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Who are the best ‘DWTS’ contestants ever?
Who were the best contestants in ‘Dancing with the Stars’ history? We count down the top 10, which include several winners, but also a few also-rans who should have gone home with the Mirror Ball Trophy.
— By Cordell Martin
10. Katherine Jenkins (Runner-Up, Season 14)
Singer Katherine Jenkins was an unknown to most “DWTS” viewers. What made me fall in love with her was her graceful presence in each dance. She brought poise and gracefulness to her ballroom routines, but was also able to show off her fun and sexy side with Latin dances as well. Perhaps most impressively, Katherine topped the leaderboard 6 out of 10 weeks.
Most Memorable Dance: Argentine Tango (Week 5)
9. Zendaya (Runner-Up, Season 16)
Zendaya was one of my favorite contestants from the start. With each dance you knew that you were looking at a star. There were times when I forgot that she was 16-years-old. She was able to find a balance of being youthful and mature with each dance. Zendaya also topped the leaderboard 6 out of 10 weeks of the competition.
Most Memorable Dance: Contemporary (Week 1)
8. Emmitt Smith – (Winner, Season 3; 4th place, Season 15 All Stars)
Smith became the first football player to win “DWTS,” and his victory remains the highest rated finale in “DWTS” history. Emmitt was one of the first male contestants to fully embrace the show while maintaining a masculine approach to each dance. It was exciting to see him battle rival and eventual runner-up Mario Lopez week after week. In season three Smith topped the leaderboard 4 out of 10 weeks.
Most Memorable Dance: Mambo (Week 7)
7. Mya (Runner-Up, Season 9)
Season nine had the largest cast ever with 16 contestants. Mya had always been a dream contestant of mine, so I was happy to finally see her on the dance floor. Mya was one of the first “DWTS” celebs accused of being a ringer; I remember several of the stars commenting on her dance experience and complaining that it wasn’t fair for her to be on the show. So week after week Mya and her partner Dmitry Chaplin had to come up with challenging and exciting routines to live up to the expectations of the viewers and head judge Len Goodman. Although Mya was the most consistent, topping the leaderboard 6 out of 10 weeks, it was her lackluster freestyle that set up an easy win for Donny Osmond in the finale.
Most Memorable Dance: Salsa (Week 9)
6. Gilles Marini (Runner-Up, Season 8; 6th Place, Season 15 All Stars)
Oftentimes “DWTS” has the ability to turn a relative unknown into a star overnight. Gilles Marini was that kind of contestant. I remember being impressed by his natural dance ability; he was great at being able to emote in each dance, whether it was a passionate Argentine tango, sensual rumba or flirty salsa. The competition between him and eventual champion Shawn Johnson was so close that only one-percent of the vote decided the winner. Marini topped the leaderboard 7 out of the 11 weeks of competition.
Most Memorable Dance: Argentine Tango (Week 4)
5. Amber Riley (Winner, Season 17)
“Glee” star Amber Riley’s season had a lot of ringers. Aside from Amber, Corbin Bleu, Christina Milian, Elizabeth Berkley also had some prior dance experience. What I loved about Amber was her confidence. She owned each dance and showed the viewer that you don’t have to be a certain size or shape to be a great dancer. She proved that by topping the leaderboard 7 out of the 11 weeks of the competition. Fun fact: Amber is the only African-American female celeb to win “DWTS.”
Most Memorable Dance: Freestyle (Week 11)
4. Apolo Anton Ohno (Winner, Season 4; 5th Place, Season 15 All Stars)
Fresh off of winning an Olympic gold medal for speed skating, Ohno competed against stars like N Sync’s Joey Fatone, boxer Laila Ali and “90210” star Ian Ziering, just to name a few. But from week one Apolo displayed a natural grace and charm that helped him stand out. Ohno topped the leaderboard 4 out of the 10 weeks. Fun fact: This was the first season for current “DWTS” judge Julianne Hough as a pro; after winning with Ohno she won again the very next season with Helio Castroneves.
Most Memorable Dance: Paso Doble (Week 8)
3. Shawn Johnson (Winner, Season 8; Runner-Up, Season 15 All Stars)
At age 17 Shawn Johnson was the youngest star ever to win “DWTS,” and when she was announced as a part of the season eight cast, she was at the time the youngest celeb ever to even compete. Knowing that the show is known for its sexy and steamy dances, I was curious to see how her partner, Mark Ballas, would tailor each to make them age-appropriate. Through Mark’s creative choreography, he was able to lay the groundwork for future young stars like Zendaya, Willow Shields, and Bindi Irwin and prove that age doesn’t matter when it comes to dancing. In season eight, Shawn topped the leaderboard two of the 11 weeks of competition.
Most Memorable Dance: Argentine Tango (Week 10)
2. Alfonso Ribeiro – (Winner, Season 19)
Alfonso is hands-down the best male dancer in “DWTS” history, so it was a pleasant surprise to finally see him on the show after 19 seasons. Alfonso had big expectations leading up to the show, and he delivered. His jazz routine to Tom Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual” (which his character Carlson from the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” famously danced to) is one of the most popular “DWTS” performances of all time. It was great to see him have fun and not take the competition too seriously. Alfonso topped the leaderboard 5 out of the 11 weeks of the competition.
Most Memorable Dance: Jazz (Week 4)
1. Nicole Scherzinger – (Winner, Season 10)
Nicole tops my list as my all-time favorite contestant. She quite simply blew away the competition in her season. Paired with Derek Hough, they were an unstoppable pair and created several memorable routines that avid “DWTS” fans can still vividly remember. I loved how she embodied each dance, and her chemistry with Derek was amazing. Nicole and Derek topped the leaderboard a record 8 out of 10 weeks!