White and DeGraw were both in the bottom two positions after judges’ scores and audience votes for Monday night’s performances were combined. The couple with lowest combined total usually goes home, but for the first time, the bottom two had a dance duel and judges made the ultimate decision based on that final dance: a cha-cha.
White and his partner Kym Johnson and DeGraw and partner, defending champion Karina Smirnoff, danced simultaneously before judges Lean Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli.
While judges commended DeGraw’s enthusiasm and attitude, all three thought White’s performance was better, so DeGraw was sent home.
“We only had an hour and a half to do the whole dance and I think for an hour and a half, that was really, really good,” Smirnoff said today on “Good Morning America.” “We were proud.”
DeGraw had struggled all season, and earned the lowest score on the leaderboard on Monday night for his samba performance.
“I didn’t expect to take home a mirrorball [trophy], but I did go out there to have a great time and do something different,” the singer said. “Granted I didn’t become the next Elvis Presley out there on the dance floor, but I had a great time.”
DeGraw, who was on tour while competing, admitted it was tough to juggle two jobs, and praised Smirnoff for her guidance and coaching week after week.
“I would have loved to have been on the show a little bit longer with Karina, just because I like the way she tells me what to do every day,” he said. “Having her around to break me down into that again is kind of nice…[and then build me back up].”
Smirnoff said DeGraw jokingly nicknamed her his “fake TV girlfriend,” but that the pair strictly has a brother-and-sister relationship.
“We are very sibling-esque,” DeGraw said.
Smirnoff, who won the competition last season with war veteran J.R. Martinez, said DeGraw may have fared better on previous seasons.
“This season we definitely have a lot of natural strong dancers, and people with previous experience,” she said. “I think if we were in any other season we probably would have come very, very close to the trophy.”
Tuesday night’s show featured live performances from Train, Selena Gomez and the Scene and drummer Sheila E, as well as the first dance duel.
Judges said the dance duel was a way to avoid early surprise eliminations of talented performers, and to ensure that competitors’ fates hinged solely on the quality of their dance.
Asked how he felt about ending up in the bottom two just before the duel, White, who starred in “Family Matters,” told co-host Tom Bergeron: “It’s surreal.”
All the couples in the competition had the chance to prepare a cha-cha in case they ended up battling it out in the duel.
In addition to White, returning next week to compete are Disney star Roshon Fegan, “Extra” co-host Maria Menounos, NFL player Donald Driver, Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins, R&B legend Gladys Knight and telenovela star William Levy.
Smirnoff said she thinks Driver, Jenkins and Levy will make it to the final three in the competition.
Tennis star Martina Navratilova, actor Jack Wagner and talk show host Sherri Shepherd have already been booted this season.