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‘Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars’ recap: Ladies’ Night

We’re down to the wire, ballroom fans.

In Monday’s round of “Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars” two-night finale extravaganza, the three remaining all-stars danced two full routines. The first was a repeat dance, in which each couple got to “do-over” a routine they had previously performed. The second was that deliciously unpredictable finale treat: the freestyle. Not just any freestyle, but supersize: in addition to all ballroom rules going out the window, each couple could bring in props and extra cast members and whatever else they could imagine to beef up their routines and give them that sparkly winning edge. So we were treated to a gospel choir, acrobats on cubes and a women’s gymnastics team -- it was like a smorgasbord of TV odds and ends.

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And really, the Mirrorball could be anyone’s for the taking at this point. The three remaining couples are all so talented and have such different strengths. Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani are extremely likeable: all clean lines, clean teeth, and great, clean lifts. Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough are young and athletic with endless energy and creativity to match. Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy are kind of like the Rizzo and Kenickie of the group – great chemistry and great intensity, but what they really want to do is make out behind the bleachers. I go back and forth between Melissa and Shawn as my winning pick. Mostly because I think they’re the ones who most deserve it, but also because I feel like Kelly could walk away with Val and be just as happy.

PHOTOS: ‘DWTS: All-Stars’: Who’s been booted?

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Continuing their hot streak were Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani. Not content to rest on their high-scoring laurels, the only couple remaining who has yet to win a Mirrorball trophy chose to do their Week 3 samba as a do-over. They received three 9s for the dance the first time around, so Melissa felt like she could perform it better. Tony wanted to show how far they’ve come. And really, it is quite endearing how much Tony want to go on in this competition. “I waited 14 seasons for this chance,” Tony said passionately. Aw, how could you not root for him to win it all? And in front of a glittery “FINALS” backdrop, Melissa and Tony really shook their best party dance to the Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine beat, and man, they looked like they were having a Brazilian blast. When the streamers came down in the end, it was as if they’d already won. “The deliciously irresistible Brazilian bombshell!” Bruno crowed. “What is good to see is your confidence. You’ve grown so much as a performer.” Carrie Ann said Melissa’s abs were ridiculous, along with her confidence. Len called Melissa a “Carnival queen” who “captured the party atmosphere of the samba.” And they captured a perfect 30 score as well.

Melissa said their biggest regret from Season 8 was not taking enough risks in their freestyle. So in their superstyle freestyle, Tony said he wanted to showcase Melissa’s softness and her beautiful lines. In other words: A contemporary routine! “Holy heavens to Betsy,” Melissa said adorably when being hoisted seven feet in the air while practicing their lifts. And the routine, set to Beyoncé’s “I Was Here,” was a great show of extension of lifts with acrobats on cubes twirling in the air and a smoky, starry background that evoked “Xanadu"-like hallucinations. The twisty, turny, lift-heavy routine had Tony pumping his arms in triumph even before it ended. “That really was the perfect setting to showcase all your extraordinary quality – fantastic extensions, beautiful lines,” Bruno said. “A gem. You were a gem.” Carrie Ann called it a “freestyle jackpot” — “you took such humongous risks, and with great risks comes great reward.” The routine made Len uncharacteristically emotional, and quoting Leonard Bernstein: “’When the passion’s too much to talk, sing. When the passion’s too much to sing, dance,’” quoted Len. “It was truly, … it was wonderful.” Melissa and Tony received a perfect 30 for their do-over samba, as well as a 30 for their freestyle. Total: 60 out of 60, and Tony doesn’t want this season to end.

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Val Chmerkovskiy chalked it up to the fans that he and Kelly Monaco were able to make it all the way through to the end of the season — especially an all-star one such as this — without ever getting a 10. All that changed with their redux of their Week 3 paso doble. I had forgotten how much I liked this routine, with all that attack and that red silk running over Val’s shirtless matador figure. Kelly said she wanted this fiery dance to be “so perfect, so passionate…the judges have no choice but to give us a 10.” And two of the judges did, despite that small miss of a hold in the middle of the routine. Len recalled back in Week 3 that he said the paso was Kelly and Val’s best dance to date. “Week 10, I’m saying it again: Your best dance to date.” Bruno said Kelly burned “the floor like an awesome fire angel … what I saw tonight was artistry and polish,” he said. “You even covered a slight mishap with the hand.” Carrie Ann said she was proud of Kelly, and showed that she absolutely belonged in this final competition. “That was your best dance.”

