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If the judges were divided over which of the “super-sized” freestyle performances was the best on Monday’s Dancing With the Stars, the dancers themselves were equally torn.
Each of the three remaining couples ended the first part of the finale seemingly confident that they’d done the best — though the scores gave a slight advantage to Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani, the only duo to nail down a perfect 60 for both routines.
“We certainly didn’t have this finale last time,” Rycroft said backstage, referring to her panned freestyle in her first season. “We can’t sit there and wish we’d gotten the extra half point, or anything. We did it.”
PHOTOS: The Cast of ‘Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars’
In their own way, with a contemporary routine rarely seen on the show, they also delivered a performance far different from their fellow competitors.
“I didn’t want to take any focus away from Melissa,” said Dovolani. “I feel like like I captured that. She’s grown as a dancer and a performer. I took a risk, because I don’t know contemporary. I faked it.”
Taking a not entirely dissimilar path were Kelly Monaco and Val Chmerkovskiy, who tackled Dirty Dancing (and that iconic leap) with their freestyle. It didn’t get them a perfect score but when added to their first dance they finished the night in second place with 59.
That left Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough, the obvious favorites to win, in third place thanks to some predictable rule breaking.
“It wouldn’t be who we are,” Hough said of his decision to not alter their celebrated Quickstep to avoid lifts. “This season has been about the audience and showing them things they haven’t seen. For us to dumb down in order to get an extra point or two, we’d be losing our integrity.”
Johnson agreed. The gymnast, forced into retirement by a knee injury before the 2012 Olympics, said this season was about getting back her confidence and not the scores.
And they might not need those numbers. With the slight disadvantage of a 57 going into the finale, Johnson and Hough had an especially memorable freestyle which incorporated Olympic darlings Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber.
“It meant everything to have them here,” said Johnson. “I trained three years to be on the biggest stage in the world with them. Being that I didn’t get the comeback I wanted, this is bigger than I ever could have imagined.”
The three finalists, having now collected their last audience votes of the season, now only have the Instant Dance between them and the mirrorball.
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