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Plus: Which dance(s) moved the judges to tears?
It's a night of emotional ups and downs on Dancing with the Stars this week, for several reasons. First, because tonight's theme is the old stalwart "Most Memorable Year of Your Life," which is sure to bring out some tearjerking stories from the contestants. (Hi, Bindi Irwin!)
Also, for the second week in a row, we get treated to a guest appearance by Season 19 champ Alfonso Ribeiro - but it comes under unfortunate circumstances. Alfonso is filling in tonight for co-host Tom Bergeron, who skipped the show to be at the bedside of his ailing father. Our thoughts are with you, Tom!
And, midway through the broadcast, one of the pros reveals she's expecting! Read on to find out who ... and whether she'll stay in the competition:
Dancing with the Stars: Meet the Season 21 cast!
Alexa PenaVega and Mark Ballas (foxtrot)
The dance: The little "Singin' in the Rain"-esque skit is cute, and Alexa does a pretty decent job for her first ballroom dance of the season - at first. She looks a little tentative at times, but that might be a result of Alfonso's comment about her husband Carlos still weighing on her mind. Or it might be that Alexa's missteps are just snowballing and marring her confidence, as the dance starts to completely unravel towards the end.
What the judges say: Julianne loved the concept and energy, but says that Alexa's mishap ruined the dance overall. Bruno also points out her missteps, and says her frame was "all over the place." Carrie Ann is grateful that they showed off their theatricality.
Score: 21 (out of 30)
Gary Busey and Anna Trebunskaya (jazz)
The dance: Poor Gary is not long for this competition. He looks like he's having the time of his life out there, God bless him, twirling around with Anna with a thousand-watt grin on his face. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Anna, who puts on a brave face but must be wanting to crawl into a hole, especially when Gary decides to go completely off script at one point. If only that lightness would carry down to his feet, we'd all be better off.
What the judges say: Bruno tells Gary his passion almost outweighs his "unique interpretation" of the dances, but he has to work on his precision. Carrie Ann gently tells Gary that he is not showing improvement week to week. ("Keep your eyes open," is Gary's retort). Julianna admires Gary's persistence, whatever that means.
Tamar Braxton and Val Chmerkovskiy (rumba)
The dance: Tamar is dancing to her own song tonight, so there are high hopes that she'll nail the musicality of this dance. And she doesn't disappoint. Her and Val's rumba is passionate and elegant. Val forsakes flashy choreography for simplicity with this one, and it's a wise choice.
What the judges say: Carrie Ann is still in tears over Tamar's story about almost losing her husband in 2012, but says the dance moved her even more. Julianne says Tamar obviously stepped up her game tonight (from an 8 to a 9). Bruno thinks the connection between Val and Tamar was "perfection" tonight and thanks them for doing a "proper rumba."
Dancing boss: Paula Deen isn't out to redeem herself
Hayes Grier and Emma Slater (contemporary)
The dance: Hayes is only 15, as Emma reminds us in their package, so does he have the maturity to pull off the passion and intensity of this contemporary routine? The answer (surprisingly?) is yes. He looks a little bit uncertain during the lifts, but otherwise everything about this routine is on point. His physicality is really impressive, and his fluidity is a marked difference from previous weeks.
What the judges say: "What just happened?!" a shocked Julianne tells Hayes, noting that he's "completely broken out of his shell." Bruno has a similar reaction, praising Hayes for getting the technically advanced routine down and acting out the character with aplomb. Carrie Ann calls Hayes' movements - even the lifts - "graceful."
Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold (paso doble)
The dance: Alek's most memorable year is, obviously, 2015 - but not for the reasons you might think. He recounts the story of stopping a gunman on a European train (which landed him theDancing with the Stars gig in the first place). But we also learn that Alek is an alum of Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where the mass shooting took place last week, and was planning to return to classes there before "the train thing" happened and set his life on a different course. As far as the dance itself, it's nice to see a more serious side of Alek as a change from his usual goofy routines, and it's clear that he's putting his heart and soul into this dance. Props to Lindsay for some eye-catching choreography too.
What the judges say: Bruno says what we're all thinking, that he's impressed at Alek's ability to perform under such emotionally fraught circumstances. (He does offer Alek some pointers on his hips.) "It wasn't the most impressive dance, but it was strong and sturdy," according to Carrie Ann. Julianne compliments the connection between Alek and Lindsay and tells Alek to not be afraid to express his emotions more openly in the dance itself.
