Rather than just a Disney Theme night, “DWTS” took aim at their new home and made the theme Disney+, which allowed them to tap into projects as far-ranging as “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” “Hocus Pocus 2” and even “The Simpsons,” not to mention all those classic Disney movies.
Coming into this week, Vinny kept managing to avoid elimination, but we were thrilled to see him show actual improvement this week to earn that support. We’ve also seen two weeks in a row with three acts tied for the highest score of the night. Could Charli D’Amelio, Gabby Windey or Wayne Brady break free of that tie? Could anyone else catch them?
Tonight’s dominant dance was the quickstep, which has tripped up many a dancer in previous seasons, while we also saw several jazz routines, including one of the most memorable and bonkers routines in show history to “The Simpsons” theme song. Plus, Shangela got her chance to call out Alfonso Ribeiro for getting her name wrong, while Tyra Banks again screwed up Landon Barker’s name — while trying to apologize for doing it last week!
It was a great night of competition with almost everyone bringing their best to the dance floor, or at least the best that they’re capable of. Vinny wasn’t the only pleasant surprise of the night. We also welcomed Daniella Karagach back after two weeks out with Covid, partnering once again with Joseph Baena. It wasn’t a smooth return, but we’re still glad to see the reigning champ well and performing again.
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.
(Charleston – “A Star Is Born,” “Hercules”) Ambitious choreography not well executed at all. There were as many complex lifts as last week, but they looked labored this time around. There was no smooth transitions into them, so rather we saw them being (awkwardly) set up. It took us out of the dance itself every time as they stumbled through each one. They were executed, just with zero panache. On top of that, Joseph was too heavy on the actual Charleston portions, with little proper swivel and kick rhythm. This was a big step backwards. We applaud the ambition, but if you can’t pull it off, you might want to scale it back.
Judges Scores: 7, 7, 7, 7
My Score: 5
Sam Champion & Cheryl Burke
(Paso Doble – “The Greatest Show,” “The Greatest Showman”) The ending was very awkward, with Sam first struggling to get Cheryl spinning and then pausing to await the final note to outstretch his arms. But, there was more command in his performance and presence than we’ve seen before. We could see him trying to take on that bullfighter persona, and at times we could even see it in the sharpness of his movements and posture. But it was all very inconsistent. Too many times he didn’t fully hit his mark with arms or legs before moving toward the next one, leaving his moves looking unfinished.
Judges Scores: 7, 6, 6, 6
My Score: 4
Jordin Sparks & Brandon Armstrong
(Jazz – “Remember Me,” “Coco”) This track has a special meaning for Jordin as she sings it to her son and connects with the lyric as a traveling musician. The lifts this time did not look labored and while Jordin did at times look like she was trying to catch up to the speed of the turns, she was mostly on point with them. She lost her footing at one point that we caught on camera to the point it was a near-stumble — but importantly, not. The ending pose was another case of Jordin catching up to it to hit the mark in the music. But we applauded the lifts and the grace with which she moved, and the great character of the piece, which she fully captured. She took a big step forward this week, really finding herself as a dancer.
(Jazz – “Wait for It,” “Hamilton”) This was the first piece of the entire season that was sublime from the opening note to the final move. Wayne and Witney were in another place and they transported us there with them. Honestly, we’re not sure there was a flaw in this piece. Or maybe, if there was, it was overshadowed by the genuine emotion and heart they both brought to it. Wayne’s Broadway background definitely helped him here, because it was as much about making us believe in these characters and this story as it was the musicality and precision of their movements, which were just stunning.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9
My Score: 9
Daniel Durant & Britt Stewart
(Quickstep – “Finally Free,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”) Daniel’s elbow dipped a bit from time to time, weakening his overall frame, and his footwork alternated between being impressively on point — especially as he can’t hear the music — and not coming together at all. This dance gets hearing people, so we can’t even fathom the complexity of hitting that timing. Plus, the song was an odd mismatch for this style as there wasn’t a clear rhythm to cling to in the music. Each week, he fears this might be the one he struggles with, but each week, he really steps up and pulls off something very impressive. He looks like a real dancer out there, and is a testament to the fact that his deafness doesn’t limit him in any way. We also loved the story of this piece, and how it incorporated sign language, keeping it true to Daniel’s life, experience and message.
