You might have wondered how Dancing With the Stars could vote someone off during the emotionally draining Most Memorable Year week, but there’s no need: Everyone was safe! That’s right—dry those eyes because everyone is going to Disneyland tonight. OK, maybe not that last part, but they all deserve some Mickey ears and a mouse-shaped ice-cream sandwich.
As I type this backstage, Laurie Hernandez is sitting in front of me eating a quesadilla before greeting the press, so I’m just going to suggest we skip the interviews entirely and head down to Anaheim.
Update: So, while heading to Disneyland didn’t exactly happen, I think Laurie was more than happy to head to bed instead. Doing the Monday and Tuesday shows the past few weeks have taken a toll on the cast (more on that in a minute), and they were all happy to have their first Tuesday “off” in weeks.
One thing that Laurie wants to work on as the season nears the halfway point is her connection with Val. “We have a great connection when we’re talking to each other,” she told me. “But out on the dance floor, [we want] to have that connection that the judges want to see.”
The couples didn’t know there wouldn’t be an elimination, especially because the producers staged a faux elimination during dress rehearsal (usually the couple eliminated in dress rehearsal isn’t the couple that’s eliminated during the live show). “We thought someone was going home,” admitted Gleb Savchenko. And why is that? “[Because] Sasha was eliminated in rehearsal!” Gleb joked. While it hasn’t been announced if there will be a double elimination next week, Gleb thinks there won’t be, but it’s possible we’ll see one the week after that.
So what’s on tap next week? It will be Latin night in the ballroom, and Jana Kramer told me she can’t wait to turn up the heat. “I’m excited to get out there and be sassy! I’m going to be a little sass kitten.” (For the record, I reminded Jana that she’s pretty much been doing that all season long.)
On a more serious note, Jana said she was grateful for how Most Memorable Year week turned out, even if plenty of tears were shed. “I love the night because I feel like we’re all able to break down a wall,” she said. “Gleb choreographed an amazing routine for my daughter.” As it turns out, Jana and Gleb actually wanted her daughter to be part of the dance, but couldn’t because of “safety reasons.’
While there are still a few more months to go in 2016, Jana already knows one thing she’s grateful for: “I’ve learned how strong I am. I had no idea how strong I am until I had my daughter. I’m forever grateful for that little peanut because she’s given me so much light and strength that I never imagined I could ever have.”
Speaking of giving thanks, Canadian James Hinchcliffe celebrated his Thanksgiving a day early with his girlfriend and Sharna back east. “We all had some turkey last night and sweet potatoes, and I tried to have a mini commonwealth Thanksgiving!” Of course, as viewers now know, what James is most grateful for is his ability to walk away from that racing accident that left him fighting for his life. “I’m a very, very lucky guy and I know that,” he said backstage. “That’s the important thing—realizing it. And appreciating it.”
During last night’s show, Carrie Ann Inaba declared Team Stop ‘n’ Go the ones to beat, but James admitted that he “almost wish[es] she hadn’t said that!” Sharna echoed her partner’s sentiment: “It’s both [a blessing and a curse to hear that]. It tells you that the hard work is really paying off…but it’s also a curse because it’s a lot of pressure! We’re at the top of the leaderboard and that is damn hard to keep up.”
Still, now that DWTS is back to one night a week for the rest of the season, Sharna is looking forward to the extra prep time to keep them at the top. “To be honest, I don’t know how we did it with the double shows for all those seasons,” she admitted. “I miss that Tuesday as a rehearsal day or a prep day or even an off day. I think it will make it so much easier on everybody, just energy levels and being able to prepare and produce great routines.”
Of course, there’s another reason Sharna is looking forward to not having a show day tonight: “I don’t know how to get all these rhinestones off my face,” she joked of her sparkly look. “It’s glue on my face! I might still look like this next week. I don’t even know if I’m able to take it off [by myself]. I feel like I must have said I wanted to be dipped in glue and rolled around in Swarovski crystals!”
