“Dancing with the Stars” season 21 continued Nov. 23 on ABC with the finals, which featured the four remaining couples performing one last time for America’s votes. So who posted perfect marks, who brought the entire ballroom to tears, and who was eliminated?
The always adorably vivacious Meghan Trainor opened the two-hour episode with a rousing performance of her single “Better When I’m Dancing.” From there, co-hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews welcomed the top four couples to the ballroom and explained the evening’s order of events: round one, judges’ pick, and round two, the always hotly anticipated freestyle numbers.
Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson opened the judges’ pick round with a Bruno Tonioli-coached foxtrot to The Weeknd’s “The Hills.” The mercury rose when they danced. It felt a little frenetic, but the heat they produced was, well, hot.
Julianne Hough called it “the sexiest foxtrot I think I’ve ever seen.” Bruno raved over Carlos’ frame and termed his footwork “unrecognizable.” Carrie Ann Inaba called it his “most dynamic, exciting performance.” The gleeful duo were awarded their first perfect 30, spurring lots of “wow”s from a very excited Carlos.
Up second to perform their round one number, a Carrie Ann-coached rumba, were train hero Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold. Alek is the weakest of the final four, but he brought it. He’s grown a lot over the course of the season.
The judges had a mostly positive reaction to their “The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore” piece, with Bruno appreciating Alek’s commitment (which was pretty amazing), but criticizing a lack of hip action (which was a totally and completely valid complaint), and Carrie Ann loving on the depth of their “emotional connection.” Alek and Lindsay posted a very respectable 27.
Third in the running order were Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess, who were tasked with performing a “Runaway Baby” jive under Julianne’s tutelage. While rehearsing, Nick actually mused that maybe he wasn’t as good as the other finalists, which is so beyond ridiculous that it shouldn’t be repeated, but also so beyond ridiculous that it begged repetition. So the dance: a huge improvement over the original. Nick had confidence in spades.
Carrie Ann shouted “cowabunga!”, called Sharna “a goddess,” and proclaimed it his best performance. Julianne gushed as well as she said he “performed the crap” out of it. Bruno declared them “Nick and the sex bomb” and said Nick “never went wrong.” Nick and Sharna, of course, notched a 30.
Closing out the first round were indisputable competition sweetheart Bindi Irwin and her pro partner, Derek Hough. The sweeter-than-pie wildlife conservationist and her quintuple-mirror ball trophy winning partner worked with Carrie Ann to perfect a “Dr. Bones” quickstep. It was absolutely, completely phenomenal in the most amazing way possible. Ethereal. Incredible.
Julianne noted how physically demanding the quickstep is and called Bindi “the energizer bunny.” Bruno called it “a gem” and and said “every aspect was gleaming like… a diamond.” Carrie Ann, finally, said Bindi was in a “class of [her] own” called her a star. No surprise here: perfect 30 for Bindi and Derek.
With round one in the books, three couples shared a three-way tie with 30 points each, while Alek and Lindsay trailed the mob with a still-respectable 27. While the pairs prepared for their no-holds-barred freestyle routines, Who is Fancy teamed up with Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande to sing “Boys Like You.”
The freestyle round opened with Carlos and Witney (and returning celebrity contestants Paula Deen (wait, what?), Hayes Greer, and Alexa PenaVega and a bunch of pros) as they hip hopped-it to “WTF.” Julianne seemed unsure of what to say about the routine, but still said she thought it worked, and loved that they brought back other cast members. Bruno called it “fresh” and “right on trend” and praised Carlos for sharing the spotlight. Carrie Ann echoed the sentiment, and called it “the freshest, flyest freestyle I’ve ever seen.” Carlos and Witney scored a 30, bringing their final total to 60.
Second in line to hoof it for freestyle scores were Alek and Lindsay, whose routine centered on overcoming obstacles. Their “Marching On” number was super cool, and unlike any other freestyle that’s been performed on “DWTS.” It was the perfect fit for the train hero.
Bruno praised Lindsay for “choreographing an action here in a perfect way,” and Carrie Ann echoed the sentiment, calling it “a victory.” Julianne called it “amazing” and loved how it was both physically and emotionally powerful. Alek and Lindsay scored a 30, giving them a 57 on the evening.
Third up to deliver their freestyle were Bindi and Derek, who chose to perform to “Footprints in the Sand” in honor of Bindi’s journey following the passing of her father, Steve Irwin. There are no ways to adequate define their dance, so just tears. It was amazingly amazing, and America collectively lost it when a photo of little Bindi with her dad –a surprise from Derek that Bindi hadn’t known about in advance– popped up on the screen at the end.
Carrie Ann called it “a dancer’s freestyle” and thanked Bindi’s parenting for creating her. Julianne called her “so special” and said she’d “left an imprint” on everyone’s hearts. Bruno, finally, said she’d “showed us the power of dance at its most pure and effective form.” Bindi and Derek earned a 30, bringing their total to 60.
With seven perfect scores recorded and a lot of tears shed, Nick and Sharna brought Backstreet back with a “Larger Than Life” freestyle. It was fun, and definitely something that one would expect from a boy bander. It might’ve been fun to see them to do something entirely unexpected rather than something so flagrantly Backstreet Boy-ish, but they did it well, so it worked.
Julianne said it could’ve been considered predictable, but it was “so tight” that he nailed it. Bruno proclaimed himself a fan, and Carrie Ann called the dance “freaking awesome” and said Nick “killed it.” Nick and Sharna, of course, earned a 30, giving them a 60.
Since the final night of action can feature just three couples, someone had to go home, and after Alek and Lindsay, and Bindi and Derek were declared safe to dance again, Carlos and Witney were eliminated from contention. In the final seconds of the episode, Carlos thanked God for the chance to compete and said he’d learned a lot about himself.
With the coveted mirror ball trophy on the line, the three surviving pairs will perform again during the Nov. 24 season finale, with each turning in a encore dance as well as a 24-hour fusion routine. Who will waltz off as the “Dancing with the Stars” season 21 champion? Tune in and find out.