The celebrities were asked to remember their most memorable year for this week's theme, meaning it was a week of emotional connections and poignant stories of the moments that shaped their lives. Producers know that viewers need to connect with these stars on a personal level in order to feel invested in their journey and vote for them (and more importantly, tune in each week), and so this is one of those weeks tailor-made to peel back the layer of celebrity and reveal a little of the person beneath.
As we did last season, and we do for various competition shows, I will be acting as your fifth judge, analyzing, critiquing and breaking down what worked and what didn't work about each performance. A quick reminder about me: I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer, all for this moment: armchair judging a dance competition. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Carrie-Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tolioni. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. Yes, there are only three judges on the panel this season, but let's face it, you're the fourth judge. Your votes mean just as much if not more than the judges, so I'll gladly sit fifth behind all of you watching at home.
Frankie opened up about his serious memory problems -- he's forgotten so much of his actual life -- and chose this year as his most memorable as he chose to live in the now. Maybe this is why he is able to give so much to these performances, surprising me most weeks. This was stronger than last week and back to the caliber we've grown used to from him. Frankie was light on his feet in the majority of the dance, with a wonderful carriage and a joyousness in his physical expression that was palpable. The technique was strong, save one spot where he fell onto his heels in uncertainty and another hand placement mix-up. Frankie remains one to watch.
T.O. lost his grandmother in 2012, and it was one of the biggest changes in his life as she was hugely influential in his upbringing. Finally, I saw improvement out of the NFL pro, but it's still not enough to really tell me he's going to ever get this. While he learned and performed the steps accurately and even showed a bit of grace at times, he was still a bit too stiff, but more fluid than we've ever seen. It was the moments between the steps where he really stood out … and awkwardly. Cheryl kept his role fairly simple and it worked in his favor.
For this contemporary piece, I'm not sure if it was Nikki or Artem that caused the biggest problem, and that was that Nikki looked heavy throughout the piece. Artem looked like he was hoisting her into those moves rather than it being a light and graceful motion. The piece was very lyrical and flowing, but that's not something Nikki has shown any real ability in. She's far more staccato in her movements -- wrestling influence certainly -- and that only added to the disconnect from the intent of the piece and the final result. She's a strong dancer, she just needs to work on being a graceful one when needed.
Nick's most memorable moment was when he found Vanessa … will hers be the same? He's not there yet as a dancer, but he really went for it in this contemporary piece and it was wonderful to see. I can see the potential for him to shake off his insecurities and really go for it in the next week or so if he lasts. But for now, he's still very stiff and in a piece that called for abandon, he remained somewhat reserved. Still, this was his best dance yet, he was a capable partner for Peta in the lifts, and he impressed me for the first time this season.
She lost her father to cancer a year ago, and it was a pivotal change in her life. In tribute to him, Mark wore the hat and scarf combo that was her father's signature look. He also gave her a beautifully choreographed Viennese waltz to tell her story, and she danced it stunningly. This piece had technique and emotion from both performers, as Lindsey poured everything she had into this piece. I could find no flaw in anything that she presented, and so I have to give Lindsey my first 10 of the season for this masterpiece.
When his daughter as 10 months old she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that could have cost her an eye. He walked away from the NBA to take care of her, and the moment really shaped his understanding of sacrifice. While his performance was a little uneven, Derek showed more finesse and technique than we've yet seen. This theme is really working. He even showed he had a little groove, digging into the floor during the side-by-side segment, which was one of the jazz number's strongest moments. He showed real skill and talent there on the dance floor, and I saw in him finally the potential to grow into a real contender on this show.
2005 was the year Jordan was officially adopted by his grandparents, and it became his most memorable year. A contemporary piece in their honor kept the style in his wheelhouse and he was expectedly flawless. There were a few moments where I thought he went a little too broad in his movements and gestures -- a Broadway influence -- but it didn't take away anything from the beauty and emotion of the piece. I guess I have another perfect score to award. And I'm trying so hard to be tough!
2016 was a big year for Sasha, with “Pretty Little Liars” ending, her health issues leading to her weight gain (which impacted her ability to get work), and getting engaged. It was a whirlwind to try and cover in a foxtrot, but Gleb managed it with the symbology of opening and closing doors. More importantly, Sasha showed beautiful technique, with a simply stunning frame throughout most of the dance, which was so needed after a huge misstep last week. She glided effortlessly through the steps and looked even more confident and graceful than in previous weeks. She's really growing into this dance thing and it's wonderful to see her lighting up.
She chose the 2017 premature, but ultimately successful, birth of her third child as her most successful year, and danced to a song by husband Nick. It was a beautiful dance with very few technical issues, though she did have some footing issues during one of the partnering turns. She was confident and strong in the rumba throughout most of it and remains one of the best dancers on the show this season. I can't wait to see how great she will be by the end of the season.
In 2007, Drew walked away from real estate to become an actor, and it didn't work. Ultimately, though, he married his desire to be on TV with real estate and the “Property Brothers” was born, so it worked out for the best. To parallel that story, Jonathan showed up halfway through his jive routine and finished it out with him. I saw some nice jive moments from Drew, but his limbs were still just a little floppy. The judges have criticized his wacky-waving-inflatable-tube-man limbs all season, and there was more of that this week. His heart was in it and he knew most of the steps, but he's still got a ways to go.
Victoria's physical therapist revealed that one of her motivations to walk again was being on this show. Rather than a single year, her journey through an illness that took her body and mind to being able to think, talk and walk again is what motivates her. Val started her off in the wheelchair to bring to life that she overcame it and now dances. Her foxtrot technique was beautiful and triumphant, as she has been in so many weeks prior to this one. Victoria has been one of the biggest revelations of the season, performing as she does with no feelings in her legs and having overcome so much just to live this life. She may just be on track to win this thing.
With no elimination last week, it's two weeks worth of judge scores combined with two weeks of voting to determine who goes home. It was no surprise that Nick Lachey was marked safe, but I'd still put Terrell Owens below Derek Fisher in the rankings. Who knew that NFL fans were so passionate about “DWTS”?
In the end, Nick pulled it out again, and it paved the end of the road for Derek and his partner, Sharna Burgess. Nick and T.O. remain the weakest links in the competition, but as Derek was toward the bottom of the middle, his loss isn't really changing who's leading the season narrative. He did manage to open up and prove that men embracing emotions is a good thing and can only make them stronger, so hopefully that's a message that resonated with at least a few viewers.
"Dancing with the Stars" continues Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.