Original post: The Dances:
Maureen McCormick and Artem Chigvintsev: Maureen got emotional in her rehearsal package as she relived the year that she married her husband, Michael. Prior to 1985, Maureen had a five-year cocaine addiction; she credits her husband with saving her life and pulling her out of that dark time. To pay tribute to him, Maureen and Artem danced a romantic foxtrot that Julianne Hough called her best dance of the season. Bruno said the dance was so magical that everyone will want to get married just so they can dance to it. But the best moment came when Maureen greeted her husband in the sky box. He gushed over her so much that I half-expected a priest to pop out and renew their vows. (Hey, DWTS producers, you should have been on that.) Score: 24/30
Calvin Johnson and Lindsay Arnold: Megatron picked 2012, the year that he broke NFL legend Jerry Rice’s record. Lindsay noted it’s also the year that she graduated high school. Oh, youth. Dancing to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Calvin dressed up like a blue mirrorball in a sequined suit and put his charm on display. Then, Jerry Rice made a surprise cameo to throw him a football at the end of the dance. It wasn’t as exciting as a Jaleel White (Steve Urkel) surprise appearance, but it’ll do. Score: 24/30
Jana Kramer and Gleb Savchenko: Jana said 2016 is her most memorable year because it’s the year she had her daughter. She also opened up about her worst year, 10 years ago, when she was abused by her ex-husband. “It really took having [my daughter] to repair [that damage],” Jana tearfully revealed. “I never want my daughter to go through what I went through.” Dancing to Martina McBride’s “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” Jana performed a stunning contemporary that ended with her embracing her young daughter. Carrie Ann Inaba called it a “breakthrough,” and Julianne Hough said it was “perseverance.” Score: 26/30
Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke: Ryan picked 2008 as his most memorable year because it was the year he brought home his first gold medal at the summer games in Beijing. He started crying while recounting the moment he saw that he was the world record holder in the 4×200 meter race, but it was his dedication to his mom (“who has always been by my side”) that was most impressive. Something else impressive? Ryan’s dancing, which has grown leaps and bounds since week one. “You really showed your strength, your emotions, your tenderness,” Bruno said. “This is the way to go.” Score: 24/30
Laurie Hernandez and Val Chmerkovskiy: Val said Laurie picked 2016 as her most memorable year because it’s the year she got to compete on her favorite show, Dancing With the Stars. Although the true answer is the Rio Olympics, that’s probably only a half truth considering how much she’s wanted to do DWTS since she was a little girl. But the real emotion came during rehearsal, when Laurie revealed that Val’s teaching methods haven’t been the easiest to learn from. It was a raw moment from our favorite human emoji, but one that probably endeared her to more fans who thought all of this was a cake walk for the Olympian. As for the dance itself, Bruno said she messed up her paso doble and her footwork wasn’t as clean. Could of fooled me. Score: 25/30
Marilu Henner and Derek Hough: Marilu chose 1978 and considered it the best of times and the worst of times because it was the year her mother passed away and she booked Taxi. I don’t even know if I heard half of what happened next because the entire press room was crying, and rightfully so. Marilu’s story about her mother (who was a dance teacher and died from complications related to rheumatoid arthritis) was so moving, Marilu could have chosen to sit on the floor the entire dance, and I still would have thought it was an extraordinary performance. Score: 27/30
Amber Rose and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: Amber said having her son has made her stronger, and she wants him to look at her “like I’m Superwoman.” But the real emotion in the rehearsal package didn’t come until Sunday’s DWTS camera blocking, when Amber broke down trying to dance the samba in uncomfortable heels. It’s a bit of an odd cut because what was shown of Amber’s story wasn’t nearly as long or as emotional as the other contestants. The dance itself was OK, but her kaleidoscope of colors ensemble is to die for. Score: 24/30
James Hinchcliffe and Sharna Burgess: 2015 could have easily been the end of not only James’ career, but his life, thanks to a crash on the track that struck an artery. It’s incredible that not only James is alive, but that he’s able to walk. The fact that this happened only last year makes James’ story even more of a miracle. And then he went out on the dance floor and performed a rocking tango with Sharna that stunned the hell out of the audience. The guy’s a walking miracle and Carrie Ann said that James “is the one to beat.” Score: 29/30
Terra Jole and Sasha Farber: In 2013, Terra was on tour with Miley Cyrus while her father had a liver transplant. “The day he was going to be released, he had a heart attack and he passed away,” a tearful Terra said. “I was supposed to be there, and I regret that.” That same month, she started production on Little Women: L.A. “My dad never got to see me succeed…If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.” Excuse us while we get another box of tissue. DWTS saved the best for last. Score: 27/30
Dancing With the Stars airs Monday nights on ABC.
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