Former Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer AJ Pritchard has backed Rose Ayling-Ellis to reach the final of this year’s series and potentially lift the Glitterball Trophy.

Rose, at 1/6, has been the favourite to win the competition for most of the series and has continued to perform well in recent weeks, securing the judges’ praise and the public’s votes.

AJ spoke to us ahead of this weekend’s Strictly quarter-finals, and the pro believes Rose and dance partner Giovanni Pernice’s spot in the final is all but guaranteed.

“Rose and Giovanni are safe and secure (in the final),” Pritchard said. “I feel like I know Rose the same way her mum knows Rose, and that relationship that we’ve kind of got with her, you can’t deny it. That explosive energy is infectious; all she has to do is keep doing the same thing because what she is doing great!”

“They have got a great dance (this week), the American Smooth (to This Will Be An Everlasting Love by Natalie Cole) with all its ballroom beauty. I think that it’s going to be a true showstopper! It is one of the best weeks to have it because it really sets you up for the final before it goes into two dances each, which can be quite challenging.”

Commenting on who will join Rose in the final, AJ backed the all-male partnership of John Whaite and Johannes Radebe.

“John and Johannes will make the final,” he said. “They have the Salsa (this week) and that’s going to give them strength. They are doing so well, and I just enjoy watching them perform. Additionally, I think if AJ Odudu is not in the dance-off this week, then that puts her in the final.”

As we enter the latter stages of the competition, AJ gave some advice to all the remaining couples on the show on how to deal with added pressure.

He said: “The one thing I would say is that people seem to get more agitated, they get nervous (in the latter stages). You need to stay more relaxed because the more relaxed you are, the more personality we see, the more rhythm is in your body. The couples need to dance as though nobody is watching.”

Following last week’s show, AJ suggested that Rhys Stephenson could be in the danger zone this Saturday, faulting him for the lack of emotion he has shown in his dances.

“I do understand why Rhys was in the dance-off (last week) because I just didn’t connect with him emotionally,” he said. “It was nice to see him do a slower dance but that gave him more opportunity to show the emotion, and I just didn’t see that storyline. I saw a very well executed dance and he did exactly what he was told, but I want to see more. If he can’t find emotion in his Argentine Tango (this weekend), he’s never going to find it.”

AJ has been impressed with the high standard of this year’s contestants and despite Dan Walker not being the strongest dancer, he was adamant that the presenter will not be in the quarter-finals dance-off.

He said: “I don’t think it’s going to be Dan. It will be Rhys definitely in the dance-off, and maybe AJ and Kai (Widdrington). Rhys has been given a golden ticket, but this is the final straw. I think that’s the way the cookie will crumble this week”.

While AJ suggested Odudu and partner Kai might be the third couple in the final, he warned she could still potentially make the dance-off this weekend too as he wasn’t convinced that last week’s Couple’s Choice routine was the best she could have performed.

“AJ has got the Salsa this week and she’s got such long legs and such a great personality but sometimes it’s very hard to connect those legs with the rhythm and the movement,” he said. “I was a bit upset with their Couple’s Choice routine last week; I felt like they were a bit unsteady, and the lifts put me on edge. AJ has got to that plateaued level, so she needs to give it that finish-line effort.”

Applauding the amount of support the public has given Dan, AJ explained that his slow journey of improvement was why the voters loved him so much, also disagreeing with judge Craig Revel Horwood’s comments last week regarding his Rumba performance.

He said: “Dan’s slower journey has allowed us to appreciate it more – week one he was like Bambi on ice. In the Rumba you are supposed to stand strong, you are supposed to be in a position to allow the lady to perform and become the person that she is, which Nadiya (Bychkova) flourishes in. He was still relaxed, he still smiled, he was confident, he knew what he was doing.

“I’m very excited for him to have a traditional Tango with a traditional song (this week). I think it’s an advantage for him, all he has to do is focus on the technique, working on the driving of the standing leg and driving without heel onto the moving leg. It’s a very positive position to be in.”

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