Thousands auditioned but only 20 remain on season 8 of So You Think You Can Dance after Thursday’s performance episode. The contestants spoke with PEOPLE shortly after receiving the good news and shared their stories, struggles and hopes of becoming “America’s Favorite Dancer.” Meet the women before they take the stage next week for the first live show – and the fist elimination of the season.
Jordan Casanova, 18, jazz
Hometown: Chino Hills, Calif.
“It’s a Cinderella moment,” Casanova says of making it to the top 20. Growing up, she played soccer and danced, but when her parents made her choose, she picked dance and never looked back. Now, she’s dropped out of college to compete on SYTYCD. “School is not going anywhere, dance might,” she says. “I might one day wake up and not be able to dance again.”
Caitlyn Lawson, 18, contemporary
Hometown: Moses Lake, Wash.
Nigel Lythgoe called her his favorite during Vegas week, not surprising for a girl who says she is a “performer – heart and soul.” But that wasn’t always true. “My mom put me in dance when I was three and I didn’t really like it,” says Lawson. “Then she put me back in it when I was four and from that moment on she could not get me to stop.”
Iveta Lukosiute, 30, ballroom
Hometown: New York City
Third time’s a charm for Lukosiute, who’s auditioned twice before. “As ballroom dancers we … can sometimes come off cold because we are not used to talking or showing emotions,” says Lukosiute, who took classes to work on other genres before her last chance to beat the SYTYCD age limit.
Miranda Maleski, 19, contemporary
Hometown: North Hollywood, Calif.
This spring, Maleski was cast as a solo ballerina in Kanye West‘s Coachella performance. “I didn’t know that there would be 60,000 people in the audience – it put a lot of pressure on us,” she says. But Maleski plans on using that kind of nervous energy, plus years of technical training, to help her take on other dance styles.
Sasha Mallory, 23, contemporary
Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.
While her specialty is contemporary dance, Mallory considers her style to be a bit more interpretive. “I just go with whatever the music tells me to do,” she says. And the spiky-haired dancer says she’ll take any critique in stride. “I’m not the type of person who gets worked up over stupid comments,” she says. “If someone thinks I look like a hedgehog, sweet!”
Melanie Moore, 19, contemporary
Hometown: New York City
After her Atlanta audition, the family of Moore’s late father reached out to her. “We have not always been close with my dad’s family, but through this they have seen how I feel about my dad and how thankful I am for the small time that I had with him,” she says.
Missy Morelli, 19, jazz
Hometown: Studio City, Calif.
Willow Smith, take note: Morelli calls herself “a sexy jazz dancer that whips her hair. I do lots of ‘hair-ography’ because I have so much of it,” she says, perhaps borrowing the term from Glee, on which she played a member of rival show choir Vocal Adrenaline.
Clarice Ordaz, 19, jazz
Hometown: Whittier, Calif. The college freshman has been dancing since she was old enough to stand. “I would just attack the VHS player and just push things in there and start dancing around randomly,” says Ordaz, who auditioned last year as a contemporary dancer but returned to do jazz. Now, she’s excited to tackle Bollywood. “It is just gorgeous,” she says of the style.
Ryan Ramirez, 19, contemporary
Hometown: Morgan Hill, Calif.
Season 7 viewers will remember Ramirez as the last dancer cut before the Top 11 were announced. “It was really hard, but I believe that things happen for a reason,” she says. “I definitely was more prepared this year.” And luckily, she’s still dancing after a tailbone injury landed her in the hospital during Vegas Week. “I’m just glad that I get to be on that stage,” she says.
Ashley Rich, 22, contemporary
Hometown: Emeryville, Calif. “My mom said I was always moving too much so she [put me in dance class] to focus my energy.” she says. “I was only three.” Rich, who now teaches dance to kids 2 to 18, is excited to show off her “swag” in hip-hop, a style that proved challenging for her in Vegas week.