The music of Taylor Swift inspires quarterfinalists Alyson Hannigan, Ariana Madix, Charity Lawson, Harry Jowsey, Jason Mraz, and Xochitl Gomez — but who got inspired to their first perfect score and who got inspired right out the door?
The power of Taylor Swift cannot be denied and it was certainly felt as she brought all of her Eras to the Dancing with the Stars ballroom. She also lent the show her choreographer, Mandy Moore, who’s no stranger to these dance competition shows.
Mandy joined the judging panel and was pretty tough on the final six couples as they battle one another and again waited to see if anything could knock social media star Harry Jowsey out of the competition. We’re not trying to pick on the guy, but he’s clearly been outclassed and seen stronger dancers go before him week after week after week at this point.
There were two rounds of competition tonight, but not complete ones. After dancing first to their respective favorite Swift songs, the couples were again paired up for a dance relay where they took turns dancing the same style to the same song, with each taking about half of the song. This allowed the judges to focus entirely on each couple individually before judging them.
After seeing the first perfect score by a couple last week, this week delivered another one — but absolutely not from a couple you were expecting. Something switched between last week and this week and this celebrity came out as a whole new person and dancer this week. Who was it? You’ll just have to read on to find out.
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, Mandy Moore, and Bruno Tonioli. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
We’re all for the pros getting their chance to show off, but with only six couples remaining, this felt like an opportunity to offer up two full rounds of dance. This is the quarterfinals, so when are we really going to challenge them by making them learn two different choreographed numbers if not now? It seemed an odd choice when clearly there was plenty of time. But at least these dances were stunning.
(“Love Story,” Taylor Swift) We got a very pretty opening number with the professional dancers showing how you have to give the illusion of romantic chemistry sometimes in dance. Well, except for Daniella and Pasha. It was so sweet seeing them dancing together knowing they’re married … and both still in the competition! This was beautifully choreographed and sold the sentiment of the song throughout with lots of intricate moves and a delicacy from everyone that left us as aflutter as it looked like they were.
(“Style,” Taylor Swift) Stripped back to such slow movements, it was like we were in a dream state throughout this piece. Once again, the chemistry was on full display and save for that first lift by Brandon and Britt, every motion was elegant and smooth. We’re still a little shooketh by Emma just dropping like she did, with Alan swooping in to keep her from smacking into the ground. That was the piece’s ooh moment, but it was the elegance of the partnering and the overall beauty that made it feel timeless … and left us wanting when it was over.
ROUND 1: FAVORITE TAYLOR SWIFT SONGS
Alyson Hannigan & Sasha Farber
(Cha-cha-cha – “You Belong with Me,” Taylor Swift) An unapologetic Swiftie, Alyson and Sasha believe there is no bigger Taylor fan among the final six couples. She had some timing issues with her footwork and lacked the sharp dig into the ground we know she fought for during rehearsals (and her toes still probably feel), but there was a lot of character in the piece and it was heartfelt. Alyson always brings such great performance, but she definitely struggled a bit with the technique and pacing on this one. Unfortunately, after a high last week, she faltered in this round.
Judges Scores: 7, 7, 8, 7
Ariana Madix & Pasha Pashkov
(Rumba – “Cruel Summer,” Taylor Swift) After a tough first rehearsal with a swollen back and a lot of pain there was absolutely no stiffness in the final product. Ariana’s body was in perfect fluid motion throughout the dance. We found ourselves mesmerized even by the little things like how her arm extends fully and gracefully from one move into the next. She never stops dancing, even between the steps, and that’s so key to creating beautiful art rather than just a recital performance. She continues to grow and impress week after week. Rumba is not an easy dance to do because there is nowhere to hide in its slow, sensual movements, but Ariana had no reason to hide. She was in this from the start with great character and presentation throughout.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9, 10
Jason Mraz & Daniella Karagach
(Argentine Tango – “Don’t Blame Me,” Taylor Swift) Jason got a huge boost in the rehearsal room when Daniella invited hubby Pasha to both show the intense intimacy of the dance, as well as the male role. His guidance certainly gave Jason some great perspective on exactly what’s expected of him and how he should look performing. This was a huge improvement for Jason — and we have to give a shout-out to how incredible Daniella was in this as it was hard to take our eyes off of her. Jason, though, was nailing that intricate kicks and ganchos, and after a tepid first few moments, he brought his intensity up to almost match his partner’s. The footwork was solid throughout as was his character. We believed this pairing more than we have these past few weeks. It’s as if Jason found a new level of confidence this week that he desperately needed.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10
Harry Jowsey & Rylee Arnold
(Rumba – “August,” Taylor Swift) Rylee showed Harry a video of her performing a rumba with a professional partner so he could see what it’s supposed to look like and how fluid his movements have to be. Considering he’s been lumbering around like the walking dead most of the season, it’s going to take a monumental leap forward for him to nail this one. It didn’t happen. The audience was trying to cheer him on, but he was still largely the “tree trunk” Billy Porter called him last week. We’re not going to say that he’s not trying, but we’re still not seeing any improvement. So either he’s completely in his head and refusing to let go for … what, embarrassment? … or he’s reached the limits of what he’s physically capable of. We saw in the group dance, though, that he can let go. This time, we saw him look into the camera and immediately he withdrew from a movement, so yes, he’s self-conscious and in his head. But there was a real kiss midway, which he confirmed with the judges, so maybe he’s distracted by something else going on, too!
