Once again, it’s a shocker on the dance floor after the couples performed twice, the judges handed out their first perfect score of the season, and voters ignored all of that to boot one of the season’s strongest celebrities.
There was not a jaw closed after tonight’s results on Dancing with the Stars, with America voting to send home a celebrity who has continued to impress all season long, and who was among the top scores of the night. Do judges’ scores even matter?
Paula Abdul joined the panel for “Music Video Night,” while not inviting MC Skat Kat from her “Opposites Attract” video? It’s one of the most iconic music videos of all time, so we’re a little heartbroken that there wasn’t at least a brief cameo.
The night featured two rounds of competition, with the remaining eight couples split in half for a Team Round that unexpectedly became a battle of the generations. We also saw the first perfect score of the season tonight, which is even more remarkable considering how many stars saw their scores drop from last week.
It was a brutal night of competition, with a lot of jazz performances sprinkled throughout. For the one couple who could overcome and pick up the night’s highest score in the first round, they’d earn exemption from next week’s dance-off round. Of course, they had to survive the night and with the way voting has been going this season … well, nothing is guaranteed.
Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I’ve spent the last twenty years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I’ve got this.
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Carrie Ann Inaba, Derek Hough, Paula Abdul, and Bruno Tonioli. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
ROUND 1: MUSIC VIDEO NIGHT
Lele Pons & Brandon Armstrong
(Salsa – “Whenever, Wherever,” Shakira) One of the most distinctive movers in music, Shakira’s hips don’t lie and they are no joke. It’s not easy to mimic her signature style, but that was the mission for this week’s dance. It certainly helped that Lele is a huge Shakira fine, complete with adorable video of her crying and completely fangirling out when she got to meet her. Props where they’re due, Lele did a good job with the solo sequence at the end and she was mostly good with the hip and body action at the top. That said, she was definitely not as confident as Shakira and it showed in her timing. In the partnerwork, the lifts were labored and hesitant, showing a lack of confidence and/or trust. It pulled us out of the visual narrative each time. This was a great piece of choreography, but it needed more rehearsal time to polish out the nerves.
Judges Scores: 9, 8, 8, 8
Ariana Madix & Pasha Pashkov
(Cha-cha-cha – “I’m a Slave 4 U,” Britney Spears) “It’s been my life’s goal to be best friends with Britney Spears,” Ariana joked — or was it? — during the intro package. She credits the pop star with giving her that desire to perform. Credit where it’s due, though, it was Ariana herself who brought so much to this performance. It’s not just that she had the proper technique for the cha-cha, but it was those extra flairs of personality she added to it. The slight delay in the slide movements, the punctuations in her hips, the attitude. She didn’t just perform this dance, she embodied it from the inside out. She was just about toe to toe with Pasha, who really is bringing out the best in her. Carrie Ann said she’s got the potential to win and after seeing this in Week 7, we’re inclined to agree.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 10, 9
Harry Jowsey & Rylee Arnold
(Jazz – “It’s Gonna Be Me,” *NSYNC) What’s more exciting than channeling one of the most iconic music video dances of all time? How about *NSYNC’s own Lance Bass (and Season 7 alum) crashing your audition to help you get it just right? Lance’s advice was for Harry to get out of his own head, which has been his problem since the beginning. This is supposed to be light, bouncy and fun, but Harry can’t quite get out of his own way. He’s still very stiff, and we can hear him counting his way through the steps. It’s all discomfort from him. He needs to loosen up his posture and have bigger movements. He handled the last lift well, but his stiffness even impacted some of those. Compared to Ariana, Harry is the example of someone getting through the steps, as if he’s blocking it for the cameras, with very little finesse or actual performance.
Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6, 6
Jason Mraz & Daniella Karagach
(Jazz – “Take on Me,” a-ha) Jason faced a new challenge this week, having to work with professional dancer Koko Iwasaki during rehearsals because Daniella sprained her ankle. She can dance, but only for a limited time. Luckily, she was still there to lead rehearsals, but it was still a fundamental change at a pivotal time in the competition. They definitely captured the fun spirit of the original, but we were actually noting a lack of sharpness in Jason’s movements as compared to Daniella. He just wasn’t flicking quite as hard to emphasize the end of each move before shifting into the next one. It’s about completing each step completely so that each of those moments is allowed to fully breathe and paint that picture before moving into the next one. Still, this was a beautifully performed piece with a lot of high energy and an infectious sweetness that permeated each moment.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 10, 9
Alyson Hannigan & Sasha Farber
(Quickstep – “Candyman,” Christina Aguilera) Alyson really nailed that opening sequence mimicking the three Christina’s from the music video. The retro vibe was well-suited for the quickstep and we have to give her full props for keeping up with the dance. Through much of it, she looked to be perfectly in step with what was happening. There was one sequence, though, that her upper body was out of sync with Sasha’s (the camera was not showing their feet, so we’re only speculating she was a bit off in her timing there). The frame looked pretty good through the majority of this dance, too, which was a fear of hers. The quickstep, on these shows, is a lot about just getting through it. Alyson managed to make this light and fun with a lot of personality along the way.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 9, 8
Xochitl Gomez & Val Chmerkovskiy
(Jazz – “Hollaback Girl,” Gwen Stefani) After having directed her first music video for a friend, Xochitl took on more of a leadership role on this homage piece and you could tell how committed she was. With that wig, she was definitely vibing with Gwen. There was a mishap with her drum major hat toward the end, and that final lift wasn’t as graceful as she’s usually known for (probably a bit rattled), but we were totally into the level of character and performance she was bringing. She had Gwen’s aggressive tone throughout, never losing the delivery. It was a strong attitude and a very strong dance that was just a lot of fun from start to finish. In so many ways, she was Gwen on this one.
