The former Lions wide receiver will compete for the Mirror Ball Trophy Tuesday.
Former wide receiver Calvin Johnson Jr. may not have won a Super Bowl championship during his nine seasons with the Detroit Lions, but he’s rather close to winning the Mirror Ball Trophy.
Johnson will compete against Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe in ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” finale Tuesday. Country singer Jana Kramer of Rochester Hills was eliminated Monday night after receiving the lowest combined scores from the judges and viewers last week.
“It was our time,” Kramer said, hugging her pro partner Gleb Savchenko. “He’s the most incredible partner and I’ve learned so much about myself and what I can do and how strong I can really be, and he’s given me all that.”
In an interview with The Detroit News last week, Kramer said that regardless of the outcome, she plans to celebrate her time on season 23 by spending Thanksgiving with her family in Michigan this week.
During the two-hour show, each couple performed a dance style chosen by judges, followed by a freestyle routine.
The judges gave Johnson and professional partner Lindsay Arnold a Viennese waltz, which they performed in the third week of the competition. In a video, Arnold admitted their waltz could be “100 times better.”
“Week Three was the first dance where we had to be passionate, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to work out,’ ” Arnold said, laughing.
The two brought the passion this time when gliding across the ballroom in a matching lavender suit and gown.
“Without doubt, (you’re) the most improved dancer in this final,” judge Len Goodman said to Johnson afterward. “Honestly, when I think back to Week One you got a 6. You were lucky to get a 6 to be honest ... This had such lovely fluidity of movement. It had a charm about it.”
“Your frame, your posture, your footwork, everything was so much more on point tonight than the first time you did the Viennese waltz,” added judge Julianne Hough.
Johnson’s smile from those comments widened even more as a special surprise ran out backstage — his nearly 3-year-old son Caleb. The 6-foot-5 NFL star swept the little guy in his arms as the judges revealed their 35 out of 40 score.
Kramer and Savchenko also earned a 35.
For their redemption dance, the judges chose a tango, which they performed in Week Two when Kramer had sprained a rib and couldn’t dance to her fullest. This time it was Savchenko who wasn’t at full strength — and sat out a few rehearsals — due to battling the flu a few days ago.
As Hough pointed out, “overcoming obstacles” has been a part of Kramer’s journey.
“I don’t know if it’s the curse of the tango or whatever, but you had your obstacle with your rib the last time and tonight also with the amount of training,” she said. “I definitely think it hurt a little because ... I didn’t feel the same spark that I was hoping for.”
Judge Bruno Tonioli wholeheartedly disagreed.
“It sparked to me. I still think you’re hotter than hell,” he said, adding, “You really put everything you’ve got into the dance.”
For the freestyle round, Savchenko choreographed an intense contemporary routine to Sia’s “Unstoppable” that bound the two together with a scarf.
Despite a few stumbles during the performance, the judges agreed it was a fascinating concept and awarded a 36.
“It was like watching life unfolding, the ups, the downs, but you have to charge through it and succeed at the end and overall you did,” Tonioli said.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s high-energy freestyle routine — a mashup of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” — incorporated dancing on a long treadmill and several flips and lifts (one of Johnson’s strengths).
“Somebody’s going to die, and it’s probably you,” Johnson joked with Arnold in a video of their rehearsals.
Thankfully, no one got hurt, and the happy-go-lucky dance brought the audience to their feet.
Tonioli had one piece of advice: “Take this straight to Broadway, my darling, for ‘Motown the Musical.’ ”
“Freestyle is about entertainment and it’s about dance,” Goodman said. “There was never a question that you can entertain, and tonight you’ve proved you could dance.”
Find out if he’s the MVP of ballroom dancing in the two-hour special starting 9 p.m. Tuesday.