Judges Scores: 8, 7, 8, 7
Charity Lawson & Artem Chigvintsev
(Argentine Tango – “Look What You Made Me Do,” Taylor Swift) As always, Charity dances very clean. But there’s a nastiness — if you’ll pardon the expression — to the Argentine tango we were kind of missing. She has the moves, but there wasn’t that aggression, that sharpness in the movements. It was like all the sharp edges that Artem was bringing and the track was definitely bringing were smoothed off in Charity’s delivery. She’s got the technique down, she just needs to work on adding those extra flairs to match the tone of the piece. It’s more than choreography when it comes to great dancing, there’s also having the right attitude in the piece, which comes through in face and movement.
Judges Scores: 9, 10, 9, 10
Xochitl Gomez & Val Chmerkovskiy
(Quickstep – “Paper Rings,” Taylor Swift) Her shoulders were up a little bit, breaking that strong frame, but there’s no denying how infectious and challenging this dance was. Xochitl exuded joy from the start and never once did she let up. She brought so much personality to one of the most relentless dance styles that it made it look easier than it was. She was doing a great job of keeping up with the choreography, but it was all those little extra quirks of the piece that kept us smiling right along with her. Xochitl remains a strong contender for this year’s crown.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 10, 10
The remaining couples were divided into three relay groups, with each dancing their own style. In each group, the judges will award three bonus points to the winner of each relay.
(Viennese Waltz – “Lover,” Taylor Swift) Carrie Ann shepherded this pairing, with both couples admitting they’re a little intimidated by the other. Ariana came out with command, really delivering classic Viennese waltz technique. She was graceful and fluid across the floor with that lovely rise and fall. There was nothing to critique about what she did as it was elegant and precise. We wouldn’t have even known anything was missing if Xochitl hadn’t followed. She put all these extra little touches in line with the punctuation of both the music and the lyrics. Ariana danced, but Xochitl performed and that made all the difference. A little intensity here, a fast flick or a gentle reach and it was a whole different message. Her musicality was off the charts.
Judges Winner: Xochitl & Val
(Jive – “Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift) Bruno set the couples up with this new style for both of them, which is certainly an interesting challenge for the weakest dancers left in the competition. Rylee definitely gave Harry a lot of jive to do in his portion and he managed to do most of the steps. There was just very little bounce in anything he was doing. It was all flat-footed. At the same time, he definitely let himself go more than we’ve seen (except the team dance), so that’s a step in a positive direction. As for Alyson, she had a little more lift, but was struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of this. We loved her energy, though, as she had a sense of joyousness throughout. Neither couple nailed this one, but Alyson definitely had more actual technique in her moves and kicks. She still didn’t have enough bounce, and her timing was off at times, but she brought more to the floor than Harry.
Judges Scores: Alyson & Sasha
(Cha-cha-cha – “Lavender Haze,” Taylor Swift) Derek gave some guidance about the style in pairing these couples together, though Charity knows what she’s doing as she won a dance-off with this style just last week. Jason came in as the underdog but what a difference a season makes. He last performed this style in Week 1 but this was a different dancer coming out this time. His technique was incredible, with amazing arms and footwork. The tandem work with Daniella was on fire. He had so much pizzazz in his moves, we were sad to see him go. Charity came in with lots of flair (and fringe!), but we did catch her miss her timing at one point that cost her a full count of 8 before the “Haze” brought her back. Her technique, as always, is very strong and she has great movement across the floor. The personality, though, paled a bit in comparison.
Judges Scores: Jason & Daniella
My Score: Jason & Daniella
For the first time all season, Harry Jowsey did not get the lowest scores in a round. Instead, his visible improvement with the judges saw them bump him just above Alyson Hannigan. She rebounded by beating him in the Relay, nabbing those three points to land two points ahead of him. But as we’ve seen, that never really matters.
The difference between this week and every week before it, though, is that there is really nowhere else to hide. There are four couples clearly in the lead of this competition and then there are Alyson and Harry. In other words, there is no middle of the pack anymore for us to be shocked week after week when one of them goes.
The only shocker this week would come if Ariana Madix, Charity Lawson, Jason Mraz, or Xochitl Gomez went home. It really should come down to a battle for the bottom between Harry and Alyson. While we’d love to see Harry go home this week, for fear that if he stays he could make the final and upset the whole season, we had a feeling he’d survive.
Alyson was just too close to him in judges’ scores and we’ve seen the power of his fan base. Neither of them seem to have risen to the standards of what should be a Dancing with the Stars finale, so in a perfect world, we’d lose one this week and the other next week. This has been far from a perfect season, though, so what did America do?
One thing that could shake things up was the apparent inclusion of Swifties to the viewing and voting audience, as Alfonso shared that there were move votes this week than any other week this season. Did it make a difference?
The first star who could release their bated breath was Ariana, followed by fellow frontrunners Xochitl and Jason. That left Charity to stand alongside Alyson and Harry to find out which of them would fall just short of next week’s semifinals.
That couple was Harry Jowsey and Rylee Arnold, with his journey finally coming to an end after what many would argue (including us) was far too long of a run. We’ve been shocked every week that he wasn’t voted out and now we’re shocked that he was.
This week, Harry legitimately beat Alyson in the first round and their points difference in the end was negligible. So what happened? Did the Swifties turn out for Alyson? At least he can walk out with his head high … and possibly with his girl on his arm, if that kiss confirmed all that romance speculation!
Now, Alsyon is really going to have her work cut out for her next week because she is up against four incredible competitors. It would be shocking for her to survive.
Dancing with the Stars returns for its semifinals next Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC and Disney+.