Our beloved Season 16 of “Dancing with the Stars” was coming to a close with perhaps the four most talented couples ever to perform on the show. To me, it was a tossup who would win but I was giving a slight edge to Kellie Pickler because she was paired with three-time mirror ball champ Derek Hough. He had the most trophies of any pro and his continuing popularity, plus Kellie’s down home charm and unexpected dance talent, could give her a leg up. But once again, I felt the star who won the freestyle would win the show—and the freestyle would be supersized this season with special effects and unexpected surprises.
So here was what went down on a night in which our final four would have to dance an exhausting three times:
The remaining pairs didn’t walk down the tall stairs tonight but took the easy way down. They must really be tired! The hosts announced Val had been injured during dress rehearsal today and the show gave us a shot of his bloody face. But the show must go on and he’s going to dance tonight, of course.
Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff: Jive
Judge Len Goodman joined Jacoby in practice to try to correct his pigeon toes. Good luck there! Len told Jacoby to act like he was kicking a peanut and Tom Bergeron laughed that Ingo Rademacher’s son Peanut, who was in the audience Monday, wondered if he’d done something wrong. Karina started their dance chatting with Carrie Ann Inaba at the judge’s table and Jacoby came and interrupted and then did his traditional splits during the dance but it wasn’t that great tonight. The football player looked stiff but his feet did appear a little bit better and there was a lot of solo stuff which allowed Jacoby to show his height and long lines. Ma went crazy in the audience, natch, and so did fellow football great Emmitt Smith, who was visiting in the audience. “The footwork was a bit better,” Len said, echoing me. Bruno Tonioli said charisma and energy were coming out of him—but he sighed that Jacoby missed the beat quite a few times. Carrie Ann also noticed the beat mistake—”I think the peanuts won,” she laughed. Jacoby didn’t help matters by mouthing off, asking Carrie Ann if she could wear cleats and had to repeat his comment because right, she couldn’t understand him. Same trouble I’ve had all season!
Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas: Samba
Aly and Mark were on the rooftop talking about what a great shot she has at the mirror ball—well, duh, she won a bag of Olympic medals, didn’t she!? Bruno joined them in practice to give his advice and he was standing there camping it up in a black wife beater and begging the young couple to do samba rolls. As their dance began, Aly flipped her hair around a lot on the floor before joining Mark; they danced up a storm to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.” There was a whole lot of fast shakin’ and the samba rolls were cute and then Aly was on the ballroom floor heaving around like a panting dog again. She ended frozen in a half split, not bad. Not perfect but overall, I thought this was one of her best dances. Bruno called her scrumptious, clean and slick. Carrie Ann said she had the momentum while Len loved the flavor and sexy moves. Could kleptomaniac Aly steal the mirror ball trophy?
Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough: Quickstep
Derek was strategizing how to make Kellie into his fourth champion. Len popped into rehearsal and Kellie said it felt like the principal was paying her a visit in school. The judge wanted to see their knobbly bits together, meaning, better body contact! “The more you sweat, the better you get,” Len said upon leaving. This one started in black and white with Derek leaping over Kellie’s head, take that Jacoby!, and then taking her into hold They looked very elegant in their white outfits but I felt like the dance didn’t take off until the middle of it when they did a lot of Charleston like moves—was this really quickstep or a combo? The twirl Derek did of Kellie on the floor at the end was priceless and that must have been his grandpa almost crying in the audience—or was it Kellie’s kin? Anyway, they got a huge standing O from the audience. Len said he got so excited he almost farted! Sounded like a ten from Len was coming down the pike. Bruno called her “the southern Belle of the Ball.” Carrie Ann raved “Congratulations!” because she saw the body contact she wanted.
Zendaya Coleman and Val Chmerkovskiy: Samba
“We’re here to win,” the Mad Russian told his Disney kid after last week. No pressure there! Carrie Ann came in to give them her pointers on the judges’ pick for them, which was samba. The judge said Zendaya’s balance was a little off. As their dance started, Zendaya came down the stairs to join Val in some side-by-side action and sadly, the actress did seem a little cockeyed in this dance. She had mentioned not being too comfortable in heels and this showed her slipping around. Val put her through the spins really well but I didn’t think it was their strongest dance ever. Carrie Ann, however, called it great and said she worked magic. Len called it eye-popping and show-stopping. According to Bruno, she was incredibly fierce. But I thought it was a little off, myself, and she looked way too tense. Val said his injury was fine ’cause he’d been hit in the face before and he was worried he couldn’t dance because of legal issues. Maybe that was what had rattled Zendaya a bit tonight, which was understandable.
