Lancashire's AJ Odudu and John Whaite go through to the Strictly Come Dancing grand final as eleventh celebrity leaves

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Lancashire's Strictly Come Dancing stars AJ Odudu and John Whaite have made it through to this year's dance competition grand final.

Rhys Stephenson has narrowly missed out on a place in the Strictly Come Dancing final after becoming the 11th contestant to be eliminated from the dance competition.

The CBBC presenter, 28, came bottom of the leaderboard during the show’s semi-final on Saturday night after the four remaining couples performed two routines.

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Stephenson and his professional partner, Nancy Xu, landed in the dance-off against Chorley's Bake Off winner John Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe, where both couples had to reprise one of their dances in a bid to impress the judges and secure their place in the final next week.

Pictured lef, AJ Odudu with her partner Kai Widdrington, and right, John Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe.Pictured lef, AJ Odudu with her partner Kai Widdrington, and right, John Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe.
Pictured lef, AJ Odudu with her partner Kai Widdrington, and right, John Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe.

TV presenter AJ Odudu, from Blackburn, and her partner Kai Widdrington and actress Rose Ayling-Ellis and her partner Giovanni Pernice were voted straight through to the final after coming joint top of the leaderboard after both secured a perfect 40 and a score of 39 for their two semi-final routines.

After Stephenson and Xu performed their samba to It Had Better Be Tonight (Meglio Stasera) by Michael Buble again, and Whaite and Radebe danced their jive to Higher Power by Coldplay, it was a unanimous decision by the judges to save the TV baker, sending Stephenson packing.

Judge Craig Revel Horwood deliberated intensely on his decision, saying: “In all the years I’ve been doing the show since 2004, I really do not want to make this decision tonight.

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“This has been one of the most amazing dance-offs I’ve ever witnessed. Both couples are equal and both couples deserve to go through and I just want to put both couples through.

“I know I’m not allowed to do that so I have to choose. I’m going on the technical side and it’s to do with clean finishes. I’d like to put through to the final: John and Johannes.”

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With three votes to Whaite and Radebe, they had already won the majority vote but head judge Shirley Ballas agreed that she would have saved the pair as well.

Talking about his time on the show with co-host Tess Daly, Stephenson said: “I might not have gotten to the final but I learnt so much from just being on this show, from everyone here who’s just supported us in this new family.

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“To have the time to spend with this champion of a dancer (Nancy) who’s put so much into me. Thank you for just letting my energy shine. Thank you for being that partner.

“I should use your actual name which is Xu YouJie. Thank you so much Nancy Xu YouJie, for just being there, being my rock and everything I needed to get through this. Thank you.”

After watching a video collage of their best bits, an emotional Stephenson added: “It’s good to cry, it’s good to feel. Strictly makes you feel things. You feel so much and sometimes that’s overwhelming.”

Xu also praised Stephenson for being an “amazing dancer partner” and making her first year on the show “absolutely epic”.

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She added: “I want to say a massive thank you to everyone in the show for supporting us from the very beginning. You’ve become stronger and stronger every week.”

Writing on Instagram, Stephenson added: “’Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’ firstly, thanks to @tomfletcher for that Dr Seuss quote.

“Secondly thank you all for sticking with Nancy and me throughout this whole journey, it wasn’t easy but the best things rarely are.”

He said he was feeling “a little lost and sad right now but to cry and feel is great thing because it means you’re healing”.

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Ayling-Ellis, the show’s first deaf contestant, posted on Instagram after the show: “Anything is possible when you have a right person there to support you all the way.

“Giovanni, I am so proud of us, we succeed together, I could have not ask for a better teammates. Let smash it! The FINAL here we come!!”

Italian pro dancer Pernice added: “We did it !! WE ARE IN THE FINAL !! You really worked hard and you’ve got the result you wanted… You have given me thousands of reasons to be proud of you.

“The way you inspire me and always cheer me up, I am really grateful to have you in my life. Now let’s go and enjoy our last week … and CHE SARA SARA!!!”

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Martin McLean, senior policy adviser at the National Deaf Children’s Society, celebrated the news and described Ayling-Ellis as a “great ambassador for the deaf community” and said her time on the show “has meant a huge amount to deaf children and young people everywhere”.

He added: “She’s inspired them to believe they can achieve anything they set their minds to.

“Rose’s success has also helped dispel some of the common misconceptions about deaf people and music. Her performances show that many deaf people appreciate and enjoy music every bit as much as hearing people.

“We also applaud the Strictly team for their efforts to make the experience accessible for Rose. They’ve enabled her to compete on an equal footing with the other contestants and this means she’s been able to excel in the competition.”

The celebrity trio will take to the dancefloor in the Strictly Come Dancing Final 2021 on December 18 at 7pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

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