A grueling week of tryouts in Las Vegas leaves us with this season's finalists -- but with no idea what happened to some of our early favorites
Nigel Lythgoe
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Phillip Chbeeb. Everything that was infuriating about last night’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance can be summed up in one name: Phillip Chbeeb. Last season, if you’ll recall, the rubber-boned popper thrilled the judges and the home audience alike in the Chicago auditions, landed a ticket to Vegas, and then won exactly zero seconds of screen time during the Vegas episodes. So this year, when he came back to audition in Los Angeleese, charmed the judges all over again, and won even more up-close-and-personal screen time along with his novelty ticket to Vegas, I was certain that once we reached that stage of the show, at the absolute least we would get a single shot of the guy being told he wasn’t moving on. Just five seconds would’ve been fine. We wouldn’t have even needed to hear his name.

But, no. Nothing. Not even an inadvertent glance of the guy, from all my peepers could tell. And yet, in a way, it’s truly best that Chbeeb was denied any screen time. He could’ve had cameras poking their way into his every sleep-deprived outburst, sobbing fit, and last-minute reprieve — like Derrick ”Official Group-Round Diva” Spears, Jason ”Now I Have a Mohawk, Now I Don’t” Glover, Anthony ”Comeback Twin” Hart, or Bianca ”Tap-Dancing Fantasia Look-Alike” Revels — only to be cut at the final round.

Or he could have been an early favorite captured in reassuring glimpses throughout the Vegas audition process — like Kelli ”My Mom’s a Dancing God” Baker, Asuka ”Snagged a Ticket to Vegas While Deathly Ill” Kondoh, Markus ”I’m Dancing for My Mom” Shields, Evan ”Broadway Babe” Kasprzak, or Brandon ”Best First Audition of the Season” Bryant — only to be cut at the final round.

Or he could have simply opened his trap, said something absolutely, boneheadedly, senselessly stupid, and as a result either been sent home, like Lizz ”No, Really, I’m Not Stressed Out About Dancing, Really, Seriously, I’m Not, It’s Just That I’m Super on Edge About My Legs Seizing Up and Keeping Me From Dancing, That’s All” Plott, or walked into the top 20 with a massive home-viewer handicap, like Katee ”Do You Really Expect Me to Try Out for This Frakking Show for a Third Time After Getting Cut Right Before the Top 20?” Shean.

Or he could have been Robert Muraine and made the inexplicable decision to keep twisting his arm 450 degrees as Mr. Fantastic on his small patch of pavement in Santa Monica, Calif., rather than risk stumbling through some choreography as Mr. Could Use Some Professional Training for even one second on stage in Las Vegas. (Nigel’s sniff after his ”See you on the promenade — I look forward to it” kiss-off to Robert was especially choice.)

Really, the show did Chbeeb a favor.

Here’s what was most exasperating: In the cases of Bryant and Kasprzak especially, I really would have appreciated, you know, any footage of their Vegas auditions so I could have at least a smidge of context for the judges’ decision not to include them in the top 20. (Kasprzak’s 10 seconds of expertly aping Gene Kelly during Tyce Diorio’s Broadway routine doesn’t really count — and a shout-out to ”dancefan” on the message boards for setting me straight on the Kelly/O’Connor vs. Fosse score.) I know the finalists were selected before the season began, but even so, Nigel and Co. had to have known how much these two guys were going to resonate with viewers when they were deciding who to put in the finals. Why else would they have bothered to showcase Brandon and Evan’s initial auditions so prominently? And it’s not like these guys weren’t TV friendly, either; my goodness, were they easy on the eyes, and Brandon’s playful offstage charisma during the D.C. auditions was the definition of TV friendly. So what gives, Nigel? Why dangle these guys in front of us if you knew you were just going to rip them away at the last possible second — and then not explain why?

