Jennifer Grey is making a habit out of being perfect.
After nine grueling weeks of competition, the final three contestants hit the ballroom on Monday night for the first night of the “Dancing with the Stars” finale, with Jennifer and pro partner Derek Hough nabbing a pair of perfect scores for the second week in a row.
Meanwhile, if surprise finalist Bristol Palin is going to walk away with the coveted mirrorball trophy, it will be on the strength of her fan support – not necessarily the judges’ scores, as she ended the night looking up at both Jennifer and fellow finalist Kyle Massey on the leaderboard.
The first night of the two-night “Dancing” finale saw each of the three remaining “Stars” performing two numbers – a freestyle dance, chosen by each dancing duo, as well as a “redemption” dance, chosen by the judges.
First up was Kyle and pro partner Lacey Schwimmer, who were assigned a fox trot for their redemption number. It was a dance the pair had previously performed earlier in the season, but with little success.
“That was a joke. I thought it was terrible,” judge Len Goodman told the duo at the time.
However, this time around, a more seasoned Kyle approached the dance – this time set to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” — with vigor and precision.
After panning their first dance earlier this season, the judge visited Kyle and Lacey during rehearsals to offer a few pointers.
“If he works hard, he can come out and really wow us,” Len told the camera during the rehearsal.
And wow them he did, picking up 9s across the board from the judges.
“I tried to help you, I’m not a miracle worker,” the British judge joked after their first finale performance. “The fox trot of all of the dances is the most demanding — technically and musically. People spend a lifetime not mastering it and yet you’ve come out so much better than that first time. Your footwork was much better. Overall, you’ve gone from messy Massey to marvelous!”
“That feels unbelievably amazing. Yes!” a proud Kyle beamed after seeing the much improved judges’ scores.
For their freestyle dance, the former Disney star and his blonde bombshell partner tackled a more modern tune, opting for an old school hip hop-inspired routine to 69 Boyz’s “Tootsie Roll.”
The performance was full of fun and flare, as most of Kyle’s routines across the season have been, but did it translate into success with the judges?
“Kyle, ‘Tootsie Roll’ – one of my favorites!” Len joked. “In freestyle, you have to come out and do what you want to do – what you feel good doing, and that’s what you did. I’m not a great lover of the boogaloo dancing, but this was great fun, great entertainment and I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
“This old Fly Girl is very proud of you, I dub you the Fresh Prince of ‘Dancing with the Stars!’” fellow judge Carrie Ann Inaba proclaimed.
Their freestyle routine netted them a perfect 10 from Carrie Ann and Bruno Tonioli, with a 9 from Len, for a total of 56 out of 60 after Monday’s dances.
The second “Star” to hit the ballroom was Bristol Palin, whose redemption routine was jive set to “Move” from “Dreamgirls” – a do-over from her previous gorilla costumed jive earlier this season.
“This week has been extremely intense,” Bristol said during a pre-taped rehearsal interview. “There’s lots of media attention and I’m more intimidated by the media stuff than I am with Jennifer and Kyle.”
During her rehearsal package, Bristol became visibly emotional as she worked through the routine with partner Mark Ballas.
“It sucks that people still don’t think I deserve to be here. People freaked out once we got saved and Brandy was the one that was eliminated,” Bristol explained. “I got the same paso score that Brandy did. We’re continuing to improve week by week and people don’t acknowledge that.”
Bruno visited rehearsal, hoping to bring the “wild child” out of the teen activist – and it appeared to work as a rejuvenated Bristol hit the dance floor showing off a playful and upbeat side to her personality, earning her and Mark 9s across the board.
“Bristol my darling, I told you – you do not need to go in a suit! I got something out of you, didn’t I? What you did, you revealed yourself, you came out here, you had a good time, you didn’t care – and we all enjoyed it. That’s what it’s all about!” Bruno beamed after the routine, which garnered a standing ovation from the audience, including fist pumps from mom Sarah Palin, who was in attendance.
“Last time you were a gorilla, and this time, you were a thriller!” Len added.
When it came time for the pair’s freestyle, Mark opted for a Broadway-inspired “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago” – something that had Bristol worried from the start.
“I’ve never seen ‘Chicago’ or have ever been to a Broadway show so I don’t know how I’m going to get into character for this,” she said during rehearsal, becoming emotional yet again, even going as far as to say she felt “defeated” by the number.
However, by the time rehearsals ended, she seemed more optimistic about her chances.
“I never thought I’d be here for the finals,” she said in a pre-taped interview. “I just never thought it was in reach for us. Now that the mirrorball trophy is right there, it makes me really want to put everything on the dance floor and not step back with any regrets at all.”
