Dancing with the Stars welcomed back head judge Len Goodman from the other side of the pond just in time for the fireworks of its two-night season finale. Also returning to the ballroom were celebrities, including many former competitors and champions, playwright Norman Lear and even the band Train to sing their brand-new single “Play That Song”.
Each of the remaining four couples was tasked with a Redemption Dance – the dance they felt they could do better than they previously did in the competition, followed by the ever-popular Freestyle Round where anything goes. Let’s take a look at how everyone did on this final week of competition:
Calvin Johnson Jr. with Lindsay Arnold, Viennese Waltz
Calvin and Lindsay glided around the ballroom as if they were on a fluffy cloud for their Redemption Viennese Waltz. Len called Calvin the most improved dancer remaining in the competition. Julianne praised his frame and posture, while Bruno loved the way he swept Lindsay off her feet. Carrie Ann commended him for how far he’s come in the competition, and I’d concur. Calvin has fully redeemed himself in my eyes – it’s still anyone’s guess as to who will be eliminated at the end of the first night.
Jana Kramer with Gleb Savchenko, Tango
I don’t remember Jana and Gleb’s Tango from Week Two, but their Redemption Tango was unforgettable. And as someone who battled a bout with the flu myself last week, I commend Gleb for getting out there and making that look easy in his condition. Julianne admired their journey together but didn’t feel the same spark she was hoping for this week. However, Bruno disagreed, calling them “hotter than hell” and saying they could “give night sweats to a saint” with their incredible chemistry. Carrie Ann felt they matched each other’s intensity, but she noticed a few missteps. Len didn’t have much to say other than he disagreed with Carrie Ann for penalizing them for a lift.
Laurie Hernandez with Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Paso Doble
There’s no doubt that Laurie and Val’s chemistry has significantly improved since Week Five, as evidenced in their Redemption Paso Doble. Bruno wanted to know what happened to his “sweet young thing,” saying she packed a powerhouse punch with her wicked Paso Doble this week. Carrie Ann praised the shaping of her movements, while Len loved the intensity of their focus together. Julianne admired their growth, saying that Paso Doble was everything she felt had been lacking the first time around.
James Hinchcliffe with Sharna Burgess, Foxtrot
The smile on my face was huge when former champ Helio Castroneves challenged James Hinchcliffe to a Dance-Off during rehearsals. I voted for him, and I’ve been voting for James. Indy 500 drivers do it better! Dancing to the standard classic “It Had to Be You”, James and Sharna were perfection with their Redemption Foxtrot (I didn’t notice their stumble). Carrie Ann commended the smoothness of their footwork, while Len told them they could look up dance talent in the dictionary and they’d find a picture of James Hinchcliffe. Julianne said he’s the complete package, while Bruno found every chapter of their dance composed to perfection from the prologue to the epilogue.
The Freestyle Round is the thing I look forward to the most season to season. I love how they’re showcased around each star’s unique talents and personality, and somehow the program always manages to top itself each season. Season 23 was no exception, as I was completely mesmerized.
Jana Kramer with Gleb Savchenko, Freestyle
Set to Sia’s “Unstoppable”, Jana and Gleb delivered an emotionally charged Freestyle with Contemporary elements and a unique concept involving them being connected by a scarf and an unstoppable emotional bond. Len found it a fascinating concept and a beautiful performance. Julianne told her she gave it everything she had and took a huge risk that worked despite the hiccups. Bruno called it an emotional roller coaster and loved the fearless way she threw herself into it. Carrie Ann has a lot of respect for Jana for being the underdog who has pulled herself up through the competition with her sheer determination and passion. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Gleb. You’ve had a perfect season, and it’s not your fault that your body got sick.
Calvin Johnson Jr. with Lindsay Arnold, Freestyle
I loved this high-energy Freestyle full of lifts and tricks set to a Jazzy, Jivey mash-up involving the music of The Jackson Five and The Marvelettes. Calvin and Lindsay blew me away with their happy energy, creativity and fast-moving choreography including a moving stage. Julianne enjoyed the charm, charisma and fun of their Freestyle, while Bruno told Calvin to pack his bags for Broadway. Carrie Ann said the world needs a little more of Calvin Johnson Jr., while Len said if he was the postman, he’d send Calvin a love letter. Aww.
Laurie Hernandez with Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Freestyle
A playground was not the setting I was expecting for Laurie and Val’s Freestyle, but it worked for them. It had a childlike wonder and purity about it. Bruno admired the energy and the embodiment of the spirit of youth. Carrie Ann told Val he captured Laurie’s essence, saying they brought tears to her eyes because she was so happy. Len called it a fantastic, joyful experience, while Julianne told them Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of awesome. That was lame commentary even by Julianne standards, lol.
James Hinchcliffe with Sharna Burgess, Freestyle
I had chills during James and Sharna’s stripped down Freestyle capturing his horrific crash and recovery as told through his own emotional words and broken memories. Carrie Ann said she’s never seen a more articulate, intelligent Freestyle and called James the “Miracle Man of Season 23.” Len enjoyed the poignant, beautiful choreography, while Julianne felt that was his best dance (consistently outdoing himself week to week). Bruno called it visual poetry and enjoyed its refreshing honesty. Despite the outcome, James is my champion this season.
It came down to James and Sharna and Jana and Gleb for the last spot in the finale. Ultimately, it was Jana and Gleb who got the boot. I felt so bad seeing those two go home just shy of the prize, as they had the best chemistry together all season. But James and Laurie have been consistently the best dancers on the program and Calvin probably has the most fans voting for him and his infectious grin. Who do you think will be going home with the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy this season?
Did the right pair go home this week? Who do you want to win? Tell us in the comments below!