Cha Cha Relay:
Okay, so all four couples would now dance in the relay and Kellie and Derek started it off really strong. Man, they were still my pick! Jacoby and Karina seemed awkward in comparison and he slid under some more people’s legs, handing off the baton to Aly and Mark, who were absolutely slick (Aly was reminding me a lot of Sabrina Bryan), Zendaya and Val followed and she seemed much better to me here, using her beautiful height to full advantage. Len said they were all winners (but someone was going to get the most points!). Bruno praised them all, as did Carrie Ann, who said Zendaya WAS the cha cha. I agreed she was the best in this dance. Here were the relay scores:
Jacoby: 2 points
Aly: 3 points
Kellie: 4 points
Zendaya: 5 points
Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff: Freestyle
Jacoby turned Karina completely over during rehearsal and they were going to add some tap dancing kids to the mix, which looked promising. Super-sized, indeed! He said his head was spinning. Here was what their freestyle looked like: It started with tap dancing drum majorettes, with Tony Dovolani amongst them leading the charge before a shirtless Jacoby and Karina took over to leap around hip hop style. The football hunk did some clumsy spins of Karina and a very nice full body lift and then two little kids joined them on the floor and someone in the press room behind me mumbled that there was too much going on in this dance. Well, this didn’t add up to the best freestyles of the past, IMO. A little chaotic, just like a parade. Len said he got the freestyle party started, “well done!” Bruno loved the sense of celebration, just like in Mardi Gras, but admitted he lost the timing. “Translation: 9,” some wag said backstage. Carrie Ann said the dance was unique but it outshined him; Jacoby got lost in the shuffle. Too true! It looked like a football player wouldn’t win the show this season.
Tom Bergeron came on to talk about the Oklahoma tragedy, very classy.
Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas: Freestyle
Mark told a producer that he wanted to use a vertical bar as part of their routine and make it futuristic. A lot of props and extras this time, folks! I wasn’t sure if I was warming to the supersized freestyle concept altogether. Mark looked like he was involved in a construction project and said he wasn’t comfortable with the height of their platform. Aly started the dance asleep on the floor, then they went into handstands and this looked like a more aggressive reprise of their contemporary number from earlier this season. But now, suddenly they went into a hip hop beat and then climbed up to the top of their vertical poles. This was weird and reminded me of a stripper pole. Bruno said it was different and exotic and it was an incredible risk. Carrie Ann said it was so much fun and was one of the most amazing dances she’d seen on the show while Len was dubbing her Alexandra The Great! I felt, as with Jacoby, this supersized freestyle had missed the mark (no pun intended, Ballas) by being too creative. I wanted a more straightforward, all-American piece for our sweet Aly. Most of us backstage grumbled about the perfect 30; we reporters were baffled by the tone of the routine.
Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough: Freestyle
Derek emphasized to Kellie how important the freestyle was to winning the show and he should know! The DWTS golden boy was considering using a hammock in their dance — but then he said he was going to strip it down and make it simple. Yay! “Let’s drink to that!” a reporter said to me in the media room. We were sick of supersized and wanted to see straightforward dance, dammit! It started slow, with Derek lifting Kellie off the floor and into some ballet style moves This, too, was very contemporary for me but then Derek let loose with a huge lift and spin of Kellie and he extended her from his back (well, you just had to see it to believe it). Then it just got better and better, beautiful and fluid and emotional. A thrill in the press room! Another huge lift and spin ended the night for the twosome and they were crying and Kel’s husband was teary-eyed in the audience. Carrie Ann was crying, too! Everyone clapped in the press room for the first time this season. Kellie and Derek were going to win! They had to now, right? “Kellie, you just bared your soul on the dance floor,” Carrie Ann sobbed. Len said she was totally immersed in the dance and each other and he stood to applaud them. Bruno said it was a dance of spellbinding beauty. “I’m sure you’ve reached the nation tonight with that performance,” Bruno said. Backstage, Derek was holding back tears and so was I, honestly! Len wished he could give them an 11, and needless to say, it was a perfect score.
Zendaya Coleman and Val Chmerkovskiy: Freestyle
Val and Zendaya, stripped of makeup, were standing in front of corrugated metal and talking about the season and how she’d grown. The Shake it Up star wanted to do hip hop, big surprise there, and Val brought in a troupe of kids to join them in the number. Oh, no! I worried the kids were going to steal the show. Zendaya appeared in a glittery dress, oh good, looking more ballroom than hip hop, but then she and Val were dancing to a hip hop tune and attempting an aggressive, sporty dance. She pointed at the heavens at one point and Val spun her around for dear life but it lacked the lyrical quality Kellie and Derek had just created. And it got more MTV when the kids joined them at the end. Only a little tepid applause in the press room. Len said it all came together in a fabulous routine. According to Bruno, Zendaya gave a luminosity to everything she did. Carrie Ann wasn’t crying, but called Zendaya a role model. Of course it was perfectly judged but I still think we’d see the golden couple, Kellie and Derek, hoisting the mirror ball on Tuesday night. Catch you tomorrow!