Let the competition begin! It’s the first actual performance show of So You Think You Can Dance season 9 and I’m excited to see what the show has in store (particularly my personal favorite, Chehon Wespi-Tschopp). Our resident SYTYCD expert Laurel Brown is down in San Diego getting ready for four epic days of Comic-Con madness, so I’m here for one night only.

We begin right away with a Top 20 routine set in a weird and creepy office as the men and women force each other to work harder and faster. It was kind of terrifying.

For the introductions, Daniel Baker easily gets the biggest applause, while Lindsay, Matthew and Dareian also get pretty strong receptions.

Please welcome your…JUDGES! Cat Deeley is already tongue-tied, calling Mary Mia Michaels. Combined with the voiceover guy screwing up, there are clearly some first live show nerves. Kenny Ortega is the first guest judge.

Nigel Lythgoe explains the rules. We vote for individuals and next week the bottom three boys and girls will be revealed, and two of each will go home. Wow, we’re cutting four right away. So next week we get 10 pair dances, six solos and four eliminations. That will be jam-packed.

And this week we’ll get to hear everyone tell us about themselves in nine seconds for season 9.

Witney Carson and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp
Samba choreographed by Louis van Amstel

In nine seconds we learn Witney is scared of crickets and Chehon thinks in two languages. I am 100 percent in love with Chehon, but it’s true that his prim and proper ballet training makes it harder for him to loosen up for a sexy Latin number, so he comes off as a bit stiff. But Witney shines like a firecracker, as well she should since Latin Ballroom is her style.

Tiffany Maher and George Lawrence II
Contemporary choreographed by Sonya Tayeh

In nine seconds we learn Tiffany had a pet duck and George had a pet frog. They’re a perfect pair! The routine is all about surrendering to a powerful love, and it’s incredibly well done. They’re both strong individually, but I’m not sure I felt a strong connection between them. The judges disagree with me and absolutely loved them as a couple. Nigel points out that this is a softer, kind Sonya Tayeh routine, maybe because she found love. Maybe that’s my problem, because I’d much rather have the dark and twisted Sonya.

Janaya French and Brandon Mitchell
Hip-Hop choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon

In nine seconds we learn Janaya loves whales and hates orange candy while Brandon is allergic to cats and dogs and loves pizza cookies. The Tabs portion of Nappy Tabs is super preggers and the routine is all about an alcoholic having to choose between his woman and the bottle. This is some heavy stuff, and Brandon is very strong with his movements and Janaya does an OK job keeping up with him. It’s good, but not great because I set the bar incredibly high when it comes to Nappy Tabs routines and neither of them really stood out.

Alexa Anderson and Daniel Baker
Jazz choreographed by Sean Cheesman

In nine seconds we learn Alexa loves watermelons and puppies while Daniel claims to throw boomerangs with his pet kangaroo while eating vegemite, putting shrimp on the barbie and being related to Crocodile Dundee. They wear red suits and start on scaffolding, and I don’t really get the routine at all. It’s just a whole bunch of stuff going on but I don’t make a connection with either of the dancers.

Nigel tries to explain that these two are great even though he clearly had some issues with the choreography which didn’t give them a chance to get a shining moment. None of this matters because, based on the cheers, Daniel is worshiped like a God. At least he took off his shirt for his brief intro video, and that should keep him around for a bit longer.

Amber Jackson and Nick Bloxsom-Carter
Viennese Waltz choreographed by Jason Gilkison

In nine seconds we learn Amber loves bunnies and hates sausage while Nick’s dad works at the Playboy Mansion. This marks the second time one of the ballroom dancers gets a ballroom routine. I call shenanigans. Or at least I would if he were particularly good. Honestly, if this is his wheelhouse, Nick is in trouble. I don’t find him that great, and Amber is just kind of lost. Nigel compares Jason to Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms, which is his way of saying Jason was riding Nick too hard. He also points out that this is a very unappealing style that doesn’t really give the dancers a chance to have a “Wow” moment.

Amelia Lowe and Will Thomas
Hip-Hop choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon

In nine seconds we learn.that Amelia’s dad is a tattoo artist who named her after Amelia Earhart while Will refers to himself as Simba and says “umm” a lot. The routine is about two alley cats in heat, and it’s the silliest hip-hop routine ever. Amelia is amazing and Kenny says that if he had a kitty like her, he’d play with her all day long. Somehow it comes across as playful and not creepy, which it totally is. Nigel says that it was definitely memorable and will leave people talking, but it really wasn’t hip-hop. At all. Maybe it was jazz or Broadway, but certainly not hip-hop. But it was certainly quirky. The only problem is that I think people will only vote for Amelia and Will could be in trouble because of this unusual voting system where we vote for people and not routines.

Janelle Issis and Dareian Kujawa
African Jazz choreographed by Sean Cheesman

In nine seconds we learn Janelle loves the color purple (or possible The Color Purple) while Dareian was in the circus, played hockey, hates spiders and talks like Donald Duck. This is some intense Afro-jazz and I kind of love it. It’s nonstop action, but both of them kill it, although I shouldn’t use that word since Janelle seems to be bumping into stuff and hurting herself all the time..This is certainly one of my favorite routines of the night.

Eliana Girard and Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer
Broadway choreographed by Tyce Diorio

In nine seconds we learn Eliana is a huge True Blood fan and Cyrus is addicted to shoes. Making a contemporary/ballet star and the animator do number from Hairspray is crazy. It’s almost crazy enough to work. They do a good job and really embody the spirit, but there are a few flaws and problems in the transitions. I like the story, but I feel like someone as expertly trained as Eliana is at a huge disservice being paired with someone who has no choreography experience. It sounds bad, but he’s going to be holding her back.

Audrey Case and Matthew Kazmierczak
Contemporary choreographed by Travis Wall

In nine seconds we learn Audrey hearts Taylor Lautner and Matthew is a hiking cat person who’s afraid of mannequins. Travis Wall is basically doing a routine based on Jack and Rose from Titanic. If you think I’ve been too hard on the dances so far tonight, it’s because I was waiting for something like this. The judges give it a standing ovation, as well they should. It’s beautiful and is already a strong contender for one of the best routines of the whole season. The emotion and partner work is extraordinary, as are the leaps and lifts.  Mary Murphy claims Travis won the lottery by getting these two dancers, but I think it’s the other way around.

Lindsay Arnold and Cole Horibe
Paso Doble choreographed by Jason Gilkison

In nine seconds we learn Lindsay likes food but hates tomatoes while Cole is an Asian ninja who’s good at math. I’m sure it’s a COMPLETE coincidence that the three ballroom dancers got to dance the three ballroom routines of the week. Though I feel like martial arts and the Paso Doble are a natural fit. It’s definitely intense and fiery and it exemplifies why this is my favorite dance style of all of them. The judges love it and Nigel claims its the best male performance in a Paso Doble the show has ever seen.

Well, that’s it for the first night of live dancing. Now it’s left to America. I have no clue how this will work. Since you’re only voting for individuals, I wonder if people might favor one person in the great routines, which could leave the other one in danger. Sure, that Paso was amazing, but Cole got most of the praise. Will people vote for him but not Lindsay?

We’ll find out next week on So You Think You Can Dance when Laurel Brown returns and four dancers go home.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.