So every season, as we draw nearer & nearer to the finale, it seems like the question on everyone’s lips is “What are they gonna do for their freestyle?” We debate which pros are the stronger freestyle choreographers, which celebs can handle the lifts, who’s got the most dance skills, who is going to struggle, etc. So Heidi & I decided to tackle the big question: what makes a good DWTS freestyle?
While everyone may argue over what works and what doesn’t, with 12 seasons under our belts, we have enough historical data to see some patterns – and there are definitely some things that all good freestyles seem to have in common, and some things that the bad freestyles have in common. Today we’re starting with the worst – these are examples of what this season’s finalists should likely avoid, and of which they should probably try to do the opposite :-)
A little insight into how we arrived at this list: I made a list of my own, and then bumped it against a list Heidi made and we looked for similarities. I also asked for suggestions on Twitter, to see if my finger was on the pulse of the more dedicated viewing audience; I polled my co-workers (likely more representative of the average viewer than most of us lurking on the Net ;-)) as well to get their thoughts. Turns out, most of you guys came up with the same examples of good & bad – which is good, since it shows that opinions on freestyles seem to be pretty universal. But without further ado, I give you the top 10 WORST freestyles in DWTS history:
10.) Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas, season 12
Courtney: This was one that a lot of you seemed divided on – some of you loved it, some of you hated it. I ultimately decided to include it in the “worst” list because it seemed to have something in common with a lot of the other freestyles on this list: it wasn’t reflective of the celeb it was meant to showcase. Yes, it was high-energy, it was well-executed (for the most part), and it was entertaining – but what did it really have to do with Chelsea? While she managed to keep up with Mark fairly well and got through the choreography, I never really got the feeling that it was a routine she really felt connected to, or that she even would have picked for herself. It was as if she had given Mark carte blanche with the routine and he chose everything – the music, the costumes, the theme, etc., and Chelsea was just along for the ride. I think choosing an obscure song didn’t help, and the choreo seemed to showcase Mark more than Chelsea – the poor girl just seemed to be trying to keep her head above water. Add to that some bland costumes and a wardrobe malfunction, and you’ve got a freestyle that’s overall just “Meh.” Definitely not 30-worthy, IMO.
Heidi: Well, this one I would have put in “dishonorable mentions” but it’s almost in that pile anyway, at slot #10. :-) The problem here, like you say, was Chelsea wasn’t connected to it (and similar ideas appear throughout this post). Not only that, but the music didn’t really match the costumes and none of it matched the choreo. It seemed all mixed up to me. It had a latin flavor, yet they were doing a light hip hop type choreo (I don’t really know how else to explain that) and their costumes matched neither. Then – why the lights and the bike?? I feel like I missed something on this one. There was also a section where it seemed like they just went from one cool trick to the next. The best freestyles (including some of Mark’s) had a good bit of actual ballroom dancing thrown in in places. This one is just a bit weird for me.
9.) Evan Lysacek & Anna Trebunskaya, season 10
Heidi: PEOPLE, unless your pro is Dmitry – do NOT argue with them about choreography. At all. Geez. That said, this is another freestyle that was good on paper, but in execution just didn’t work for some reason. Clearly it worked in person, since the studio crowd loved it…but the dance didn’t seem to fit either Evan OR Footloose. When Derek did Grease with Brooke, there was a clear, but brief, homage to the movie. The dance went with the song and it worked perfectly for Brooke. When he did a song from Dirty Dancing with Jennifer – again, a subtle, brief homage to the movie and it worked for Jennifer because, of course – she was in the movie. I think by the time they get to the freestyle the pros are just drained and they forget to really tie it altogether – and if you pick an iconic song, you have to really tie it altogether so that the dancing fits the iconic song but also works for your partner. It seems like this dance doesn’t fit either. He didn’t dance it badly by any stretch, but neither did Gilles in their Flashdance freestyle. That doesn’t make it good.
Courtney: I was always a bit puzzled as to why they picked Footloose – did one of them really, really like the movie? Or was it just another easy, dance movie theme to go with? I think that’s the one big difference between a freestyle like Jennifer’s and a freestyle like Evan’s (or Mya’s, or Gilles’, or Stacy’s – see below) – relevance. Dirty Dancing was relevant to Jennifer; but was Footloose really relevant to Evan? I want a freestyle to basically sum up a partnership for me – I want it to feel like both the celeb & the pro connect to both the dance and each other, and for the routine to feel like a nice closure to their season together. For me, going with Footloose as their theme left more questions than answers. Ooh, and can I just say that I think bringing in an outside choreographer is the absolute kiss of death? It doesn’t see to mesh well with the chemistry the couple has forged over the course of the season, and usually leads to coupled being led dangerously out of their comfort zone. And both Evan & Anna seemed uncomfortable with this one – almost pained, at times.
