DWTS: Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Laurie Hernandez's win, season 23 finale
This season on Dancing With the Stars, fan favorite pro-dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy has been blogging for EW to give us the behind-the-scene scoop on each week’s competition. This week Maks takes us into the finale of season 23!
On that epic finale, and Laurie’s big win
It was kind of a whirlwind! And it’s always so emotional! We have kind of been saying this the whole season, and it was obvious at times, not obvious as others. But the theme was the same throughout the season, that Laurie was doing amazing things and getting better and better. I think overall she’s done exactly what she was supposed to, and it was hard to compete against Laurie, not just because of her potential ability and where she’s coming from, and gymnastic background, it was also hard to compete against a 16-year-old who’s tireless and committed 100 percent the same the way she was committed to Olympic trials. I mean, there was a reason why there are hundreds of thousands of girls trying to be gymnasts but only so many make the team. And Laurie being one of those few, that’s a small percentage and it’s a testament to the physical and mental ability of an athlete, and you just can’t compete with that on DWTS. And it’s one of those things where, like, Sharna and James did overtime on their abilities and skills and totally killed it, but they were still faced in competition with Laurie Hernandez. I felt the same way a few years ago where Erin Andrews and I were pretty fantastic, but we were faced with Nicole Scherzinger.
On the other finalists and everyone’s hard work this season
I am a friend but also a fan of Sharna’s and I want to see her win. I think she’s probably overdue for that at this point. I’m very proud of her this season. I’m also very proud of Lindsay. This whole season with Calvin, I mean he’s a big guy, and dealing with height differences and size like that, there are so many things to take into consideration. A dancer is not usually 6 feet 7 inches so it was a bit of uncharted territory for her. Lindsay was able to work around him and turn him into her jungle gym a bit, which really worked every week. Their freestyle was great, too. The OK GO thing, I loved that prop and I thought if anyone could do it Lindsay could, but I wanted a little more out of it, too. Either way, it’s still an amazing performance from someone who was literally catching footballs like three months ago!
On last night’s celebrations (or lack thereof)
I was meant to be a surprise at GMA for Val and Laurie. Meanwhile, they ended up flying to NYC with their surprise! So that didn’t quite work out. But we had a great time. These things are all fun and fun and fun, and then we’re all on the plane, and everyone’s like, “Yay, let’s listen to the music!” And boom everybody is snoring. Everybody crashes. It’s a lot to handle! Plus Laurie is only 16, so that just goes to show the amount of partying that DIDN’T happen on the plane! But it’s a fun ride, this one particularly because everybody was so friendly, there was no animosity. Everyone was just so happy for each other and it was true camaraderie. It was very, very cool.
Behind the scenes of the finale
It was funny, somebody said to me, “In the finale, at one point it was just you, followed by you, and a little bit of you.” It just sort of happened that way. I was in four numbers all together so it was a lot, but it was so much fun to do.
However, what the audience didn’t see was the logistical nightmare that this finale was. The Grove in L.A. is about maybe three football fields away from the CBS studios. And The Grove is maybe the second busiest place in Los Angeles. You have no idea how crazy it was, starting with the dress rehearsal. All of a sudden things didn’t work, things were unplugged, everything was super hot. Then they did the dress rehearsal finale, which had a lot of confetti, a lot of snow, and the snow was beautiful and it was amazing, but then it piled up on the floor, and it was impossible to step on it after that.
And I mean, we have these hero, best-in-biz stagehands that we’ve had on the show for like 11 years now. They’re incredible, and even they could not get the floor back to normal condition. People were falling, slipping, taking their shoes off, still falling. And a few performances even got cut because it was just unsafe!
So now consider this, you go from that stage where it’s a little bit unsafe, and we’re told “you guys have to be very, very careful.” To quickly running, getting in a golf cart, getting to the CBS studios, running to the stage, changing in like 30 seconds, then on to the next dance on the CBS stage? This was insane! And it’s all live, too, so you couldn’t say, “Hey, everybody take 40, we’ll be back in a minute.” It’s live, and it’s like a locomotive and it’s moving and you have to jump on board because it’s not going to stop. So all together, it was just amazing to see how it actually came together. It was gorgeous just visually. I couldn’t believe it was coming together the way it was.
And our cameraman who took a fall will be okay, by the way!
On his favorite routine to be a part of last night
I really enjoyed redoing our trio with Val and Laurie, and when we changed the positions of Laurie going to be the teacher, we did it at the very last second! We tried to ambush her a little bit with that and be like “surprise!” but it didn’t really work, so we went over it some more so we all had it down. It was a last moment thing where everybody was having fun, and it wasn’t being judged in a way that it was very important, so it was kind of like a fun thing we were able to do. I was happy that they picked this number to do again because I got to be involved, and they’re a beautiful couple to work with. And she’s really an amazing girl. We can’t understand how she’s just 16! She’s a beautiful young lady, and I can’t wait to just sit on the sideline and be a fan of hers. She won me over for sure.
Highlights from this season, and final thoughts
Amber! Amber Rose, one of the best things that happened this season. She’s unlike anybody I’ve met before, and that surprised me I think. Everything went exactly as it was in my head, and what I was hoping for was a fun season that wouldn’t be detrimental to anyone’s psyche, I didn’t have to prove myself to anybody or have my partner prove herself. I just wanted to have fun and be a regular contestant like everyone else, no “eyes on me” type thing. I think the attention we got was deserved. She’s a real, very cool chick and I just want to say thank you to her as well on a personal note. For sticking with me this time, and for going on this journey with me. I think it was very positive for both of us.
I also enjoyed the finale. It was nice to see everybody back, and it was just a lot of fun. Some of the finals where you’re involved are not fun because you’re nervous. Some of the finals where you’re not involved may not be fun because maybe you don’t like someone who’s winning. But this finale was just super light and super fun. And I think honestly if James and Sharna had won I would have been just as happy. Maybe a little less, but you know what I mean. It was just that type of season where there was so much good will. So thank you Amber, thank you DWTS, thank you to the fans who always tune in. It was real. And we’ll see what happens next, but there’s definitely going to be more Chmerkovskiys next time we speak!
—As told to Christina Ciammaichelli