Wednesday night was the first time the top 20 all showed their stuff on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Ten couples, 10 dances, and 10 opportunities for judge Mary Murphy to get overly enthusiastic. Among the 20 finalists, there are some obvious standouts, some likely washouts, and some who just got lost in their costumes.
Rayven and Jamie: Rayven's hook is that she's an ancient, creaky-boned 28 years old — nearly ready to be sent off on an ice floe. Jamie is a swing dancer whose hard-luck story is the dismissal of his girlfriend, who also auditioned.
Their hip-hop routine made Jamie much more comfortable than it made Rayven, but it showed a perky appeal that could potentially win them fans. Still, they received only so-so judges' comments, and perk is a double-edged sword: as their call-in numbers were displayed, Rayven mugged wildly for the cameras, a habit that will grate like a Microplane after a few weeks.
Susie and Marquis: You can't miss Susie — the high-school teacher with the bright pink streaks in her hair. Marquis is one of many young male dancers with a sympathetic tale of parental disapproval that may make him a cheerable underdog.
While she's a salsa dancer and he does contemporary, they looked terrific doing a very pretty waltz. Marquis could probably knock out half of his rivals with just his beautifully pointed toes. The judges highly praised the team, to the point where Nigel pretended that the audience wouldn't notice the major flub on a late lift during their waltz. (Note to Nigel: We noticed.)
Kourtni and Matt: These two contemporary dancers sell themselves with the tagline, “Together, we're 12 feet tall.” (She's 5-foot-9; he's 6-3.) Their jazzy, black-leather dance to “Tainted Love” told the tale of a jewel thief, and they both looked physically commanding and electric in a way that the wee and spindly often don't.
Still, Nigel hit Matt with a nasty comment about the apparent location of a broomstick within his person, and the other judges had issues with the performance, too. It will be a shame if these two go early, because they look good together, and having a woman around who's 5-9 and visibly muscled is a nice bit of variety.
As for their long-term chances, Thayne is distractingly theatrical and has startling big teeth, but then, you could say the same of Benji, the swing dancer who won the show's second season. While this performance looked flat on screen, the judges were far more forgiving, and they saw a certain cha-cha-appropriate “heat” for which, perhaps, you had to be there.
Chelsie and Mark: The night's weirdest moment came in Chelsie and Mark's contemporary piece, choreographed by the show's resident odd duck, Mia Michaels. Chelsie, a ballroom dancer, and Mark, a contemporary dancer, worked their way through what Mia called, “What Would Tim Burton's Wedding Be Like?” This could be trouble, because between the unusual dance and the enormous cloud of tulle enveloping Chelsie, it was hard to really evaluate how good they were.
Mia had little use for Mark during the rehearsal footage, but she later gave him a thumbs-up on the final performance. But what stood out, unfortunately, was the offbeat nature of the choreography, rather than the abilities of the dancers, so even if Chelsie and Mark survive to next week, they've got some work to do just introducing themselves to the audience.
Kherington and Twitch: Twitch is a hip-hop dancer who nearly made the top 20 last year. Kherington is young and blonde and cute and missed her high school graduation to appear on the show. Different types, but they share a good sense of humor and an infectious energy, and their Broadway routine to “Too Darn Hot” made them both look like fabulous.
The judges seemed downright infatuated with both of them, and they look like strong contenders. They have a combination of good technique, good chemistry, and personal appeal. A team to watch.
Comfort and Chris: Comfort is a hip-hop dancer who wants to “bring real hip-hop” to the show. Chris is a lyrical/contemporary dancer who took it hard earlier in the season when Nigel accused him of having “the personality of a tree.”
It became clear as soon as they started their jive that Comfort was — ironically? — having some serious issues with her very high-heeled shoes. It was a rough routine; she looked uncomfortable, and he didn't look much happier. Jive needs lightness more than anything, and they had none. These two will be in trouble if he can't relax and she can't dance in heels.
Katee and Joshua: Katee got the last available spot only after beating out her best friend. Joshua is a hip-hop dancer who's had a bit of ballet training. They opened with what this show considers a hip-hop dance, which worked well for him, but could have made her look weak in comparison. Interestingly, while there were hints of that at first, Katee rallied and did just fine.
It's hard to trust the judging when the routine tells a touching war story, as this one did, but the judges were uniformly impressed by both dancers. This is another team to keep an eye on, because even though poppers have historically had trouble transitioning to other dance styles, Joshua has some training that might make him a good bet to succeed.
Jessica and Will: You may recall Jessica, a contemporary dancer, as the one who landed on a few clip shows for spelling the location of the final round of auditions “V-E-A-G-S.” You may remember Will as the reason there's no more Debbie Allen on the judging panel for now. (It would be a conflict of interest; she's his mentor.)
They performed a flat tango that looked on screen like they were going through the motions, but they received oddly high praise from the judges. That may help them for now, but as for the longer term, neither of them showed the kind of spark on opening night that the better dancers did, and neither seems likely to last.
Courtney G. and Gev: Hip-hop dancer Gev and contemporary dancer Courtney got the tough assignment of closing the show wearing bright yellow and doing disco. But in rehearsals, they seemed upbeat and winning, which helps quite a bit on a show like this.
They looked good together during the performance; the disco choreography was corny at times, but they pulled through. The judges gave them lukewarm reviews, but their likability, along with the fact that they danced last, may help them make it over the hump and survive to see a day that will treat them better than disco did.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Brooklyn.