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'DWTS' Semifinalists Share Strategies for Winning the Mirrorball

Dancing With the Stars is just weeks away from crowning its season 29 champions!

After saying goodbye to contestants like Carole Baskin, AJ McLean and Chrishell Stause over the past few weeks, the competition is down to the wire, with six remaining couples vying for the mirrorball trophy. Now, ET is breaking down everything the semifinalists have shared about how they’re feeling going into week 10 of the competition, what a win would mean for them, what they’ll be dancing to Monday night and more.
 

KAITLYN BRISTOWE & ARTEM CHIGVINTSEV

Redemption dance: Paso Doble to “Hanuman” by Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Second performance: Contemporary to “Cowboy Take Me Away” by The Chicks

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Kaitlyn and Artem are still on cloud nine after receiving their first perfect score on Monday, along with a standing ovation from judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who has been giving them tough feedback the past few weeks. Now, they’re hoping they keep that energy up as they head into the semifinals.

“When Derek [Hough] stood up and slow clapped, I was like, ‘Ahh, this is a great start!’ When Carrie Ann stood up and slow clapped, I’m like, ‘We have had a breakthrough!'” Kaitlyn recalled. “It was awesome.”

“This is a competition, and this is something that shouldn’t be easy. Those tough times and the tough critiques always make the reward that much better,” she continued. “So those 10s wouldn’t have felt as good — OK, yes, they would have! — but they wouldn’t have felt as good without the hard times first.”

NELLY & DANIELLA KARAGACH

Redemption dance: Paso Doble to “Run Boy Run” by Woodkid
Second performance: Jive to “Jump Jive An’ Wail” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra

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Nelly admitted to ET that he was so ready to win DWTS back in the beginning of the competition, but after seeing all the amazing celebrities he’s up against, he knows he still has his work cut out for him. “I probably talked crap, but after you get here and see all the good dancers, and everybody that’s so capable of winning this thing, you’re like, ‘OK, what did I get myself into?'” he joked. “But it’s been really great. We’re very fortunate. I want to thank my fans because I know that’s the majority of the reason of why we’re still hanging in here. It’s a lot of fun and we’re trying to keep it rolling.”

“When I say it’s harder than anything I’ve done, it’s the dancing, but it’s just taxing as well,” he continued. “It’s every day, several hours a day, and it’s one of those things where I don’t know if I would have been able to do it if it wasn’t for COVID-19. Like, if it wasn’t a [pandemic] situation, I don’t know if my schedule would have allowed me to do it up to a certain point. But the thing about it is, I believe everything happens for a reason. So this experience was something that was definitely in my future. I’m learning so much, I’m building new relationships and I’m having a lot of fun.”

Daniella spoke similar sentiments, telling ET that not only are they having fun in rehearsals, but she’s actually “really excited” for the semifinals.

“We have the Jive for the Redemption Dance and I feel like this could be a really great dance for us. It is just going to give us another opportunity to show Nelly in the ballroom,” she explained. “This is going to be more true to technique, no lifts, so we’re taking it back to classical ballroom, which I love.”
 

JUSTINA MACHADO & SASHA FARBER

Redemption dance: Tango to “El Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge
Second performance: Contemporary to “Holding Out for a Hero” by Ella Mae Bowen and Bonnie Tyler

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Like her fellow competitors, Justina couldn’t contain her excitement when learning she had made it into the semifinals. “We feel very excited! It’s exciting, but it’s also — I’m scared for the week!” she exclaimed. “I had no idea where this journey would take me and I’m glad that I made it this far. I really am.”

“It’s definitely an even playing field at the moment,” added Sasha, who pointed out that we seem to be seeing different couples at the top of the leaderboard each week. “People have switched. Like, one week Kaitlyn was at the top, one week Kaitlyn was, like, second to last. One week we were at the top, then one week we were in the middle, and close to last. And then the same with Nev. So I guess it’s whatever happens on the night, you know?”

Sasha said going into the semifinals, “it’s not one of those things where this week is gonna count for next week” — “it’s like a clean slate.”

“You have to keep growing, and I feel like Justina, from week one to now, she’s grown so much and I love that. That’s what the show is about,” he said. “You want your celebrity to A, walk out not in a wheelchair, and B, just walk out with so many memories.”

“I definitely have a few tricks up my sleeve, if we’re there for the Freestyle [round], to make it quite special,” he continued. “But yeah, we got to get there first, so I’m treating next week as the final just in case. Like, no stops. We’re going all in!” 
 

