Night one of the finals opens with the obligatory “This is the Finale!” opening montage, and also a large opening number with live singing, courtesy Meghan Trainor. No cramming anything tonight; there’ll be two rounds over the next two hours. The first involves the judges picking a style each couple they think they can improve on, and a judge dropping in to give pointers:
Carlos PenaVega & Witney Carson: Foxtrot; “The Hills” The Weeknd. They did this style in Week 2, and Bruno expresses an opinion Carlos can do it with his shoulders right, and spends much time instructing him on that. Carlos also expresses a wish for a perfect score, since they’re the only finalists who haven’t gotten one. The song is kind of weird for the foxtrot, and Witney sets up the ballroom to make it look anything but traditional, but Carlos is foxtrottingly elegant, as well as hitting all the moves with the force necessary for the music. Julianne even calls in the sexiest foxtrot she’d ever seen, and after the other two judges have raved as well, it turns out Carlos has a perfect score now!
Alek Skarlatos & Lindsay Arnold: Rumba; “The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore” James Morrison. Carrie Ann shows up in the studio to drill him into doing hip action. He did this dance with Emma Slater on Switch-Up week, and insists his relationship with Witney is too brother-sister to make this comfortable. They manage to overcome that enough to convey some emotion tonight, but the hip action Carrie Ann tried to instill into him doesn’t appear too much. The judges praise their chemistry, but they cannot ignore his often-still hips, and give him straight Nines for 27.
Nick Carter & Sharna Burgess: Jive; “Runaway Baby” Bruno Mars. They too did the style in Week 2, when his moves weren’t too sharp and he had a slip up, so Julianne comes to the studio and drills him on his kicks and flicks. Sharna is confidence enough to choreograph a very difficult content-heavy routine, and that confidence wasn’t misplaced. When they charge onto the floor he absolutely nails it, kicks, flicks, energy, and all. Carrie Ann sums up the judges’ opinions with her opening word: “Cowabunga!” By the time the paddles come up, it’s clear it’ll be a perfect 30, and sure enough it is.
Bindi Irwin & Derek Hough: Quickstep; “Dr. Bones” Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. They did it Week 3, and there was room for improvement, but when Carrie Ann, pulling double duty, comes into the studio, we mainly see her tell Derek not to break hold, since doing so might have cost him the All Star title. His main problem this week, on the other hand, is getting sick, and when this is one of the most taxing styles to dance energywise. Luckily he’s got Bindi with him, who has no energy problems at all, and from the time he takes her in hold after the opening flourish, obediently staying that way till the closing one, they out-nail and out-energize even Nick & Sharna! Julianne calls Bindi an energizer bunny and Carrie Ann calls her in a class of her own, and of course they give them another perfect 30.
In between the rounds, we get singer Who is Fancy joined by Ariana Grande and Trainor to perform his new single, “Boys Like You,” during which all three of them flirt their heads off delightfully with the male pros, and even make use of those Ten paddles themselves! One final intro montage later, we’re ready for the freestyle round:
Carlos PenaVega & Witney Carson: Freestyle; “WTF (Where They From)” Missy Elliot feat Pharrel Williams. Carlos calls it a mix of hip-hop and salsa, while Witney calls it the story of Carlos and the two of them. To this purpose, they invite not only wife Alexa, but also Hayes Grier & Paula Deen(ugh, really?) to take part in the dance. Husband and wife dancing together is a highlight, but really, the whole dance is a crazy delight; things don’t get this joyful that often. The judges agree, with Bruno crying “Hip-Hop Hooray!” and Carrie Ann calls “the freshest, flyest freestyle I have ever seen!” Three raised paddles later, Carlos & Witney have a perfect 60 too!
Alek Skarlatos & Lindsay Arnold: Freestyle; “Marching On” OneRepublic. Lindsay speaks of the obstacles Alek’s had to overcome and wants to make the ballroom an army training obstacle course, although then she has to worry about what they can actually do and what they can risk. In the end, they have two obstacles and a stylized trust fall, with a lot of emotional choreography that conveys the idea perfectly when combined with all the trappings. This is a truly moving number, and Carrie Ann perhaps gives it the ultimate compliment when she talks about how it’ll be remembered in the years to come. Julianne also speaks of chills when the three judges raise their Ten paddles to take Alek & Lindsay up to 57.
Bindi Irwin & Derek Hough: Freestyle; “Footprints in Sand” Leona Lewis. Derek decides not to use the frills this season, saying this is a partner who doesn’t need them. Bindi speaks of feeling her father’s presence in rehearsal and the routine reflecting this. You do feel the emotion of that, as the two of them engage in pure dancing, needing no additions-until the end, when a lighting effect projects footprints forming between them, before her father’s face appears on a screen. Which Bindi apparently did not know was coming, but when she breaks down, she’s far from the only one. Carrie Ann & Julianne are among those in tears as the former calls this a “dancer’s freestyle,” and they too get another perfect score and go to 60.
Nick Carter & Sharna Burgess: Freestyle; “Larger Than Life” Backstreet Boys. She calls it a celebration of all he’s accomplished this season, he, aware he’s behind in the scores, talks about wanting to go out with a bang as well as the importance of the song to him. They bring the audience in to the stage to make it feel like a concert, and Nick gives it all in his dancing, and much of it without Sharna; she’s not much of a presence in this freestyle. And in many a season, this knockout number would be the best of the night. It’s unfortunate it was preceded by such a spectacular set of freestyles it doesn’t quite match up to. The judges praise it, though, since it deserved that, and they give him straight Tens, since he deserves that too, so they end the night with 60.
By the time Bindi had danced, Julianne was already called this the best final they’ve ever had, and it has been. Unfortunately, we still have to get rid of someone. Alek & Lindsay are the first to be granted passage to tomorrow night, and there’ll be no late shock elimination for Derek this season; he and Bindi are in too. That leaves Carlos & Witney and Nick & Sharna, with the former having a five point lead on the latter when the scores from the last two weeks are combined, but you know the latter are the pair that deserves the top three when you look at the entire season. And they probably got more votes, but did they get enough more votes to overcome that kind of point difference?
They did; Carlos & Witney are out. Carlos calls the experience “Life-changing” as Alexa hurries over to join them while they watch a final farewell montage.
So that leaves three couples with two perfect scores, three perfect freestyles, two out of this world freestyles, and one couple that had all of these. So Bindi & Derek, now that they’ve survived to the top three, are the favorites, but really, you feel like any of the three can win it. It may even be the final dances tomorrow that decide it.