Dancing's Derek Hough: This is one of the most special weeks in my career
Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess (jazz)
The dance: Nick's most memorable year is 1992, when he left his dysfunctional family and joined the Backstreet Boys. (And yes, some of his former bandmates - as well as boy band rival Joey Fatone - are here to support him.) So he's dancing a jazz to "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)." Does nearly two decades of practice put him at an unfair advantage for this number? Hmm ... But either way, he does a predictably good job, though I'm not sure how much jazz content Sharna was able to work into this one.
What the judges say: Not much of substance! Carrie Ann says Nick is better now than when he was with BSB. Julianne holds up an "I <3 Nick" sign. Bruno calls the dance a "mega sexy mega hit."
Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson (waltz)
The dance: Carlos reveals that he fell into a marijuana-fueled depression after returning from touring with Big Time Rush in 2012, but found both God and his wife Alexa at a Bible study shortly thereafter. He and (newly-engaged!) Witney are doing their waltz to a gorgeous, live a cappella version of "Amazing Grace," and the song selection really takes this dance to the next level. It's a gorgeous, evocative dance, and even a wince-worthy stumble by Carlos towards the end doesn't completely kill the mood.
What the judges say: Julianne thanks Carlos for sharing his story, but tells him he can get a bigger range if he fixes his shoulders. Bruno loves Carlos' conviction as far as the performance goes, but notes his "incident" at the end and says his hold needs work. Carrie Ann doesn't care about any technical aspects, but says the creative expression was mind-blowing.
Paula Deen and Louis Van Amstel (cha cha)
The dance: Paula Deen picks 1989 for her most memorable year, when she got divorced and started her own business. Her cha cha to Aretha Franklin's "Respect" might be the most slow-moving cha cha I've ever seen, but Paula is into it. The lip-syncing still kills me, and she makes a bad slip at one point, but the biggest problem is that Paula doesn't look at all natural out on the dance floor and still seems like she's counting off all the steps in her head (when she remembers to).
What the judges say: Bruno compliments her for only messing up once and says she's made "a step in the right direction." Carrie Ann says she gets frustrated with Paula for not maintaining her focus when she makes mistakes. Julianne suggests that Paula start reciting daily affirmations.
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Andy Grammer and Allison Holker (cha cha)
The dance: ... gets overshadowed by Allison's reveal earlier in the broadcast that she's pregnant! (Sorry to Andy and his moving recollection of his mother dying from breast cancer - but wise of the show to separate Allison's announcement from his story.) Congratulations to her and her husband tWitch - and have no fear, Team Double A supporters, she vows that she's still completely devoted to competing with Andy, even though she'd be six months pregnant at the finals. Andy's been criticized for his musicality, but like Tamar, he's dancing to his own song tonight, so hopefully this bodes well. He's caught Paula Deen Lip Syncing Syndrome, but at least he stays on time for most of the dance. And this is definitely the most exuberant we've seen him.
What the judges say: Carrie Ann prefaces her remarks with "I'm judging the dance," so you know this doesn't bode well. She criticizes Andy's awkwardness, and says his elbows don't look like they're in sync with the rest of his body. Julianne disagrees and says this is the most comfortable Andy's looked since Week 1. Bruno says the message came through, if the technique was a little "flat-footed."
Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough (contemporary)
The dance: Save the biggest sob story for last. Bindi's Most Memorable Year, obviously, is 2006, the year her father Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray. I have no clue how Bindi gets through this dance, considering that I'm having a tough time just sitting on the couch without sniffling and dabbing my eyes. I'm not a fan of this version of The Police's "Every Breath You Take," but Derek's choreography is mesmerizing, and Bindi obviously trusts him completely as a partner, which is really nice to see. She saves her breakdown for the very end.
What the judges say: Julianne barely collects herself to tell her brother and Bindi that the dance was a "breathtaking" tribute. Bruno tells Bindi that her father was dancing with her every step of the way (and hands out our first 10 of the season). And Carrie Ann calls Bindi a "bright light" who dances with beauty and passion.
Now for the results. Tonight's elimination will take into account the previous two weeks' worth of judges' scores and audience votes, since Kim and Tony withdrew last week.
In jeopardy: Carlos and Witney, Gary and Anna
Safe: Carlos and Witney
Eliminated: Gary and Anna
Well ... that was not unexpected, but Gary leaves us with this zinger: "The fact that I have been eliminated is false ... because my spirit, with Anna as a partnership, will remain in this room throughout the show. So you won't see us dancing, but we'll be there."
And that's a wrap. (But not before Gary tells Alfonso to "shut up" as our guest host desperately tries to sign off before Castle.)
What did you think, Dancing fans? Whose Most Memorable Year story was your favorite? Which matchups are you hoping to see in next week's Switch Up? And are you disappointed that Gary won't be dancing anymore? Sound off in the comments!
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.
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