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Strictly's Shirley: Why Alex is happier with Neil, my predictions for the final, and what I said to Mike after the show

Strictly Come Dancing's head judge shares her week eight opinions...

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Another action-packed weekend of Strictly Come Dancing saw BBC presenter Mike Bushell leave the show after his fourth time in the dance-off, while in happier news, Saffron Barker stunned with a wonderful Waltz, Emma Barton bounced back from last week's low-rated Rumba and Alex Scott reunited with partner Neil Jones for a high-energy jive that had everyone buzzing. HELLO!'s exclusive Strictly columnist, head judge Shirley Ballas, explains what she said to Mike after the show, who she thinks we'll see in the final, and what to watch out for in Blackpool next week…

Shirley's column

Mike is a veteran of the dance-off, but the judges all agreed we had to save Michelle because she was the stronger dancer. I made sure to speak to Mike afterwards though and tell him how much I admire him. After everything he's been through, including online trolling and death threats, he still had his head held high week after week and tried his best. He came in with grace, he danced with grace and he went home with grace – he showed everyone what a true professional looks like.

mikekatyascd© Photo: BBC

Michelle being in the bottom two was a shock to everybody because she was second on the leaderboard but the audience keeps it interesting every week! I thought she danced beautifully. Her routine was very entertaining and combined everything that should be in an American Smooth, including a little bit of a jazz feel, some decent footwork, and great energy. I'm not sure if she didn't click with people this week or if people thought she was safe and so they didn't vote for her, but you really do have to vote for the people you want to save. Even if they're at the top of the leaderboard, they could still go home.

michellegiovanniscd© Photo: BBC

Kevin did a marvellous job with Alex over the last couple of weeks but it was lovely to see Neil back. I was a bit concerned about his injury, especially because they had a Jive, but he's a trooper and it was lovely to see him so light on his feet. Alex still needs to work on her balance and the precision of details, but she was bright and bouncy. I think she did equally well with both dancers, but everyone likes to be with the partner they were originally teamed up with, so I think she was more than comfortable to dance with Neil again.

neilalexscd© Photo: BBC

AJ and Saffron have great chemistry and he's a remarkable teacher. Their routine was lovely and classy, her best dance by far. You don't expect that of the Waltz, normally people do well at the street dances or the theatre dances, but it was just a simple beautiful Waltz with immaculate timing and footwork, it ticked all the boxes. Last week was quite disastrous for Emma but Saturday's dance was a huge improvement. She was more in sync with Anton and did some lovely hat work and made great use of the music. I agreed with Craig that it was one of her best dances so far, we were really pleased for her.

otikelvinscd© Photo: BBC

Kelvin's Salsa had great lifts. but it wasn't my favourite routine. He's a great dancer but none of us thought it was quite up to the standard of a ten. I would have liked to have seen more rotation, with the movement of the hips going one way and the shoulders going the other so it's more three-dimensional. He's so muscly that he has to work on turning his body in different directions otherwise it can look a bit blocky in comparison to others. It was also a bit untidy here and there.

karimamyscd© Photo: BBC

Karim made a few mistakes but what's marvellous about him is that he knows when he's made a mistake, accepts it and keeps moving forward. It was certainly a power-packed dance but the footwork was a little bit busy for me. I think sometimes those magic moments come when you slow down a bit in the middle of the routine and then pick it up again. He got a little emotional yesterday because it had been a long week and I think nerves are playing a big part of it for everyone now. With Blackpool coming up, all the professionals and the celebrities want to do well and are pushing themselves to the maximum, hence the injuries and tiredness, and then if you make a mistake and need to pick it up again, it's difficult.

chriskarenscd© Photo: BBC

What I like about Chris is that he can go from being a comic person to being so strong and focused. His frame needs a little work, it was a bit squashed, but he is consistently getting better and he took control of the situation. His Street Commercial last week was off the charts but most people do well at that. It's a hard discipline to go from being a comedian to doing something as structured as Tango but he scored reasonably well and the audience saved him which proves that they're all contenders because you never know what's going to happen.

MORE: Strictly's Neil Jones and Alex Scott address reports that footballer 'prefers' to dance with Kevin Clifton

Motsi said that Karim is the one to beat, but I think there are a few frontrunners. I also think Michelle has a chance if people vote, so do Kelvin and Emma and Saffron. But that's just my opinion. You can't rule anyone because, at this point, they get a taste for the competition and even though they've been trying hard from the beginning they try even harder and everybody starts to up their game. No one wants to go home and there's going to be a lot of emotions and a lot more tears, so get ready, viewers!

saffronajscd© Photo: BBC

READ: The Strictly Come Dancing relationships that didn't stand the test of time

We're all heading up to Blackpool next weekend, which is always special. I've been dancing there since I was seven years old and the chandeliers, the paintings on the ceiling, and the architecture all make it a magnificent place to dance. It also has one of the best sprung floors in the world so if anyone has a Quickstep, look at the judges and we'll be bouncing up and down!

For the celebrities, there's a lot to take in. It's draughtier than they're used to because there are more exits and we're all in trailers outside, so you've got to find your way around and not get lost and be late for your dance. Learning to perform on a much bigger floor than they're used to is always a challenge and taking them out of their comfort zone can be overwhelming. People tend to get even more nervous than usual so let's see who can keep it together…

Come back next week to find out who impressed Shirley after Strictly's trip to the Tower Ballroom!

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