(Charleston – “Dig a Little Deeper,” “The Princess and the Frog”) Shangela is close friends with Jennifer Lewis, working as her assistant for years. She starred in this film, so it was a special moment when she showed up for rehearsal. We also kind of loved that Jennifer immediately knew what a sickle foot was, too. That’s what the judges told Shangela to work on last week. Then, she had to perform her dance with Jennifer singing (and watching), so no extra pressure there!
We didn’t quite see as much joyfulness as the judges did, as it looked like Shangela was performing under duress and a little delayed at times. But there was some quality content in there as well. We saw the Charleston and some nice kicks, but we also saw an extra step into that final lift and other moments where it felt the slightest bit like Shangela was playing catch-up to Gleb and the music. It can be harder to perform to live music, though, as the tempo can change slightly with the vocalist.
She knocked Alfonso off his rhythm after that performance, though, when she called him out for calling her Angela more than once throughout the course of this season. He stammered and stuttered, and tried to make it okay because Angela is his wife’s name, but Shangela got the last word. “You know I love you baby,” she said with a smile. “And you are my Alfondo.”
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8, 8
My Score: 7
Heidi D’Amelio & Artem Chigvintsev
(Viennese Waltz – “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Mary Poppins”) The mission was elegance and grace throughout, and this piece managed it. We saw a lovely rise and fall across the floor, and they even managed to modify hold so that alternately Artem could hold an umbrella during waltz portions and then Heidi could. We were glad they finally lost the ‘brella, though, as we wanted to see pure Viennese waltz, which Heidi handled effortlessly. It was a beautifully smooth piece that glided from one move into the other without any hesitation or uncertainty. Now that she’s gained her confidence, it’s definitely shining through.
(Quickstep – “Mr. Blue Sky,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”) Gabby is really opening up as a very impressive dancer on this show. Once again, she took to a new style — and a hard one — with relative ease. She and Val soared across the floor. With great footwork and a solid carriage throughout, though we’d have liked her tush tucked in just a bit more, we found ourselves focusing on the performance a bit. There was too much smile plastered on throughout considering this was a push and pull between her and Val in the story. A minor detail, but it did distract from the journey they were trying to take us on.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9
My Score: 9
Trevor Donovan & Emma Slater
(Samba – “Life Is a Highway,” “Cars”) Trevor got through this one, but it definitely lacked finesse. There was too much stiffness, his frame was still a bit too wide, and he didn’t fully commit to following through each step. We did appreciate that his arms were straight and he had a nice extension there, but from the waist down, it was cumbersome and lumbering. He didn’t have that dig into the floor and that fluidity in his legs, leaving them too stiff and him riding too high.
Judges Scores: 7, 7, 7, 7
My Score: 6
Vinny Guadagnino & Koko Iwasaki
(Samba – “Il Gatto E La Volpe,” “Luca”) Koko was very clever, incorporating both Vinny’s uncertainty as a dancer and his anxiety about it into the story of the piece. One could almost argue that his lack of technique in the beginning was a result of all of those things, rather than the fact that he just isn’t quite getting it down. His hips were like they were in a frozen block of ice, and that didn’t thaw by the end of the piece. We did appreciate that he put a lot of character into his performance, and his technique was stronger. Overall, this was a marked improvement, but he’s still got a long way to go. We also loved that Pauly D and The Situation were there to cheer on their buddy and see him have his most confident night yet.
