SYTYCD Season 9: Handicapping the contestants

courtesy 19 Entertainment/Dick Clark Productions

I figure Nigel and the “professional” dance critics are going to rip these kids up enough, so I will do my best to not be a jerk in my observations. But after watching them in the Vegas and Top 20 shows, here are my predictions as to who might take home the titles.

Alexa Anderson
19, from Chandler, AZ

Overhyped in my opinion. She may well have the talent and tenacity to go all the way to the end, but I need to see more. Her rough journey through this year’s Vegas week doesn’t help with my perceptions, either. Ryan edged her out last season, and I’m seeing why they paired them for the final selection–they’re about the same brand of OK. We’ll see what lighting the competition fire under her feet does, though….

Amber Jackson
21, from Atlanta, GA

Third time’s the charm (and blond hair is clearly the talisman). Solid performer, reminiscent of Season 2’s Martha. Every girl dancer of color is going to pin their hopes on her to make it to the top–I hope she does at least make the tour.

Amelia Lowe
18, from Butler, NJ

Cute, quirky and capable. That will only carry her so far with the judges. I hope she’s working on her non-contemporary repertoire. I do like her, though.

Audrey Case
18, from Edmund, OK

Janaya French
20, from Aurora, CO
Lyrical Contemporary

Tiffany Maher

19, from Plantation, FL

One of the “Invisible Three.” Not any disparagement on their talents, but of the 20 dancers, they are the three most likely to blend into a group number interchangeably. Not distinctive enough yet to say who is who. The only reason I could find Janaya was because she was in the contemporary number with Amelia—Audrey and Tiffany looked like twins. I did give a lot of leeway to first-time nerves and consciously re-watched the performance, focusing on each girl individually…and to be fair, I did detect a slight technical edge in one and a slight performance edge in the other. Problem is, I couldn’t tell you which girl displayed which skill. How they blossom remains to be seen….

Brandon Mitchell

27, from Kansas City, KS

The Top 20 “old-head,” the last upper age contestants to get close to the top were Melissa (Top 6, Season 5) and Ashley and Ryan Di Lello (Top 6, Season 6). Adapted pretty well to Cole and Cyrus’s styles in the Christopher Scott group number, but the rest—particularly posture-heavy stuff like ballroom—remains to be seen. He looks determined, though. Sentimental favorite, being an “old fart” dancer myself (and way past the show’s age limit).

Chehon Wespi-Tschopp
23, from Zurich, Switzerland

Clearly hungry to expand outside of his own genre. Didn’t explode in Vegas until the end, but he and Daniel Baker (more on him later) are putting the viewing public on notice: don’t sleep on the ballet dancers.

Cory Horibe
26, from Honolulu, HI
Martial Arts Fusion

His nimble and agile movement looks like it will translate well to contemporary, and the discipline practiced from his martial arts may help with the more formal styles. We shall see.

Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer

22, from Atlanta, GA
Animation, Popping and Robotics

Personal favorite, though I really don’t think America is going to vote him to the top. But two things may affect that—1) His hunger to learn. Even Lil C noted that as a master in his own style, he still embraced every round with new eagerness and determination. The best quote I’ve ever heard from this show came from Cyrus: “Apparently there’s a whole other level of hard I ain’t working, and I need to get there.” And number 2? I said the exact same thing about Russell in Season 6.

Daniel Baker
24, from Newcastle, Australia

Consistent performance throughout Vegas week and, like Chehon, is itching to expand beyond his ballet horizons. I want to see where he takes that.

Dareian Kujawa
20, from St. Paul, MN

He had GOT to work on those feet–something I can definitely relate to, but I’m not the one competing. If he can get past that, dedication to the new styles should be a snap.

Eliana Girard
21, from West Palm Beach, FL
Ballet (Contemporary Ballet)

The girl IS. A. BEAST. She is an aerial artist. She studied with Joffrey and Ailey. She can do ballet and contemporary flawlessly. And she transfixes me like Melanie and Joshua did. My money’s on her to take Top Girl.

George Lawrence II
19, from Atlanta, GA

I’m looking for him to be at least in the Top 3. One of the better technically polished dancers on the show—and he performs SO BIG for such a small guy. My favorite for Top Guy, but we’ll see what the fans say and what the season throws at him.

Janelle Issis
24, from Vestavia Hills, AL

Dancers of unusual styles have to have that extra special something to get on—and succeed at this show. Melissa was the first ballerina to crack Top 10 (Jessica Fernandez of Season 2 was the first Top 20 ballerina but didn’t make Top 10, though fellow contestant Ryan Rankine (who was more contemporary, IMO) did make Top 8), Russell was the first (and as yet only) krumper on the show, and Bianca, Phillip and Peter cracked the tap barrier in Season 6 for the first time since Season 1’s Sandra Colton. And though we’ve seen many a belly dancer in the audition shows, NONE made it to Vegas before Miss Janelle Issis. I took belly dancing for three months—that is NO easy skill. And she adds scarves and flags flawlessly without missing a beat—everything just flows. Her performance aura reminds me of Season 5’s Janette, so I’m thinking if she’s got a similar vibe, taking to newer styles should be a breeze. Even if she has to work at the choreography, the performance level is going to be off the charts. Don’t dismiss her because she doesn’t have a traditional specialty. You know that acronym GRITS (Girls Raised In The South)? That’s not just a name label—we HAVE grit, too.

Matthew Kazmierczak
21, from Peoria, AZ

Tall cutie-pie with good technique. But the last tall Matt didn’t fare too well. Gotta see him in competition.

Will Thomas
19, from Troy, MI

Like Matthew from Season 5, Will is tall. But Will is also big. He does move well, but I agree with Nigel’s assessment that he needs to get down lower to match his vertically challenged fellow contestants. He simply has to do more to be outstanding. Not at all fair to the non-typical body type, but it is what it is. What Will does with that critique will make the difference between Top 20 and Top 10.

Lindsay Arnold
18, from Provo, UT
Latin Ballroom

Nick Bloxsom-Carter
20, from Oak Park, CA

Witney Carson
18, from American Park, UT
Latin Ballroom

The “Meet the Top 20” ballroom did not impress me at all. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the girls swallowed Nick up whole. A ballroom trio is hard to properly execute with the right balance of technical skill and sizzling charisma, and these kids unfortunately had the shadow of the Season 5 number to overcome. (You KNOW it’s a bitchin’ performance when you pause your TV to take a phone pic of the final pose for your wallpaper. They were THAT good.) I see their individual strengths, though, after watching their bio vids. Witney’s got some fire that come could out and surprise; I have to assume it’s there in Lindsey and Nick. Nick reminds me of a dancing Clay Aiken (who until Celebrity Apprentice seemed a little under-assertive to me). So far, my initial impressions of Clay’s persona are what I’m seeing in Nick. Ballroom boy or not, I just can’t get that mental picture of him as a paso doble toreador. He may surprise me, though. As may Lindsey—she got some really good lines and a little other dance experience in her back pocket. Who knows–we may well have another Chelsie Hightower on our hands.


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