Zendaya or Kellie? That’s the final question of the season, as the 16-year-old Disney kid and the American Idol-made country star sit within one judges’ point of each other atop the Dancing with the Stars finale leaderboard. The pair have been swapping in and out of first place all season, and tonight it will all come down to viewer votes.

One could make a compelling case for either Zendaya or Kellie Pickler triumphing tonight. My fellow BuddyTV contributor Scott Taylor has predicted that Zendaya will win, citing her narrow edge in the rankings and her broad youth appeal. I, on the other hand, think that Kellie is going to come out on top, and feel all the more confident in that prediction after her beautiful freestyle routine last night. According to our polls, you guys largely agree with me: about 80% of respondents think Kellie will win.

Speaking of you guys, I’ve greatly enjoyed watching the show with you all for these past few months. Though I enjoy Dancing with the Stars and have covered it before, this was my first experience attempting live episode updates. Some of you picked up on that, and you weren’t shy about telling me how to improve — genuinely, I do appreciate that. It’s fun and rewarding to write for an engaged and passionate audience, and I hope you’ll all be back for Season 17.

The Dancing with the Stars season 16 finale live blog starts now!

As per tradition, the finale opening number incorporates all the of the season’s celebrity dancers, winding through Andy and D.L., etc. to our top four. From there, we recap last night’s dramatic performance show.

The performances aren’t quite over, by the way, as there will be a last-minute “instant dance” at some point this evening; more on that later.

If the Twitter encore is any indication, Kellie is in pretty good standing: she and Derek get the encore tonight, revisiting their triumphant freestyle routine. It’s a season-defining routine, and will outlive the season regardless of who wins tonight.

From there, it’s time for our first elimination:

4th Place: Alexandra Raisman and Mark Ballas

That definitely caught me off-guard — I thought for sure that the fourth-ranked Jacoby would be first to go. It’s a stark reminder that points aren’t everything; with enough support, Jacoby might still be a contender.

It’s kind of awkward then when the three female contestants are brought out for a “girls of the finale” number — this was almost certainly planned under the assumption that Jacoby would be out. Aly’s clearly a little deflated, but she’s a good sport.

Wynonna Judd makes her return to the ballroom tonight, this time far more in her element. She belts out the ’80s power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is,” erasing any sour memories of her silly, stilted mall cop dance.

Lisa Vanderpump and Gleb are back, with Len himself cutting in on their foxtrot; Bruno generously gives the trio a 10. They’re followed by the first-eliminated Dorothy Hamill, dancing  a Viennese Waltz with troop member Henry — ironically enough, Tristan is injured and can’t perform this time. She’s joined by fellow Olympian and season 6 champion Kristi Yamaguchi.

Andy Dick makes his triumphant return, with a very funny montage setting him up as a delusional dark horse. He revisits his fantastically demented Alice in Wonderland jazz routine.

Psy is up next, performing his single “Gentleman.” I would love to see him as a participant in a future season, if only to hear Bruno’s opinion on the Korean singer’s enthusiastic hip action. It’s quite a spectacle, with Andy, Sean and the judges joining in on the dance.

The troop gets one more showcase, performing a swinging, flip-heavy routine, reminiscent of that scene where the Blues Brother find God.

Pitbull is back in the ballroom now, performing an infectious Latin number. I quite prefer this to Pitbull’s usual practice of adding sound effects to preexisting hit songs; good on him. The segment is also notable for its rapid-fire cuts and CinemaScope framing, so well done to the crew for essentially pulling off a music video in real time.

After that, it’s time for the instant dances:

Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff

Instant Dance: Salsa

Jacoby ends the season on a high note, as his Salsa proves to be better than either of his dances last night. Anyone hoping for him to drop off without controversy is going to be disappointed here; he just gave himself a major boost.

Judges’ Comments:

Len: “You’re full of fun, you’re full of vitality.”

Bruno: “You’ve got the power, man, you’ve got the spice of life.”

Scores: 10+10+10=30

A perfect score. The pressure is on for Zendaya and Kellie.

Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough

Instant Dance: Jive

I’m starting to wonder if the judges need 11 and 12 paddles: if Jacoby’s routine is what a 30 looks like, then this is a 33. The routine is high-content while appearing effortless, with an exceptional vocabulary of movement. I’m still liking Kellie’s odds.

Judges’ Comments:

Bruno: “The accuracy, the precision, the technique!”

Carrie Ann: “You guys are like the Wonder Twins!”

Len: “You’re the bee’s knees, my mama’s pajamas, my uncle’s carbunkle.”

Scores: 10+10+10=30

Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy

Instant Dance: Jive

Zendaya and Val bring their A game here, jiving to “Rockin’ Robin.” Zendaya really does have a skill for embodying her routines; I don’t mean to keep piling on Jacoby, but where he always wears his thought process on his face, Zendaya is able to wholly look the part of whatever music she’s dancing to.

Judges’ Comments:

Carrie Ann: “You have such a magical quality when you dance.”

Len: “You don’t only dance, but perform.”

Bruno: “Twinkle twinkle, little star, you will go very, very far.”

Scores: 10+10+10=30

So, no change here.

For our big touching finale, Jessica Sanchez performs the song “Feel This Moment.” Jacoby pulls a few last faces to disrupt the sentimentality. From there, we have our results:

3rd Place: Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff

And so the question remains: Zendaya or Kellie?

2nd Place: Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy

And the winner is: Kellie Pickler

Kelly Pickler and Derek Hough win! Jacoby lifts Kellie up onto his shoulders, confetti comes down, there is much rejoicing.

This was a deserved win for Kellie and Derek; their choreography was a cut above anything else on the show, and their execution was almost always pristine. I would have been happy with either Zendaya or Aly winning, too: they were remarkable dancers for their age, and it was fun to track their progress from week to week.

It’s been a good season for Dancing with the Stars, with a solid mix of charismatic supporting personalities and top-tier performers. Once again, it’s been a pleasure to watch the show with you all.

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(Image courtesy of ABC)

Ted Kindig

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV