So You Think You Can Dance Recap: (Quick!) Meet Your Top 20!

No, no, no. NOOOO! We haven’t even reached the live shows of So You Think You Can Dance‘s eleventh season and already I’m sobbing like the world’s biggest onion is getting diced in my living room?

Yep, my eyes got misty as Ricky Ubeda delivered such an emotionally devastating solo that Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy might as well have given him a “Go Directly to the Top 4” card (without passing “Go” or collecting $200). I shook a fist at the heavens after the absolutely fabulous Johnny Waacks (along with ballroom stud Armen Way and crazy-beautiful Justine Lutz) got booted without explanation. I may have even sobbed a little as besties Rudy Abreu and Nick Garcia got triumphantly reunited — both of ’em having made the Top 20 on a show that loves to rip apart siblings, couples and pals. #guyshugging

Either I’m getting sappier with age — or this year’s Top 20 contestants are a moving bunch of movers and shakers.

My only real complaint about tonight’s two-hour telecast is the fact that Fox’s shortened Season 11 episode order condensed callbacks and Top 20 announcement into one show — [insert rageful emoji here] — robbing us of the joy of seeing the kids strut their stuff in their own styles (to eye-popping impact) in duos, trios and groups prior to the voting rounds.

Before I jump into a series of rants, raves and ridiculatas, here are the names of the Season 11 finalists (in announcement order):

Ricky Ubeda
Jessica Richens
Jacque LeWarne
Teddy Coffey
Stanley Glover
Carly Blaney
Emilio Dosal
Bridget Whitman
Valerie Rockey
Zach Everhart, Jr.
Jourdan Epstein
Casey Askew
Emily James
Nick Garcia
Tanisha Belnap
Serge Onik
Malene Ostegaard
Marcquet Hill
Brooklyn Fullmer
Rudy Abreu

And now, for a few thoughts on the show — which, again, tried to fit 10 lbs of television into a 5 lb sack.

* By unabashedly telling an emotionally uninvested dancer that she’d performed with “deadness” in her face, Tara Lipinski moved up to No. 1 in my ranking of Must-Have Season 11 Guest Judges.

* Tanisha Belnap’s solo to Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch” was all sizzle, no bacon — unless you like your bacon fried in clichés and obviousness (right down to the tiny pink skirt).

* Is there anything more delicious than Twitch’s joyous, full-bodied responses to great performances? Maybe Nigel should think about having him join the judges’ panel full-time — but only offer feedback with facial expressions and gestures. Yea or nay?

* I hate to kick a gal when she’s down, but I always kinda thought Marie Poppins was overrated.

* Let’s update “Don’t judge a book by its cover” to “Don’t assume a guy is hip-hop ’cause he’s black.” And yes, I speak of Marcquet’s partner’s “whoopsie!” of an assumption.

* Marlene is an absolutely intoxicating vision — except for when her limbs turn into limp spaghetti noodles in hip-hop routines. Girlfriend had better have worked on her precision and articulation between callbacks and live shows.

* Has a contestant ever gone from transfixing to tragique than Steven Kador’s journey from animation solo to total jazz immolation?

* Awww, Jaja! Do come back next season — and yes, I am just going to forge ahead in my belief that there will be a next season.

* I’m not sure I’m sold on this year’s tappers. Not a dis — I just need to see more footage is all.

* Dial 1-800-Too-Much to vote for Bridget Whitman.

* LOL at Adam Shankman declaring that one group performance to be below Dance Moms standards. (He wasn’t lying, either!)

* I would’ve preferred less of One Love’s weeping “which one of us should go home?” debate and more actual dancing. I’m not alone, am I?

* Does Ricky Ubeda have any bones in his body, or just an unnatural amount of cartilage? (Oh, and for the record, Nigel, I think he looks better clean-shaven.)

* Snap poll: If Johnny Waacks hadn’t danced in a skirt for his final solo, would Nigel have advanced him to the Top 20?

* I’m stoked at the depth of Season 11 ballroom specialists — and, if you’ll forgive a moment of brutal honesty — kind of happy that not-quite-mature-enough Landon Anderson isn’t one of ’em.

And finally — with the full acknowledgement that many members of the Top 20 have not yet received enough screentime to make a scientifically sound assessment — here are my picks for the early Season 11 front-runners:

Ricky Ubeda
Rudy Abreu
Marcquet Hill

Jourdan Epstein
Malene Ostegaard
Malene Ostegaard

Your turn. What do you think of the SYTYCD Season 11 Top 20? Which elimination hit you the hardest? Who are your early faves? Who doesn’t belong? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps, exclusives, news and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Steve F. says:

    No Marie Poppins, Armen Way, or Justine Lutz? Bummer!

