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Dancing with the Stars Finale: Is Bindi Irwin a Shoo-In to Win?

Carrie Ann Inaba sizes up the finalists

Liz Raftery

Is a victory for Bindi Irwin a foregone conclusion on Dancing with the Stars? Not necessarily, according to judge Carrie Ann Inaba.

"I think it's going to be a very, very close run," Inaba tells TVGuide.com. "I hear Bindi's name come up a lot when people are talking about who they think is going to win. And yes, she's got this incredible personality and she's done consistently well. But ... not to bring her down at all, because she's absolutely incredible, but when you're that good every time, the level of expectation is very, very high. And I think she's shown us so many incredible sides of herself, I wonder what she's going to show us for the finale. Because you could be great all season, but if you don't win that night, you don't win."

Any of the other three finalists - Nick Carter, Carlos PenaVega and Alek Skarlatos - could give the young Aussie a run for her money, Inaba says.

"Bindi's been strong and she's been the leader horse out in the front, but I feel like these other guys, the three men, are right on her tail," Inaba says. "And [among] the three of them, I feel like it's a neck-and-neck run. Maybe Nick is just a hair ahead of the other guys, but who knows? Because they're all on this incredible growth trajectory."

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One thing Inaba can guarantee is that the pros will be going for jaw-dropping moments - which could either be amazing or totally backfire. "I'm hoping that they will make creative choices that are great," she says. "Sometimes the pros get ambitious and they want to go for the fan vote, and you've got to be careful. I think this year, because it is so tight scoring-wise, everybody's really close to each other, I think they're going to take some risks. And I just hope that they're risks that will pay off for them. Carlos' risk last week, I didn't care for it. I thought that it was distracting to the dance."

The two-part finale will see the finalists performing a number of routines, one of which will be a redo of a dance they've already performed, chosen by the judges. ("That's my favorite part of the season, when we get to go into the studio and work with them a little and interact with the contestants, because we have such limited interaction with them throughout the season," Inaba admits. "It was fun to get to know them up close.") Also, for the first time, the finale will include a live segment broadcast from The Grove.

We asked Inaba to break down the four finalists in terms of strengths and weaknesses, as well as what each needs to do to prevail. Here's what she had to say:

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Nick Carter
Pro partner: Sharna Burgess

Strengths: His musicality, for one. Two, his showmanship. No. 3, he's a Backstreet Boy! He knows how to perform. He knows how to work the room. He knows how to tap into the audience's energy. He knows how to work the crowd. He's also - and this is interesting, because it may not seem like a strength - but he's very vulnerable. That has turned into one of his strengths, because he's not afraid to really push himself into a place where he's not comfortable, and experiment with it while he's on the dance floor. I find it to be very brave, and I think it draws you in, because he's really struggling with something within himself when he's dancing. He's really trying to have a real breakthrough. He's not masking it with a fancy move over it. He's struggling with trying to get the move right. Because he's a polished performer, because he was a Backstreet Boy, he could easily just take the shorter route and just do something that he's comfortable in. I'm very impressed with him, because he's always pushing his boundaries. Every week, he strives for more, and it's paid off. I think right now, Nick has hit his stride. Even though he had a rough week last week, he was able to come back. He didn't stay in his head. I think he is the most exciting performer right now.

Weaknesses: He gets in his head a lot. And because he gets in his head and he starts overthinking the dances, he sort of loses all that showmanship. He loses his presence. He loses his posture. The form and technique all go out the window. Sometimes he's a bit pigeon-toed when he dances. He's got to watch his feet. His biggest weakness is that he shuffles his feet. When he's not feeling confident, he doesn't place his feet well, which ruins basically the whole line of the body for me. ... That mostly comes back to his overthinking. When he gets in his head, he's not aware of what his feet are doing, and he takes little extra steps.

How he could win: In order for Nick to win the Mirrorball trophy, he has got to ground himself, and he's got to really believe in himself and have the true confidence that he deserves to have, because he's worked hard and I do think it's there. He's a guy that, if it comes together, it's going to come together just in the nick of time. And if it does, I think it will be incredible. I think he's really the one to watch.