Before I dive into handicapping the top 20, I do feel I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Vegas episode did at least provide two instant-classic reality-TV lines, both provided by Paige ”Elle Woods” ”Perma-Smile” ”Backwards Dress” Jones. I’m not really kidding about the perma-smile thing, either; did anyone else notice, during the brief moments Paige wasn’t smiling, that her cheeks seemed to have a permanent crease arcing along her smile lines? Anyhoo, line No. 1, which came right after the beauty-pageant contestant had been cut following her second attempt at Jean Marc Genereaux’s fox-trot routine, contained perhaps the best argument for the separation of church and state I’ve heard in a long time: ”I’m going to plead the Fifth Amendment, and I just want to say that Jesus Christ has a plan for me.” That plea didn’t last too long, however, as a tear-streaked Paige quickly topped herself with a maxim that could’ve come right out of the pageant mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous: ”You don’t fail. And if you do fail, you don’t cry. And if you do cry, you do it in your room by yourself.” Amen, sister.

NEXT: Sizing up the finalists

All right, here’s my take on the top 20:


Stephen ”Twitch” Boss If there’s a presumptive favorite going into the finals of the show, it’s gotta be Twitch. His solos are always loads of fun, and his dancing seems to have matured in the year since he came thisclose to making season 3’s top 20. Most important, compared with the 19 other contestants, Twitch has enjoyed by far the most screen time, and every second of it just makes him even more likable — from his confession that if he doesn’t make the cut, he’s enlisting in the Navy to all the other dancers’ unabashed joy at seeing him make the finals. Let’s just hope for Twitch’s sake that his path soon loses its eerie similarity to that of Hok, the B-boy and audience favorite who beat Twitch out for that top 20 slot last year after he had been denied a slot in season 2‘s top 20. Hok’s time in the finals was fraught with difficulty mastering the different genres, and the judges ultimately chose not to bring him through to the top 10. Twitch better not make the same mistakes.

Courtney Galiano The most endearing female dancer (that we’ve seen) of the top 20 has star quality to spare, and while she’s certainly in it to win it, she wears her ambition well, coming off as truly genuine (like, say, Sabra) whereas some of her female competitors can’t quite shake their showbizzy facade (like, say, Lacey). So long as she’s paired with a strong partner, I have a feeling she’ll go quite far.

William Wingfield I couldn’t help raising an eyebrow when the producers waited to reveal that Wingfield’s mentor is judge Debbie Allen until right before he made it to the top 20, but no matter; based on the clips we saw of his Vegas auditions and solo, the guy’s a crazy strong dancer, and you really can’t get better praise on a multi-genre dancing competition than when judge Napoleon D’Umo called him the season’s most well-rounded dancer. Still, I will miss Allen, who’s bowing out of the show to avoid any (further) conflict of interest; as my neighbor Eric put it last night, ”She’s always got the good crazy going.” For one thing, who’s going to be on hand to caress a dancer’s leg muscle should it cramp up?

Kourtni Lind There are four blond female dancers in the top 20 this year, and not only is Kourtni the most physically unique out of them, she’s also by far the most memorably unique dancer. I have a feeling she may be a handful as a partner, but her solos so far have had a nice mix of passion and poise, and I sense the judges will be inclined to keep her around through the top 10 over some of her fellow dancers.

NEXT: Maybe babes


Susie Garcia Like, say, this Miami schoolteacher, who did nothing during her time in Vegas to convince me that she’s anything more than hot tamale cannon fodder.

Chelsie Hightower One of the biggest surprises this season is the lack of the requisite Russian ballroom hotties in the top 20, so I suppose the judges decided Ms. Hightower would fill that slot. I guess she must have been decent enough in the contemporary and hip-hop routines to have made her way into the finals. But the only other thing I can honestly remember about Chelsie is that her family once lost their house and ”several cars,” and yet this weirdly scaled financial hardship has not, as of yet, provided her with, you know, a personality.

Kherington Payne Personality isn’t this O.C. soccer player’s problem. It’s being introduced to the voting public as a dancer who is ”good enough just to get by” — not exactly an endorsement aimed at motivating the speed-dialing masses.

