Needham native Aly Raisman, one of four finalists on "Dancing With the Stars," demonstrated her growth through the season along with her Olympic strength during Monday night's performance round. The gold medalist set out to show the judges her improved samba skills since she first performed the dance with partner Mark Ballas earlier in the season. While her scores weren't perfect, she still received high marks.
"There's no stopping you now," judge Bruno Tonioli said. Judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Len Goodman both commented on her forward momentum. "You are on the way up. That was terrific," Goodman said.
When asked about getting back into her life as a gymnast, Raisman said she can't wait to focus not only on tumbling, but also on dance.
It was Raisman's super-sized freestyle routine later in the night that wowed the judges and earned her the perfect score of 30. Ballas's goal with choreographing this routine was to enable Raisman to use her gymnastic skills in a non-traditional way, he said.
"I want to do something that's really never been done before on the show," Ballas said. He described the routine as a futuristic performance that shows all that Raisman's learned this season, noting that he incorporated elements that only professionals would typically do. Dancing on poles 20 to 25 feet high, the duo showcased their athleticism and ability to be in sync with each other. Raisman, dressed in a colorful costume reminiscent of the movie "Avatar," flipped and climbed her way to the top.
"That was futuristic with a touch of exotic," Tonioli said. "You did it."
Inaba said it was one of the most amazing routines she's seen on the show, and Goodman was also impressed. "Well I loved the concept. I thought it had great imagination," he said. "I'm dubbing you 'Alexandra the Great'!"
As for Raisman? "Oh my God, I feel like I just did 15 floor routines in a row," she said after she finished the number with Ballas, who said he's proud of his partner.
Raisman also held her own in the group cha-cha relay alongside the other remaining contestants: country singer Kellie Pickler, teen Disney sensation Zendaya, and NFL star Jacoby Jones.
"With respect to our other stars, these are the four that I think deserved to make it into the finals," Goodman said, "And here you are, you're in the final. Well done, congratulations."
So who's on top this round? Zendaya took home a total of 65 points, followed by Pickler with 64 and Raisman with 61 points. Jones landed at the bottom with 56 points.
Pickler's freestyle routine moved Inaba to tears, and Pickler herself became very emotional during the dance. "Kellie, you just bared your soul on the dance floor and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen," Inaba said.
Another stand-out freestyle of the night was Zendaya's. The judges all agreed that kids in America would love it, and Inaba commented that she showed why she's such an "incredible role model."
Jones's routine wasn't as loved by all of the judges. While Tonioli enjoyed the sense of celebration and Goodman said it had "great energy," Inaba offered more critical feedback.
"I think you chose the right strategy for you," she said, "But I think that it out-shined you." She added, "I kinda feel like you got a little bit lost in the shuffle, but it was still fun."
Raisman and the other finalists will find out who will win the Mirror Ball trophy Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Should Raisman win the whole thing? If not, who should? Which star had the best performance of the night? Discuss here in the comments.
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ContributorsKatie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
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