All four semifinalists are great dancers and worthy of the title, making this the toughest and most competitive round of the entire competition.
For the first time, the kids had to battle through two rounds of competition on the semifinals of "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors," and only three would advance to next week's finale.
Already, though, the junior version of the franchise has proven better at choosing talent over personality on the dance floor, leaving us with four worthy competitors for those spots in the finals. For weeks, Mackenzie Ziegler, Sky Brown, Ariana Greenblatt and Miles Brown have dominated the competition.
Pretty quickly, it became clear that these were the four most talented stars on the show, meaning this is exactly the outcome we were hoping to see. It also means this is the first time we're not sure who's going to go home, and we're kind of worried.
Despite being the oldest person left in the competition, and with years of dance training under her belt, Mackenzie comes into the semifinals as an underdog. While she's been consistent throughout the season, she hasn't shown the growth of her younger competitors, who all beat her in judges' scores last week.
Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. 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. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I've spent the last sixteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Mandy Moore, and Adam Rippon, because they are really being sweet to these kids. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
Mackenzie Ziegler & Sage Rosen (w/ Gleb Savchenko)
Mackenzie came out like she knew she was the underdog and had something prove, and she really stepped up and did just that. There was so much attack and aggressive control in this paso doble, she really captured the spirit of the dance. While she got ahead of the music just a little bit at times, this was the most polished and confident she's been in weeks, and she danced here like a real Latin dancer.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10
My Score: 9
Sky Brown & JT Church (w/ Alan Bersten)
Come on, now. Little kids aren't supposed to be able to do lifts like this or dance an Argentine tango with that much passion and control and everything you want to see. It was so shocking to see such poise, hold, grace and precision from such diminutive little dancers. Sky has had the most impressive journey on the show this season and she carries herself like a true professional now. Just gob-smacking.
Judges Scores: 10, 9, 10
My Score: 10
Miles Brown & Rylee Arnold (w/ Lindsay Arnold)
For not being able to rehearse together throughout the week, Miles and Rylee really came together well in this cha-cha. Miles wasn't quite as sharp on his footwork or hip action, but he had all of the swagger necessary to really sell the energy and excitement. Lindsay gave them a tough routine to tackle, and they did it with aplomb and conviction. Miles has long been a front-runner and he continues to impress.
Judges Scores: 9, 10, 9
My Score: 9
Ariana Greenblatt & Artyon Celestine (w/ Brandon Armstrong)
Ariana really lacked follow through in a lot of her movements, and especially leg lifts and kicks, that we haven't seen from her in recent weeks. She looked like this dance scared her and she never really got over that, bringing that trepidation and hesitation to the dance floor. It just never looked comfortable, and she looked more like she was going through the motions than really bringing a piece of choreography to life. The steps were there, but they were mostly listless and we know she's better than this.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 10
My Score: 7
Mackenzie & Sage + Miles & Rylee
Once again, Miles just came through with so much energy and attack, he really brought this piece together right from the top. This foursome worked really well together, swapping partners and creating some great synergy throughout in this jazz/samba fusion. There were a few timing issues during the tandem segments, but they were minor. In the end, it was a lot of fun with sharp technique and a really clean presentation.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10
My Score: 10
Ariana & Artyon + Sky & JT
This jive/foxtrot wasn't quite as sharp as the older kids, but it was more than Ariana and Sky were dancing at different levels. The timing was there, but Ariana didn't have quite as much follow-through or conviction in her movements as Sky did, creating a slight visual disconnect from one side to the other. It was a fun and challenging piece and very well executed, just not quite seamlessly consistent in execution from all four performers.
Judges Scores: 10, 9, 9
My Score: 9
Mackenzie did exactly what she needed to do, stepping up at the right moment with the first two perfect scores of the season. Based on judges' scores and her overall performances of the night, it was Ariana who fell just short, but it was a very tight race.
That meant it really was up to the studio audience and their votes and anyone could move forward. And thankfully, without a Bobby Bones in the competition, we were guaranteed a finale night filled with nothing but amazing dancers and performances.
No one was eliminated, meaning all four of them make it into the finale. And when the dancing is this good at this stage of the competition, we can't even be mad at them. Pay attention, "Dancing with the Stars," these are the kinds of finale lineups we like to see!
"Dancing With the Stars: Juniors" wraps up next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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