The ’90s take over the ballroom with an assist from some of the decade’s biggest stars like Vanilla Ice, En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa, and Kid ‘n Play.
We ain’t kidding and we didn’t come to play, but Kid ‘n Play were on hand to help “Dancing with the Stars” ring in the 1990s. They were one of four special guest acts to help soften the blow of a shocking double elimination!
It was the first of two back-to-back double elimination rounds as “DWTS” prepares for its finale in just two weeks. That meant only six of tonight’s eight couples would still be in the competition when all is said and done.
They each had two rounds of competition, including a relay round that would see them square off against another couple for five additional points from the judges. Even more stressful, the couple with the lowest combined viewer and judges votes would be automatically eliminated.
Vinny Guadagnino has been riding the bottom of the leaderboard in judges votes practically all season long, but his fans have kept him out of the Bottom 2 every single week. Could they keep him out of a Bottom 3?
Trevor Donovan shocked everyone with a breakthrough performance last week. Could he continue to ride that high? As for Daniel Durant, who has shown continuous growth, he offered up something truly unique this week. He shared with everyone what it’s like to dance as a deaf person by stripping his routine of all music for several measures. It was a palpable and powerful moment.
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, Len Goodman, Derek Hough and Bruno Tonioli. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
(“Whatta Man” En Vogue f. Salt-N-Pepa) Definitely a fun, high-energy way to kick off ‘90s night, with this anthem featuring two of the biggest female acts of the decade. We’re not sure if this was lip sync or live, which is a testament to how great all five of the women sounded as they took on the iconic track overlooking four of the professional dancers showing off some of their ballroom best in the brightest, gaudiest, shiniest ‘90s garb that looked like they came right out of Downtown Julie Brown’s wardrobe.
ROUND 1: ‘90s NIGHT
Trevor Donovan & Emma Slater
(Salsa – “Barbie Girl,” Aqua) “I actually feel like I’m becoming a dancer,” said Trevor in his package, which is such a long way from the irrational fear of dancing he entered the competition with. It was such a cute dance, and they pulled off both of the ambitious lifts they were going for. Better than that, we saw Trevor digging into the floor and putting some real salsa flare into his feet and hips. He really does seem to be having more fun up there than ever before, and is putting in the work to learn these techniques. He still needs to work on his finesse, but he’s come such a long way.
Judges Scores: 8, 9, 8, 9
My Score: 8
Shangela & Gleb Savchenko
(Samba – “Spice Up Your Life,” Spice Girls) A great piece with a ton of energy and enthusiasm, we can’t get over the Spice Girls lookalikes that kicked off the piece, with Shangela perfectly encapsulating Scary Spice Mel B. When she got into the actual dance portion of it, Shangela didn’t let her foot off that throttle for one second, though we wondered if that’s why her feet stuttered just a bit, losing the exactness of their placement. As a performance piece, it’s hardly noticeable and she certainly didn’t give anything away, but it was there. She is a born entertainer!
(Salsa – “Motownphilly,” Boyz II Men) This was an interesting one because it looked like Wayne was where he needed to be, but not fully committed to where he needed to be. He knew the steps and performed them well, but we weren’t seeing that passion we were wanting in his presentation. For such a high-energy look and song and style, we didn’t feel that level of energy from him, we definitely didn’t get the same feelings as our fellow judges; it must have felt different in the room where it happened.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10
My Score: 9
Daniel Durant & Britt Stewart
(Jazz- “Enjoy the Silence,” Depeche Mode) Daniel opened up and shared the emotional story about his birth mother, who gave him up at 18 months old as she was struggling with addiction. She found him again when he graduated high school and they reconnected briefly, but then cancer took her, leaving him with a lot of regret that he didn’t do more to try and help her.
For their piece this week, Daniel wanted to invite us into his world, so they decided to turn the music off halfway through their dance. It was so beautifully effective the way they faded it out until it was just the beat before giving us a few solid measures of dance in complete silence. What a powerful impact and perfect way to allow us into his world. As for the dance, he had great commitment and musicality throughout, his expression continues to improve. This was easily his strongest performance of the season.