A sexy, sultry – and seemingly determined — Bristol hit the dance floor with a focused look in her eye – however, the dance didn’t quite translate into the success the pair was hoping to achieve, scoring just a 25 out of 30, for a grand total of 52 out of 60.
“I have to give you credit for aiming so high. I have to say you did very very well, but not quite at the level that this song required. But a good attempt,” Bruno noted.
“Did I just see Bristol Palin dancing in a cage?!?” Carrie Ann laughed, referring to the opening of the song which had the young mom dancing in a mock jail cell. “I can’t believe that the girl who started out so frightened with no energy on the dance floor just danced in a cage. I give you a lot of credit for that. However, like Bruno said, it’s a very ambitious dance. It’s such a stylized kind of dancing… but I am very proud of you for dancing in the cage. Get your sexy on!”
Although, Len didn’t seem to be as disappointed with the number.
“I know you were concerned this was going to be a disaster. Let me tell you young lady, that was no disaster – I thought it was fantastic,” he complimented the pair.
Last up was Jennifer Grey, who has been a fixture atop the standings for most of the season, and fresh off an impressive 60 out of 60 in last week’s semi-finals.
Her redemption routine gave Jennifer and Derek a chance to make up for their most notable hiccup of the season – a misstep in a paso doble during “Rock Week,” which resulted in the pair’s lowest mark during their “Dancing” run.
“I think the paso was a low point for me and I was disappointed in how it came out,” the actress said during a rehearsal interview. “I liked that the judges chose the paso because of all the dances, I really felt like I needed another shot at this one, and hopefully I’m ready for it.”
This time, there would be no mistakes.
Jennifer and Derek unleashed a precise and flamboyant matador-esque paso, bringing the crowd (including the actress’ celebrity cheerleading section of Jamie Lee Curtis and Melanie Griffith) to their feet – and earning perfect scores across the board from the judges.
“This is the meaning of redemption! This is redemption! I’m so proud of you!” Carrie Ann gushed as she took to her feet.
“There was a lovely mix of expression and aggression throughout this dance,” Len said, before giving the actress a rare sign of approval.
“I rarely do this,” he said as he took to his feet to give her a standing ovation. “But it was fantastic.”
For their freestyle, Jennifer ended night one of the finale in the same manner she began the competition several weeks ago – with a song from “Dirty Dancing.”
This time around, it was an expressive and vibrant routine to The Contours’ “Do You Love Me.” However, during rehearsals, Jennifer expressed apprehension about a potentially wild freestyle routine – something Derek has been known for in the past.
“I know the freestyle is supposed to be full of tricks and flips, but I have been really nervous about it because I don’t want to re-injure my neck,” she said during her pre-taped interview, referring to her well chronicled injury from a 1987 car accident.
It was something Derek was willing to work with – although, with a push here and there.
“I don’t want to blow Jennifer’s mind with all of the tricks I had planned, so I had to ease her into it slowly,” Derek told the cameras during rehearsals.
“She’s on a need to know basis,” he grinned.
The injury didn’t seem to slow her down, as she spun, twirled, jumped and flipped (with some help from Derek) – even made her way onto the judges’ table, where she and Derek danced, earning yet another round of 10s across the board, for a perfect total of 60 out of 60 on the night.
“I’m just gonna keep it simple – I thought it was amazing!” Carrie Ann enthused, throwing her hands in the air. “I thought it was perfect!”
“Jennifer, you’re a great dancer of great versatility. Two dances at opposite ends of the spectrum, and both equally brilliant,” Bruno noted.
“You’ve been consistent. You’ve been persistent. You’re an irresistible force. You’re like a juggernaut going down the freeway, heading for that mirrorball trophy. Fantastic!” Len exclaimed.
Following the routine, Derek and Jennifer spoke with co-host Brooke Burke backstage, where Brooke asked why another “Dirty Dancing” song wasn’t chosen.
“Many people must be wondering why you chose that song from ‘Dirty Dancing’ instead of ‘Time of [My] Life,’” Brooke posed to Jennifer.
“Well, the ‘Time of [My] Life’ was always a song that was really for me and Patrick and it really was that a dance that I did with him and I really wanted to do something fresh with Derek,” the actress explained, putting to rest any notions that she may have saved that tune for the finale.
On Tuesday night, each pair will perform two more dances – each “Star” will get to choose their personal favorite routine from the season and give it another go, as well as an “Instant Dance,” in which they will have to master the Cha Cha Cha to music they’ve been given for the first time after the show’s broadcast has begun.
The final two dances will close out the judges’ scores, with viewer votes based on Monday’s performances accounting for half of each team’s final total.