'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Finale freestyling

Stars of #DWTS performed make-it-or-break-it freestyles alongside a judge's choice routine

Finale week of Season 19 has come upon us, ballroom fans! Stars we had never heard of have now become like close friends, and the coveted Mirrorball trophy has sparkled its way into the glitterverse orbit. The four remaining couples danced two dances in the first part of this two-night event: A judges’ choice “do-over” and the highly anticipated, make-it-or-break it freestyle dance, in which all rules go out the window, anything goes, and the stars and pros can really let loose.

We also narrowed the finals field down by one, and Bethany Mota, her dimple, and Derek Hough were sent home. “I've discovered things about myself that I never thought I could do,” the YouTube star said with a smile. Truly, Bethany had a very complete glitterverse journey these past 11 weeks, going from sheltered teen vlogger to strong woman with a voice, encapsulated in a very powerful “Hunger Games” meets “Rhythm Nation” freestyle that ended in a very Mockingjay pose at the end. Bruno likened it to “watching a dancing Katniss on ‘Catching Fire.’” Julianne called it “a metaphor of what you have been this entire season.”

Here’s how the final three stars stacked up going into Tuesday’s final coronation event.

Alfonso Ribeiro knows the Mirrorball trophy could go to anyone at this point in the game. Especially since his body’s been “battered, bruised and breaking down” and Carrie Ann and the judges gave him and Witney Carson the super-physical Jazz era Week 1 jive as a do-over. Carrie Ann took a different tack when she paid Alfonso and Witney a rehearsal visit, taking her valuable judges time to give Alfonso a back massage instead of massaging the routine itself. And apparently that move worked, because there was not one misstep during the entire performance piece. “You set the bar from Day 1 with that dance, and tonight you slapped us all in the face with it!” Carrie Ann exclaimed. Len said Alfonso dances “like Frank Sinatra sings.” Julianne admitted the dance could have earned 10s its first week out. Bruno said Alfonso propelled a jive “into interstellar space.” Alfonso even got a Facebook shout-out from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air himself, Will Smith. “Hopefully we’ll get his 74 million followers to vote,” Alfonso deadpanned.

Alfonso and Witney decided to do a whole smorgasbord of all their dances – and stick in a tap dance solo, just for kicks and giggles – for their supersize, super styling freestyle, back and groin issues be damned. And their freestyle piece was more than just a routine – it was an event. “That was the ultimate in freestyle because you threw in old school, new school, feel good, glitzy, glamorous,” Carrie Ann said. Len called it an “all-you-can-eat buffet of great dancing and fun entertainment.” Julianne said, “it took 10 years, but it was worth the wait.” “That’s how you tap your way to the top!” Bruno bellowed. Alfonso and Witney brought the “really fun wedding” vibe up to the sky box and did a “jump on it” to their second perfect 40 score of the evening. Total: 80 out of 80. 

Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas were given their 37 “Duck Dynasty” samba for their re-do dance, not just because it was a quack and a half, but also because Len was away that week and wanted to see the routine “fresh” out of the ballroom oven. The head judge told Sadie to focus on the “little tiddly piddly things” and One Direction’s Liam Payne also got in on the quack pack, which ended up adding a little more strut to Sadie’s duck walk (along with the 25 other family members who came out in duck call chorus). Still love those feather eye decals, and how Sadie really let loose and let those quacky feathers fly. Julianne liked the dance even more the second time. Carrie Ann was happy to see Sadie’s confidence. Len thought it was a great “quack attack.” Bruno likened Sadie to “a fledgling finding its wings … and soaring to unexpected heights,” though pointed out there were times when she “was slightly behind on the timing.”

Mark got to literally live out his Super Mario Bros. dream by crafting a freestyle to the theme song to the classic Nintendo video game. Sadie was the Princess, Mark was Mario, and Luigi and the mushroom joined them on a literally life-size dance rendition of the game. “Game over!” Julianne exclaimed. “I just gave you all my gold coins: Honestly, that was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.” Bruno called the dance “totally inspired: Watching this, I felt like a child again, hit with wave upon wave of absolute joy.” Carrie Ann called it “the most memorable freestyle routine in ages.” Len agreed. “That was brilliant.” Sadie and Mark received a 38 for their do-over samba, and a perfect 40 for their freestyle. Total: 78.

Janel Parrish lost out on three whole days of rehearsal to “Pretty Little Liars” and suffered a rib injury during dress rehearsal on Monday, but that still didn’t stop her and Val Chmerkovskiy from delivering a stellar (but still roll-less) samba. Visiting judge Julianne really encouraged the duo to play up its connection, so Val promised a “passion overload” during their colorful ruffle of a routine. It had Bruno fanning himself from the heat: “Are you feeling hot at home?” Carrie Ann called Janel “a warrior dancer” who “really kicked the booty of the samba.” Len didn’t see any loss of balance – just “great rhythmic dancing mixed with a clarity and a sharpness, which is so hard to get.”

Janel and Val took the stripped-down approach to their freestyle dance. And not just because Val had his shirt off. Val reminded a stressed-out Janel during rehearsal that it’s not about the steps – it’s the intention in the steps and the soul of the movement. And the “Pretty Little Liars” actress wanted to show how much she loved dancing with him. The emotion really bled through this pared down “500 Miles” routine, with Janel in a pretty gray dress floating around with Val with very pretty lighting effects. Bruno called it “the visualization of a love poem.” Carrie Ann said Janel and Val are “immaculate.” Janel and Val received a 37 for their do-over samba, and a perfect 40 for their freestyle. Total: 77.

What do you think, ballroom fans? Which freestyle did you like the best? Think Alfonso has the momentum to stay healthy enough to nab Season 19’s Mirrorball trophy, or will the young female upstarts make off with reality ballroom dancing’s biggest prize? Can a samba be really great even if it has no samba rolls? Discuss.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times