Judges Scores: 9, 8, 9, 8
Charity Lawson & Artem Chigvintsev
(Jazz – “All for You,” Janet Jackson) Charity seemed to be locking her knees a bit throughout this performance, when this was all about digging into the floor and loosening up the lower body. You could see the difference in watching the bouncing rhythm of her backup dancers juxtaposed with her stiffer movements. She needed to sink a bit and loosen up all her joints to keep that movement fluid throughout the dance. Her hips and spine were the same way, which impacted that lift flip she and Artem pulled off, but lacking somewhat in finesse. This was actually a step backwards for Charity, as if she wasn’t completely comfortable just loosening up. There’s a sensual strut that Janet has in this video, and she didn’t quite relax fully into that femininity.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8, 8
Barry Williams & Peta Murgatroyd
(Quickstep – “I’m Still Standing,” Elton John) Rocking a skimpy bikini in the original video was Bruno himself, so he definitely has a deep understanding of this song and its music video. They didn’t bring back the bikini, and Peta didn’t put him through the wringer as much as many quickstep recipients. Instead, she had some slower sequences that still required precise movements. He did great on those, but definitely wasn’t quite as sharp when they picked up the pace. He didn’t even seem to have confidence that it was over when they hit their final mark. There was a lot going on in this performance and we have to give Barry credit for keeping up with what was asked of him. It lacked some clarity in the hops, but was overall an energetic performance filled with joy — plus, a nod to Bruno with a sprinkle of pixie dust on his head.
Judges Scores: 7, 7, 7, 7
Harry and Alyson, with the lowest scores from last week, served as team captains, building their competitive teams for this round. So there was strategy in putting these teams together, too. Who did a better job of bolstering their team to improve their scores the most? There’s only one way to find out (and find out who they picked)
Team Young’n Style (Harry, Lele, Xochitl, Charity)
(Freestyle – “Gangnam Style,” Psy) Props to Harry for picking a great team for this dance. Their youthful energy and strength created some great moments — and what a high throw of Charity midway through! We also loved his total commitment to Psy’s dance portion when they all came together and just went for it. He was the weakest long during the solo couple portions, but even here he was more confident and free than we’ve ever seen him. Clearly, this dance was a lot of fun for the participants, with everyone bringing their A-game. We loved every bit of this! Even Alfonso tried to implore to Harry that this was it, telling him, “From now on, that’s how you dance.” For the first time, Harry showed that he can do this, if he just stops overthinking everything.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10
Team 4 Everybody (Alyson, Jason, Ariana, Barry)
(Freestyle – “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” Backstreet Boys) The older group opted to put more ballroom into their homage to BSB because they felt it was their best chance to stand out and shine — plus, the video had some ballroom in it, as well. They also got a surprise visit from AJ McLean, which left Ariana squealing, to watch how things were progressing. “It’s cute when young people think that they won’t get old,” Ariana called out Team Young’n Style at the end of the package. This was the battle of generations, with Madix (at 38) the youngest on this team. We can’t lie, we loved the energy of this piece and the attack from everybody. It’s clear they felt they had something to prove, and they really did. Everyone slayed their solo couple portions, and they had some really creative overall choreography. The BSB choreo segment could have been a little stronger, with Jason in the lead, but we loved the partner swaps at the end and their commitment to one another. It was actually somewhat moving.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 10, 9
Unlike last week’s second round, the Team Round did impact the final standings somewhat significantly for some couples. The bottom two stayed Harry Jowsey and Barry Williams, but poor Alyson Hannigan — after fighting into the middle of the pack with her strongest dance, fell to third-to-last, putting her in potential danger tonight. Meanwhile, Jason Mraz fell from second to the middle, tied with Charity for fourth place.
Of course, this was a two-point difference for the top six couples, so it’s not as massive a change as it might seem. At the same time, Ariana Madix, who held sole position first place — thus not having to participate in next week’s dance battle — wound up having to scoot over and make room for Xochitl Gomez at the top.
Once again, Harry is decidedly at the bottom of the pack. At first, we wondered if the judges were harsher on him this week in hopes of helping him to finally pack his bags and go, but there were several couples who saw their scores drop. The lower scores were definitely earned, as we saw ourselves dropping some scores, as well.
The fear, though, is that Harry’s fan base will continue to carry him a little longer, which could be bad news for Barry, who only landed one point ahead of him. Can Barry’s fan base overcome Harry’s? Or will we get another shocker even higher in the rankings by having to say goodbye to Alyson, Charity, or Jason? We had a feeling it would be Barry or Alsyon this week, with our money on Alyson to go. But what did you actually do?
The first celebrity sent to safety was Ariana, followed by a very stunned Harry, as his fans once again overcame everything their eyes should be telling them about how he’s faring compared to everyone else. Or maybe they’re hoping his abandon in the group dance will continue because that was where he finally showed his potential. He’s still behind everyone else, but could he turn the corner?
Xochitl was next to her the good news, followed by Jason and a very shocked Alyson. That left Barry up there with Charity and Lele. His score was much lower than theirs, so he wouldn’t be as much of an upset. But he’s also beloved on this show. Could Lele actually go from third place, just one point off the leaders? Or Charity from her tie for fourth, back one more point?
Would they put these three couples together just to send Barry home? It turns out they would not, as Lele Pons’ elimination while being just one point below the leaders on the leaderboard proved that absolutely no one is safe and judges’ scores might not mean anything at all. It’s all about what America says. To call this an upset is a huge understatement. This is unbelievable.
Dancing with the Stars welcomes guest judge Billy Porter for Whitney Houston Night next Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC and Disney+.