8.) Mya & Dmitry Chaplin, season 9
Courtney: This one is a prime example of doing something that’s so well-known that it’s actually cliched and boring. When picking a song and theme for a freestyle, I think it’s important to pick something that’s going to be high-energy, well-known, and relateable – but also fresh & creative. Dmitry got the first part right, but failed miserably on the second part – by time he & Mya got around to doing this freestyle, Hairspray had already been DONE TO DEATH – between the remake of the movie, routines on SYTYCD, and other similar routines on DWTS, it was already a dead horse, and Dmitry was just beating it. It’s always been my biggest issue with Dmitry: he picks songs & themes that are well-known, but he picks them at a time when everyone is already sick of hearing/seeing them. And not only was there nothing truly “fresh” about this freestyle, but it didn’t really showcase Mya, either – the choreography seemed too simple for someone as talented as she, and it wasn’t like she had ever had a profound connection to theme. I always wondered how their freestyle would have turned out if they had gone with Mya’s idea instead – whatever it was. Not sure it would have changed the outcome of season 9, but it may have made Mya a bit more memorable in the long run. Overall, this was another case of picking a theme just because it’s there. FAIL.
Heidi: Remember, they had a pretty fundamental disagreement on what their freestyle should be – and Mya’s idea sounded pretty good. This partnership was flawed from day 1 though. You take a gorgeous, but quiet girl who is the closest to a professional dancer the show has ever had, and pair her with a gorgeous but quiet/boring pro and you have a double dose of quiet and boring. Going with what Courtney said about picking songs/dances well after their shelf life has past, I think Dmitry really suffered from a lack of genuine creativity. He borrowed a lot from SYTYCD as I recall and got dinged more than once from props or rule breaking. I don’t think he adapted quickly enough. Anyway, it was sooo simple and plain – nothing technically challenging or exciting. Why is it that the best dancers often just totally disappoint (Unless paired with a Hough or a Ballas)??
7.) Gilles Marini & Cheryl Burke, season 8
Heidi: Well, keeping in mind a rather serious shoulder injury, this wasn’t horrible – it is just that, like several other VERY good dancers throughout the seasons, they got to the freestyle and just…limped across the finish line. It did feature Cheryl a good bit more than it did Gilles. In addition, it was just…boring, sad to say.
Courtney: Another head-scratching theme for me – why pick a movie that quite obviously focuses more on the female and use it for a man’s celeb’s freestyle??? And sorry, but “What a Feeling” is quite possibly the most feminine song you could possibly pick for a freestyle – next to “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, MAYBE. But yeah, the choreography ended up being pretty bland, likely due to Gilles injury – and overall, it was just kind of a letdown, given how AMAZING he was all season. Wish I had more to say, but it was just kind of a non-event for me.
6.) Erin Andrews & Maksim Chmerkovskiy, season 10
Courtney: This was another one that a lot of you seemed divided on – for about every 3 people that hated it, there was 1 person that loved it. I actually feel kinda the same way – I thought it was a great idea ON PAPER, but when it came time to executing it…errr. This is another instance where I think venturing out of a couple’s comfort zone in an attempt to be fresh & unique actually backfired a bit – I don’t think either of them was prepared to tackle a completely new style of dancing, and I’m not sure they picked the best choreographer to work with. Choreographically, it seemed rather repetitive (a problem I’ve had with Mandy Moore’s routines in the past), and both Erin & Maks seemed to falter a bit with some of the moves; I also find that they relied far too heavily on both the prop couch & bed – has there been another freestyle that has had so many big props? In the end, I think they were both just too far out of their comfort zone to really pull this one off well – but I loved the song and the concept. Makes me wonder if it would have worked out better for another couple with a bit of contemporary training under their belts…I think Mark, Derek, or Julianne probably could have been more at ease, given their interdisciplinary dance background, and someone with more extensive ballet training like Melissa Rycroft could have picked up the choreo more easily.