(Quickstep – “Original Theme Song,” “The Muppet Show”) An absolutely adorable (and we promise we wrote those two words before Tyra said them, and even did a double-take to see if she was peeking at our script) piece, and Selma was almost flawless in her footwork. What she didn’t do several times was lift her knees when she needed to, but her feet were where they needed to be when they needed to be there throughout. It was also a very physical routine, with a cartwheel, tumble and even floorwork. This was her most rigorous routine yet and she really was on her A-game throughout it. Her frame was solid and the look of the piece was what you want to see in a quickstep. On top of that, her character was sheer joy from start to finish.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8, 8
My Score: 8
Jessie James Decker & Alan Bersten
(Jive – “One Way or Another,” “Hocus Pocus 2”) This was definitely Jessie’s best dance yet on the season, and it was not an easy one. Alan did not go easy on her, packing it with lots of quick movements. She had that bounce movement we were looking for and most of her pickups were executed perfectly. There were a couple of times where she didn’t get to quite finish a movement because the next one was already here, but that was the speed of this dance. On top of that, there was the acting performance and the character of it, which she nailed. As for Alan’s fall, whether it was planned or not (it wasn’t obvious one way or the other), it didn’t throw Jessie off her game at all. Who knew such a tough style would be her breakthrough moment.
Judges Scores: 8, 7, 8, 8
My Score: 8
Charli D’Amelio & Mark Ballas
(Jazz – “The Simpsons Theme,” “The Simpsons”) We cannot get over that they managed to make this piece end as a couch gag piece, but what a fitting way to wrap it up. This theme song has so many different intricacies, it was amazing that the choreography managed to highlight every one of them; the musicality was on another level. On top of that, it had about a hundred different dance styles throughout, capturing the frantic energy of the piece. As much as was going on, Charli and Mark were in perfect sync, with incredible partnering, technique and personality on display from start to finish. They easily nailed the most joy-filled piece of the night.
The names fiasco continued as Tyra Banks also had trouble with a name, as we noted last week, calling Landon Barker by the name Logan. Then, when trying to own up to her mistake and apologize … she did it again! She said last week the right name was said in her ear and she blew it and this time it was on her teleprompter and she still blew it. At least, Landon was seen smiling on the sidelines.
The scores keep going higher, but that three-way gridlock at the top of the leader board isn’t going anywhere. Charli D’Amelio, Gabby Windey and Wayne Brady keep putting everyone else in this competition on notice, and it’s not even close. Can anyone ever catch up to them? And if not, how will they finally separate themselves?
On the other end of the spectrum, Vinny Guadagnino finally did enough to save himself this week, giving his best performance and rising solidly above three other dancers. That should make it less controversial when he inevitably survives again.
That means it’s do-or-die time for Sam Champion, who was in the Bottom 2 last week and had the lowest score this week by three full points below both Joseph Baena and Trevor Donovan. Daniel Durant and Vinny are just one point ahead of that, so it’s possible that any of the five could be there.
Looking at it, though, we had a suspicion that America’s votes would line up with the judges this week, meaning the last three to get their results would be Joseph, Sam and Trevor. Then, we suspected Joseph would get safety from the votes and Trevor from the judges.
First sent to safety were Jordin Sparks, Gabby Windey, and Selma Blair. They were quickly followed by Heidi D’Amelio, Shangela, and Joseph. That meant he wasn’t part of the last three to get their results, but America did save him, so we’re counting this as us being half right!
The next stars moving into next week were Charli D’Amelio, Wayne Brady, Jessie James Decker, and Vinny Guadagnino. That left Trevor and Sam, as we predicted, but also Daniel Durant. He was in that bottom 5 mix, but we thought he’d have enough support. This is because we believe the last three revealed are indicative of final tallies, even if the show always says these things are revealed “in no particular order.” It certainly always comes down to people who seem to be in trouble.
The final star sent into safety was Daniel, so we did get the Bottom 2 we predicted in Sam and Trevor. It was a clean sweep with the judges (and us) agreeing that Sam had gone as far as he was probably going to go on this show. He was a joy to watch, but it was time for him to join us in watching the rest of the season.
“Dancing with the Stars” expands to two nights for next week with new shows airing Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on Disney+.