"Hit me Kaitlyn one more time!"
On Monday night's episode of Dancing with the Stars, Kaitlyn Bristowe channeled Britney Spears for the ABC reality dancing competition series' Icons Night.
Performing an Argentine tango to Spears' "Toxic" with pro partner Artem Chigvintsev, Bristowe earned a perfect score for the choreographed number, which Carrie Ann Inaba called "amazing" — a comment that came weeks after the former Bachelorette star was "crushed" by the judge's commentary.
"There's so many icons out there, but in my time, it was Britney Spears. It was in 1999, her first hit 'Baby One More Time,' and I was like, 'Oh, I want to be her,' " said Bristowe, 35, who went on to share an "embarrassing story."
"I actually was put on the six o'clock news in my hometown for being a Britney fan when she came to town for her concert," Bristowe recalled. "Growing up, I loved singing. I think I truly believed that I could be a Britney Spears and because I loved singing, she inspired me to do it. In 2015, I moved to Nashville. I always had dreams of being around music. I finally got to fulfill my dreams of writing and recording a song. It's called 'If I'm Being Honest' and it ended up going to No. 2 on the iTunes chart below Justin Bieber — and it's all because of Britney."
While preparing for her dance, Bristowe was committed to showing "the judges a different side of Kaitlyn. What better way to do that than channel my inner, saucy Britney Spears?"
And she did just that!
Following the performance, the judges gave her rave reviews. "The way I judge is technique, content, creativity, execution and impact. And for me it always felt like you've lacked a little bit of the impact — until tonight," said Derek Hough. "That was so beautiful, exquisite lines, beautiful transitions and choreography, well done Artem."
Said Bruno Tonioli: "Hit me Kaitlyn one more time! Now we are in business. I mean, come on. The luscious shapes, those lines stretched to infinity. Some of the images were like precious paintings you could only see in a museum. Your focus and your intensity was better than we've ever seen it. A star performance."
Last was Inaba, 52, who acknowledged, "Look, I know it's been a rough couple weeks."
"But I have to say," continued Inaba, who clapped for Bristowe, "We push you because we want you to reach your ultimate. Tonight, I mean every line was amazing. Every lift, Artem, when she landed, her foot was like perfect and you never, not even like a centimeter of smudging or anything. Everything about it was amazing."
She added: "Your lines, elegant, passionate. Everything that we've been wanting from you was in this routine."
Inaba's praise comes weeks after Bristowe and Chigvintsev received some rather harsh criticism on week seven from Inaba, who told Bristowe that she felt the star "gave up" during her performance.
"I felt like your spirit dropped," the judge added, according to Entertainment Tonight.
Speaking to PEOPLE after the show, Bristowe said that Inaba's comments were "soul-crushing," and that she truly gave the dance her all.
"I’m starting to believe that it wasn’t just me. I came off and so many people were like, 'What? I don’t remember that,' " she said, referring to the others' shock over Inaba's comments. "So people aren’t just sugarcoating it for me, because I want the feedback. I want to know if that’s what people saw. But to hear her say that, my soul was crushed, because I feel like this was one of the dances where I went out there and was like, 'I’m going to hit this so hard and I’m not giving up.' "
She continued, "To hear that, I felt so defeated after. That was my all. I know I could have done better in some places but I don’t feel like I ever gave up."
The Off the Vine podcast host added that she doesn't mind if the judges are hard on her as long as it's "constructive."
"If they want to be hard on me because they think, ‘Oh Kaitlyn has a dance background.’ I mean everybody has an advantage in this competition. At the end of the day, voting counts. So people have more of an advantage if they have more Instagram followers or if they have an acting background. We all have something to bring to the table and I think that’s why this competition has been so tough," she said. "For me, it’s one thing for Carrie Ann and the judges to be constructive. To hear a certain kind of feedback like, ‘It wasn’t my favorite’ or ‘I thought you gave up’ or ‘Your spirit was down' … that’s tough to hear."
After receiving positive comments from Inaba on Icons Night, host Tyra Banks asked Bristowe what it felt like to hear the uplifting words.
"What does it feel like to have Carrie Ann's praise? I mean, it was like she was your mama and she was like, 'Baby, you just did mama so proud,' " said Banks.
For Bristowe, "I always felt like that's where it was coming from, even if it was hard to hear, I always knew it came from that place. So to hear that we worked so hard and we got what we wanted from all of you, thank you."
Upon being awarded a 30/30 from the judges, Bristowe, who will compete in next week's semifinals, excitedly said: "I'm so happy!"
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.
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