The top 20 is revealed after a grueling round of callbacks in Los Angeles quickly eliminate the good from the great.

By Jake Perlman
Updated June 26, 2014 at 01:03 PM EDT
Credit: Adam Rose/FOX
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Though the callbacks are no longer in Las Vegas, the next round is still just one big numbers game. After five audition cities, 157 dancers have made it to Los Angeles for the next part of the competition. At least they were given hotel rooms automatically, unlike last year, but by the end of the night the top 20 would already be picked before the live shows begin next week. Yes, you read that right. Due to a shortened episode order this season from Fox, the next two hours and seven rounds of turns, leaps, and jumps will eventually see 137 aspiring performers dancing their last dance.

Round One: Solos

Joining Nigel and Mary for the callbacks were show staples tWitch and Adam Shankman as well as Olympic Gold medalist Tara Lipinski and ballerina Irina Dvorovenko on the judging panel. Dancers must be prepared for the 8 a.m. start time by the 11th season and day one began with all 157 dancers performing solos in front of the six judges. It’s unclear whether or not dancers did new solos from their original auditions as only Nigel and Mary had ever seen them perform before (and performing their original audition piece would probably be a nice reminder for the two any way). There wasn’t too much documented suspense within the first round, except of course for soon-to-be father and hip-hop dancer Steven Kador. Really, really soon. After only one hour in California, Steven’s wife back in Louisiana went into labor but was waiting (or at least painfully trying) for her husband to be there. It doesn’t seem like a good start to a family when you have to tell your son that his father missed his birth because he was twerking on national television. Steven did make it through to the first choreography round and 36 dancers were cut by 6:30 p.m. But that didn’t mean day one was over for the 121 dancers who were left.

Round Two: Hip-Hop Choreography

Choreographer Christopher Scott and season 10 alum Jasmine Harper demonstrated the couples piece before teaching the dance over the next hour. With Eliza Doolittle in their hearts, those kids wouldn’t stop and just danced, danced, danced all night preparing to perform for the judges in the morning. By 1:30 a.m., everyone did seem to finally get some rest—except again for Steven, whose wife was still in labor.

The next day begins with memorable dancers Jessica Richens, who seemed way out of her comfort zone while rehearsing the hip-hop routine, and Marie Poppins, who should have appeared way more comfortable in the style of dance once she got to perform. Nigel said it appeared that she wasn’t comfortable performing someone else’s choreography, obviously an essential factor in being a part of the show. He was shocked that the rest of the panel, though generally agreeing with him in his comments, gave her another chance to go into another choreography round. The group wasn’t as generous toward Jessica however and made her dance for her life. That didn’t seem to bother her at all as the judges didn’t even have to vote for the needed three yeses to get through, it was obviously unanimous after a stunning solo.

Beyond bringing dance into America’s living room, So You Think You Can Dance is also consistently teaching valuable lessons about judging others. For example, Marquet Hill’s partner thought he was a hip-hop dancer when in fact he’s officially listed as ballroom. Mary was surprised too because his performance was so strong that he looked like he could be the master of any genre. Well, she shouldn’t really be surprised since many ballroom dancers continued to show throughout the rest of the round that they could still be hip-hop kings and queens.

NEXT: And tap that jazz

Round Three: Jazz Choreography

The next style taught by Sonya Tayeh demanded an athletic approach to jazz, which the choreographer said needed to be on fire—figuratively of course. (We aren’t in Vegas any more after all.) Again, dancers were being thrown if the genre was unfamiliar to them, especially Marie Poppins and fellow krumper Jaja. However, tapper Zach Everheart proved that a dancer shouldn’t be defined by the shoes they wear most often and was the “star of his group” according to Nigel and was still able to shine while out of his element. Steven unfortunately didn’t really have a clue. He probably had other things on his mind since his wife finally gave birth, so maybe it was a good thing that he was one of 12 dancers sent home. And if he needs a nanny, Marie Poppins is now also available after getting eliminated as well. After being told this by Cat (and totally making her nervous), Jaja gave a performance worthy of a Shankman stank face. She was given a chance to dance for her life and did it, so she will be one of 65 dancers going on.

