In rehearsal for the first live show, contemporary dancer Mitchell Kelly suffered an elbow injury that left him in the audience rather than on stage.
“I was just so upset and so sad for Mitchell because I know he wanted to be up there so bad and he just couldn’t because the doctor wouldn’t let him,” his intended dance partner, Caitlyn Lawson, told PEOPLE. “But he’s doing so much better now and hopefully he’ll be back next week.”
Lawson has to perform with a new partner, season 7 finalist Robert Roldan. “It was not difficult to connect,” Roldan said of stepping in at the last moment. “She made me feel so comfortable. I’m telling you right now, this girl is a power house.”
Judge Nigel Lythgoe agreed, calling Lawson’s routine a “ten across the board” – a term used by Kelly earlier in the program.
Positive praise was heard throughout the live show from Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and guest judge Megan Mullally, but no accolades matched the standing ovation and admiration given to contestants Melanie Moore and Marko Germar, who wowed the audience as two statues becoming one in a Travis Wall contemporary routine that Lythgoe said is worthy of an Emmy nomination. (Watch a clip above.)
“Those two are amazing,” Wall told reporters of his statuesque dancers. “And Melanie is going to win this whole thing.”
Lythgoe echoed that praise during the show by calling Melanie “the queen of the beasts” – “beasts” being a term he is using to describe the passionate women dancers he claims are the ones to beat.
And what does Germar think of his partner being called a “beast?”
“I think she’s both a beauty and a beast,” he told PEOPLE.
With so much positive feedback for most of the top 20, Lythgoe told the dancers, “It’s going to be interesting this year to see how the public [votes]. Are they going to go for the big, dynamic, dance routines with the technical side of it or are they going to go for fun?”
The results of the first vote will be revealed Thursday (8 p.m. ET), when the judges will choose two dancers from America’s bottom three couples to be eliminated.