So You Think You Can Dance Recap: Ranking the Season 8 Top 20

We haven’t even reached the voting stage for the current installment of So You Think You Can Dance, and I’m about to do something profoundly presumptuous and undeniably stupid: In the wake of Thursday night’s telecast announcing the Season 8 Top 20 — a closely matched group that at first glance appears to be extraordinarily talented — I’ve decided to rest my neck on the guillotine and rank the contestants in order from least- to most-likely to win.

“It’s too early,” you say, and you are probably right. What’s more, a Top 20 ranking flies in the face of Thursday night’s non-competitive exhibition of dancing awesomeness that had host Cat Deeley feeling especially giddy. “I wish it could be like this every week,” she sighed. “No one goes home.”

Actually, that would be an amazing hook for, say, SYTYCD: Season 15. Imagine the entire Top 20 tackling routine after routine after routine, accumulating viewer votes over the course of the season, until the contestant with the highest season-long tally takes home the big prize. Yeah, okay, that’s never going to happen, but how can I not at least dream after soaking up Thursday’s nine breathtaking routines? (We’ll get to the best of those in a moment.)

The fact of the matter is, by summer’s end, 19 of these wonderful dancers will have fallen by the wayside, and the cheese champ will stand alone. With that in mind, here’s my totally premature ranking, based on gut feeling, first impressions, and (of course) inequitable distribution of early-season screentime — with each dancer summed up in 20 words or less:

20. Chris Koehl: Slowest and clumsiest in the B-Boys’ routine, and  voters won’t keep four hip-hop dudes in the competition for long, right?

19. Ashley Rich: If they showed her before Vegas, I don’t remember it; Thursday night contributions have fled my brain, too. Troubling!

18. Alexander Fost: “Bad Santa” got more screen time this season than Alexander, but one dazzling routine could change his fortunes.

17. Missy Morelli: By her own admission, she’s the second of two “sexy” jazz  girls, and she’s the less memorable one.

16. Robert Taylor Jr.: Jello-limbed b-boy dances with humor and flexibility, but the Urkel-esque facial expression are already getting tired.

15. Miranda Maleski: Showed power, finesse in the Stacey Tookey contemporary piece, but sharing a genre with front-runners Sasha and Melanie won’t help.

14. Marko Germar: I’d doubted the emotional dude with the bullet in his shoulder, but he was terrific in the Sonya Tayeh piece.

13. Jordan Casanova: Works “sexy” angle harder than a Kardashian works the talk-show circuit, but her Vegas contributions were hard to fault.

12. Mitchell Kelly: Received cannon-fodder edit up till now, but liked Thursday-night footage of guy who resembles SYTYCD alum Brandon Bryant .

11. Ryan Ramirez: Last-minute Season 7 ouster is a powerful backstory, but her Season 8 performances have been very good, not great.

10. Caitlynn Lawson: She’s just a small-town girl…and she’s Nigel’s favorite this season, so you know she’ll get a positive edit.

9. Nick Young: Tall and adorable tapper scored hoots and hollers from Debbie Allen, and his duet with Jess was bursting with personality.

8. Iveta Lukosiute: Scintillating ballroom with Pasha; Mary’s praise that world champion humbled herself to compete on SYTYCD swayed me to fandom.

7. Jess LeProtto: Judges grumbled about pint-sized dynamo, but while he’s not as “Aww shucks-y” as Evan Kasprzak, he may be more talented?

6. Ricky Jaime: First contestant shown breaking into Top 20, this tall drink of water has devastating leaps, stunning pirouettes in his arsenal.

5. Sasha Mallory: Remaining half of adorable sister act may claim “Sasha Fierce” moniker from Beyoncé; physical and sexy, but not overtly so.

4. Tadd Gadduang: Stood out with swagger and precision in guys’ hip-hop routine; I’m also mesmerized by his volumized coiff.

3. Melanie Moore: Producers have hidden footage of Ginnifer Goodwin lookalike since audition, but she was absolutely radiant in the Stacey Tookey routine.

2. Clarice Ordaz: Her Vegas solo is my second-fave dance this season (behind Arielle Coker’s audition); plus, she owned the group jazz number.

1. Wadi Jones: Not subject to pesky rules of gravity; has tremendous presence and energy, and can make impertinent hip-thrusts seem adorable.

And now, my picks for the night’s three best routines (no small task!)…

3. Dave Scott hip-hop quartet of Wadi, Chris, Tadd, and Robert: I almost went with Sonya’s Dark Geisha number for the Top 10 ladies, but the chorus line with Cat at the end of this buoyantly ferocious set pushed it over the edge. As Robin Antin pointed out, the dancing was tough and masculine, yet “light as a feather.”

2. Stacey Tookey quartet with Melanie, Sasha, Miranda, and Ricky: This hauntingly beautiful routine set to the Irrepressibles’ “In This Shirt” gave me the sensation of four angelic creatures “crossing over” from earthly life into the beyond, and Cat’s spontaneous critique — “a little piece of heaven!” — made me feel like I wasn’t totally off the mark. I loved how expressive all four dancers were here, without ever bordering on hammy caricature. I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of these dancers lasts all the way to the finale.

1. Christopher Scott routine by the Top 10 Guys: Red doors, stone-faced Matrix agents (or maybe they were baddies from Inception or The Adjustment Bureau), and an exhilarating sense of suspense defined this magnificent dance. I loved the way the guys delivered insane pirouettes and leaps and breakdancing moves, then evaporated through the doors, only to be replaced instantaneously by other dancers executing equally bold choreography. I run the risk of devolving into some kind of Lil’ C ridiculata, so let me cut this paragraph short…

What do you think of the SYTYCD Top 20? Who are your early favorites? Who do you think could be at risk for an early exit? What did you think of Nigel’s subtle dis of Idol voters when he mentioned that female contestants actually excel on SYTYCD? And is my ranking mostly in line with yours, or do you question my taste level when it comes to the art of dance? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!