Dancing With the Stars season finale recap: A nail-biter till the very enddancin

 Dancing With the Stars

Viewers have seen finale surprises on Dancing With the Stars before (ahem, Shawn Johnson), so fans should be used to holding their breath till the very end, but season 19's season-ending episode seemed to hold even more anticipation than usual. If you tuned in at 8 p.m., you quickly realized we had to wait three 

hours to get to the main event; what followed were a lot of great dances, fun highlights, top singing acts, and just a smidge of filler before the winners were announced
The finale was filled with nostalgia (Tavis Smiley and Betsey Johnson are back—even LoLo Jones, the first star voted off this season, returned, albeit briefly). And the opening, choreographed by Mandy Moore, was dynamite: The entire cast, the judges, and even host Erin Andrew got in on the action. Here are other highlights of the extravaganza that preceded host Tom Bergeron reading the names of the victorious duo

Derek Hough and Bethany Mota's encore dance
Booted off the show at the end of Monday's show had to have smarted, but Derek and Bethany got a nice consolation prize by earning the encore spot on last night's finale. It was the last couple I expected. (Hey, if they were getting enough votes, why didn't they go through to the finals?) But maybe people voted for them out of sympathy because of their ejection? It was probably the best choice as far as the other dancers were concerned because if any other couple had been chosen for the encore, that duo would have understandably gotten their hopes up that they'd won the trophy, too
Singing sensations and other fun-filled moments
Producers didn't skimp on musical acts for the finale—Nick Jonas, Jennifer Hudson, and Meghan Trainor were all terrific. The show looked back on a lot of fun moments throughout the show that made season 19 unique—Betsey fumbling with the boa, Jonathan Bennett's "bug eyes," and Tommy Chong's quip about it being okay if he were paired with Tony in the switch-up since he'd, you know, spent time in prison

Another great part of the finale was a look back at some of the most memorable dances from the past season. Of course, that had to include Alfonso and Witney re-doing the "Carlton." There were some new ones, too, like Lea Thompson and Artem Chigvintsev's routine to the Hall & Oates classic "Man-Eater." What's great about the finales is that returning stars are uninhibited in their dances; it's easier to be that way when they know they're not being judged. They're just there to have fun and it shows. Kudos to producers for including the bits from rehearsals. I've heard for years that they're tons more fun that the actual show, and it was nice to see the curtain be pulled back a bit. What I'd love to see the show bring back is Dance Center, the Sports Center spoof in which Len Goodman, Kenny Mayne, and Jerry Rice do a riff on the finalists. Not sure why those went away, but the spoofs were hilarious
Putting it all on the dance floor
One of the best moments of each finale is when the finalists speak to the strengths of their competitors. Some of the comments throughout the season can be tempered for a variety of reasons, but at this point nobody has a reason to hold back. They were all dead-on in their comments and, at the end, they had a little fun with it like when Alfonso called Janel Parrish a "pretty little loser." Sadie Robertson got in on the act by poking fun at Alfonso's age, making a crack about him being on social security
Everybody dance now
 Around 9:20 p.m., we finally get to the last three dances of the night, and they're fusion dances. First up, Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas did a samba/quickstep combo. It looked great to me, but I was confused by Len Goodman who said it "wasn't perfect," but he still gave the dance a perfect "10" as did the other three judges? Say, what? If Sadie and Mark had won, the other two couples would have understandably had an issue with that

Janel Parrish and Valentin Chmerkovskiy (who I thought for sure were getting the encore dance) went next with a fox-trot/paso doble combo. I agree with Len's comment and score this time when he said that they combined "the how of the technique with the 'wow' of the performance." Val continued a tradition started way back in season 5 with his brother Maks and Mel B. by giving Tom Bergeron a goose just before he went off to the skybox. Janel and Val also got a perfect "40."
Finally, Alfonso and Witney danced a cha-cha/Argentine tango fusion. Alfonso worked into a few video clips that he's wanted this for 10 years. He didn't do lifts in the Argentine Tango last time, presumably because of an injury; he skips them again this time, but no matter. His and Witney's final performance earns high praise from the judges and another perfect score
Calling the winner
If ever there should have been a tie on Dancing With the Stars, it should have been this season. Janel and Val at least deserved to come in second, but they came in third, which left Alfonso and Sadie on stage. I was bummed for Val; he and Janel definitely gave the best freestyle on Monday
Alfonso and Witney were to Tom Bergeron's right—which turned out to be good positioning last season for Maks and Meryl. And the right side takes it again! Following Tom's announcement of Alfonso and Witney as winners, the former Fresh Prince of Bel Air star said (with happy tears streaming down his face) "I cannot believe this! I've wanted this forever!" Then, Alfonso was lifted up onto the shoulders of some of the pro dancers as is the tradition—Derek gallantly stepped in and put Witney up on his so she could bask in the glory, too, as the confetti came down from the ceiling
And season 19 is a wrap! What do you think of the winners? Were you surprised/sad/sorry? Feel free to get all your DWTS thoughts out now because March 2015 is a loooong time away
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