    Did the “beast” girl go through this year?

  2. Donna Farley says:

    I agree we haven’t gotten a chance to be emotionally tied in with any of the top 20. I think this all went too fast. Felt as if Nigel had to bunch this season together quickly. Truly missed the connection this year. Hope in the upcoming weeks we get the chance. Only one was from Tempe Dance Academy which I knew about anyway as my daughter danced there…good luck Ms. B.W.

  3. Jared says:

    Michael you’re observations (as always) are brilliantly spot on. But Ricky looked way hotter with the facial hair (probably because it made his eyes pop a bit more), and also put a few years on him. But hey, we all have our preferences.

  4. Jan says:

    I so often agree with you, Michael. We definitely needed to see more dancing! [BTW, did you notice we never saw the “Funky Ballerina?”] Hard to tell this early, but it looks like we’ve got a good crop. Let the good times roll!

  5. Princess Easter says:

    Ricky and Marcquet stand out to me so far…but they didn’t even highlight the women much, so I am thinking there might be some breakouts we don’t know about yet. Yippee! So excited for my favorite show!!

  6. LisaB says:

    Rudy Abreu reminds me too much of Jess Leprotto…Gack!

    LOVE Ricky Ubeda! He is SO winning it this year for the boys…The girls? Jessica and Emily are the only two who stand out so far.
    I really hope Yaya and Franchesca try again next year…Novien, too.

  7. One site is already screaming because there seems to be a shortage of krumpers, animators etc. After a near disaster with Cyrus two seasons ago I am relieved! Got nothing against hip hop, animation, krump or whack…as long as the performer can cross into other genres. Twitch, Joshua, Russell, Comfort Fik Shun etc all deserved to be on the show. Cyrus was a one trick pony and nearly ruined the season. But I digress..I’m sticking with my “first sight” predictions: Ricky (for the talent_ Rudy (for the heart) and Tanisha (for her ability to cross genres seamlessly)

    • Shel says:

      I read when site where the reviewer was “disappointed” that all her faves hadn’t gone through and doesn’t understand how that could be. Methinks that reviewer hasn’t watched the show before. lol

  8. Ann VerWiebe says:

    Last night was more evidence that my stand on not watching call-backs. It’s just too sad when people I like are cut! At least during main shows, I get to watch them dance before they’re gone.

  9. Blair says:

    Agreed: Too much show for too little time. Agreed: Tara Lipinski’s input dead-on. Have her back! Adore Twitch. Have from the first time he was on. What else to say? Agreed on “Mary” Poppins. Agreed: Marcquet’s partner’s whoops was a whopper. JaJa…Loved her but didn’t see how she could go on without more training. Yes, totally agree re sobbing One Love. Agreed: Ricky looks better clean-shaven. Finally: Good early picks!

    • Lorelei says:

      They showed Marcquet dancing Hip Hop before his partner made the statement and he was goood. I think she was basing that statement on his dancing rather than his race. She assumed he was a Hip Hop dancer because he was so good at it.

  10. Shel says:

    There were a few I was sad to see go, and some I was surprised to see go. Johnny Waacks is one of those – I really was stunned. I thought he was a no-brainer. I have no idea if the skirt hurt him; all I know is that I love the skirt. lol
    I am really not up on names yet, at all. So, I will just say there is a hip hop dancer who was put through – a white guy – who had a little bit of his “why I should be here” speech on the show. He said something like, he should be on because no one can do what he does. This guy has jogged no memories for me. Did we even see him for most of the 2 hours? I feel I may have saw him in Contemporary or Groups and then near the end. He seems intriguing; just don’t know why I don’t remember him at all.
    I feel like the guys get a bigger boost up than the girls. I know more of the guys by sight than the girls. Sometimes, sadly, the girls blend together for me, especially when the quirk factor goes missing.
    I remember both tappers’ auditions, so I’m pretty fine with them being in the Top 20. They do like to have tappers there when they can. Two ballerinas though – hmmm!
    I have thought Tara Lipinski is awesome since her star turn at the Olympics this past winter. And, yes, she brought her straight forward POV to that job too. Very refreshing. She and Johnny Weir actually passed on real information. I’ve been watching skating my whole life and learned more in this one Olympics than all the others put together.
    Absolutely agree with you, Michael, on Twitch. Absolutely disagree with you about Marie Poppins. Don’t get me wrong – I definitely thought she needed to go from THIS competition. But I will remember her audition for a very long time and the duet with Fikshun was – omg – just great.
    I watched the whole show disgruntled at FOX not giving the series the time it needs/deserves. Truly, in the grand scheme of things, a few more hours of dance would have killed the network?!?!?!? You are not alone – I wanted to see more dance, all the time. I even thought, hmmmm, only 10 groups dancing. Surely we can see them all. Nope!
    While I love Tara, I didn’t think much of the other guest judge and I’m not sure how thrilled I am that guest judges are involved with picking the dancers anyway.
    Very happy to see the alumna who were choreographing the try-out routines. Travis had a good point when he said why should they keep anyone who can’t do a dance he might have pulled out on week one………..except……….even with the horribly shortened time the SYTYCD dancers have to learn routines on the show, it is still longer than only one hour. And it isn’t after you have been up two nights straight and danced, what, 4 other new dances before his? Might have been a little harsh, thought the dancers seemed to do well in that round.
    Loved the first GOOD group performance that they seemed to show us most of it. That was a beautifully choreographed piece and very moving. I had goosies (lol) by the end of it.
    Ricky. Oh-mi-god. Like Mary, I loved him from his audition (another great solo). Then I was blown away by his last solo. Thank you, Nigel, or whomever, for the decision that we deserved to see an audition like that in full. It was amazing… emotional, and his movement! A few shots of his face/eyes showed a real intensity that reminded me of Mark. I must have watched it 5 times. However, Michael, I agree with Nigel – a little scruff is better on Ricky than clean-shaven. ;>

