‘Dancing with the Stars’ performance: AJ McLean’s stirring rumba was inspired by his struggle with drug and alcohol abuse [WATCH]

“I was always a very insecure person, so I felt that I didn’t deserve anyone’s love,” said AJ McLean relating to the music he would be dancing to on “Double Elimination Night” on “Dancing with the Stars.” Kaleo‘s 2015 song “Way Down We Go” reminded him of his struggles with self-esteem, which led him to abuse alcohol and cocaine for years. He overdosed twice and went in and out of recovery for his addictions. His most recent wake-up call came when his youngest daughter told him, “You don’t smell like my daddy,” after he had been drinking. That was a lot of emotion to put into his rumba. So how did it turn out? Watch the video above, and see what the judges had to say about it below.

Bruno Tonioli: “I was so captivated by it because the intensity, the intent, the drama, the purpose, the storytelling — you were just killing it. But I have to say, it was supposed to be a rumba so I lost a lot of the rumba action. It’s very difficult — what do I judge? Because I really did like the performance, but there wasn’t so much rumba in it. So what can I say?”

Carrie Ann Inaba: “I agree with you. What a passionate, powerful performance. Truly, you moved us. I could feel your dancing from your deeper, darker places, and it moved us all. But truthfully there wasn’t enough content, and I didn’t particularly see a lot of hip action. I also want to say for the future, I still want you to bust through. There’s something that I want more — I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like you’re still a little sloppy on the edges and you don’t finish your lines all the way. I just want you to bust open, let it all out. Dance is a great way to express your feelings. Use it.”

Derek Hough: “For me, a hero is somebody who heals their own wounds and then shows others how to do the same. So I appreciate you sharing your journey, and I know you’re going to do great things and help other people, absolutely. Sometimes on this show you’ve got to do a routine for you. So yeah, there wasn’t a lot of rumba content in there, but you know what, that one was for you, so well done.”

The judges were torn between the emotional impact of McLean’s routine and its overly loose interpretation of the rumba. The scores they came up with were 8s across the board for a total of 24 out of 30. After that performance and his relay samba against Kaitlyn Bristowe and Skai Jackson, McLean ended up in the middle of the pack, tied for fifth place on the judges’ leaderboard. But he ended up safe after viewer votes were factored in, so opening up to the audience about his struggles clearly connected him to fans. But do you agree with Inaba that he still needs a breakout moment in the ballroom, or has he gotten there already?

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