updated 06/15/2011 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 06/15/2011 AT 5:00 PM ET
Contemporary dancer Ryan Ramirez was cut right before So You Think You Can Dance’s top 11 were revealed on season 7, but that didn’t end her dream of being on the show. Rather, the rejection fueled her.
The 19-year-old worked hard, auditioned for her second time this year and made it into season 8’s Top 20. “I was definitely more prepared this year,” Ramirez tells PEOPLE.
That kind of determination is supported – and rewarded – on SYTYCD.
“It’s not like American Idol where if you’re tone deaf and you come back every year, you’re still tone deaf,” says judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. “With this show, if you do a good year’s work, then you are going to improve.”
A big past repeat success story is hip-hop favorite tWitch, who auditioned for four years before making the show. “The whole concept of the program and for giving the critiques,” Lythgoe says, “is that they take hold of them and they improve. Otherwise we’re just talking to the air.”
Among this season’s second-chance contestants is Iveta Lukosiute, a world professional ten-dance champion. “She is the first American to win all 10 dances, ever,” says Mary Murphy, who has seen and judged Lukosiute, 30, outside of SYTYCD. Lukosiute, who had also auditioned for the show before, took time to improve her non-ballroom skills for this season.
“The fact that she did put herself in the position where in front of the world, as a world champion, she could be knocked out over street dancers or someone that’s not even trained is why a lot of dancers don’t come out who are very high level,” says Murphy. “They don’t risk that. I didn’t think I would see her again but this was the first time in Las Vegas that she worked so hard.”
Newbies and audition vets alike start competing Wednesday (8 p.m. ET) on FOX.
“I can’t wait to see the kids go outside of their styles,” says Murphy. “They were all extraordinary when they did their own thing last week but this is where the rollercoaster starts for them.”