DWTS 5th Judge: Amanda Kloots' Powerful Tribute to Nick Cordero, Danced to His Song

JoJo Siwa honors her late grandfather, and Iman Shumpert goes where no NBA star has before as a double elimination reveals next week’s four finalists!

We’re not crying after those performances on the “Dancing with the Stars” semi-finals, you’re crying! Okay, we’re probably all crying!

It was an emotional night of performances as the celebrities and their professional partners gave their all with their last shot before next week’s finale. And they did so through two rounds of competition.

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The first round was all about “Redemption,” with the judges pulling a dance style from earlier in the season that was only so-so and allowing the couples to prove how much they’ve improved by doing it again. For Cody Rigsby and Cheryl Burke, this meant a chance to perform a dance we only saw in rehearsal due to Covid quarantine earlier this season.

The second round brought out even more raw emotion as JoJo Siwa and Jenna Johnson created a dance in tribute to her late grandfather, and then Amanda Kloots and Alan Bersten brought magic to the stage with a powerful tribute to Amanda’s late husband Nick Cordero, who died from Covid in 2020, set to his music.

There were other magical moments throughout the evening, too, as Iman Shumpert — who has now advanced further than any NBA star before him — and Daniella Karagach floored the judges once again with lifts the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Huge basketball player and tiny dancer create unique opportunities, and they continue to explore them in ways that blow our minds.

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Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Derek Hough and Bruno Tonioli. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

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ROUND 1: REDEMPTION

Cody Rigsby & Cheryl Burke

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(Salsa) There was a time in this competition where we didn’t think dance was ever going to come together for Cody, but by sticking around this long, he’s really showing some real musicality. We enjoyed the tricks he did with Cheryl and the strength he showed in leading. But he still needs to work on those hips. One segment had them pretty good, but in others, Cheryl had him just standing there while she writhed and camouflaged him. It’s coming along impressively, but there is still overall looseness and technique to nail down.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 8, 9

My Score: 7

Melora Hardin & Artem Chigvintsev

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(Rumba) There was so much grace and fluidity and affection in how Melora and Artem performed, we found ourselves getting a little choked up. It was the beautiful little flares she added to the piece, like the way she moved her arms, those moments where she really let herself sink into the floor and loosed up her hips beautifully. This was proper rumba performed with true grace by someone who has come to love and know the way their body moves, and it was beautiful to watch.

Judges Scores: 8, 10, 9, 9

My Score: 9

Suni Lee & Sasha Farber

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(Foxtrot) What a truly adorable piece performed with such joy and abandon, but controlled. Sasha did not hold back in choreographing a fast-moving, complex foxtrot with lots of complicated arm and footwork, but Suni proved up to the challenge with a great frame. Aside from one stutter-step moment across the floor and a few bouncy moments, she was fully vested in the piece, and felt so much more comfortable than the last time she took to the floor with this. Her athleticism and strength is finally combining with the more fluid grace of dance.

Judges Scores: 10, 9, 9, 9

My Score: 9

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JoJo Siwa & Jenna Johnson

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(Argentine Tango) This had everything the first time they did this dance lacked. It was oozing Len’s ooziness, with so much chemistry and restrained sensuality it was palpable through the screen. Add some incredibly precise movements, note-perfect synchronicity in tandem footwork and it was a truly mesmerizing piece you couldn’t take your eyes off of for one second. Everything that was happening was interesting and compelling and you absolutely believed that there was heat between the two throughout the dance.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

Iman Shumpert & Daniella Karagach

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(Tango) We loved seeing Iman fully own his size on the dance floor. He needs to be careful that his elbows and knees don’t drop a bit. We know it has to do with how small Daniella is, but she’s more than capable of rising to his stature. Overall, though, this was very well danced and his strongest in the Latin styles yet. He had a certain fluidity across the dance floor that was nice to see, and there was genuine sizzle in how he partnered Daniella, which suited the piece perfectly. It was nice to see the technical and artistic sides improving.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 10, 9

My Score: 8

Amanda Kloots & Alan Bersten

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(Tango) This piece was all strength — and terribly lit — with both Amanda and Alan bringing plenty of attack along with their plenty of tango. It was a confidently performed piece, though we’d have liked a little more personality in it. Technically, it was very sound with lots of great linework from both. Their partnering was strong, Len’s body contact looked tight and precise Amanda has always been a strong performer, but we’d have liked a bit more character.

Judges Scores: 9, 10, 10, 10

My Score: 9

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ROUND 2

Melora Hardin & Artem Chigvintsev

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(Contemporary) There was a moment where you could see Melora looking ahead to the next move rather than finishing this move (though we can partly blame the camera for being right on her in that moment). Mostly, though, she was so present and ommitted to showing strength and resilience. It was a dance without a particular story, leaving it open for interpretation, and what we got out of it is a statement about never stopping, embracing the now and just living fully in it no matter what. It was passionate and the partnership was filled with palpable affection.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9

My Score: 10

Cody Rigsby & Cheryl Burke

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(Argentine Tango) Cheryl is so strong in this style that we found ourselves unable to take our eyes off of her through a lot of this. At the same time, during a lot of those moments, Cody was little more than a prop. But he was present, he had ganchos and he was there for her when she needed him. We’d have liked a little more sizzle and precision from him throughout to match the level of attack that Cheryl had, but it was a very confident and fiery piece to watch — due largely to Cherly clearing having the time of her life.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9

My Score: 8

Suni Lee & Sasha Farber

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(Contemporary) So much vulnerability, so much strength. It was so smart to incorporate moments of her gymnastics prowess into this piece as it explored who she is and what her place is in the world, both the areas where she feels overwhelmed and then the incredible feats she can accomplish without a thought. This was conceived with so much passion, and performed with so much emotion we could feel the internal struggle, as well as her journey through it. This was also the most mature and confident we’ve ever seen her as a dancer.

