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“Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba on shocking semi-finals result and expecting hate from Jason Mraz fans

Inaba dishes on the emotional shoutout to Len Goodman and the unprecedented conclusion to the latest episode.

Each week during Dancing With the Stars, judge Carrie Ann Inaba will answer a few questions about the season 32 contestants and their race to win the Len Goodman Mirrorball Trophy. Today, Carrie Ann shares her thoughts via email about the shocking decision to send five couples to the finals, Derek's emotional reference to Len Goodman, and the significance of this year's trophy bearing Goodman's name.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: That ending was wild! Did the judges know ahead of time all five couples would go to the finals or were you as shocked as the rest of us?

CARRIE ANN INABA: It was an exciting ending to a spectacular and quite emotional semifinal. This is the first time we are having five couples in the finale which makes for a very competitive final round of dancing.

Ariana Madix is dealing with a back injury, which seems so tough to dance with. You retracted one remark once she explained her injury, but what can she do to work around this in the finals?

Actually, I didn’t retract, I was letting the audience know clearly that it’s something as a judge I was noticing, and it was hindering her movement. I also wanted to emphasize the fact that she was dancing with a pretty serious injury, so the audience at home also understood what was happening. Our audience has become quite savvy in understanding dance, and I thought it was worth mentioning because it was effecting her performance. I didn’t get to finish my comments, (time ran out), but she understood the implications and in her next dance, she performed through the injury and gave us her absolute best in that second performance. That was her best dance of the season, and what a perfect time to peak like that!

<p>Disney/Eric McCandless</p> Carrie Ann Inaba on 'Dancing With the Stars'

Disney/Eric McCandless

Carrie Ann Inaba on 'Dancing With the Stars'

You told Charity Lawson that she finally had the breakthrough you've been looking for. What can she do to up the ante in the finale?

Part of what I do to help our competitors win is to challenge them to push through their fear. It’s not just about the steps, it’s what you do with the steps and what gets people invested is when you break down your barriers — this is when the audience gets emotionally involved in your journey. After last night’s Rumba and Quickstep, she’s opened the door to another layer of performance, so now she can dance without restraint which gives her momentum as she heads into the finale.

You told Jason Mraz his dance was magic. Can you elaborate since we lost a lot of your time for feedback in your hug?

Jason had an incredible journey last night. What’s important to remember is that last night, both dances were opportunities for our stars to prove they are deserving of being in the finals. Jason has admitted he has been on the fence about the show in the last few weeks. It’s understandable - DWTS is a journey unlike anything you can imagine. I had a conversation with Mauricio Umansky and Harry Jowsey about it last night, and with Lele Pons the week before - I think this is part of why each season the cast bonds so deeply with each other because it’s an emotional journey for each one of them. And, to get the most out of the competition, our stars really have to put themselves out there. They have to go past what their previous limitations were, and self definitions are, and then, they step into the territory of facing real fears. This is where magic happens.

Jason’s first performance was pretty and earned him a good score, but it wasn’t his best. After the comments, he got emotional up in the Red Box with Julianne, but THAT was the impetus of emotional power that he built on and used for that "magical" Paso Doble. When he walked out onto the stage for his second performance, he was a changed man. He tapped into all those raw emotions and channeled them. I was so proud of him for trusting the feedback and allowing for more freedom of expression, which is why I took the time to hug him. Sometimes, people just need a hug.

After the performance, when they came down to the stage for the eliminations, I was deeply touched, because Jason mouthed a “thank you” to me. And that means that he understood why I gave him the comments I did. That makes it all worth it. I know all the Jason fans will give me a lot of hate on social media for my comments on that first dance, but I can live with that. Sometimes, people need permission to be their best. I know that may sound strange, because everyone who competes on DWTS has already had great success in their life, But I’ve learned this through the years that sometimes, if you let someone know that it’s okay to be bigger, and be more than they already are and step into even more greatness, it happens. Humans are capable of incredible feats when given the opportunity to be. And that’s what our show is all about.

<p>Disney+/ ABC</p> Val Chmerkovskiy and Xochitl Gomez on 'Dancing With the Stars'

Disney+/ ABC

Val Chmerkovskiy and Xochitl Gomez on 'Dancing With the Stars'

What touched you so deeply about Xochitl Gomez and Val's waltz? Was it mostly that it stirred memories of Len?

That’s an interesting question. I was touched by Xochitl and Val’s waltz because of the sheer artistry of the performance. Art has the power to move us all into a difference emotional space. When Xochitl ended the performance completely exhausted and emotionally spent, standing there in the spot light with tears in her eyes, how could anyone not get emotional? She really gave us her all in that performance, the grace and elegance of physical expression was stunning and I was deeply moved. That waltz was filled with traditional ballroom content and was executed with such grace. It was pure artistry in motion.

The Mirrorball Trophy bears Len's name this year. So, for you, what does that embody? Are there particular traits that you hope the winners carry or exhibit that align with the weight of it carrying his name?

The Mirrorball Trophy bears my dear friend and colleague Len Goodman’s name. And that is wonderful way to keep Len’s spirit alive with us in the ballroom. Sometimes, I can hear his voice in my head. We didn’t always agree on what we were looking for, but we would always give each other a hug and we respected each other’s opinions. So my way to honor Len is to keep doing what I’ve always done. Len was one of a kind. There will never be another Len Goodman but the one and only will always be at the heart of our show. And when a dancer executes a proper ballroom hold with great body contact and the perfect heel lead, I will remember his wonderful smile and that twinkle in his eye and hear his voice announcing proudly, "It’s a Ten from Len”.

This is an unprecedented move for the finale. What is your advice to everyone going into it?

My advice for our five finalists is to take good care of their bodies this week. Self care on the way to the finale is important because you want to be at your best. Hydrate and nourish your body, mind, and spirit when you can, and be sure to warm up properly. And then, once you are on the dance floor, use these last two performances (the Redemption Dance and the Freestyle) to show off how much you’ve learned in the past ten weeks! Then, play to your strengths in the Freestyle and give us something we will never forget! Anything goes in that finale. Think strategically about what you are going to do, practice hard and then have a great time when you are out there! This will be the most competitive finale we’ve ever had with five couples still competing. I think since so many have them had such powerful performances last night with breakthroughs, it’s anyone’s game. I wish all our finalists the absolute best of luck next week — make each and every moment and movement count and may the best couple win The Len Goodman Mirrorball Trophy!

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