“Dancing with the Stars” season 20 continued April 6 on ABC with a night of performances inspired by the 10 remaining celebrity contestants’ most memorable years. An action-packed, surprise-rich evening ensued, as the judges flashed more than one perfect 10, an unlikely leader board topper emerged, and a third hopeful was sent packing.
Show hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews opened the night’s action by telling gymnast Nastia Liukin and Derek Hough that they were safe to dance again. With virtually no ado, they kicked off the night with their dance to honor 2008, the year that Nastia won an incredible five medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
The duo’s Argentine Tango to “Variations on Dark Eyes” was amazing, complete with expressive faces and incredible, dramatic lifts. Derek threw her around like a rag doll, but Nastia held her form like a pro. She is so, so good. Her gymnastics training may give her a training edge, but that kind of natural ability can’t be taught.
Len Goodman called it a “fantastic dance” but thought it lacked the lady-of-the-night “character” of the style. Julianne Hough praised Nastia for her strong back and said “you nailed it in 2008 and you nailed it tonight.” Bruno Tonioli called it “a stunner” and said it had “the dazzling quality of a gem sculpted by the hand of a master.” Carrie Ann Inaba called it “incredible” and chided Len for being cranky. The pair earned 36 points, including the first perfect 10 of the season, which was awarded by an enthused Bruno.
Following a break, Tom and Erin shared more results, as “Shark Tank” star Robert Herjavec and Kym Johnson were proclaimed safe, and singer Riker Lynch and Allison Holker, and football player Michael Sam and Peta Murgatroyd all learned they were in danger of elimination.
The dancing continued with the newly endangered Michael and Peta. Michael shared the heartbreaking story of how his father turned on him after he revealed that he was gay in 2014. He called his “I’m Not My Father’s Son” rumba the story of his relationship with his dad, and vowed that like the dance, he too will come out okay in the end.
It was an emotional performance and Michael truly danced with his heart and not just his body. It was easily his best performance to date.
Julianne praised his vulnerability and called the dance “so beautiful” while a teary-eyed Bruno told him that he should be very proud of himself for speaking out and called the effort Michael’s best dance. Carrie Ann praised him for “truly dancing your soul for us” but suggested that he let go of some of his strength. Len, finally, praised Michael for coming through the tunnel and into the light. They scored 30 points.
Riker and Allison followed, and like Michael, the singer chose 2014 as his most memorable year. Unlike Michael, Riker picked the year for a happy reason: it was the year when his band, R5, really struck it big.
The duo’s tango, set to Walk the Moon’s peppy “Shut Up and Dance,” was sharp and crisp, but there was something a little hinky with Riker’s frame. It was enjoyable and fun, but a little uncomfortable. It was almost as if Riker needed to loosen up just a little.
Bruno praised Riker’s talent and enthusiasm and gave the pair props for doing “a proper tango” to difficult music. Carrie Ann appreciated his “refinement” but thought their chemistry was “off” and Len called it a bit “on the hectic side” but said it was “better than last week.” Julianne told them they’d danced a little too close together, but loved their “pop.” Riker and Allison notched 34 points.
Up fourth to hoof it were Robert and Kym. The so-called Nice Shark chose to remember 2006, the year that his mom and biggest fan died of ovarian cancer. His tearful package concluded with Robert saying “this one’s for you, mom.”
Set to Engelbert Humperdinck’s “The Last Waltz” –which Robert shared was his mom’s favorite tune– Robert and Kym’s waltz was elegant and beautiful. His growth over the past month has been amazing. He takes Kym’s instruction and really internalizes and learns from the judges. It’s no wonder he’s so wealthy.
Carrie Ann, near tears, called it “so sweet” and said she was sure that Robert’s mom was “beaming.” Len said it was his best dance to date and said that his mom was “looking down and cheering and cheering.” Julianne praised him for his “incredible” frame and commended Kym for her “classic and gorgeous” choreography. She said he has the best technique and most footwork of all the guys. Bruno called it “strictly ballroom and absolutely wonderful.” Robert and Kym scored 34 points, their best mark of the season by a wide margin.
Following a break, three more couples learned their fates, as “The Bachelor” Chris Soules and Witney Carson, actress Rumer Willis and Val Chmerkovskiy, and Grammy winner Patti LaBelle and Artem Chigvintsev were all declared safe to dance again.
Then lickety-split, Chris and Witney were up to perform. Chris, of course, chose the year of his term as “The Bachelor” when he met fiancee Whitney Bischoff –2014– as his most memorable.
Set to a live iteration of Gavin James’ “The Book of Love,” the pair’s rumba was simple but sweet. It was good, but not especially memorable, and not especially rife with actual content.
Len hemmed and hawed before finally saying it “wasn’t that great.” Julianne praised Chris for improving each week, but said she thought a connection between Chris and Witney was missing. Bruno called him “extremely genuine… in your performances” but said he wanted to see “more flow.” Carrie Ann disagreed with Julianne, noting that she’d seen a moment when they “clicked” and she felt their connection. The duo scored 27 points.
