The dancing and the outfits were legendary for Icons Night on “Dancing With the Stars” Monday – not to mention the return, in ballroom tributes, of late-great stars Freddie Mercury, Amy Winehouse and even rapper Tupac Shakur.
The show, now down to seven power-contestants, showed some flab as judges and host Tyra Banks verbally tap danced to fill two hours, even snuffing the fun out of lively dance-offs.
But the drama kicked into overdrive for the furious finale, after beloved Backstreet Boy AJ McLean stumbled during his Queen tribute dance. He ultimately was voted off the show. The shock and dance floor horror were palpable, even in a COVID-19 empty ballroom.
Here’s what the heck happened.
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Justina Machado doesn’t express herself enough in her Madonna rumba
The “One Day at a Time” dance phenom had the Material girl outfit and the Madonna hair for her rumba to Madonna’s “Crazy for You” with pro Sasha Farber. But she slid a little too gracefully (perhaps boringly) across the dance floor to make the judges happy. They wanted a little more Madonna flare in the tribute.
Judge Bruno Tonioli called it “beautiful” but said it showed “the gentle side of Madonna. Nothing shocking.” He urged Machado to “push it a bit further” for the semifinals. The judges gave straight 8 scores. (Total score 26/30 after Machado won bonus points for a dance-off win.)
Nelly brings Tupac and flips to the ‘DWTS’ floor
Those who never thought Tupac Shakur – likely including the late rapper himself – would end up on “Dancing With the Stars,” never foresaw rapper Nelly excelling on the reality ballroom dance show. Nelly danced a joyful jazz Tupac tribute with pro Daniella Karagach to “California Love.” There were flips, great moves, a constant smile, but some noticeable miscues. “That’s how you do it,” Banks exclaimed as the dance ended. Judge Derek Hough praised the unusual “journey” that Nelly is taking. “There were a few missed steps, but it was really good fun.”
The judges were on board, giving straight 8s. Nelly later valiantly tried to earn bonus points by ripping off his shirt during the salsa dance-off against Skai Jackson. He didn’t win the points, but he definitely won some hearts (and perhaps viewer votes) with his serious beefcake. (Total score: 24/30)
Kaitlyn Bristowe unleashes her toxic, saucy Britney Spears
“The Bachelorette” star Bristowe vowed to show a different side in her Argentine tango to “Toxic” with pro Artem Chigvintsev, a tribute to Spears. In her revealing sheer dress, suitable for TV audiences due to a series of strategically placed sparkles, she moved passionately and perfectly across the dance floor.
“Hit me Kaitlyn one more time,” bellowed Tonioli. “Some of the images were like a precious painting you could only see in a museum. A star performance.” Bristowe scored perfect 10s from all judges. (Total score: 30/30)
The judges wig out over Johnny Weir’s Amy Winehouse quickstep
Judge Carrie Ann Inaba said that in 29 seasons of “Dancing With the Stars” she had never seen anything like Olympic figure skater Weir’s tribute to the doomed singer – right down the signature mascara and hair. His quickstep to Winehouse’s “Valerie” with pro Britt Stewart was passionate, precise even breathtaking – and never shook his perfectly placed Winehouse beehive wig.
“Amy would loved that,” said Tonioli, who called it “unique and groundbreaking” and praised the perfect dancing. All judges raved with straight 10s. (Total score 30/30)
Skai Jackson gives a nasty paso doble tribute to Janet Jackson
Disney star Jackson was all grown up giving a passionate pre-dance video talk about speak out against racism, then hitting the dance floor and nailing her paso doble to “If” by her hero, Janet Jackson, with pro Alan Bersten. During the routine, Bersten spun the horizontal Jackson around the floor like a hypnotizing top, and the actress had the control to stop the head-spinning maneuver on a dime.
A proud Inaba had her mouth open in shock at the end, thanking Jackson for her words and for “giving us this fierce paso doble.” She gave a 9, matched by the other judges. (Total score: 29/30 after Jackson beat out rapper Nelly in a dance-off for two bonus points.)
Nev Schulman proves Monday night is all right for dancing
Schulman brought the theatrics to his Elton John tribute jive to “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” with pro Jenna Johnson, along with the sparkly glasses and an outrageous yellow suit. The smile never left his face as he high kicked, and he even had the dexterity to allow Johnson to slide through his legs in one fluid move.
“Rocket Man at his most entertaining,” said Tonioli, who had issues with the kicks. Each of the judges had like complaints, yet they gave straight 9 scores. (Total score 27/30)
AJ McLean is dethroned with his Queen tribute waltz
Backstreet Boy McLean started his Viennese Waltz tribute to Queen legend Freddie Mercury with pro Cheryl Burke in royal style – throwing off a grand rock ‘n’ roll, fur-collared robe and striding gracefully down stairs to Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” You couldn’t ask for a better opening.
That’s where it turned bad, with missed steps, missed turns. Heck, he missed everything. McLean, with a look of barely contained horror in his eyes, never recovered. He paid the price, proving that the most heavily favored star can south in one bad night of dancing.
“OK, that was a tough one,” said Inaba, who gave a 7. “It started off strong. Did you lose the turn, then lose the choreography? It was a bad series of events.”
“That first image, rock royalty,” said Tonioli. “So Freddie! You were so pumped up, you got yourself into a jumble.” He gave an 8. The scores were surprisingly gentle, all things considered. But the couple were at the bottom and in mortal peril even after McLean won his dance-off against Weir for two bonus points. (Total score 25/30)
The writing was on the wall …
In the moment of truth, the saved star couples frolicked off the stage to prepare for next week’s semifinal leaving Weir and McLean in peril.
Two of the shows most popular dancers, only one could remain. The judges’ usual hand-wringing over the power decision was sincere.
Tonioli voted for Weir to stay, Hough voted for McLean. Inaba was left with the deciding, Solomon-like vote.
“This is hard, you are both icons. I love you both and respect you both,” said Inaba. But she voted for Weir to stay.
McLean was voted off, but he smiled and gave a classy exit. “This has been one hell of a ride,” McLean said.