Talking along the wall, Val and Kelly said their second dance should be about taking risks to “levels above anything we’ve done this season.” And Kelly could not stop talking about how she doesn’t want her journey with Val to end. So, appropriately, they styled their supersize freestyle to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Though their second dance seemed less like a supersize freestyle, and more like a supersize showcase for “Dirty Dancing.” And look at Val in Johnny Castle black, busking on the violin (a man of many talents!), while Kelly was like the wind in her Baby-like pink who calmed the loose cannon and taught him how to love. They even brought out a gospel choir and the “DWTS” Troupe to help with this celebration. But nobody puts Baby in the corner, and Kelly and Val made sure they were front and center in this “Dirty Dancing” homage. Val lifted her with so much ease, it like she was still on those aerial silks. Len thought “it lacked a little bit of originality for me, but it was spellbinding.” Bruno liked “the blend of Cirque du Soleil with “Dirty Dancing.” … You were two people totally in tune. Patrick, I’m telling you, is smiling on you.” Carrie Ann summed it up the best: “We’ve all been watching you as a couple, grow… and it’s played into your dancing,” she said. “This was such the perfect dance … you told us a happy ending to a beautiful love story, and I thought it was wonderful.” Kelly and Val received a 29.5 for their do-over paso and a 29.5 for their “Dirty Dancing” freestyle. Total: 59.

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The unconventional Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough made a risky and unconventional choice selecting their quickstep for their repeat dance. First of all, the dance itself was a already a redux of the Helio Castroneves and Julianne Hough “Mask”-themed quickstep from Season 5, so there was already a familiarity about it. Secondly, Shawn and Derek have already performed this routine twice: once in competition, and again as an encore. Thirdly, while the dance was an obvious crowd-pleaser, Shawn and Derek didn’t change much of the choreography. Which lastly, put them at risk for getting the same punitively low scores they got the first time (particularly from Len). The lack of new choreography and excitement were a letdown, and I was disappointed. So was Carrie Ann: “It’s a fantastic routine, but I’m sad you didn’t choose to follow the rules.” Len thought there was “more body contact in this routine when you were in hold” but maintained that they violated quickstep rules by breaking hold and doing lifts. Bruno also said he was bound by the rules. “Nevertheless, what you have achieved is truly sensational,” he said. “It takes nothing away from your achievement.” Despite the low(er) scores, Shawn defended hers and Derek’s choice, saying this was their “statement” dance. But was it the wrong one? Still, could this have been the death knell for Shawn and Derek? Was this one broken rule too many?

Oh, but their supersize freestyle. I admit, I got a little misty-eyed when the gold-medal winning U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team came out to support their fellow team member for her “Olympic moment.” McKayla Maroney may have done her “not impressed” face while Derek attempted his rhythmic gymnastics before they went to break, but the team came out in full support of their fellow Olympian in her pursuit of the Mirrorball trophy, “because we love her,” Aly Reisman adorably proclaimed. And Shawn and Derek really bucked convention (and at times, it appeared as though they also bucked gravity) for their death-defying, show-stopping performance. And with the addition of the fabulous five, it was like the greatest ballroom gymnastics floor routine ever! There was that huge front tuck over Derek. That jaw-dropping leaning tower of Shawn and Derek that expertly tumbled onto the floor. And there was actual ballroom dancing in there, too! The routine had Carrie Ann up and whooping: “That was supersize! And sensational!” “You’ve got to expect the unexpected,” said Len. “And this was totally unexpected: A medley of Derek and Shawn’s greatest hits.” “Fierce, flawless, exciting, explosive, brilliance!” praised Bruno. “The crowning glory of a fantastic night.” Shawn and Derek received a 27 for their quickstep do-over and perfect 30 for their supersize freestyle. Total: 57.

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Each of the three remaining couples still has one more dance to perform on Tuesday night — an instant jive, cha-cha, or samba — before the judges’ scores are tallied, the viewer votes added, and the new and improved Mirrorball trophy is awarded.

What do you think, ballroom fans? Think Shawn and Derek’s quickstep choice was their death knell or a brilliant strategy to get viewers to vote? Was this the strongest set of freestyle routines in “DWTS” history? Whom do you want to win this all-star season?

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