Round Four: Ballroom Choreography

There is no rest for the rhythmic as another long night of choreography begins with show alums Dmitry Chaplin and Anya Garnis demonstrating a flirty routine to Kesha’s “Timber.” Some contestants took flirty the wrong way and got a little too physical with each other; one dancer accidentally knocked her partner’s tooth out with her elbow. After another hour of being taught the moves, the partners were given the entire night to learn the routines (and hopefully one another’s name) before performing in the morning.

Standouts in this round include tapper Zach Everheart (again) and his partner, fellow tapper Valerie Rockey, who both had a great ability to draw attention to themselves while performing and were deemed Tara’s favorites. Mary was a fan of contemporary dancer Rudy Abreu, who wanted to prove he could be more than just that (a common theme here, clearly). He definitely proved it with his “amazing” performance. It was nice to see Emilio Dosal back again after having to withdraw last year when he was kicked in the face during the first rehearsal of the top 20. He’s come back more confident and more prepared and ready to surprise judges. One surprise is that he is a member of the same dance crew with Jaja and they wisely choose to partner together, and they make it through.

Round Five: Contemporary Choreography

Usually the “dreaded” contemporary round can bring some of the most intense moments of the callbacks with high stakes and high expectations from choreographer Travis Wall. In fact (according to Cat’s voice-over at least), it was one of the most successful contemporary rounds in years. Bridget Whitman, who had auditioned for the show as a way of honoring her late father, threw herself a little too much into the piece and was almost dropped by her partner at one point, however, and was given the chance to dance for her life. Though not unanimous (the men were not fans), Bridget became one of 21 girls and 29 boys to make an even 50 for the next group rounds.

NEXT: One love, not enough eliminations

Round Six: Groups

Their minds and bodies are burnt but the contestants don’t get a break as they are divided into groups of five in order to have a variety of dance styles represented and therefore present a challenge for everyone. After randomly selecting a CD of music, the groups are given all night to choreograph an original piece before performing for the judges (yet again) in the morning. Overall, the judges were very disappointed in the groups. However, the audience should be more disappointed in the lack of purpose for this round if by the end, only 6 dancers get eliminated, still leaving 44 for final solos. One group called “One Love” had a dramatic moment when Nigel (almost) made them vote one of themselves out, but because they were each willing to take the blame and go home and stand up for one another, they made it through. That’s nice, but this is a dance competition, not Miss Congeniality.

Round Seven: Final Solos

The dancers only had one singular sensational moment left to earn their spot in the top 20 and the opportunity to perform for America’s votes. While standing in their own chorus lines, some of the contestants shared why they thought they deserve to make it, a.k.a., answering the questions, “So, you think you can dance?” The highlight was obviously Ricky Umeda who showed incredible control (and loss of control) with his body in a darker piece than his first audition that proved his versatility has not even been tapped into yet. Ricky is also the type of performer who will thrive more with a live studio audience on a big stage. With so much dancing packed into so little time, not everyone was really given enough TV time to show off just yet, but we’ll just trust the judges. After a trip down the green mile, 10 men and 10 women were given the news they had been hoping and dancing for.

Here is the full list of the top 20:

Men: Ricky Ubeda, Teddy Coffey, Stanley Glover, Emilio Dosal, Zack Everheart, Casey Askew, Nick Garcia, Serge Onik, Marcquet Hill, Rudy Abreu

Women:Jessica Richens, Jacque Luong, Carly Blaney, Bridget Whitman, Valerie Rockey, Jourdan Epstein, Emily James, Tanisha Belknap, Malene Ostegaard, Brooklyn Fullmer

Episode Recaps


So You Think You Can Dance

Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
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