A steam train of emotion came roaring through the "Dancing With the Stars" ballroom on Most Memorable Year night – a three-hanky salute during which celebrities revealed significant moments in their lives, heartstrings were tugged, and the ballroom glittered even more than usual through the sheen of seemingly endless tears.
The elimination in Week 4 stayed dry-eyed, however, as fashion designer Betsey Johnson and her pro partner Tony Dovolani had the lowest combined total of judges' scores and viewer votes and were booted from the competition. (This, despite Kevin Hart's raucous 10 paddle last week!)
It's a shame to see Betsey go, as her jive, dedicated to her daughter, Lulu, was an unfettered bouquet of joy, and one that prompted judge Julianne Hough to extol, "The way you celebrate your daughter, America celebrates you."
Gasp! Now we won't get to see Betsey paired up with a shirtless Val Chmerkovskiy during next week's switch-up!
But Betsey took the ouster as graciously as we'd come to expect from this singular spirit. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, to dancing, mostly to Tony, to my fans," she said. "This has been the best wonderful thing with my daughter, Lulu. It's just been a trip! A big trip!"
But back to this week's salute to the stars' most memorable years. Which will also go down as the week "DWTS" handed the nation (or those watching the live East Coast broadcast) a sparkly paddle to guest-judge each routine alongside Carrie Ann Inaba, Julianne and Bruno Tonioli. Here's how the remaining stars stacked up:
Leading the way in our collective trip down memory lane were Alfonso Ribeiro and Witney Carson. Alfonso brought back his much-beloved Carlton from his six years on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," Witney incorporated it into an utterly charming "It's Not Unusual" jazz routine, and the judges and America rewarded them handsomely. "I'm so glad that you made us wait for the Carlton," Julianne said. "Not only did you separate yourself from Carlton tonight … but I think this show and what you're doing this week, people are going to remember Alfonso." Alfonso said this dance was "for the fans" and gave all of America a tutorial to "lead with your hands, come over the top." America, in return, gave its only perfect score of the night to go along with the judges' straight tens. Total: 40 out of 40.
The tears would not stop flowing. Lea Thompson pinpointed 2003 as her most memorable, as it was the year she lost her father, "just the coolest guy," to cancer. They fit a whole year in the span of a week, and she and he were able to share a last dance. "The way he died taught me how to live," Lea said. And hers and Artem Chigvintsev's contemporary tribute, with photos projected in a slide show in the background and set to "Dance With My Father," was a three-hanky salute that left Lea (and no doubt many others) in a sobbing heap. "I will remember that dance forever," Carrie Ann said. "You are an exquisite performer." The judges agreed with Julianne that the dance was "flawless" and scored Lea and Artem 10s, but America was a bit tougher, scoring them a 9 instead. "Ew, America," Erin Andrews spat. Total: 39.
Sadie Robertson's samba with Mark Ballas paid tribute to the close-knit quackiness of her "Duck Dynasty" family – how the popularity of the reality show turned her life upside down, and how she sticks by her family no matter what. And Mark really took the duckiness of the family and ran with it with a bull's-eye of a routine. Bruno likened unflappable Sadie to Natalie Portman in "Black Swan." Carrie Ann called the performance "by far the best samba of the night" and Julianne termed it "the perfect combination of content and concept" and gave a 10. Love how the sky box got in on the action with the fake ZZ Top gray bears sported by Tony, Val and Tommy. And loved the feathers attached to Sadie's eyes. Total: 37.
The waterworks started early on with Janel Parrish recalling 2002 as her most memorable. That was the year the "Pretty Little Liars" actress moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles to pursue her performance dreams, but also the year that she lost her longtime vocal coach and mentor, who passed away before she could say goodbye. "B.J. was the most important person in my life and I haven't talked about her until now," Janel said. "I wanted to do something beautiful for her." And she and Val Chmerkovskiy did in an elegantly sensuous rumba set to the sumptuous, stripped down Sam Smith version of Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know." "B.J. would be very proud because you do perform from the heart," Julianne said. "The balance of motion and emotion was absolutely right," Bruno said, though he told Janel to work on her spins. Total: 36.
Bethany Mota's turning point came in 2009, as that was the year she started her YouTube videos – not just to create content, but to regain her voice after being bullied by friends, who left her insecure and convinced she'd "never truly love myself." And her rumba to Colbie Caillat's "Try" with Derek Hough was a beautiful paean to self-acceptance that all but reduced those watching to a puddle of tears. "What you stand for is so beautiful," an emotional Julianne said. "And what you wish you could have told yourself years ago you just told so many girls tonight." "Once you let go and told your story it was gorgeous," Carrie Ann said. The judges all loved the message. The lack of rumba content? Not so much. Total: 33.
We have Janet Jackson to thank for a lot of things. "Rhythm Nation." "Good Times." Launching Antonio Sabato Jr.'s career by featuring him in her "Love Will Never Do Without You" video. This was in 1989, just after he had moved to the States from Italy, and that chiseled face and lovely abs were struggling to make ends meet. And kudos to Cheryl Burke for bringing Antonio's assets into the forefront of their samba, though the judges wanted to see Antonio fill up more of the space he inhabits. "We need you to open your chest," Carrie Ann implored. "For a man with such a beautiful body, you close yourself a lot … You're a big, hot guy, work it!" Total: 29.
Tommy Chong chose the year he went to prison for transporting drug paraphernalia across state lines as a turning point in his life. "I learned how to leave each moment one moment at time." And he and hot cop Peta Murgatroyed performed a "Jailhouse Rock" jive in "celebration of my freedom" with bars and handcuffs. Bruno said "there is no chain in the world that can bind your free spirit" but pointed out "a couple of missteps." "You lost your control of Peta, but totally natural and totally easy on the eyes," Carrie Ann said. Julianne declared she was an unabashed fan of the "Up in Smoke" star, but "that was not your best dance." Total: 28.
Michael Waltrip recalled a bittersweet moment in 2001 as his most significant. Specifically the day when the NASCAR driver won the Daytona 500 but then found out that his friend and mentor Dale Earnhardt had crashed into the outside wall and died on the last lap. It was the "highest high to the lowest low in 30 minutes," he said. "There's part of me that still isn't over the low of that day." And he and Emma Slater performed a quickstep to "Giving it Up For Your Love," a song he and Dale would sing "off key," in honor of his friend. The routine started off promisingly, but sadly lost gas at the end. "I can see the dancer within is screaming to get out," Bruno said." But you went so wrong so many times." Julianne said it was like "yin and yang … moments that are so great, and moments that are not." "I was having a ball until that one step that I missed," Michael said." Total: 25.
Jonathan Bennett and Allison Holker brought out the Christmas gear to do a "Mean Girls" tribute in honor of his supportive parents, who were nothing but supportive of the then-burgeoning actor's career. And after hearing Jonathan lost his mother a year ago, and his dad about 4 months ago, to cancer, I was all ready to support Jonathan's upbeat, jovial "Jingle Bells"-turned-"Milkshake" tribute to his parents. Too bad his samba left a lot to be desired. The judges all loved Jonathan's spirit, but said the samba steps were all wrong. Carrie Ann called the dance "one-dimensional" and Julianne agreed, saying it was a "Flat Stanley" of a performance. Apparently America agreed, also scoring Jonathan a 6 alongside the judges. Total: 24. Ouch.