It’s only the fourth week of “Dancing With the Stars” and already things are getting personal. The celebrity contestants revisited the best year of their lives this week, opening up the back stories and unleashing a cascade of tears and emotion.
Programs like this are always crowd-pleasers. The audience has a sentimental story that they can get into, and the stars are always more inclined to dance better when they have an actual personal connection to their routines (as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, being the bad boy on a motorcycle who steals away the prom queen). And sure enough, this two-hour show was packed with more emotional highs than usual – as well as a low when one of the contestants fainted during rehearsals.
Each of the remaining contestants also had to perform a solo somewhere in their routine: 15 terrifying seconds of abject terror that could help make or break a star’s ranking.
PHOTOS: Meet the cast of 'Dancing with the Stars' season 16
Whose solos soared, and whose suffered? Which routine had Carrie Ann choked up beyond words? And who ended up at the top of the leader board for the first time ever?
That would be gold-medal winning gymnast/emoter extraordinaire Alexandra Raisman and her pro partner, Mark Ballas. Of course, Aly’s most memorable year was the summer of 2012, when she represented the United States in the women’s gymnastics Olympic team. Aly recalled all the frustrations and loneliness that she had to battle to become the most decorated women’s gymnast on the U.S. team. And pro partner Ballas did a good job channeling all those emotions into movement for their “Titanium”-fueled contemporary routine. I particularly liked how Aly leaped up and ended up on her back over his shoulder. How she went there and did that awesomely gymnastic tumbling run toward the end of the routine – because she can. And that fellow U.S. teammates Gabby Douglas and Kyla Ross were in the audience to cheer her on. “I liked the balance between showing emotions and the athleticism of the whole thing,” said Len. “I think that’s a dance worthy of an Olympic champion.” Len also said he was "gymnastical" and cheekily winked that the last tumbling run could have had a bit more height to it. “Forget about titanium – you’re going for gold, my darling,” praised Bruno. “I loved the balance between the spectacular and the detailed. … It was emotionally intense, dramatic, and deeply felt.” Carrie Ann said she was proud of Aly. “You were completely in the moment and I was mesmerized by you,” she said. The praised turned into three 9s and the highest scores of the competition thus far. Total: 27 out of 30.
Be-yon-cé! should be everyone’s mantra when attempting to be fierce. Disney Channel star Zendaya chose a song from the singer formerly known as Sasha Fierce to represent the best year of her life. That year, 2009 did not just mark when she had her first Disney audition and “got discovered,” but also when she went to a Beyoncé concert and realized everything she wanted to be. And Zendaya really did channel the mother of Blue Ivy in her samba with Val Chmerkovskiy. This girl is all talent. She’s got the confidence to be a diva and most definitely, effortlessly moves like one and commands the dance floor, but it never comes off as forced and/or annoying. Her dance, set to “Love on Top” by the Single Lady herself, was pure awesome. Wynonna loved it – had her arms up in a touchdown triumph at the end of the routine. And it had Carrie Ann whooping her delight, calling her Samba Fierce and giving props to Val for his stellar choreography. “Honey, you are baby Beyoncé,” she said. “The way you work that music, girl – Beyoncé better watch her back!” Len wanted more samba content in the solo section and could have used a little more straightening in the legs, but conceded, “There’s no question you are a fantastic dancer.” “Oh, baby, you’ve got it!” Bruno crowed. “You really are star power. Fearless. So cool. So hip! So slick!” Not to mention so winning in her matter-of-factness. “I’m 16 – I hope the best years are ahead of me,” she told Brooke up in the sky box. So true. I certainly hope she doesn’t peak here. Total: 26.