor. We'll see!
Lindsay Arnold (18): Both Lindsay and her childhood friend Witney have been paired up by the producers for a while now (they shared a room in Vegas, they gave interviews together, they got their Top 20 news together), so we can be forgiven for not having them differentiated in our heads just yet. The main thing to know is that they are BOTH excellent dancers and for the few viewers who are into such a thing, they are two very hot ladies. Which, you know they just graduated high school last week, right? Back off, creeps!
Nick Bloxsom-Carter (20): My main impression of Nick so far is that he sobbed through his final panel and it made me laugh how the judges just sat in silence, allowing him to blubber on about whatever. Not a great intro! However, he did make the cut and his ballroom skills seem solid. Although he's the male contestant who looks most like a Disney prince (and the Disney-prince types tend to do pretty well), I'm not sure he has enough charisma to connect with viewers.
Witney Carson (18): Witney is the slightly shorter, slightly brassier blonde. I think out of the two she's more memorable than Lindsay, but again, I'm waiting to see if the show will ever allow them to be individuals.
Chehon Wespi-Tschopp (23): Swiss national Chehon (pronounced key-on) might be the strongest dancer in the Top 20, but only on an individual basis. He had trouble during the Vegas round with partnering and learning choreography and last night he seemed about a half-step off from Eliana and Daniel during their ballet-contemporary routine. Still though. Just look at him! He may not win, but there's a decent chance he'll join Pasha and Neil as a SYTYCYD all-star heartthrob.
Eliana Girard (21): Eliana was immediately likeable from her very first audition: She's physically strong and has perfect technique and a terrific camera personality. Total frontrunner material.
Daniel Baker (24): This soft-spoken Australian is another very strong dancer, but it'll be interesting to see just how convincingly he'll pull off a krumping routine, you know? For some reason I don't see him winning, but I think he'll make it pretty far anyway.
Audrey Case (18): Again with the twinning! These two girls looked like some kind of rogue gymnastics squad up there. Anyway Audrey seemed very likeable in her Top 20 reveal, but it's not clear just how strong of a dancer she is. She handled this Sonya Tayeh routine pretty well, but Sonya's routines tend to make everyone look good. Sonya for President!
Tiffany Maher (19): Of the two, Tiffany seems to be the funnier one which means I'm rooting for her. Also I liked her crispy hair during auditions. Is that back?? Anyway, hopefully she'll be allowed to be an individual in future weeks so we can really see who she is.
Janelle Issis (24): Not pictured above was belly dancer Janelle, who Cat informed us was dealing with illness but would be dancing in competition next time. What I liked about Janelle during the audition rounds was her savviness in presenting herself as a belly dancer before admitting she's trained in basically every other dance as well. Expect her to "surprise" a lot of people who might have lowered expectations due to her belly dancing background.
Brandon Mitchell (27): Brandon was another Top 20 member I had no recollection of having seen before. A stepper by trade, he exhibited tons of versatility in other styles and knocked it out of the park (get it?) during this baseball-themed routine. Can't wait to see what else he can do.
Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer (22): Aside from Alexa, Glitch got the most screentime during earlier rounds. His dance style is "animator" (a sort of specialized subgenre of popping) but what he lacked in experience he made up for in personality. Glitch has a real shot at replicating Russell's victory from a few years back, it'll just depend on how much entertainment value he'll bring to his routines. Personally I'll be averting my eyes from his plugs, but that's just me.
Cole Horibe (26): Cole's background is "martial arts fusion" which meshes with this show surprisingly well. He's a straight-up athlete and most of this show's best and most flabbergasting choreography requires strong men to pull it off. I think Cole will do pretty well assuming he doesn't get too tripped up in ballroom.
So there you have it! The 20 insanely talented (and young!) dancers of Season 9. Now, for no reason whatsoever except that it makes me smile, here's how everybody looked when they discovered they'd made it:
Who are YOUR favorites so far?
SYTYCD Season 9: Meet the Top 20! Psst! Once you enter the viewer, you can navigate through the photos using your left and right arrow keys. Hit ESC to return to this page.