Judges Scores: 10, 9, 10, 9

My Score: 10

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JoJo Siwa & Jenna Johnson

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(Contemporary) Jenna and JoJo painted some stunning pictures throughout this piece, with compelling and innovative lifts and partnering work. And everything they did served the lyrics and the story of paying tribute to JoJo’s late grandfather. It’s been amazing seeing this more sophisticated and mature side of JoJo because it’s such a departure from the persona that made her famous, but it’s also proof that there’s still a future for a more “adult” JoJo, should she choose to express herself in this way. This was executed to perfection and that’s all to what the dancers brought. Derek went so far as to call it the best contemporary dance we’ve ever seen on the show (we don’t agree with that, necessarily, but it’s among the best).

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

Iman Shumpert & Daniella Karagach

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(Jazz) An NBA star has never made it this far, and Iman is making a case to take it one step further. What a compelling and utterly transfixing performance, with lifts that could only work with a big, strong man like him and a tiny partner like Daniella. They’re so creative in how they use their size difference to create moments you don’t see coming and you won’t soon forget. This was a little unusual as a jazz piece, but it had a lot of character. This partnership has really blossomed in the most unexpected and exciting ways.

Judges Scores: 10, 9, 10, 9

My Score: 9

Amanda Kloots & Alan Bersten

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(Contemporary) A stunning tribute to her late husband Nick Cordero, who died of Covid last year, this was choreographed with aching precision and so personal. Alan personified Nick, deep in a coma, through the opening measures and it was heartbreaking and so very powerful. Amanda didn’t follow through completely with her lines, but considering she was in tears as it started, it’s a testament to her strength, artistry and love that she carried through so well. The issues were minor, the beauty of the piece and the feeling was enormous.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

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RESULTS

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Once again, the second round did nothing but solidify the rankings of the first round. That also means that the overall scores are very tight heading into next week’s finals. But there’s a double elimination tonight, and that meant someone would go home automatically by America’s vote.

Our fear was that it might be Suni, but it really felt like she had a breakthrough night and her strongest yet of the season. Truthfully, we thought we were ready for Amanda to go because she’d kind of hit a peak several weeks back, but tonight’s contemporary was so powerful, we have a feeling it will carry her through.

As such, we’re afraid it might be time to say goodby to Melora, who’s been a huge inspiration throughout the season. Her artistry and her performances have been incredible to watch, but it’s that time of the season where someone has to go and there are no terrible choices.

That said, Cody has been among the weaker dancers all season. America loves a story of growth, but we really think it would be okay for his story to end here. That’s partly because we really need Iman to make it into the next round. He’s been a revelation and #MomentMaker (as Tyra dubbed it) for weeks now and we want more!

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Will America line up with the judges and let Cody and Melora go? Or will there be a shocker from America’s vote? Honestly, we were a little terrified that a shock was coming our way and it was going to be Suni, just shy of fighting for another gold.

A double elimination meant a Bottom 3, which also meant a Top 3. Who would safely slide into next week? The first celebrity sent into safety was JoJo, followed by Iman and the biggest shocker of the season so far — Cody! What are we missing about this guy’s fan-base?!

On a positive note, though, this marks Cheryl Burke’s first time making it to the finals since way back in Season 17. This woman dominated early seasons of “DWTS,” taking home the trophy in the second and third seasons and making Top 3 seven different times, so it’s nice to see her back on top.

The bad news is that this meant Suni, Amanda and Melora were all in the Bottom 3. Is it really about gender parity with America? The women dominated this competition all season and the final is now set to have two guys and two ladies. It makes no sense.

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With that Bottom 3, we had a feeling Amanda will carry forward after that contemporary piece — unless it came too late in the show — and it would be goodbye to both Suni and Melora. And we’re heartbroken!

The automatic elimination didn’t come as a huge surprise, as older women have notoriously struggled with viewers to garner support. Melora Hardin has had an incredible journey on this show and she was a light for so many; not to mention she grew into a pretty good dancer.

We don’t necessarily disagree with the choice, though, as of the three of them, she’s clearly the weakest. She should still dance out with her head held high because she gave it her all and she was a star throughout!

That left Suni and Amanda, who both had powerful pieces in that second round and great nights overall. But Amanda’s was a little stronger with the judges, and her contemporary piece was at another level. This had to be hers, right?

As expected, it was a clean sweep with all of the judges voting to save Amanda. She may not have grown as much as Suni Lee, who said goodbye tonight, but she has been consistently strong all season. Suni comes out of the competition having grown as an artist, a performer and a person, which is a pretty good consolation prize!

“Dancing with the Stars” says goodbye and crowns a winner with a star-studded finale next Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.


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