'Dancing With the Stars' Freestyle Challenge Recap: Who Will Take Home the Mirrorball Trophy?
By Desiree Murphy
It's the night we've all been waiting for!
The season 24 Dancing With the Stars champion will officially be announced during the competition show's finale, airing Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. But before Rashad Jennings, Normani Kordei and David Ross hit the ballroom for one last dance, ET's recapping the freestyle routines they performed during night one of the finals and breaking down why these pieces have such a big impact on who takes home the coveted Mirrorball.
We've seen it happen before -- contestants who have been frontrunners all season long have fallen short in the finals because of the freestyle dance (Zendaya, Nick Carter, Mel B). At the same time, we've also seen the underdogs win it all after delivering outrageously entertaining routines (Nyle DiMarco, J.R. Martinez, Hélio Castroneves).
The point of the Freestyle Challenge is to let the competitors show off their skills, have fun, tell a story, connect with the audience and prove once and for all why they deserve to win. There are no rules, which is why these dances end up being some of the most memorable routines.
It's important to note that these are the final pieces fans see before voting for the winner one last time. Even if they've had a favorite all season long, many feel compelled to cast their votes for the star who really gave it their all at the end of the show.
"[Fan voters] have a huge amount of power in the end," judge Bruno Tonioli explained to ET last month. "Especially with the finale, when our score doesn't count."
"The final freestyle dances usually get the public," he added. "They just get on their phones and that's what gets you the Mirrorball."
Let's take a look at how the season 24 finalists wowed the crowd with their freestyles Monday night:
David & Lindsay Arnold
Dance highlight: A homerun hit of a dance for David! This was arguably the former MLB pro's strongest routine of the season, and we were happy to see him out there smiling throughout the entirety of the piece. It was a joy to watch, especially when he and Lindsay danced atop a makeshift player's bench at 0:24 and brought out the baseball bats at 0:53. At one point, David even used the prop to lift Lindsay -- watch at the 1:21 mark! Judges' score: 40/40. "Every week I've been waiting for you to knock it out of the park. The only thing missing was a beer and a hot dog. That was fantastic. I loved it!" - Len Goodman
Normani & Val Chmerkovskiy
Dance highlight: Once again, we couldn't keep our eyes off Normani. You could feel her passion in her movements, and her connection with Val was unmatched. Our favorite moments occurred at 0:30, when Val gracefully dragged her in a standing split across the floor, and 1:23, an arched-back lift. Judges' score: 40/40. "It was like watching angels dance. Divine." - Bruno Tonioli
Rashad & Emma Slater
Dance highlight: The NFL pro has officially transformed into a dancer! He started the piece strong with his moves perfectly in sync with four male dancers from the troupe, kicking off the freestyle with high energy, flawless footwork and, of course, that signature smile. We loved that Emma truly let her star shine. Watch his epic dance break at the 0:43 mark, followed by his lifts with Emma at 0:56 and 1:14. Judges' score: 40/40. "You are naughty because you've been holding out on us. That is how you turn this mother OUT! That was amazing, you owned that number!" - Carrie Ann Inaba
So solely based on Monday's freestyle dances, who should win? It will definitely be a close call, but we're putting bets on Rashad and Emma (which Jimmy Kimmel did at the beginning of the season). Here's why:
#TeamShadSquad's performance had the entire crowd entertained from start to finish. It was a dance EVERYONE could appreciate, as it was inspired by that fun party feel of a Super Bowl halftime show, complete with Marching Band movements, funky costumes and a silver sparkly football.
They took the challenge one step further by adding another risk -- Emma allowed Rashad to choreograph sections of the routine and let him dance without her for the first 25 seconds of the performance, proving he can hold his own in the ballroom. That right there shows that the two trust each other 100%.
This is Emma's first time ever making it to the finals in her seven seasons as a pro on DWTS, so it was a risky move on her part, but Rashad nailed it and exceeded the judges' expectations. We can't imagine viewers at home being any less impressed!
We have to admit, however, that after seeing David and Lindsay go first in the Freestyle Challenge, we didn't think it was possible for anyone to outperform them. Their dance was undoubtedly the most creative, thanks to all the stage elements and Lindsay's genius choreography.
Fans were shocked when #TeamLadyAndTheGramp advanced to the finals over Simone Biles and Sasha Farber, but at this point in the competition, we wouldn't be surprised if they stole the trophy away from Rashad or Normani, despite the fact that those two have received the highest scores all season. David has a tremendous support system and he is the epitome of what this show is all about -- having fun and stepping out of your comfort zone to learn how to dance. The routine Lindsay choreographed for them encapsulated that story impeccably.
But again, we can't underestimate the power of the Harmonizers! Fifth Harmony fans have been helping Normani and Val stay at the top of the leaderboard all season, so it will certainly be interesting to see if their votes will be enough for a win. Val has made it to the finals seven times as a pro, and he's known for keeping the focus of the freestyle dances on his partner's skills. It worked for Laurie Hernandez last season and for Rumer Willis during season 20, but will it work for Normani?
The routine was beautifully done but it didn't bring out that fun, surprise factor we got from Rashad or David. Plus, we didn't really see anything new from the 20-year-old singer, whereas it was clear her competitors' main goal was to show viewers just how much they've improved. Regardless, Normani's star power is undeniable. The girl oozes natural talent!
#TeamValmani have been the most consistent pair since week one of the competition, so it'd obviously be sad to see this pair fall short. Again, their fate is all in the hands of the viewers, so we'll just have to wait and see who will actually nab that sparkly Mirrorball.
In the meantime, watch the video below to see highlights from night one of the finals.