Heidi: Well, Mark, Derek and Julianne have shown that they can do contemporary dance nearly as well as ballroom, and after his dance with Allison Holker and seeing him do tap I might be inclined to argue that Derek is equally good at ballroom and other forms of dance. Obviously he has a lot more practice in ballroom, but has a lot of other experience. I don’t think the same can be said for Maks and I think Maks was the true weak point in this dance. Erin might have exceeded him. He was just too far out of his own comfort zone. Much like many contemporary dancers can’t do ballroom (just watch So You Think You Can Dance if you don’t believe me), some ballroom people aren’t good at contemporary, or hip hop for that matter. Combine Mandy Moore (over rated) with Maks, a great ballroom pro but WAY out of his comfort zone in contemporary and you just have a bad idea all the way around. Add in that he’s going up against Evan and Nicole and it’s kinda like he tried too hard to be different. Or he gave up, depending on your POV. And let’s not forget that they didn’t practice enough on the actual bed and Erin almost flew off it.
5.) Stacy Keibler & Tony Dovolani, season 2
Heidi: What da holy hell was that?? Such a beautiful girl, amazing long legs and good movement…yet there was NOTHING to this dance. So simple, so bland, so boring!! It’s almost like she was standing still…and then she blew the lift at the end. Very sad. But then, I find that many of the early season free styles just don’t hold up to the more current ones.
Courtney: I’ll cut this one a TINY bit of slack, since it was still during the “formative” years when the pros were trying to figure out just what a freestyle should look like – but my big problem here is the same problem I had with Chelsea’s freestyle: it featured the pro more than the celeb. Tony stepping out center stage in that leisure suit and striking his best Tony Manero pose? All eyes were on him – Stacy was just the supporting cast. Like Gilles & Cheryl’s Flashdance snafu, we all know Travolta is the real star of Saturday Night Fever – not Karen Lynn Gorney (and yes, I did just have to look that up on Wikipedia). And echoing Heidi’s sentiments – this was just sooooo sloooowwww. No truly impactful “moments”, no high-energy lifts (the one at the end was clunky as hell), and while the choreo was fun, it wasn’t particularly difficult or impressive. Overall, a big letdown from a celeb who was a great dancer on her season – and I think it may have cost her the MBT.
4.) Mel B & Maksim Chmerkovskiy, season 5
Courtney: I’m not quite sure what to say about this one – overall, it just felt…random. Thrown together – a little of this, a little of that, and nothing really holding it together cohesively. While I don’t think you necessarily have to have a theme or a story to have a good freestyle, you do need to have and overall feeling of unity & direction to the routine – this felt aimless, and while there were a few good moments (Mel rocked the lifts), there weren’t any good transitions between them and it left me with a little bit of whiplash. Oh, they’re doing a lapdance! Wait, now they’re doing some hip-hop…oh, and now there’s a lift. Hmmm…now they’re doing a cha-cha basic….wait, no, now they’re club dancing. And quite possibly the worst part: it didn’t do justice to Mel’s talent – she had done far more difficult and flashy choreo in her regular dances that season, so this felt like a bit of a letdown. It could have been the song, too – I think the band actually made it feel a lot more low-energy than the original, so it left me a bit bored. The freestyle should be a couple’s magnum opus – save the best for last, go out guns blazing. This felt more like a squirt from a water pistol. :-)
Heidi: This was just such a let down after watching dances like their Paso. Did they get lost in the need to do lifts and hip hop and it just resulted in a big mish mash?? She was one of the best dancers the show has seen and it felt like her talent was squandered. There was a lot of walking and posing inbetween lap dances and lifts. :-) I was just extremely disappointed by the time it was over. Why? Well, I’m thinking that if you stray too far from what you became known for during the course of the season, you’re going to disappoint.
3.) Bristol Palin & Mark Ballas, season 11
Heidi: You know, watching it again, I think this one is really a choreographic FAIL of fairly large proportions. Not because it was “bad” – it wasn’t badly choreographed. And it wasn’t danced horribly either. The problem is, Bristol hadn’t seen the movie, hadn’t seen the show and for that reason, really didn’t connect to it to the degree required. I think you need to LOVE the movie or show if you’re going to dance to it – and I don’t think she did. I think *Mark* loved it. I think the best freestyles are done to songs that the star loves as much as the pro does and they connect to it. Of course, that whole thing with the pink sheet in the middle wasn’t fabulous, but I really think that it was just that Bristol wasn’t feeling it at all.
Courtney: Well I agree that it was a choreographic fail, but for me the biggest fail of this one was the fact that Bristol even made it to the finale in the first place. As I’ve said before, I think America *usually* gets it right each season, and sends 3 couples to the finale that are both popular & good dancers – so they are capable of handling something as high-pressure as the freestyle. Bristol was an exception – I don’t think she was a strong enough dancer to cope with a freestyle. So that right there was a big red flag that Mark probably wasn’t going to have the same choreographic versatility with her that he had with Kristi & Shawn. So what do you do when you have a mediocre dancer for a partner and you have to choreograph a show-stopping routine? You pick something slow and hope they can handle it and inject some entertainment factor at the same time. Unfortunately, Bristol was neither a stellar dancer nor a fantastic performer – and so she just kind of went through the motions of this one. And then there’s the props. *sigh* A cage and a really long piece of fabric? Erm. But yeah, basically the same thing Heidi said – Bristol never really connected to this one, and consequently it ended up looking rather “Meh”. The look on her face said it all for me – it was as if she was saying “Ummm, remind me again why I’m doing this routine?”
