May 20, 2013 at 11:43 PM ET
After 10 weeks of showing just what they can do on the dance floor, the finalists from "Dancing With the Stars" had a chance to prove to viewers that they saved the best for last -- or at least that was the idea going in to Monday night's finals.
Of course, it didn't quite go that way for every act.
As longtime fans of the ballroom bash know, in the end, it all comes down to the freestyle. Forget the cha-cha-relay-this or the judges-pick-that. Fair or not, it's that one no-holds-barred routine that leaves the lasting impression.
So, given that, is a synchronized pole dance really the last impression a contestant wants to make?
That's the question Aly Raisman and her pro partner, Mark Ballas, should have asked themselves before the show, because when it was time to shine, that's what they delivered -- a flashy, splashy pole dance.
To make matters worse for Aly, they didn't even deliver it very well. Oh, sure, Len Goodman and his fellow panelists raved about the number -- Bruno Tonioli even dubbed it "futuristic with a touch of the erotic" -- and they awarded her a perfect score. But the officials had to ignore a lack of musicality, out-of-synch steps and one blatant flub to do it.
When added to her so-so cha-cha performance and a shake-filled samba from earlier in evening, the gymnast claimed 61 points for the night.
That left Aly trailing behind this season's "Dancing" queens, Kellie Pickler and Zendaya, each of whom earned every point of their perfect freestyle scores.
It was Kellie who performed the night's most unforgettable dance. Rather than bringing out the fireworks or other dancers (or, you know, poles) for her effort, the "American Idol" alum and pro Derek Hough scaled back the production completely and relied solely on precision contemporary moves.
The risk paid off. Without distractions, there was no room for errors -- and there weren't any. The emotion-packed dance just featured clean lines and impeccable timing.
Kellie's moves left Carrie Ann Inaba in tears, and inspired a rare sort of rave from Len.
After giving her a standing ovation and praising the performance, he said his 10 paddle should have been an 11.
Kellie could have used that better-than-perfect extra point, considering that with her cha-cha and quickstep scores, she was just one digit behind her closest competition with a 64.
Zendaya's freestyle wasn't quite the emotional powerhouse that Kellie's was, but it was perfectly performed all the same. The routine pro Val Chmerkovskiy choreographed for her blended cha-cha, contemporary and hip-hop, showing off a wide range of the Disney star's skills -- very formidable skills.
Len called her earlier samba "eye-popping, show-stopping, jaw-dropping," but it was Zendaya's freestyle where he said "it all came together."
Thanks to those dances -- and her cha-cha win -- Zendaya topped the leaderboard with 65 for the night.
But the night didn't go as well for the last man standing in the competition. Kellie and Zendaya may have aced it where points were concerned, and Aly was off-point with her dance, but Jacoby Jones? It seemed like he missed the point altogether.
He charmed fans all season with his big dance improvements and even bigger personality, but when it really mattered, he offered up one of his weakest routines.
His "supersized" freestyle alongside pro Karina Smirnoff relied too much on what he could do in his sleep -- imprecise silliness -- and not enough the impressive moves he mastered this season.
With that, and his cha-cha and jive, he went from the top of the leaderboard last week to the bottom this week.
But the leaderboard only matters so much at this point in the game. The judges only get half of the say on finale night, and fan votes have the rest of the sway.
Tell us who you want to see holding the mirror-ball trophy on Tuesday night.