Tonight was the two-hour debut of this season’s “SYTYCD” top 20, but amazingly it didn’t feel like a two-hour episode. The reason? With a few exceptions (and trust me, they know who they are), this season’s batch of dancers was shockingly, astonishingly, “did you see that, oh my God!” kick-ass gooooood. C’mon, when Mary Murphy screams herself raspy and Adam Shankman gets weepy and sees God, you know it’s a good show. Or a nervous breakdown at the judges’ table, but I digress.
 
Jeanine and Phillip
Verdict: Unfreaking real
Sure, when it comes to a hip hop routine, pop-and-locker Phillip had this one in the bag. What was shocking is how well Jeanine, who admittedly knew nothing about hip hop, delivered. Of course, seeing her get weepy about her passion for dance in the intro, it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise that she rose to the challenge like an old pro. After all, she doesn’t have the long legs=2 0or lean build we associate with natural dancers, and yet the girl can move like crazy. When Nigel gushes that their dance is a great way to start the show, he’s exactly right. Expect these two to be back next week.
 
Asuka and Vitolio
Verdict: Better than their material
Boy, talk about crappy luck. First off, Asuka and Vitolio are stuck following one of the better performances of the evening. But more significantly, they get stuck with one of the hokiest, lamest dance routines imaginable. Even the costumes suck. Given the unenviable mission of aping silent movie characters (white Mickey Mouse/Al Jolson gloves included) to a lousy song, they did their best only to be reprimanded by Nigel and Mary for bringing a lack of energy and personality to a dance that was the physical equivalent of having to wear a sweater your grandmother knitted you to a school dance. That they got through this mess without grimacing, well, that was really the accomplishment. I hope they don’t get the boot for this routine, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
 
Karla and Jonathan
Verdict: S’alright
The judges went bonkers for this routine. Mary got out her best high-pitched holler, Nigel swooned, Adam told Jonathan he’d grown from a boy to a man, yada yada yada. So why was I so bored? Yes, the moves were good, the lines were clean, but this was one of the more personality-free performances of the evening if you ask me. Maybe it’s because I remember John Travolta doing it a hell of a lot better, but come on, this dance was a personality-free zone. Nigel makes a point of noting the pair had been flying under the radar, and no matter what he thinks, I can’t say that’s changed with this ho-hum performance.
 
 
Randi and Evan
Verdict: Surprisingly hot
Okay, I’ll admit it – I’m rooting for Evan. He’s like the little engine that could, or a bumblebee that doesn’t know he shouldn’t be able to fly. Like his brother, he’s pocket-sized and has a body like a fire hydrant, but you forget his shortcomings the minute the music starts. I snorted when he started worrying about dancing with a married woman (um, you’re not that much of a threat, stud), but seeing the teensy duo together made me reconsider. I mean, if Evan’s able to create that kind of fire on the floor, who’s to say he couldn’t twirl his way into Randi’s heart, too? Their dance was surprisingly sensuous, and for a guy who looks like he’d be more comfortable playing Dungeons & Dragons than touching a girl, Evan was effortlessly smooth. Of course, it helped that Randi brought it as well, and she didn’t even have to wear a unitard to do it. While not the best of the night, they got an enthusiastic hoot from Mary, and that’s not bad at all.
 
Paris and Tony
Verdict: On the bubble
Boy, I was sold on this couple just from their background info. Paris was nearly squashed flat in a car accident and has one leg that’s completely numb from the knee down? Tony turned down a lacrosse scholarship to be a hip hop dancer? Both of them had already built up a considerable amount of audience goodwill in earlier auditions (Paris was the “West Side Story” vixen, while Tony liked to pop the judges’ headshots into suitcases). But all of that faded away when these two attempted their hip hop routine. Adam was underimpressed. Mary said it wasn’t memorable. And Nigel said Tony’s stank face... well, stank. And they weren’t wrong. The moves weren’t sharp, Tony looked shell-shocked (and, hello, he’s a friggin’ hip hop dancer), and considering how many couples nailed it over the course of the evening, well, these two better hope those lacrosse and numb leg stories moved viewers to hit the phone lines. 
 
Caitlin and Jason
Verdict: Overrated
Maybe it was the use of “Jai Ho,” the insanely catchy theme from “Slumdog Millionaire.” Maybe the judges haven’t seen real Bollywood dancing. But seriously, to say Caitlin and Jason were amazing? Really? They looked like they were having fun, sure, and the dancing was pretty good – unless you compared it to the real thing. Caitlin and Jason’s moves lacked the sharp-edged precision of real Bollywood, which would be hard for anyone to master in a few days of practice anyway. But ultimately, it didn’t matter, as Mary assured Jason charisma was “reeking out of his eyes” (what? Ew!) and Adam luuuuved every moment. And Nigel admired the costumes. Alrighty then.
 
Janette and Brandon
Verdict: Solid
Okay, if I’m rooting for Evan, than I can safely say Mary is rooting for Brandon to go the distance in this competition, and may very well beat the crap out of anyone who dares to question his greatness. The guy makes her cry, people. The good news is that Brandon lived up to the hype with this dance, and even Adam had to admit he and Janette did a lovely job, though Nigel did warn Brandon about his little feet, although I didn’t quite know what he could do about that short of buying larger shoes. What’s amazing is that anyone could pay attention to Brandon given how well Janette danced. She really did look a little like Ginger Rogers out there, which is saying something for a dancer who made the cut because of her red hot salsa. If she has this many facets to her dance persona, she may be more of a competitor than anyone guessed.
 
Ashley and Kupono

Verdict: So cool!
This is a routi ne that could have gone very, very wrong. C’mon, Ashley and Kupono play crash test dummies. Jazz-dancing crash test dummies. Who own a crash-test robot dog. There’s a punchline in there somewhere, but thankfully Ashley and Kupono didn’t find it. Instead, they delivered one of the most compelling, unique and strangely beautiful performances I’ve seen on this show. Talk about a nice surprise! Truthfully, Ashley and Kupono seemed like agreeable people, but possibly a little dull and hardly the best of the bunch. In their intros, we learn that Kupono is just happy not to be scrubbing mold off walls, and that it took poor Ashley four tries to make the show. And these sorta sad sacks pulled off one of the weirdest, toughest routines on the show? Damn! And I wasn’t the only one who was so ld. Mary not only bought it “100 percent,” she put the little dog on the hot tamale train.
 
Melissa and Ade
Verdict: Flawless
Melissa may be best known as the naughty (kinda old) ballerina, but hopefully after this dance, she’ll just be known20as a really kick-ass dancer. She and Ade had their work cut out for them. Not only were they dancing a kinda dippy routine, their music was Richard Marx, the king of cheesy 80s badness. So how good were they? They made freaking Adam cry a little. Mary, of course, screamed her head off. Even Nigel, usually the voice of reason, gushed a little. So, no one could top that performance, right? Uh...
 
Kayla and Max
Verdict: Early front-runners
Yes, it’s the last dancers of the night who get an official invitation to ride Mary’s hot tamale train. The truly amazing part? Kayla, completely new to ballroom dancing, pulls off moves she can’t even name like a pro, putting her ballroom dancing partner Max deep into her shadow. Adam proclaims that Kayla&rs quo;s given him reason to believe in God (a little over the top, but hey, you go, Adam) abd Mary screams herself hoarse, leaping out of her seat and ripping the headphones off Nigel’s head. As annoying as she can be, you can’t even blame her for being so excited. Kayla and Max blew the com petition away – and two front runners emerged.