Opening the second hour with a dance inspired by 1973 –the year of Patti’s son’s birth– were Patti and Artem. The Grammy winner rocked out jazz-style to the sounds of one of her own tunes, “Dan Swit Me.” It was pure fun seeing her strut her stuff and she worked her legs like someone half her age. Who says 70 isn’t young?
Julianne said she wanted to “get out there and dance with” Patti. Bruno rose to his feet and gave comments amounting to “I loved it.” Carrie Ann whopped and hollered and called it “out of control.” A grinning Len capped off the comments by deeming it “a cappuccino of a dance.” The pair notched a mark of 30.
Rumer and Val followed with a waltz inspired by the model’s most memorable year, 2014. Before hitting the ballroom, Rumer recalled her “super awkward” teenage years and how she used to think that plastic surgery could change the way she was perceived. Inevitably, though, she was inspired by her sister Tallulah’s ability to shut out hurtful words and dedicated the dance to her and to all who feel like they’re less than enough.
Set to the moody Adele hit “Turning Tables,” Rumer and Val’s dance was a work of art. Rumer’s movements are just so crisp and precise and she moves with such compact, intense emotion that it’s hard to find fault with her when she dances.
Bruno said it was “like watching the striking reflection of who you are” and praised her ability to “connect with the character of the dance.” Carrie Ann was taken with her movements and how she dances. Len called it “a great dance,” but wasn’t sure that it had the earmarks of a true waltz. Julianne, finally, called Rumer “such a beautiful juxtaposition” of character and being. Rumer and Val posted a total of 35.
With just half an hour remaining, the last three couples — actress Willow Shields and Mark Ballas, war veteran Noah Galloway and Sharna Burgess, and actress Suzanne Somers and Tony Dovolani– learned their fates. Noah, Sharna, Suzanne, and Tony were proclaimed safe, while Willow and Mark found themselves in jeopardy.
With that out of the way, Suzanne and Tony were up with their routine, which was inspired by 1977, the year that she scored what would become her iconic role: the snort-a-rific Chrissy Snow on “Three’s Company.” Suzanne dedicated the routine to her long lost friend, John Ritter, who played Jack Tripper on the show and with whom she shared “once in a lifetime” comic chemistry.
Cleverly set to the “Three’s Company” theme song and situated inside an amazing mock-up of the show’s set, their foxtrot was a sweet, nostalgia-inducing bit of fun. It was the perfect tribute to John and the perfect dance to bring Chrissy back to life for the current generation.
Carrie Ann praised Suzanne for saying “hello to the competition.” Len said it was “full of the feel good factor.” Julianne called her “totally in your element” but encouraged her to work on her upper body. Bruno called it “so sweet and uplifting,” but cautioned her against letting her shoulders rise. The pair scored 28 points (and giggled as they admitted they were disappointed with the marks).
With time waning, Willow and Mark were up with their memorable year performance. The teen shared that her most memorable year was 2011, when she was cast as Primrose Everdeen in “The Hunger Games.”
Clearly inspired by the role that made her famous, Willow and Mark’s contemporary routine set to Coldplay’s “Atlas” featured several “DWTS” troupe members, swords, and an eventual victory by the teen. It was very expressive and Willow moved extremely well.
Len called it “fantastic” and Julianne found it “incredible” and said she was proud of her weekly improvement. Bruno called it “a triumph for my little warrior” and praised her for “attacking every move with absolute clear sense of purpose.” Carrie Ann, finally, was “blown away.” Willow and Mark earned an amazing 39 points –including 10s from everyone but Len– for the dance.
Up last to dance were Noah and Sharna, and the veteran’s heartbreaking story of loss and pain was easily one of the night’s most tear-jerking tales. But the accompanying story of determination and survival that helped him to rise above that terrible day in 2005 also made it the evening’s most inspirational performance.
Appropriately set to the Toby Keith hit “American Soldier,” Noah and Sharna’s contemporary routine was an incredible testament to what the human spirit can accomplish in the face of seemingly insurmountable limitations. He does more with one arm and one leg than most people do with two of each.
Julianne, on the verge of tears, praised him for “astonishing” her with his work. Bruno praised his spirit and called him “the ultimate role model” and a real life “super hero.” Carrie Ann likened his dancing to a haiku, calling it limited but “more profound than most.” Len called him “an inspiration” and encouraged everyone to stand up and applaud. Noah and Sharna earned 32 points.
With time almost up, Tom and Erin revealed the evening’s final results. Willow and Mark were declared safe to dance again, leaving just two couples in danger (although they were not necessarily the bottom two). After the usual dramatic pause, Michael and Peta were eliminated from the competition. Michael called it “an awesome experience” and applauded Peta for her efforts.
“Dancing with the Stars” season 20 continues April 13 on ABC with the ever-popular Disney Week. Who will rise to the top, who will falter, and who will follow former hopefuls Redfoo, Charlotte McKinney, and Michael Sam out the door next? Tune in and find out.