  11. stew says:

    I was absolutely crushed they cut Justine right at the end. I can’t imagine her solo was anything less than brilliant… and they didn’t show us any of her this week so we could judge how well she was doing. She had the best solo of the season up until Ricky Ubeda’s one.

  12. oh, and for the tappers, they are getting some hi grade choreo to start with. the guy is pretty good, but her presentation and skills were below grade. only in because she was the only female tapper. who auditions in sweatpants and begins with her butt to the audience?

  13. Amy L says:

    As usual I feel like you are taking my thoughts and putting them on paper… just with a little more punch! I am in love with Ricky and Marcquet and while I was initially rooting for her I don’t understand why Bridget (aka deceased father) made the top 20.

    I will say I think they did a pretty good job of showing at least SOME screen time of every top 20 contestant this year… in years past I swear we met some dancers on night 1 of the live show.

    Am I the only one that thought Emilio deserved an automatic spot in the top 20?? He earned it last year and his injury was not his fault. Seemed ridiculous to make him do it all again.

    • Percysowner says:

      Yes and no to Emilio deserving a spot on the top 20. Things happen in a year. He could have been injured dancing elsewhere. He could have lost his edge. Other dancers who were better in his genre could have auditioned this year and not last. I thought they compromised the best they could. IIRC he didn’t have to audition but was guaranteed a place in callbacks. From there he had to be to 20 material in relations to everyone auditioning this year.

      I’m glad he made it, because I do think he deserved to make it after being to 20 last year. That said, I loved Aaron last season. For being a replacement he did spectacularly. I was rooting for him to win the male first place and he might have squeaked by if he hadn’t hurt his shoulder, which hampered his dancing at the end of the season. So, it worked out for the best all in all.

  14. Lisa says:

    I agree with the writer’s picks for early sytycd season 11! Favorites but I would add Jessica Richens to the list of favorite ladies. Her technique is fantastic and performance ability and control even better.

  15. JVee says:

    Very, very sorry to see JaJa go. :( Liked everything about her – her dancing, her toughness (“I’m only crying because you’re crying!!”), her accent, her smile. Hope to see her again.

  16. Michelle says:

    I Agree With Most Of What You Said (Especially Regarding Marie Poppins AND Landon), But I Was Glad To See JaJa Go And I don’t Get Why Everyone Is Dissing On Bridget…..

  17. Karen says:

    Great bunch of contestants. Though I’m gutted about Johnny Waacks, Jaja, and Armen Way not making it through.
    My preliminary faves are: Malene Østergaard, Stanley Glover, Ricky Ubeda, Marquet Hill, Emilio Dosal, and Jourdan Epstein

  18. Ellen says:

    What happened to Amir Sanders, the “funky pointe” ballerina? I was so looking forward to seeing what she did in Pasadena.

  19. So agree with the measly time awarded for the solos. I didn’t even know some of the dancers picked. I loved everyone but have a soft spot for all the ballroom dancers. Finally ballroom is getting respect. I dance Salsa which is not the same but yet…..

  20. Chad says:

    Like ChrissieK, WHAT happened to the funky ballerina girl? She was awesome and it seemed like the judges liked her? Makes me ill she’s not in:(