Pop Culture

'Dancing With the Stars' finalists dish on their freestyles post show

ABC / Today
"Dancing" finalists Melissa Rycroft, Kelly Monaco and Shawn Johnson.

It’s been said that the "Dancing With the Stars" freestyle dance can be the deciding factor in determining the competition’s winner. (Remember last season’s showstopper by Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd to "I Play Chicken With the Train"?)

But the question remains: Will audiences respond positively to Kelly and Val’s "Dirty Dancing" routine to "Time of My Life"? Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani’s contemporary dance? Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough’s number that incorporated five of her fellow Olympic gymnast pals?

“Our dance was very appropriate,” Chmerkovskiy said backstage after the show. “Kelly’s and my season has a lot of parallels with that movie. She was counted out, pre-season. I was somebody’s younger sibling. Now, I finally have my own voice and spotlight. The song was perfect.”

None of the finalists went overboard with the expanded perimeters they were given for their freestyles. But Chmerkovskiy complemented his and Monaco’s performance by playing violin.

“I’m very grateful to my parents for forcing me to stick with it,” he said. “It’s probably not the sexiest thing to whip out when you’re 17 and serenade a girl with, but at 26 ...”

“It pays off,” Monaco chimed in.

Of dancing with the Fierce Five, Johnson said, “I trained with those girls for three years and to be on the stage with them meant everything.”

She also gives high marks to Hough for her performances and growth this season. “He gave me everything back – my confidence, my pride and my passion for finding something I love to do.”

Rycroft said that since the "All Stars" season has been about doing things that have never been done before (Knight Rider Bhangra, anyone?) she and Dovolani chose a contemporary theme for their freestyle.

“It was a risk,” Rycroft said. “In season eight, we did something that was comfortable and easy. Competing against Shawn and Derek and Kelly and Val, well, we thought we needed to do something!”

Still, Dovolani was careful not to let the added extras overshadow his partner.

“I didn’t want to take any focus away from Melissa,” he said after the show. “The trapeze artists (we used) were fantastic. But my goal was to celebrate Melissa’s journey.”

The "All-Stars" winner won’t be announced until Tuesday evening, but there’s already speculation about next season’s stars, including one of Johnson’s fellow Olympic gymnasts.

“Tony’s already working on it,” joked Rycroft. “He was sizing them up saying, ‘Oh, you’re the right height!’ ”

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