updated 07/22/2011 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 07/22/2011 AT 9:15 AM ET
The So You Think You Can Dance contestants competed as individuals this week, and without the protection of their partner’s popularity, some dancers found themselves struggling to find their own winning style.
The first dancer to be voted in to the bottom two guys Thursday was Mitchell Kelly, a predictable vote after his Broadway routine was deemed “”over by the judges the evening before.
“You can’t just have this big smile. There’s got to be something else attached to it,” judge Nigel Lythgoe told reporters after Thursday’s elimination. “I don’t think Mitchell found the style.”
Starting the pool of bottom two girls was Clarice Ordaz, who had performed a Bollywood routine judge Mary Murphy called “exhilarating” with season 7 fan-favorite Robert Roldan.
“Her number was great. I think Bollywood is exciting,” said guest judge Neil Patrick Harris. “I think for whatever reason, Clarice – who is so beautiful and so talented and always on point – just didn’t connect with viewers.”
Completing the bottom two guys was Ricky Jaime, an revelation that elicited audible gasps from the studio audience.
“[Season 6 winner] Twitch was in the bottom three times,” Lythgoe said of how amazing dancers can end up in the bottom. “[Season 2’s] Allison Holker – my favorite dancer almost of all time – was in the bottom four times.”
But it was when Jordan Casanova, whom Lythgoe begged America to vote for Wednesday, was added to the bottom two girls that you could see the contestants themselves affected by the vote. Almost all four of the bottom contestants were wiping tears away as they prepared to dance for their lives.
“I can only imagine the physical and emotional toll this show takes on them week after week … Being voted into the bottom must be demoralizing and then having to pull it back out again must be exhausting,” Harris said.
After the solo dances – including Jordan’s routine to “Tonight” by Lykke Li with the appropriate lyric “don’t let me go tonight” – it was Mitchell and Clarice the judges ultimately decided to send home by a unanimous vote, despite Lythgoe saying, “We think you’re all fantastic.”
“We all agreed tonight that it was Mitchell’s turn to leave us and we had a discussion of the girls and we all felt Jordan was stronger,” Lythgoe explained later.
But while Mitchell and Clarice went home, eight contestants remain to dance next week with a new batch of all-stars that includes season 3’s Lauren Gottlieb and season 7’s winner Lauren Froderman.
Oh yeah, and they’ll be critiqued by a guest judge. Someone called Lady Gaga.