Four celebrity dancers started Monday night’s “Dancing With the Stars” finale – Kaitlyn Bristowe, Nelly, Justina Machado and Nev Schulman.
But there could be only one left standing amid the confetti and the roars of the artificially generated audience cheers at the end of the finale.
The four couples danced two numbers – one past favorite and one freestyle – as the Mirrorball Trophy beckoned like a siren from the judges’ table, the ultimate symbol of celebrity ballroom perfection and viewer popularity.
Host Tyra Banks was at her costume-changing season’s best, the judges were breathing critical fire in the epic final and the dancers kept pace. As the season’s ousted dancers (minus Carole Baskins) whooped from the rafters, a shocked “Bachelorette” star Bristowe took home the crown.
Here’s what went down, finale style.
The semi-final drama: Kaitlyn Bristowe channels personal tragedy; Johnny Weir, Skai Jackson cruelly cut
Kaitlyn Bristowe deserved a rose for her dancing
“The Bachelorette” started the finals strong with a repeat of her Week 9 Argentine tango to Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” a dance that marked a turning point for the power contestant. With stunning laser lights and improved precision steps, somehow the finals-focused Bristowe and pro Artem Chigvintsev were even more perfect.
“Look at me, I’m panting. You took my breath away,” judge Bruno Tonioli said breathlessly.
“I know I have pushed you,” said frequent critic Carrie Ann Inaba. “But this is now one of my top three dances of all time.” The judges rolled with straight 10s for a 30/30. The early dance also boosted the potential for viewer votes for the already popular dancer with Bachelor Nation behind her.
Round two: In the stunning freestyle to “Sparkling Diamonds” from “Moulin Rouge,” the sparkle-covered Bristowe descended to the stage from a swing and started a fevered showcase of ballroom moves, with every kind of flip known to man.
“You threw everything in, and the kitchen sink,” said Inaba, leading the praise and the unanimous 10 paddles. Bristowe was surely headed to glory. (30/30. Total a perfect 60/60)
Nelly showed his love of dance, with the faults
The rapper has been near the bottom of the leaderboard due to technical miscues, but always supported by his fans. Even in the finals, the errors persisted. Nelly repeated his ’80s Night samba to DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night.” While the special effects were improved, with the boom box now a laser effect in the air, it was the same old Nelly with pro Daniella Karagach.
“You make people feel good,” said Derek Hough as the judges threw out criticism to keep strictly positive.
Tonioli pointed out “technical issues. But watching you is great. It’s fun.” The judges gave generous 9 scores for 27/30.
Round two: Nelly was in his element in the freestyle, hitting the dance floor with swagger to “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion and moving to “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G. He and Karagach danced a mix of hip-hop, Latin and ballroom among chandeliers littered on the dance floor. The final move defied gravity as Nelly spun Karagach on his shoulders with his hands free, whirling into a dizzying finish and bringing her back to Earth.
“Nelly, the king of swag, the king of swing. It was freestyle, Nelly-style,” said Tonioli. Straight 10s from the judges. (30/30, Total score 57/60)
Nev Schulman completed his ‘Catfish’ – he’s actually is a great dancer
Hard to believe TV host Schulman, seemingly an early cut, was such a power competitor. He and pro Jenna Johnson repeated their paso doble to “Black Swan Swan Lake” by District 78, which originally had the judges fawning for superlatives. The new version was tweaked, even stronger, and featured Schulman with his hairy chest completely shaved.
“You Catfished us all,” said Hough, commenting on the unlikely ballroom journey.
“That dance was perfection the first time you did it. It was perfection again,” said Inaba. No shock, straight 10s. (30/30)
Round two: The freestyle summed up Schulman’s mastery, to “Singin’ In the Rain.” It started foot-free, with the dancers in yellow rain slickers and matching umbrellas, featured a raunchy segment with jackets off, then went s’wonderful with a toe-tapping segment in a mid-floor water pool amid real rain.
Tonioli seemed to be oddly at a loss for words, calling the number “show-stopping” and adding “I was not expecting that.” Instant 10s all around. (30/30, Total score 60/60)
Justina Machado continued to bring the fire, and smiles
The “One Day at a Time” star has been the pure joy contestant and brought it again in the finale with a repeat cha cha with pro Sasha Farber to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” from Week 1 – the week she first unleashed the killer combo of that smile and those hips.
The beads were shimmering, the smile beaming, and then Machado grabbed a ceiling-dropped mike to lip-sync “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” The self-described “little Puerto Rican girl from Chicago” earned it.
“You know how to bring it,” said Inaba. “I love your fire!” The scores were straight 10s. (30/30)
Round two: Machado’s second freestyle dance was a jubilant showstopper to Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud” that segued into “Bamboleo” by The Gypsy Kings. The cultural celebration put an exclamation point on Machado’s crowd-pleasing foray.
“I couldn’t think of a better freestyle to end this season. You guys crushed it,” said Hough, who pulled a 10. Yup, perfect scores. (30/30, Total score 60/60)
But there would be only one …
Banks announced the dancers’ final rank in descending order. It was swift, perhaps lacking full drama.
The dancer in fourth place: Machado.
The dancer in third place: Nelly.
It was left to Schulman and Bristowe as the final two. But the winner and new champion was Kaitlyn Bristowe. The “Bachelorette” star screamed loud enough that all of Bachelor Nation heard, hugged her partner and tearfully grabbed the trophy.