Adam Rose/Fox
Lanford Beard
August 16, 2012 AT 10:04 PM EDT

When Nick Lazzarini signed up for season 1 of So You Think You Can Dance he didn’t even known he’d have to perform ballroom. Everyone was “kind of flying by the seat of our pants” in those days, he laughs. Seven seasons later, Lazzarini’s experience seems a world away from today’s “brutal” four-person cuts and Jack-of-all-trade performers. Of course, a more streamlined system hasn’t diluted the show’s drama. Witness last night’s second four-person elimination of the season. “I’m a little shocked,” Lazzarini admits. Below, he singles out which contenders he wish had stayed, which ones he thinks could go all the way, and why he’s glad Zooey Deschanel wasn’t around in 2005 to decide his fate.

“I’m wondering exactly what they’re looking for this season,” says Lazzarini of resident judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy. “They’ve kicked off some of the best dancers.” He pointed to Alexa Anderson (full disclosure: Anderson is Lazzarini’s roommate), one of the first to go, and Matthew Kazmierczak, a friend of his who was eliminated last night. “Any one of those dancers [they’ve kicked off] could have been the lead in a show,” he says, guessing judges are “looking for star quality” more than impeccable technique.

Which brings us to Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer, the animator who has blown judges and fans away since his audition in Atlanta. Lazzarini actually thinks Glitch’s weakness when it comes to choreography might actually be an asset… at least for a little. “People love the underdog story,” he notes, adding, “The judges love that, and they always push that.” Glitch’s continued safety in the competition means that he has a real shot at joining Lazzarini as one of the show’s victors. “If he really exerts himself to understand the choreography…it’s his competition to lose just because people love him so much, but he’s got to get better at learning the choreography and getting the styles down.” Which is not to say Lazzarini would appreciate it if he were competing today. “As a dancer being on the show, I would be frustrated getting voted off [after] being great at the choreography and then getting voted off because maybe they like him better. That’s not fair.”

Another competitor he’s eying to become “America’s Favorite Dancer” is Cole Horibe, who incorporates martial arts into his dance style. “I think Cole’s going to win,” says Lazzarini. “I think he’s really cool and his dancing is really unique — something we really haven’t seen before.” He also noted that Cole hails from the same Hawaiian studio as season 4 favorite Mark Kanemura (who now dances for Lady Gaga) and season 5’s Kupono Aweau, whose “Addiction” dance Cole performed last night with partner Lindsay Arnold.

So what did Lazzarini think of last night’s Mia Michaels tribute? “I think it’s great that they dedicated a night to Mia. She’s such a staple [of the show],” he says, “but seeing somebody else do the bench dance other than Travis? It was kind of lackluster. … To be honest, I don’t think any of them were better than the originals. I think the kids were put in a really hard situation… to do these iconic dances. It put a lot of pressure on the kids.”

NEXT: Lazzarini talks divas, Deschanel, and the chance of a SYTYCD all-star season

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