2.) John O’Hurley & Charlotte Jorgensen, season 1
Courtney: Ok, I’m sure many of you have long since forgotten about this one, but I feel like it’s worth including because it was the very first freestyle that actually fell rather flat – and may have cost John & Charlotte the MBT. Compared to Kelly Monaco’s freestyle (and most freestyles in subsequent seasons, at that) – this one felt kinda low-energy, and seemed to take FOREVER to really get started. There were a few lifts, but compared to what we’ve seen from couples in the past several seasons, they were pretty kindergarten-y. There was a bit of comedy, but without a lot of energy behind it. Overall, just a non-event for me – and it’s funny, because the judges RAVED about how great it was. Just goes to show that the bar has been raised significantly on freestyles in the past 11 seasons.
Heidi: It took forever to get started and then it never went anywhere. I’m sure in their heads it was cute and funny and “John”, but the actual result was just a non-starter. He went off time a significant number of times for a dance where he wasn’t actually MOVING, it was dull and….well, there was little dancing. That said, the bar was raised when Julianne, Derek and Mark showed up, although Cheryl had started raising it on her own in Season 3 – although, to be honest, I really don’t think “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” holds up much at all.
AND THE ABSOLUTE WORST FREESTYLE IN DWTS HISTORY…
1.) Marie Osmond & Jonathan Roberts, season 5
Heidi: Really, did anyone think we wouldn’t pick this one?? COME ON!! :-) Do I even need to go into detail with this one?? The dreaded doll dance?? And if the dance wasn’t bad enough, it was her loud mouthed behavior while the judges were talking. Anyway…well, there is nothing good about this. The costume was horrible, the dancing was horrible, freaky and weird. Poor Jonathan.
Courtney: *shudder* Why oh WHYYYYY did they decide to go with such a bizarre concept for this freestyle? Seriously – I’m at a loss as to why they thought Marie flopping around with glassy eyes was a good display of her talent. I mean, I guess she stayed on time and did the choreo well enough – but it was still a bizarre, misguided mess, that really told us nothing about Marie and what she was capable of. Crazy how different she & her brother’s freestyles ended up being. And I think Jonathan may have shot himself in the foot with this one – he seems to be forever branded “the guy who choreographed that god-awful doll freestyle”…and he never really had another good partner again. Poor Jonathan.
Some (dis)honorable mentions that didn’t make the list…
Melissa Rycroft & Tony Dovolani, season 8 – Like the judges, a lot of you seemed to think it was “too cheerleader-y”. I personally thought it was kinda generic – predictable, generic song choice; generic-looking costumes that seemed like they were ordered out of a dance supply catalog; garden-variety lifts and typical “cheerleader-y” displays of flexibility & gymnastics. They seemed to go more for what everyone kinda predicted they would do, rather than something more unique. -Courtney-
Mario Lopez & Karina Smirnoff, season 3 – More wasted talent. There wasn’t much to it but walking around and posing. Yet the judges raved. Go figure. -Heidi-
Cristian De La Fuente & Cheryl Burke, season 6 – Another injured guy and it showed. Sloppy and tried for too many lifts that they couldn’t really pull off. -Heidi-
Kelly Osbourne & Louis Van Amstel, season 9 - I wouldn’t necessarily say this one was terrible, but it certainly wasn’t fantastic either. The choreography was rather simplistic, and Kelly noticeably stumbled a few times. Great effort and energy from these two, but in the end it seemed rather…bland. -Courtney- WORD. -Heidi-
Lance Bass & Lacey Schwimmer, season 7 – Geez, enough with the hip hop already. :::sigh::: I think the problem here is that Lance just didn’t have the swagger to pull of a decent hip hop routine….see Kyle, at the other end of the Lacey spectrum. :-) -Heidi- You know what this reminded me of? When cheerleading squads try to do sections of hip hop in their competition routines. They’re smiling all big and enthusiastically doing moves that should look more…street. -Courtney-
So who are YOUR picks for the worst freestyles we’ve ever seen on the show? Stay tuned for the top 10 best freestyles in DWTS history, coming later this week! ;-)