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“DWTS” judge Carrie Ann Inaba was 'shocked and saddened' by Lele Pons' elimination

Inaba also reveals to EW why it's her fault the audience keeps booing her: "It actually makes me happy."

Each week during Dancing With the Stars, judge Carrie Ann Inaba will answer a few questions about the season 32 contestants and their race to win the Len Goodman Mirrorball Trophy. Today, she shares her thoughts via email about judging with her "family" Paula Abdul, why she believes Lele Pons should not have gone home last night, and how it feels to get booed by the crowd.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You and Derek Hough were especially hard on the stars in your critiques last night, and sustained quite a few boos from the crowd. Why do you feel it's important to be as honest as possible with the contestants at this stage in the competition?

CARRIE ANN INABA: As we approach the final stretch of this season, we are all on the lookout for the couple who truly deserves to claim the coveted mirrorball trophy. It's essential for each and every contestant to receive honest feedback as we believe it can be beneficial for their growth. Providing candid critiques is a fundamental aspect of our role as judges. The challenge lies in whether they can impress all of us.

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What sets our Dancing With the Stars judging panel apart from others is our scoring system, we actually give scores that help determine who wins. So, it is important to explain what about the performance needs work. If we just tell them all they are great, who will improve? If we just shower them with positivity, they would not challenge themselves to move past their comfort zone. And it is there, in that space - where true growth happens and we see those incredible performances that are "breakthroughs."

Disney/Eric McCandless Carrie Ann Inaba
Disney/Eric McCandless Carrie Ann Inaba

What does it feel like to get booed when you're giving your critiques?

Getting booed comes with the territory. You do have to develop thick skin to be a judge. But, it's all in good fun… it actually makes me happy because when the audience boos, it shows that they are engaged.

But I will share a secret… We have an audience warm up person (most live shows do) and he's one of the unsung heroes in our business. His name is Bill Sindelar and I've worked with him on so many shows, including The Talk when I was the moderator. He warms up the audience before the show starts. He gets them dancing and encourages the audience to participate. At first people are nervous about booing, but I always let them know, it's okay to boo! He asks me if I like to be booed, and I always say, "Yes, bring it on." It makes everyone in our audience part of the show. After all, a boo for me is actually a "yay" for one of the competitors. So, I'm absolutely okay with it.

You said you "didn't buy" Charity Lawson's performance this week? Can you elaborate?

First of all, I want to say that Artem did a fantastic job paying homage to the video, and setting the stage for Charity to shine and have a "moment." But, one of the challenges of Music Video night is that you are being compared to huge stars, and she had the challenge of performing a Janet Jackson song. Janet has a style of performing, it's sharp and clean and every movement has intention and style. She's saying something with each movement, they aren't just shapes made by the body to execute the choreography.

I "didn't buy" her as Janet. She didn't bring any of the nuances or any of the attitude, she just gave us the steps. Janet has a way of bringing you in to everything she does, there's a glint in her eye, and she really connects with the audience. It's an "I won't take no for an answer" kind of attitude. This was missing from her performance last night.

From early on in the season, Charity has shown us she can dance. But, can she perform in a way that engages the audience? This is where there is room for improvement. I know she's got it in her. I saw it in the contemporary she performed a few weeks ago.

Your comments were cut off for time after Alyson Hannigan's performance. What would you have said to her?

Alyson and Sasha really did a fantastic job. It was a breakthrough performance for her. I thought Sasha must have read the article last week because he incorporated everything I mentioned and he "understood the assignment." Alyson is really finding her way as a performer. Last night she received her highest scores of the season and they were well deserved. It's so wonderful to see someone tap into parts of themselves they didn't know were there. I'm proud of her for going there!

Disney/Eric McCandless
Disney/Eric McCandless

What was it like judging alongside Paula Abdul?

Paula Abdul is family. I adore her and she was the perfect fit for Music Video night. She comes with a wealth of knowledge about dance and when you think of music videos, you think of Paula Abdul. One of my all time favorite music videos is Paula Abdul's, "Cold Hearted Snake" where she pays tribute to the incredible Bob Fosse. But, let's not forget "Nasty", "Control," and "When I think of You." I loved that we both could laugh about our AARP membership as well. After the show we were saying we actually need to hang out and spend more time with each other. So, there's nothing but love for each other, and a shared love of dance and dancers.

Which couple do you think channeled the vibe of their assigned music video best?

Last night's assignment was undeniably challenging, and I believe all the couples deserve credit for their efforts. Trying to capture the essence of iconic music videos while executing the right dance style, especially for those who aren't professional dancers, is a very demanding task.

I was particularly impressed by Ariana and Pasha's performance, where she very successfully channeled Britney Spears from the "I'm a Slave 4 You" music video. They did an excellent job recreating and paying tribute to Wade Robson and Brian Friedman's choreography while incorporating the cha-cha and putting their own spin on it. Also, Ariana attacked every single movement in the choreography with passion and presence. You couldn't take your eyes off of her, she's exciting.

It was shocking to see Lele Pons go home. What do couples need to do this upcoming week to make sure they stay in the competition?

I was both shocked and saddened by Lele's departure. Brandon's heartfelt words in those final moments were touching, and the love and support he expressed for his partner were palpable. I share the sentiment that she deserved to stay, as her performance last night was undeniably her best yet. She can leave with her head held high, knowing that she delivered an incredible performance she should be proud of.

Everyone needs to bring something new to the dance floor. At this point, you have to show us something incredible. And I wish everyone the best of luck next week!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dancing With the Stars airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC and Disney+ and streams the following day on Hulu.

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