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Hayes Grier ‘breaks out of his shell’ on ‘DWTS’

Hayes Grier and Emma Slater compete in Tuesday’s ‘Dancing With the Stars.’
Hayes Grier and Emma Slater compete in Tuesday’s ‘Dancing With the Stars.’

One week ago, Hayes Grier had his worst night yet on “Dancing With the Stars,” and to add insult to injury, he suffered the indignity of dressing up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

After his stellar performance on Monday night, though, all was forgiven.

The 15-year-old social media star from Mooresville – whose claim to fame still isn’t adequately being explained by producers, now five episodes in – tackled a contemporary routine set to “one of my best friend Shawn Mendes’s songs, ‘Stitches.’ 

And the result was his and professional partner Emma Slater’s top score of the season: 27, thanks to 9s across the board from judges Julianne Hough, Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba. The duo finished the night in a three-way tie for second out of the 10 pairings.

If you watched his performance closely (I ran it back twice myself), you’d see that the N.C. teen did more things right than Gary Busey did wrong on Monday’s show. Which is really saying something, since Busey seemed to do pretty much everything wrong.

Plus, following routines in which Grier has been persuaded to prance around in a football jersey, a motocross suit and a turtle costume, it was refreshing to see him tastefully done up in dark skinny jeans, an untucked white shirt – sleeves rolled up to the elbows, collar and breast pocket decorated with sequins – and barefoot.

Grier’s mother, Elizabeth Grier-Floyd, led the cheerleading as usual, although the judging panel was right there with her.

“What just happened?” blurted a stunned-looking Hough. “I am so shocked right now. I’m completely shocked. You have completely broken out of that shell you’ve been living in.” (He probably never wants to hear the world “shell” or “turtle” or “mutant” or “ninja” again, I suspect.)

Then Tonioli leapt from his chair to deliver more praise: “Get out of here! What was that? What a breakthrough. Totally unexpected. Technically, it was so demanding, but you didn’t miss a beat.”

And I appreciated Inaba’s comments the most, since hers were more specific.

“What I really loved about this performance was you finally understood the nuances of every single move,” she said. “There was a lot of storytelling going on there, and I felt that every move you did, you knew what you were saying. You knew when to be sharp, you knew when to go with the music, you knew when to pull back, and you lifted emma so beautifully ... it was so graceful.”

As I mentioned, Grier got 9s from all three of the judges – particularly significant because they were his first three 9s of the season.

His only awkward move of the night really was one of circumstance. The theme was “My Most Memorable Year,” but since he’s only 15, he doesn’t have many to choose from.

The scenario teed up this zinger for guest host Alfonso Ribeiro (filling in for Tom Bergeron, who was tending to an ill parent): Segueing into Grier’s intro package, Ribeiro joked, “Let’s go all the way back to last year...”

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes

Eliminated!

Actor Gary Busey was sent packing on Monday night, becoming this season's fourth celebrity to go home. Also in the Bottom 2: Carlos PenaVega.

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