Vanessa Lachey channeled her son’s premature delivery. Derek Fisher honored his daughter Tatum, who was born with a rare eye cancer. Frankie Muniz tried to remain upbeat about his future, after revealing he can’t remember anything about his past. No wonder judge Carrie Ann Inaba thought Monday’s episode of Dancing with the Stars was the “most emotional ‘Most Memorable’ show we’ve ever had.”

In light of the night’s heavy moments, we asked Inaba to reflect on the annual theme — which often involves the dancers recalling some of their darkest and saddest moments — and how hard it is to judge the celebrity hoofers after hearing all their sob stories.

Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC (2)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The show has done this theme night year after year. Do you go into each one saying to yourself, “I’m not going to cry anymore,” but you do anyway?
CARRIE ANN INABA: Absolutely. How does it get more and more emotional every year? The show creates these packages that give us such wonderful insight. It’s such an honor for the stars to share them with us. It felt like my heart got rolled in tumbleweeds all night. It went through all these emotions … there was joy, sadness, triumph. I was exhausted when I got home! It was the most emotional “Most Memorable” show we’ve ever had. It’s usually emotional, but it’s usually because of one or two people. Monday, it was almost the opposite. It was a really powerful night.

You don’t see these packages ahead of time, right? Are you surprised during the show?
Oh yeah. I love that I don’t see anything. I’ve always allowed the packages to overwhelm me with emotion so I understand what the viewers at home are watching. We do have access to them if they are done beforehand but I’ve never chosen to watch them. It’s so much more important to know what the real emotional evolution of the show is as it happens. The rehearsal packages don’t give away much into what the dance is going to be. It doesn’t help or not help us in the judging of the dancing. But it is informative. I like watching it right before the dance so I can feel what everybody else feels.

I’m glad you bring that up. Do the sad rehearsal packages inform how you will score the dancers? Are you more apt to be more lenient toward someone if their package was particularly moving?
I really always wish we could be more lenient. It’s not fun, especially last night, when I had to tell Derek Fisher that he was out of sync with Sharna Burgess. Then he went home! I mean it’s crushing and his daughter was in the audience. It’s so difficult but you have to be honest. We have to tell them what we see. That’s our job as judges. But I will say that everyone’s game was elevated last night because of their emotions. Dance is an art form that comes from your heart. I saw so many magical moments unfolding and people not thinking so much about the dance because they were overwhelmed with emotion after watching their own package. There was a lot more storytelling than we usually see in the dances last night.

Do you think its the goal of the pros to get you to cry?
I wonder if that is a strategy! Usually I’m kind of in tune with whatever is going on with people at home. People often write to me and say, you know I’m always crying when you are crying. I’m like, okay, good. Sometimes I wonder if I cry too much because I’m a very sensitive person. But it’s nice to know everybody else is crying along at home. These are powerful stories and it takes a lot of courage for our contestants to bring up what they bring up and then get out there and be judged.

Want to know more about Monday’s episode of Dancing with the Stars? Read our recap here.

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