It was an incredible night of competition on the “Dancing with the Stars” Season 16 finals on Monday evening, one which saw the ladies bring their A game.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones, the lone man left standing, practiced hard and took tips from Len Goodman for the “Judges’ Choice” routine in Round 1, but he was outpaced by the three remaining celebrity women – Zendaya, Kellie Pickler and Aly Raisman — who all finished above him and his pro, Karina Smirnoff, on the leaderboard.
Teenager Zendaya once again claimed the leaderboard top spot, with pro Valentin Chmerkovskiy (the only pro left standing with no mirrorball in his trophy chest), netting perfect scores across three rounds of competition.
The “Shake It Up” star and Val were on fire all night long, beginning with the “Judges’ Choice” routine during Round 1, where the panel — Carrie Ann Inaba, Len and Bruno Tonioli — picked samba for the pair’s performance. Rehearsal footage showed Zendaya being hard on herself, and insisting she needed to work even harder, and it all paid off with a routine that left Len marveling.
“That was eye-popping, show-stopping, jaw dropping. That’s a samba! You’ve only just scratched the surface of your talent, I’m telling you!” the Brit said, as the pair picked up their first 30 out of 30, tying Kellie and Derek Hough.
The “American Idol” alum and her three-time mirrorball champ of a partner, Derek, got their perfect Round 1 score by impressing the judges with ballroom perfection and by matching their “nobly bits” (Len’s words, which he used during their rehearsals for the “Judges’ Choice” round) in a quickstep.
“It was palpitating, perspirating. I got so excited, I was nearly flatulating,” Len said. “I tell you, that was excitement.”
Round 2 was a Cha Cha Cha Relay, which saw each team perform about 40 seconds of the dance style, one couple after another. Jacoby and Karina took fourth and just 2 points (their Round 1 score was 27/30), Aly & Mark Ballas grabbed third and 3 points (their Round 1 total was 28/30), Kellie and Derek came in second, picking up 4 out of 5 points, and Zendaya and Val netted all points available – 5 out of 5 – for their slick moves.
And then, it was freestyle time.
Jacoby and Karina took inspiration from New Orleans (where the football star was born) and Baltimore (where he plays for the Ravens) for their freestyle, which had a marching band flavor, but — as Bruno pointed out — had “a couple of things” wrong with the number. “The energy, somehow, made you lose the time a couple of times,” he said.
The pair landed at the bottom of the leaderboard, taking home just 56 points overall (Round 1: 27 points, Round 2: 2 points, Round 3: 27 points), putting them five points behind their nearest competitors – Aly and Mark.
Aly and Mark lost a couple of points in Round 1 (they earned just 28) and in Round 2 (they took home 3 out of 5), but their freestyle was original, and a huge crowd pleaser that put them back in the game. Mark wanted to create something unique, and he did, incorporating poles into their routine, which the pair climbed and spun off of during their final number.
Carrie Ann thanked them for giving her a flashback with the poles.
“That was so much fun. You guys just took me down memory road. Back in the day, I worked a pole on Madonna’s tour,” she laughed, as the pair ended the night with 61 out of 65.
During rehearsals in the run up to the finals, Derek opted to skip adding in a sheet, hanging from the ceiling, for his freestyle with Kellie, and put the focus simply on her moves. Their routine, which saw them moving like waves on the ocean, and had a contemporary flavor, was thrilling to Kellie’s family and friends in the audience who were spotted on camera awe-struck and in tears. Carrie Ann, choked back happy tears.
“You just bared your soul on the dance floor,” Carrie Ann said, after composing herself. “And it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”
The gorgeous routine brought the pair their second perfect score of the night and Kellie and Derek ended the finals with 64 out of 65, just one point shy of Zendaya and Val’s total.
Kellie and Derek’s routine was a tough act to follow, but Zendaya and Val took a surprising strategy for their freestyle routine. Instead of a hip-hop number as many expected her to do, she and Val crafted a routine that combined cha cha, contemporary and hip-hop (along with a small gaggle of youngsters who joined them on their final moves). And, the risk worked.
“That threw me, I thought, ‘Here we go, we’re gonna get a hip-hop number.’ But oh no, we got that start with that fabulous cha cha cha, contemporary going on, [hip-hop] with the kids. It was right in sync,” Len said. “I love that moment. There were so many parts to that number, but it all came together and created a fabulous routine.”
Zendaya and Val completed their night with another perfect score for a full 65 out of 65 for the night. It was great news for the pair, especially as Val was injured during rehearsals when Zendaya’s elbow hit Val’s head and left him with a bloody facial cut he had to get taped up before the show.
“She accidentally hit me in the eye with her elbow, which is all right,” Val said on the show. “It happens. I’ve been hit in the face many times before. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to dance for legal issues, but I’m good. … I want her to enjoy the moment, I want her to focus on herself.”
Viewer votes will make up half of the total score for the couples. “Dancing with the Stars” continues with its final round of Season 16 — an instant dance in front of the judges, on Tuesday, at 8/7c on ABC.