SHE has wowed Strictly judges and viewers with her sensational routines and super-fit physique, yet AJ Odudu insists she is crippled by self doubt.
The TV presenter’s good looks and big personality quickly captured the attention of fans of the BBC1 contest — in particular her sizzling chemistry with pro dancer Kai Widdrington.
She has wowed Strictly judges and viewers with her sensational routines and super-fit physique, yet AJ Odudu insists she is crippled by self doubtCredit: Getty
AJ has developed sizzling chemistry with pro dancer Kai Widdrington
AJ received record first-week scores from the Strictly JudgesCredit: BBC
Which explains why the duo’s jive smashed a Strictly record by notching up 34 points out of 40 — the highest score for a Week One performance. And although the pair have continued to deliver, AJ often struggles to find the confidence on the dance floor.
The 33-year-old said: “It’s one of those things where you feel like you are confident and then you get into the process and all of the self doubt seeps in.
“Especially at the beginning of the week when you are given a new dance, you’re thrown completely out of your comfort zone.
“You just don’t think you’re capable. You just don’t know it’s possible. I definitely do feel nervous and then I feel the pressure and start to tremble.
“But there’s something magic about the Strictly ballroom, that as soon as your name is called, you get that tingly sensation and it suddenly becomes exciting, even though the whole build-up to the moment is really nerve-racking.”
No one watching last Saturday’s Movie Week routine, which was inspired by 1992 Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard, would have realised how nervous she gets.
AJ won huge praise from the judges, with Motsi Mabuse describing her dance as “pure quality” and even “Mr Nasty” Craig Revel Horwood shocked that she has never had any dance training.
‘I want to do it justice’
The comments, as well as an impressive score of 35, have gone some way to restoring AJ’s belief in her own abilities.
She said: “Last week was a tough one, I struggled a lot. I had a lot of self doubt, even on the day. But somehow Kai managed to make me channel that in a positive way on the dance floor.
“Watching it back, I got goosebumps. I got choked up at the end because Kai puts everything into teaching me the choreography and I always want to do it justice.
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“To be able to perform and leave my heart on the dance floor was really special.”
AJ and Kai, 26, came a respectable fourth on the leaderboard, close behind EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis, 26, CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson, 27, and celeb baker John Whaite, 32, in the top spot.
The proud Blackburn-born star, who recently presented Channel 4’s Married At First Sight UK: Afters, said: “I couldn’t believe it, to be totally honest I’m always in shock.
“I’m still in disbelief each and every week, I can’t believe it was me on that dance floor. It sometimes feels like I am having an out-of-body experience.
“I feel like this has been gifted to me, what an amazing opportunity to learn each and every week, it’s really brilliant.
“Who knew dancing could be so moving? Not me. That’s what I’m learning, it’s brilliant.
“Hopefully I’m able to just channel my real, genuine, raw emotion into every performance. That’s what I want to continue doing.”
And it’s not just raw emotion that AJ and Kai are bringing to our screens, there is undeniable chemistry too. At the end of last week’s performance, microphones picked up Kai telling AJ: “I love you so much.”
But the pair have played down rumours of a romance, with AJ telling spin-off It Takes Two that “it was happiness”.
Kai insisted: “I think that was all down to just the tough, tough week and the fact the performance was flawless. We were both just relieved.” While there may not be a relationship on the cards, AJ has found her own real-life bodyguard in Kai. The Southampton hunk, who took on the iconic part played by Kevin Costner during their Movie Week performance, ensures AJ’s pre-show ritual goes without a hitch — by being her bodyguard outside her dressing room door.
Revealing the little trick she uses to calm her nerves before each live show, AJ said: “It’s nothing exciting, I have a nap. I need ten minutes to just really switch off.
I’m still in disbelief each and every week, I can’t believe it was me on that dance floor. It sometimes feels like I am having an out-of-body experience.
“I feel like everyone’s so full of beans. And they think that I’m just always full of beans, but I’m like, ‘I need a little lie down’. I need to be still, quiet with my eyes closed.”
Thankfully, AJ isn’t struck with nerves while presenting, even if a Hollywood star almost ended her career before it had even begun. After small gigs at a local radio station and on various BBC shows, she was tasked with interviewing Die Hard A-lister Bruce Willis.
AJ recalled: “He gets his publicist to tell me how much he hated me, and said that I’m not allowed to leave the building with the tape.
“Ripped it up in front of me, and I was barred from film junkets for three months — at the beginning of my career.”
It didn’t do her any harm, because in 2013 AJ made her big break co-hosting Channel 5’s Big Brother’s Bit On The Side with Rylan Clark-Neal and Emma Willis.
She was even brave enough to face Ant Middleton on Channel 4’s gruelling Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, making it the final in 2019.
While most female Strictly contestants cite their desire to achieve a “dancer’s bum” by the end of the series, fitness fanatic AJ already has a killer body.
But even she has been pleasantly surprised by the transformation since starting the show just a month ago.
AJ said: “I’ve got a better posture and I think my brain has a six pack, it’s really been working overtime, just trying to remember these steps. My brain has abs all of a sudden. I’ve always been into fitness, so I thought I had good knowledge of my body positions, I thought I knew what it was doing.
“But Kai has taught me that actually when I think my shoulders are down, they’re not. When I think my head’s to the side, it’s not. When I think my toes are pointing out, they’re really not. So yeah, I’m learning a lot about my body.”
While her brain is being honed to think like a dancer, that is not the only part of AJ that has seen a boost thanks to the show.
She says being able to overcome her fears and take on a new challenge has given her confidence a boost, and if she can conquer the dance floor, the world is her oyster.
AJ said: “I feel more confident in the sense that I feel a bit more limitless.
“I feel like, ‘Wow, look at what hard work really does, look at what can be achieved in such a short period of time’.
“I feel confident in that respect and I feel confident in Kai as well.
“It’s amazing that he’s trusting me with such beautiful choreography and I know that he wouldn’t give me anything to do unless he thought I could do it. So I’m really getting a good vibe and a good energy from this.”
And she doesn’t want to be the only one who benefits from her time on Strictly — AJ hopes the viewers will be inspired too.
The presenter, who is one of eight children born to Nigerian parents Florence and James Odudu, said: “I grew up in Blackburn, in a working class family. I said I wanted to be a presenter, said I wanted to do this and that.
“I’ve always been told this is not something that is achievable.
“I want to inspire people who have been told it’s not possible. This show has proved to me that you are limitless and when you put your mind to something, you really can do some amazing things.”
If the number of people who have placed a bet at the bookies on AJ lifting the famous glitterball trophy is anything to go by, viewers at home have been inspired.
AJ is thrilled her fans have faith in her. She said: “It’s quite nice that people have actually gone out of the way to spend some cash on us, that’s cool. I’m like, ‘let’s take it to the cleaners, guys’.
“No, to be honest, me personally, I don’t pay too much attention to all of that. I’m still trying to learn a step ball change!”
- Strictly Come Dancing continues tonight on BBC1 at 7pm.
AJ and Kai show their sizzling chemistry as they dance The Bodyguard themeCredit: BBC
AJ is in top shape but is still hit by self doubt before she performsCredit: Instagram
Selfie with Kai backstage
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