Judges Scores: 10, 9, 10, 10
My Score: 9
Heidi D’Amelio & Artem Chigvintsev
(Contemporary – “Ironic,” Alanis Morissette) Saved for the second time and pushing for more emotion, Heidi was determined to push herself. It wasn’t there at the start of the dance, but she started to show more emotion and vulnerability as it went along. It’s so hard to come out of a well-built shell, and you could see Heidi fighting to do just that. Artem did an amazing job of putting this into the story of the piece, so that the struggle was believable. By the end, she looked fully committed to the story and we finally started to feel the message, with beautiful lines and extension.
(Samba – “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” Ricky Martin) Val came back into the competition with a vengeance, slamming Gabby with relentless samba all throughout this routine. Aside from a weird timing issue right at the top, she didn’t miss a beat. In fact, her body roles, side-by-side, all of the things we wanted to see were there and with extra flair. She has such a lightness about her when she’s on the dance floor, and actually managed to mask how hard this was with the effervescent glow of her presentation. She was giving everything the style demanded and more!
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10
My Score: 10
Vinny Guadagnino & Koko Iwasaki
(Tango – “What Is Love,” Haddaway) Vinny stuck his neck forward like a cartoon vulture in the opening moves, but had great character in some of the other moments. He sold the fun personality of the dance floor chase in this tango, but his technique was still a bit of a mess throughout. There was no finesse or sharpness in his movements, and his feet were definitely uncertain a lot of the time. His frame was stronger, but he needs to work on that smooth glide that makes it look almost like ice skating.
Judges Scores: 8, 7, 7, 7
My Score: 7
Charli D’Amelio & Mark Ballas
(International Tango – “Tanguera,” Fabio Hager Sexteto) Just incredible. It’s amazing how strong Charli was in hold throughout this piece, the precision of her movement and the commitment to the attitude of the piece. Mark didn’t hold back, knowing what she was capable of, and she stepped up and into every challenge he put before her. This was a professional-caliber routine with amazing movement around the ballroom and so many fun moments throughout. And can we take a moment to appreciate how dramatic it was, with some truly amazing moments.
For this round, the couples have been divided into four groups of two couples each. Each group faces a specific style and five points on the line, which will be awarded by one judge for each pair of couples. To make it even more challenging — and fun — they each got to dance to live performances from ‘90s icons Vanilla Ice, En Vogue, Salt-N-Pepa, and Kid ‘n Play.
Shangela & Gleb vs. Daniel & Britt
(Cha-Cha-Cha – “Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice) What a fun treat to get to dance with Vanilla Ice performing live behind them. Each of them got a chorus and a verse to perform, and neither of them totally nailed this moment. Shangela was underwhelming when she first came out, not giving full commitment to her swivel, rolls or any of it. But it was still stronger than Daneil, who seemed uncertain and was definitely struggling with his timing. On top of that, he didn’t have any of the character of the style in his movements.
Len’s Winner: Shangela & Gleb
My Winner: Shangela & Gleb
Vinny & Koko vs. Trevor & Emma
(Samba – “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” En Vogue) Heading into this, it’s actually a bit of a surprise, but Vinny had the edge. He’s got a little more natural skill when it comes to the Latin styles, and scored higher the last time each couple took on this style. That also means he had more confidence coming in. Thai was another case where neither couple really blew us away. Vinny had a lot of great character and we liked his arms, but there was a lack of precision throughout that left us a bit wanting. Then Trevor was a little too hoppy in his movements, like he was dancing on a trampoline throughout. He had a little more character and his body rolls were more in proper hold, but this was a close one between two meh performances.
(Samba – “Shoop,” Salt-N-Pepa) Heidi came out with a very clean performance, but it was lacking in pizzazz and the joyous energy you want to see in a samba. We were going to criticize her head placement during the body roll as she stayed a bit too upright, but then Wayne didn’t even bother with one. That’s the only real criticism we can give him, though, as he came with so much character and attack on this one. Then, he paired it with strong technique and all that passion we weren’t feeling from his first performance. Both were clean, but Wayne brought that extra factor.