NEV SCHULMAN & JENNA JOHNSON

Redemption dance: Foxtrot to “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles
Second performance: Contemporary to “If the World Was Ending” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels

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While Jenna couldn’t spill everything she has planned for her and Nev’s semifinals routines, she did give us a little insight into what fans can expect.

“I’m really excited. The style that we’ll be doing next, it’s my favorite style to choreograph on the show,” she shared, telling ET she’s incorporating some lifts. “But I think also Nev, just movement quality, I think it’s gonna be a really beautiful moment, so I’m so excited. Stressed because the semifinals, ahhh! But so excited.”

Nev and Jenna have been receiving great scores over the past few weeks, and even received immunity from Monday’s Dance-Off Challenge for having the highest cumulative score at the time. Nev admitted, however, that he’s still not super confident about how semifinals night will go.

“I don’t know about confident because AJ went home and I think we all thought he was a shoe-in for the finals. So we’ve got to bring our A-game,” he explained. “As far as competition, at this point obviously everyone’s fantastic. I’ve had a sort of playful, frenemy relationship with Justina all season, because Sasha is such a goofball, he likes to trash talk. We have this fun sort of competitiveness between us, but I think it’s been good for us because I’ve always considered her to be such a fantastic performer since week one.”

“I think, also, we saw Kaitlyn have a breakout moment, so she’s one to watch,” added Jenna. “I love her, I’m such a big fan of hers, so [Monday] was her night and she’s gonna bring it next week, I’m sure. The girls are fierce!”
 

SKAI JACKSON & ALAN BERSTEN

Redemption dance: Cha Cha to “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior
Second performance: Viennese Waltz to “Lonely” by Noah Cyrus

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There’s only one word Alan could use to describe the semifinals: “Intense!”

“I’m really excited. Our Redemption Dance is going to be a Latin dance, and we’re gonna come out there with a vengeance,” the reigning mirrorball champion teased. “And then our other dance is our ballroom dance. I’m so excited, it’s a beautiful dance. I just feel like it’s coming at the perfect time. For that to be the last dance before the finals will hopefully be amazing.”

“We’re gonna kill it!” added Skai. “This whole journey has taught me so much. And, yeah, it’s crazy that you can be at the top of the leaderboard [one week] and the bottom another. But I think the most important thing is just having fun, having a positive mindset and that’s what I’m going to take to the semifinals.”

Alan agreed with his partner, saying, “I think what’s important is not taking it for granted.”

“Every week, there is the potential that anyone could go home,” he said. “Especially this season. So the fact that we’re still here, we’re so thankful. The fans are really keeping us here and so we just want to say we adore you.”
 

JOHNNY WEIR & BRITT STEWART

Redemption dance: Salsa to “X” by Jonas Brothers featuring Karol G
Second performance: Jazz to “I Lived” by OneRepublic

https://www.instagram.com/p/CHg7d0AlVx7/

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Despite receiving a perfect score from the judges this week, Johnny and Britt shockingly landed in the bottom two. The duo tell ET, however, that America’s votes aren’t stopping them from moving forward. In fact, it’s fueling them even more!

“It fires us up to work even harder for next week,” Johnny explained. “We’ve got a big dance with a big story and we’re really excited about that. And honestly, even if I didn’t get the public’s vote, I’m so honored to still be in this competition. I’m so happy every day when I get to go in and work with [Britt]. It just makes me so proud that we’re continuing on.”

“At this point, I’m just so excited,” added Britt. “Of course I’m nervous, of course I feel pressure, because I want to do a good job for Johnny. I want him to go all the way and so that is what is the utmost important to me. But sometimes I do pinch myself and I’m like, ‘OK, this is my first season, I’m still here. What?’ And also Daniella, I just have to say, she is crushing it as well. I’m such a fan of hers.”

ET also spoke with judge Carrie Ann Inaba via Zoom on Monday, where she explained why she’s calling this season “the most competitive” one ever. She argued that due to all the adaptations the show has had to make amid the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrity contestants really have to bring their A-game, since there’s more dancing and less production.

“There’s no audience, they can’t put production behind the dancers. Normally by now we’re seeing numbers with like 10,15 people and sets. That’s not happening,” Carrie Ann said. “Because of that dynamic, the [celebrities] actually have to improve, which makes this season to me, the most competitive season ever.”

“It’s not the people I thought would be going into the semifinals who are here,” she admitted. “But I will tell you, I think it’s going to be extremely competitive.”

Dancing With the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Hear more from the season 29 contestants in the video below.

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