The night was split into two rounds, with the kids dancing alongside their mentors for the first time all season, meaning we finally got to see Brandon Armstrong, Lindsay Arnold, Alen Bersten and Gleb Savchenko in action.
And then, the freestyle round, which allows each team to really spotlight their personalities. And it was a night to remember, with five perfects scores and plenty of fun, heart and tears.
With everyone safe last week, that meant that both the judges' and audience scores from last week would be rolled into this week's results to determine the final winner. That gave Mackenzie Ziegler a slight edge coming into the week, as she was perfect last week.
But as we've seen on the parent show, judge scores don't always mean much as audience popularity always plays a factor in who goes home and who moves on. On this show, though, the audience has largely been in line with the judges.
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 really looked like a ballroom dancer in this routine, hitting her marks sharp and confidently. Her posture and presence was exactly where she needed it to be, bringing the sharp joyousness of the cha cha to life perfectly. The transitions into and out of the hip-hop segment were handled well, and except for a slight wobble on the final flip, this was a nearly flawless and mature performance from the competition's oldest junior.
Unfortunately, Brandon was awkwardly injected into Ariana's jazz routine from earlier this season, and she looked more out of sorts and unsure than we've seen from her in weeks. There were several stutter starts, and the three performers were not hitting with equal intensity throughout the dance. And yet, the judges absolutely loved it, so there you go. Ariana is the feel-good story of the year, but this was not her best performance.
This salsa had all the intensity and heat you want, but packaged in a big polka-dotted bow of adorable. Miles did a great job as the centerpiece in a dance with two girls taller than him. He never looked overshadowed. The only minor criticism was that his drop backs could have been lower, but other than that, everything about this was what we've come to expect from Miles, who brings not only meticulous technique, but performance for days.
Judges Scores: 10, 9, 9
My Score: 10
Sky Brown & JT Church (w/ Alan Bersten)
Alan put a cute twist on this salsa to make it a trio performance, and we kind of love that the mishaps were mostly his -- the skateboarding was particularly amusing. Sky came at it with plenty of energy, but it seemed that she lacked salsa content in her own part of the dance. We've seen solid technique from Sky in the past, but it seems that Alan went a little easier on her in this routine, letting her bright personality carry her through. It was a fun dance, but it could have been a little tighter and more complex for a finale.
Mackenzie went all hip-hop for her holiday freestyle and she really came at this dance hard. There was a lot of fast-moving choreography, and she was flanked by five professional dancers, so the pressure was definitely on. But she proved herself more than up to the task, as if she really had something to prove in what she considers her style of dance. And quite frankly, she was a little stronger than some of the pros alongside her. She was also clearly having a great time.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10
My Score: 10
Ariana Greenblatt & Artyon Celestine
This Grinch-inspired routine may have been the most adorably conceptualized piece of the entire season and Ariana had no problem getting into the sass and character of the piece. She was also rock solid through most of it, save for one drop lift where it looks like she might have been a little too close to Artyon. That said, though, Ariana has been a delight to watch throughout this season and she definitely made the most of her last chance to impress the judges.
We saw your Carlton and Running Man, Miles. There were so many fun elements mixed throughout this joyous routine and Miles committed himself fully to every one of them. We suspect he intended more than one head turn, but it was just one minor mishap in an otherwise gorgeous holiday-themed routine that was filled with fun energy, full-body attack and the kind of charisma that has already made Miles a star.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10
My Score: 10
Sky Brown & JT Church
This may have been Sky's best performance, filled with joy and technique and everything you want to see in a freestyle. She committed so fully to every step, and this was no an easy routine, and came at it with such beautiful abandon, it transcended itself. This was more than a young girl performing a tough routine, it became a young girl expressing everything that this show and this experience meant to her through the medium of dance. It was an absolute pleasure to watch.
Jordan Fisher and Frankie Muniz presented the new Mirrorball trophy for the "Juniors," transformed into a star. In all honesty, it looks a little sharper than the adult trophy.
Just as Mackenzie was perfect last week, tonight was Sky's chance to shine. But in the combined scores, Mackenzie edged her out every so slightly. That said, all of the scores were very close and competitive among the finalists.
Even better, every single one of them is a worthy champion for this inaugural season, as they all showed growth throughout their time on the show, and as we saw tonight, each one of them is a pretty great dancer in their own right.
In the end, it was the journey of Sky Brown on Team Alan, with her partner JT Church, that won over the audience and judges, helping her squeeze by the competition and emerge as the first-ever Mirrorstar champion of "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors."
Now we just need an announcement about another season. We honestly weren't sure how this show would stack up with junior competitors, but it really turned into something special in a whole different way than "DWTS" itself. We're ready to do it all over again!