Bindi Irwin
Pro partner: Derek Hough

Strengths: Bindi is strong, and she's disciplined, and every performance, she gives 100 percent of her heart and soul into the performance. She never gets in her head when she dances, and that's, I think, her strongest point - her mental discipline to always be upbeat and bright when she dances. She's very consistent and her technique is very, very strong. She is very solid in the hold. She's a well-rounded athlete.

Weaknesses: In her posture, sometimes she'll lose the line of the top frame a little bit. Sometimes her shoulders will come up when she dances. I think for her the biggest possible con is that, because she's been so consistently good, it can become a little bland when you watch her, like how she was with her salsa. That was good, and it was crisp and it was clean, but it wasn't dynamic.

How she could win: She has to make sure that she brings something very unique and dynamic to every performance, and if she doesn't do that, I don't think she'll win it. She's pushed herself really far. She's grown leaps and bounds throughout the season, and she's got to keep growing through that last night. She could go home with the Mirrorball if she brings out something that we haven't seen before of her. She's unafraid to take risks; let's just hope that they're risks that will pay off.

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Alek Skarlatos
Pro partner: Lindsay Arnold

Strengths: He is really, really solid. His lines and shaping are very, very clear, and he's got great technique. Lindsay has done a fabulous job of teaching him the basics, and now we see it pay off. It's just incredible how strong he is. We saw it in his Argentine tango when he had two partners. He's a fantastic partner. He and Bindi are our strongest competitors, physically speaking - and strength goes a long way, because dancing is a sport. What I think has been also good for him is he's got this momentum right now. He started out as an absolute non-performer ... and we've really seen him blossom. Last week he got his first set of 10s. He's sort of a wild card. He's the dark horse. You don't know what to expect from him. I think the expectations are a little bit lower for him than the other people, because he's not had as many consistently great performances. But he's still blossoming. There's something exciting about him. There's such clarity in movement that it's really fun to watch. It's very pleasant on the eyes, the way he moves. There's not a lot of extraneous movement that's distracting or trying to wow us for no reason. He sticks to the program.

Weaknesses: He's newer to performing and creating the emotional integrity of the story line. He's not as comfortable expressing all of his emotions, so the full range of his emotional performance is not as strong as some of our other competitors. His musicality is not as strong as other competitors', and I think in general he lacks a bit of fluidity from movement to movement. He hits the poses and he hits great lines, but sometimes the transition between the lines is not always as emotionally driven.

How he could win: If we had some sort of huge breakthrough from him in the finals, he could win it, because he's got momentum. If he can wow us with an incredible performance. I know that for him, the judges' pick is a rumba, so I know that's going to be a very big challenge for him. Last time he did the rumba was Week 5 with Emma. He was so smitten with Emma he forgot to move his hips. [Laughs] But now he's with Lindsay, so it'll be a great opportunity for him to showcase that he really can master the Latin, the Cuban motion of the hips.

Carlos PenaVega
Pro partner: Witney Carson

Strengths: He's naturally charismatic. He's like a firecracker when he gets on the dance floor. People love him. He's exciting. He's a bit rough around the edges, but you just get drawn in because you know he's dancing on his edge. He's a risk-taker. He's got great musicality, and he has swagger. Out of all our contestants, I think he's got the most natural swagger. He's got his own style. Sometimes that works for him, though, and sometimes that works against him.

Weaknesses: He's not always polished in his lines. One of his biggest weaknesses is that he tends to dance small. He closes his chest and he brings his shoulders in. We've seen that before with people that get too bulky. It just sort of kills the beautiful line and the elongated neck and shoulders and the open back and chest. That line gets broken when you have too many muscles sometimes. I think the women are really enjoying when he takes off his shirt this season - he's worked hard on his body and it looks fantastic - but the body has to move well in order to win the Mirrorball. So, he's got to be careful with making sure that he keeps his shoulders back and down and his chest open. Another one of his problems is, even though he's got great musicality, when he starts dancing small, he tends to rush. So he gets ahead of the beat, because he's not feeling each beat with all the movements.

How he could win: If he dances large and expands into this space. For him, the biggest breakthrough is, if he dances as big as he can, with his chest open and really finishes every movement, he's going to be fantastic, because he'll fill the music, he'll fill the space and he'll fill the room with that incredible charisma that he has.

The Dancing with the Stars Season 21 finale airs Monday at 8/7c and Tuesday at 9/8c on ABC. Who are you rooting for? Vote in our poll!