Bruno’s Winner: Wayne & Witney
My Winner: Wayne & Witney
Charli & Mark vs. Gabby & Val
(Salsa – “Ain’t Going to Hurt Nobody,” Kid ‘n Play) This had to be a frustrating pairing, as it pitted the top two of the whole season with five points only going to one of them. On top of that, they were tied at the top of the leaderboard, but one of them was about to take a precipitous tumble down. On top of that, they were the only couple to get a new style. No pressure!
Clearly there was none, as both couples came out and slayed that dance floor. Charli’s routine was rapid-fire salsa with lots of technique and great movement. As expected, Gabby came out with stronger personality and joyfulness in her movements. Charli did a pot-stirrer that she faltered on ever so slightly, while Gabby’s lift might have also had a slight falter. This was the tightest battle of the night, but only because both of them were so stellar in what they were given and how they executed.
The only people really impacted tremendously by the bonus points were Daniel, who dropped from fourth into the Bottom 3 (by judges’ scores) and Shangela, who jumped from fifth place to third. The three-way tie at the top between Charli, Gabby and Wayne returned momentarily, but with Gabby and Charli pitted against one another, it was inevitably broken. Based on what they did in that relay, they’d have both gotten points against anyone else.
The big difference for this double elimination is that the couple with the lowest combined scores of the night gets automatically eliminated. But the Bottom 3 vote-getters are all in danger. Could this be the week that Vinny’s fans can’t support him enough. With only eight stars left, there’s nowhere to hide, and the judges didn’t help him at all, with him sitting a full six points behind Heidi after both rounds.
Right now, the competition is pretty much split in two, with the aforementioned Top 3 still dominating, while Shangela has more consistently entered that conversation with growth every week. Everyone else continues to falter, so any of the four wouldn’t be a huge shocker.
That said, with only two weeks left in the competition, this could be the only chance to get rid of Vinny. If he winds up in that Bottom 3, there’s no way the judges are going to save him over anyone else. But would he wind up there?
If the opportunity were to arise, our predictions heading into the vote were that Trevor and Heidi were the strongest of that Bottom 4, leaving Daniel and Vinny as possible candidates to go home. But after Daniel’s powerful moment of silence tonight, we found ourselves wondering if Heidi might wind up with the lowest total score, thus automatically eliminated, while fan support would propel Daniel forward.
Heading first into the semi-finals was Wayne, followed by Daniel, so clearly his incredible piece tonight really did have an impact on the viewers at home. They were quickly joined by Gabby, Shangela and Charli, meaning there were no real surprises in the Bottom 3. But who wouldn’t even get the chance to stand in front of the judges?
Of course, the biggest thing about this Bottom 3 was that no matter how things played out from here, Vinny was probably going to go home. We couldn’t imagine the judges keeping him over either of the other two couples, so if America didn’t send him home automatically, we figured they probably would.
Did America put it in their hands and make their jobs easier? They did, as we expected, sending Heidi D’Amelio & Artem Chigvintsev home instead. That left Trevor and Vinny to face the judges. Both have struggled this season, but Vinny is that rare contestant who has amazing fan support no matter what they do on the dance floor.
This may well be the only time there’s an opportunity to get him off of the show. As lovable and endearing as he is, and as hard as he works, the show barely survived the backlash the last time a sub-par dancer made it to the finals and won the whole thing.
In the end, it was a great run and something to be proud of for Vinny Guadagnino & Koko Iwasaki as they said goodbye with a unanimous vote. Vinny outlasted both Mike Sorrentino and Nicole Polizzi’s respective “DWTS” journeys, which is something to be proud of. In her first season, Koko had an incredible run and showed a lot of growth herself as a coach and choreography working with one of the show’s most beloved contestants.
“Dancing with the Stars” returns with its semifinals and another double elimination next Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Disney+.