James Hinchcliffe has taken the white flag on “Dancing with the Stars,” signifying one lap to go in the race for the Mirror Ball Trophy.
The popular Verizon IndyCar Series driver is guaranteed a podium finish following Monday night’s show, but he and professional dance partner Sharna Burgess are looking to reach the top step when the championship results are announced on tonight’s climactic live episode (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
Along with Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and retired football player Calvin Johnson Jr., Hinchcliffe is one of the three remaining celebrity finalists from a field of 13 that started on the dance competition show in September. Tonight’s two-hour broadcast will feature one more dance from each of the three remaining celebrities and their pro partners, plus returns by the rest of the season cast.
Online voting this morning can still help Hinchcliffe win the Season 23 title. Go to ABC.com and the “Dancing with the Stars” Facebook page before 11 a.m. ET and vote up to five times on each site for Hinchcliffe and Burgess.
Monday’s broadcast saw Hinchcliffe earn 77 of a possible 80 points from the judges on his two dances – second only to Hernandez’s 78. He and Burgess began with a foxtrot on “Redemption” night, an opportunity for couples to repeat a style of dance they struggled with earlier in the season.
Other than a minor misstep that caught the eye of three of the four judges, Hinchcliffe wowed the panel. Judge Bruno Tonioli scored the foxtrot a perfect 10, while Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Julianne Hough all rated it a nine. Judges’ comments included:
Inaba: “You glide through this dance like you are ice skating. Your footwork is so smooth. You are sexy because you just do it so right.”
Goodman: “If you went to the dictionary and looked up 'dance talent,' you'd find James Hinchcliffe right there. You play the right music and do the right dance and it's fantastic.”
Hough: “From Day 1, you've always been the whole package for me.”
Tonioli: “This was like a book. Every chapter was composed to perfection, everybody punctuation was so brilliantly in character. It was top quality from the prologue to the ending. I was totally, totally engrossed. It was brilliant.”
All the couples returned in the second half of the show to perform a freestyle dance. As in the “Redemption” portion, Hinchcliffe went last and wowed the judges and studio audience. He and Burgess performed an artistic dance based on his near-fatal crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2015. It represented the time when the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was unconscious and flat-lined from excessive blood loss.
“It was the moment where I was fighting for my life,” Hinchcliffe said. In the dance, Burgess portrayed the guardian angel in white who protected and helped him survive.
All four judges were awed and each scored the dance a perfect 10. Their comments included:
Inaba: “In 23 seasons, I've never ever seen a more intelligent, artistic, passionate creative and well danced freestyle. ... You are the miracle man of Season 23."
Goodman: "It not only showcased you as a dancer, but also as a person. It was so lovely to watch. ... This was poignant, it was beautiful, wonderful choreography and great dancing. Well done."
Hough: "Just when I think that you've done your best dance, you come out and you do that. Every single week you come out and I’ve been like, 'That was the best dance I've ever seen this season’ or whatever and you do it again and again and again. ... That was one of the best freestyles I've ever seen."
Tonioli: "That was unique, exceptional, beyond dazzling. It was visual poetry. Real honest, extremely beautiful. It's another ‘Dancing with the Stars’ memorable moment. Unforgettable."
Despite the raves from the judges, Hinchcliffe still faced the prospect of elimination at the conclusion of Monday’s show. But singer/actress Jana Kramer and partner Gleb Savchenko were sent home instead.
In tonight’s season finale, the three remaining couples will each perform a “24-Hour Fusion Challenge.” Following Monday’s broadcast, each couple was given instructions to put together a dance for tonight that includes two contrasting dance styles. The three couples were whisked away to rehearse as soon as the show ended and unavailable for comment.
The judges’ scores from tonight’s dances will be combined with this week’s fan voting to determine the Season 23 champion. So if you haven’t voted for Hinchcliffe and Burgess yet, do so by 11 a.m. ET at ABC.com and on the “Dancing with the Stars” Facebook page.
Watch Hinchcliffe's two dances from Monday below: