So You Think You Can Dance: Thoughts on the Top Twenty, Season 10

E: These are the things we know about the way the show picks the Top Twenty:

The dancers are, of course, ridiculously talented.

They are also, in their different ways, ridiculously decorative.

Now, if it were just about dancing on a stage, those two factors might be enough – especially when combined with aspect we don’t see as much of, like attitude and work ethic and the ability to play well with others.  But this is about casting a TV show, so there are other obvious factors.

The first of these is: the more memorable the personality, the better.  Since the dancers will have to be supported by votes, the judges go with expressive types.  A goofy guy and a sweet girl, a sultry girl and a smooth-talking man.  The preference of the show is for the cast members to put what they have on camera.  (It’s less often, perhaps, that you see a progression over the season like shy/reserved Chehon opening himself up as a dancer and person, but clearly that’s a winning formula too.)  Granted that the too-big personality can backfire on contestants, but that’s something we’ll figure out during voting.

The fact that you’ve never heard some of their names before will not stop them from making the Top Twenty.  Honestly, sometimes I wonder if the show doesn’t want some of the dancers to succeed, that they throw them out to us as cannon fodder.  Yet somehow, dancers with no screen time before the live shows do sometimes prosper, because generally the show pairs them with better knows contestants.  Look at last year’s scrappy finalist Tiffany, or season five champion Jeanine Mason.  More often than not, however, those contestants go the way of last year’s Brandon and Janaya; quickly and quietly.

Stylistic diversity is a must. Generally around half of the dancers are contemporary or jazz dancers, but the producers make a real effort to include other performance styles as much as possible.

Racial and ethnic diversity: also a must.

With all this in mind, let’s look at the dancers we know remain in the competition.  There are 33 in all, but we don’t know who all thirty three are, so no list we could cull from the dancers featured in Vegas would (historically) be a complete one.  Apologies to the contestants I can’t include.

The Boys: 

Ballet: Sebastian Serra

Ballroom: Alan Bersten, Gene Bersten, Paul Karmiryan, Serge ?

Contemporary: Carlos Garland, Nico Greetham, Tucker Knox (Possibly Nick Muckleroy, Morgan Williams, Anthony Savoy, Novien Yarber, etc, if they’re still out there)

Street Dancers: Fik-Shun Stegall*, Millie Dossal (possibly Jason Kirk?)

    Animators: BluPrint Hector, Jade Zuberi

  Hip Hop: Markus Shields

Tap: Tyrone Cobham, Curtis Holland, Paul Bunyan

My guess goes something like this: pick one or two ballroom guys.  (What do you want to bet that Alan and Gene will go down the green mile together and only one will make it?) Pick one or two tappers.  (The editors’ money seems to be on adorable weeper Curtis Holland.)  Pick at least 3 contemporary guys and at least 3 street/hip hop performers.  Sebastian might make it in on the scarcity (and recent success) of ballet dancers, though whether he’d come out of the contemporary quota or the ballroom/tappers, I’ve no idea. Obviously there’s wiggle room in this scenario; it’ll be very interesting to see where the judges take this group of auditioners.

It’s definitely easier for me to look at the group and say the show’s going to pick from experts in these styles, rather than individual dancers. Fik-Shun to me is the one really obvious guy in the whole bunch, by which I don’t just mean the street/hip hop dancers but everyone; he has genuinely excelled in every round, in every moment they’ve shown him, and I can’t imagine the Top Twenty without his beaming face.  The only attribute he lacks to make him an ideal SYTYCD contestant is height (to help with partnering).  Another obvious pairing for the green mile would be animators BluPrint and Jade; as I’ve said before, BluPrint seems more successful outside of his genre, and seems to work better with partners, but Jade’s prowess as a soloist cannot be denied.  As with the dance duel, the judges could pick both, but it Millie and especially Markus are very strong contenders and I wouldn’t remotely count them out.

The contemporary dancer with the most screen time is certainly Tucker Knox, but Nico Greetham has been everywhere in the background and seems to hit a lot of the show’s buttons.  He’s got a face tween girls will love, and a sassy hot Colombian mother to charm and cheer from the audience.  Both boys are tall enough to work well with a partner.  I’m sure there are contemporary dancers still left that we haven’t seen since the audition rounds if at all.

The Girls

Ballroom: Jenna Johnson* (possibly Kate Kapshandy)

Ballet: Megan Yamashita

Contemporary: Malece Miller*, Amy Yakima*, Jasmine Mason, Jasmine Harper, Mackenzie Dustman, Megan Ellison, Kayla Bingham (possibly Elyse Frelinger, Shizzy Shake, etc…)

Krump: Mariah Spears

Tap: Alexis Juliano*

The crop of girls we’ve seen is very, very contemporary heavy, which is not an unusual state of affairs. Because the girls have less stylist diversity than the boys it’s easier to isolate individuals here. Based on screen time and all around excellence, Johnson, Juliano, Miller and Yakima all look like locks.  Even if the judges pumped up the stylistic diversity with Spears and Yamashita (a strong possibility though no guarantee), that would leave room for four more contemporary/jazz girls unless someone like Kate Kapshandy, the blond ballroom champion from the Boston auditions, is hiding in the wings/editing room floor.  It’s true we didn’t see even the least flicker of fringe from her costume in Vegas, though that doesn’t mean everything.

It seems indelicate to approach this topic, but it’s hard to get around when talking about SYTYCD casting, so here it is.  For whatever reason, there tends to be much more racial diversity in the show’s male contestants than among the female dancers.  This can’t be simply explained away by the prevalence of male street dancers, even though that’s part of it, because the show seems to have its pick of amazing male contemporary dancers of color.  It’s not unusual for at least half of the male cast to be non-white, an impressive mix of races.  More often than not, however, there’s only one female dancer of African-American descent each season; I can’t remember a season with more than two.  There’s often a Latina, occasionally an Asian, and last year a Persian, so it’s not as if the entire female cast is blond, but it looks markedly different from the male cast.  Why is this?  I’d love to know. And I think there have only been two female street dancers in the show’s 9 seasons.  Again, what’s up with that?  Are they truly so rare?

Looking at this list, then, we have Yamashita, and the two Jasmines.  (And, hmm – what ethnicity is Juliano?  Is that an Italian name or Latin?)  Does this mean only one of the Jasmines will make this year’s cast, or does it mean that at least one of them definitely will?   Now that seems to me to be a pairing very unlikely to make the green mile, even if the fact that they have the same first name is cutesy.  If it can only be one, you’d have to bet on Jasmine Harper based on screen time; it’s hard to imagine the producers don’t want to make more hay out of her broken relationship with poor Cyrus.  I’ve had a soft spot for Mason since her audition with her brother last year, and would be happy to see both Jasmines make the live shows.

Megan Ellison, too, is a favorite dancer from last season’s auditions.  Is it her turn?  Spunky Mariah Spears – the blond krumper from Utah – impressed last year as well, and I would love to see her make the show.  This is another difference from this year’s mens group; there are three girls prominently featured in last year’s auditions who’ve made this group of 33.  As far as I know all the men other than Markus Shields are first timers.

Whatever happens, I can’t wait for tonight to see who the judges have picked!  I love the Meet the Top Twenty episode; it’s a celebration from start to finish.  Happy dancers, and happy audience not to have to send anyone home.

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