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From an emotionally tense exchange between Hannah Brown and Carrie-Ann Inaba and a gut-wrenching loss for James Van Der Beek, it was a raw night for everyone in the ballroom.

We don't usually come into "Dancing with the Stars" expecting to bawl our eyes out, but it happened over and over again in the tightest semi-finals in show history.

If you don't believe us, the dancer who had the weakest night has been a front-runner throughout most of the season. And weak still meant incredible performances and genuine emotional authenticity.

Hannah Brown is finally learning to open up and be vulnerable and allow her true emotions to shine through, as evidenced by a tense exchange with Carrie-Ann. Ally Brooke has discovered an incredible dancer beneath her insecurities about her own abilities.

Lauren Alaina has found an incredible confidence and is growing into a confident woman before our eyes. Kel Mitchell has perhaps shocked himself most of all by being able to channel all of his energy into genuine emotional connection.

And James Van Der Beek has been a revelation all season, dancing years younger than his chronological age and proving himself the consummate leading man. Five very different and very talented dancers ... and not a Bobby Bones or Sean Spicer in sight. It's so refreshing!

It's also so very frustrating, because how do you choose between them? And after watching them perform tonight you'll find yourself asking the same thing ... how do you choose between them? Luckily, that wasn't our job.

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 seventeen 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 Carrie-Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

REDEMPTION ROUND

Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko

(Paso doble - Week 2) A vast improvement over their first effort, Lauren stayed in character with her face and overall attitude, but her flicks and hits weren't quite as sharp or hard as they needed to be. There's a ferocity of movement staccatoed with hard stops and dramatic poses and she didn't quite have the drama of those nailed. Her hold was a little weak as well, though this was a very complicated dance with a lot of moving parts so she did admirably to keep it all together.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9

My Score: 8

Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson

(Tango - Week 1) Considering how strong Kel has gotten as the season progressed, we were expecting better from him throughout this dance. He did a solid job with the partnering, but his footwork was a bit of a mess (he went off on the wrong foot and even seemed to forget entirely what they were supposed to be doing at least twice. There was a fear on his face and his body betrayed that he was overthinking each error and his overall abilities. It was better than Week 1 and we applaud his growth, but this wasn't his strongest outing.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9

My Score: 7

Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber

(Viennese Waltz - Week 2) An absolutely gorgeous ending, there was just one arm arc that Ally was just a hair behind the timing and Sasha (and a few frantic foot shuffles her upper body did not betray). But this was a confident and polished performance from top to bottom, though it would have been nice to see a little more in hold at the top of the routine. Still, Ally has become a front-running in this competition, and this was a routine that showed just how far she's grown as a dancer and in her confidence.

Judges Scores: 10, 9, 10

My Score: 9

Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten

(Rumba - Week 3) Wow, what an emotional rehearsal session as we saw a lot of Hannahs' demons that haunt her and why she hides behind that pageant smile (which she was doing again). She was feeling personally attacked by the judges, which was probably hindering her ability to take their critique. It was good that it was Carrie-Ann who talked to her as we think the women reached an understanding and it showed in a stronger and more capable rumba. Hannah's hips were notably improved as she sank into the rhythm but this could prove a breakthrough week for her.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9

My Score: 8

James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater

(Cha Cha - Week 2) James has become such a consummate performer it's hard to imagine a time when he didn't just nail these different styles, but his Week 2 cha cha was not great. Here, though, he improved in every notable metric with great hip action. We didn't love how far he leaned into her just before the spin move (it lasted a bit too long and created awkward separation), and the marriage of disco-infused dance and the cha cha didn't work perfectly. It was fun, but wasn't technically sound.

Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8

My Score: 7

DEDICATION ROUND

Lauren Alaina & Gleb Savchenko

(Viennese Waltz) There was a sweet, graceful elegance that permeated from top to bottom in Lauren's most authentic performance to date. She was absolutely stunning to look at and her fluidity of movement was simply gorgeous. It was clean and so beautiful. Yes, she missed her timing at one point and they had a few awkward moments with arms but there was a lot of arms in this and overall it was simply stellar. The key was the incredible connection and palpable affection between her and Gleb.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9

My Score: 9

Kel Mitchell & Witney Carson

(Contemporary) There's a controlled abandonment (as opposed to reckless abandonment) that needs to happen to really emote through a good contemporary routine and Kel was a bit small and contained when he shouldn't have been; especially at the top. The choreography perfectly captured the moment of choosing love over those things pushing you down, so the emotional connect was theret. And there were some great lifts performed very well throughout and some technical proficiency; it just lacked some of the full expression it wanted.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 9

Ally Brooke & Sasha Farber

(Charleston) Easily one of the hardest dances to learn, Ally Nailed her heel-turns and looked great in her side-by-side work with Sasha. Early on, she was a little small in her movements for a piece that's about being big and showing up the other guy. But what an incredibly fun routine performed to the hilt. Dancers struggle to keep up with some of the demands and unique look of this style, but Ally was right there in it.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 9

James Van Der Beek & Emma Slater

(Foxtrot) "When there are no words, you dance." There wasn't a dry eye as James revealed that he and his wife had miscarried over the past week. It was palpable and his words were so heartfelt, we were already emotional when he began. You dont' expect foxtrot to be emotional, but this was raw and it was stunning. On top of that, it was technically flawless. You could feel that he was dancing for his wife and pouring all of his pain and emotion into it and it poured through our screens. Usually, contemporary gets you emotionally, but this was something special. So much grace and beauty and vulnerability on top of technical beauty.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9

My Score: 10

Hannah Brown & Alan Bersten

(Contemporary) Another powerful performance on an emotional night, this was Hannah shaking off all of her "Bachelorette" troubles (as if it were this easy) through dance. It was so strong and powerful and she danced it beautifully, save for one synchronicity issue. Alan filled this with some incredible lifts and tricks and they executed them just flawlessly one after the other. Truly, this was her most accomplished routine yet.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9

My Score: 9

RESULTS

On a show that's all about growth and personal journeys, it would appear that James has grown the least. He was polished pretty quickly, but he kind of peaked and then faltered here and there. Meanwhile, the other four have just surged in recent weeks, most notably Ally and Kel.

The exciting thing, though, is that with Sean Spicer finally gone, every single one of these remaining couples is deserving of a spot in the finale. In fact, we'd argue they should do what they did last year and just let everyone move forward and have them all duke it out there.

If someone has to go, though, it would sadly have to be James. As fun as he's been to watch, we just think he didn't bring it this week and he hasn't brought it these past couple of weeks as much as the others who've been having personal breakthroughs and groundbreaking performances.

Judge scores put James and Lauren into the bottom two and yet America continued to hate on Ally by putting her in the bottom with James (she found herself facing elimination after perfect scores two weeks ago and now again with 59 out of 60 judges points (sounds like she has no shot of winning with America, the poor girl).

In the end, though, the judges did the right thing. Out of the two couples standing before them, it was obvious Ally deserved to go after weeks of near-perfect performances. If America won't get on board the Ally train, at least someone sees and recognizes potential greatness.

As predicted, the judges voted to save Ally and then, in tears, she tried to give her spot in the finale to James. It was so touching and so raw, but Ally earned that spot and as cold as it may be to say it, we're glad she wasn't allowed to give it up.

That said, it would have been nice for the show to push James ahead, too. At least he's sure to return next week to show of his skills at least one more time.

"Dancing With the Stars" wraps its 28th season next Monday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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