Matt Dorame I remember thinking this contemporary dancer couldn’t stop ”pulling” an incongruously spastic face during his first audition, a maturity issue I didn’t exactly see resolved in what little of Matt we got to see last night. And the clip of his arching leaps across the stage so paled in comparison to the leaps Danny Tidwell made during one of his final solos of last season that it left me thinking, ”This guy is better than Brandon Bryant and Evan Kasprzak? Seriously?

Gev Manoukian Mary said that this ice skater has improved since they saw his audition in Salt Lake City, which is a relief, since these are my notes for him from that show: ”Seems awkward, not quite fluid, having head stand problems.” It was probably unfair to pit Gev against Brandon since their styles are so radically different, but that won’t quite keep me from harboring a secret grudge against him for taking ”Brandon’s spot.”

Katee Shean I just knew there was a reason Katee and her roommate Natalie Reid were featured on Wednesday night’s What We Didn’t Have Time to Show You Before segment. With the specter of her lack of fire before the judges hanging over her, Katee better bring it to her first performance next week, lest viewers somehow figure out how to write in her delightful roommate to take her place.


Joshua Allen Even after doing a bit of Google research, I’m still not exactly clear what a brisé is, nor exactly how what Joshua did in the supposedly telltale clip of this ballet move was any different than all the other dancers around him. My guess is he lucked into it, but he was able to pull off a fox-trot with what looked like zero previous training, so this B-boy is definitely a looming dark horse.

NEXT: The Comfort zone

Comfort Fedoke Love her. Love. Her. Love her attitude, love her hip-hop dancing, love her natural grace during her fox-trot with Joshua, love her name. My fingers are crossed that, like Sara last season, she’ll take to all the different genres with ease.

Mark Kanemura We only really got to see his solo when he danced for his life, but what a solo it was, a playful and delightful riff on Queen’s ”Bohemian Rhapsody” that indicates Mark’s a born showman.

Thayne Jasperson We’ve seen even less of Thayne, but what peeks we have gotten indicate he could be this season’s Danny or Travis; i.e., the contemporary dancer who’s simply in a different league than everyone else. Time will tell.


Jamie Bayard A West Coast-swing dancer, he seems, um, cute. His Fox bio says that he was the U.S. Swing Dance champion in 2000 and 2002 and that, at 22, he’s a ”professor of Swing and Salsa at Loyola Marymount University.” So that’s impressive, right?

Chris Jarosz Again, it’s a real tell that things look shaky when your first and only introduction to the audience is Nigel complaining you have the ”personality of the tree” and then you jump around with armpit stains while straining for a ”crazy” personality.

Jessica King It would appear that Jessica is really good at growing. That’s all I got.

Rayven Armijo I could be wrong, but I don’t recall SYTYCD‘s ever putting an out-and-out ballet dancer through to the top 20, so I’m really curious to see how long she lasts. Her silly-rabbit happy dance at the end of the episode wasn’t exactly the best first impression, though.

Chelsea Traille This woman’s body is why the word ”fierce” was invented, even if the teensy clips we saw of her moves weren’t exactly the most flattering. And I’m not sure what to make of this line from her Fox bio: ”She was a dancer with the NBA Mavericks during the 2006-2007 season.”

Marquis Cunningham Here’s the thing with Marquis. Normally, I’d be nervous that he lost his balance after pulling off a huge no-handed cartwheel, but this is what I said about Sabra in last year’s top 20 handicapping: ”Her final [dancing] clip was probably the worst, ’cause it looked like she was going to fall down when she leapt to one leg.” Make of that what you will.

What do you think of this top 20, dear readers? Were Brandon and Evan robbed? Any other favorites you wish had gotten through? And, what, exactly, is this Mia Michaels move supposed to be: ”Zzzaallleoooozhaaa. Bing!”

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So You Think You Can Dance
Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
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