Jason Mraz, Xochitl Gomez: 'DWTS' friendships, new skills more important than winning

Jason Mraz and Daniella Karagach are heading into the Season 32 finals for "Dancing with the Stars" on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of ABC
1 of 5 | Jason Mraz and Daniella Karagach are heading into the Season 32 finals for "Dancing with the Stars" on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of ABC

NEW YORK, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness actress Xochitl Gomez say they will take away new skills and great memories, regardless of who wins the coveted mirrorball trophy on Tuesday's Dancing with the Stars Season 32 finale.

"I'm feeling stronger than ever and more confident in my dancing and just so excited that I get to dance in this finale coming up," Mraz, who is paired with Daniella Karagach, told UPI in a phone interview Saturday.


This season, five celebrities and their pro partners made it into the finals -- Mraz and Karagach, Gomez and Val Chmerkovskiy, Alyson Hannigan and Sasha Farber, Charity Lawson and Artem Chigvintsev, and Ariana Madix and Pasha Pashkov.

For the Season 31 finale, only four couples made the cut.


"It's a blessing. It really is. We never enjoy the elimination part, so last week was such a gift to all of us," said Mraz, 46.

"Whoever wins the mirrorball, that's not going to be the most memorable part of this season," he said. "What's memorable are the dances and everyone has given us such amazing dances that we will remember for a long time and we can always queue up on YouTube or wherever and relive those moments."

The mirrorball was renamed the Len Goodman Mirrorball Trophy this season in honor of the show's former head judge, who died in April, three days before his 79th birthday.

Despite competing with each other each week, the cast has grown close during the last three months because they understand each other's struggles to learn the various tricks, flips, spins and holds, Mraz said.

"We're so proud of each other. We're all cheering each other on so loud," Mraz added. "We definitely became a little family really fast."

The Grammy winner is also set to sing his hit, "I Feel Like Dancing," in the last episode after dancing to it in the season opener.


"They let me do that right out of the gate, which was incredible. Honestly, I went into this with such low expectations. I did not think I would do this well," Mraz said.

"After Week 1, I was like, 'That was fun! Thank you! Good night!' And America voted and the judges were happy and everyone was like, 'I think you're going to be here a while,' which is just wonderful."

During his time on the show, he learned new ways to weave together his dance education and his own beloved pop music.

"I love how they overlap now and I definitely look forward to putting more dancing in my musical life, going forward," said the artist who is planning to go on tour in 2024.

"I have some band members who understand movement and I am hoping to sprinkle some dance into the show, for sure."

Sharing joy, light with audience

Mraz and Chmerkovsky find it rewarding to be part of a project that is aspirational and offers viewers a little escape from the horrors on the nightly news.

"The song we are dancing to in the finale is called 'Happy' and the only lyrics in the song are, 'You'll never be happy unless you try.' I feel like that's what the world is and needs," Mraz said.


He quoted the late Beatle John Lennon, who sang the idealistic words, "War is over if you want it" and "Give peace a chance."

"For some reason, humanity continues to be wrapped up in power struggles that only manipulate or harm others," Mraz said.

"It's a sad thing because we, as humanity, also could share, support, heal, help and uplift. With the resources we have on this beautiful planet, we could feed, house everyone," he added.

"What dance provides and what this show provides is a reminder that we can choose our path and it's not always easy, but we can do it with grace."

Chmerkovsky, 37, called it a "huge privilege" to share a message of joy and love with viewers, especially during troubled times.

"If you find yourself living in that type of circumstance where you get to come to a dance studio every day and learn a new dance and do it in a safe space with loving people, you should feel a lot of gratitude and you should do your best to share that gratitude," he said in a separate phone interview with UPI on Sunday.

Hard to say goodbye

While the cast spent much of the season sequestered with their partners in private studios, there were also opportunities during which everyone rehearsed and performed group numbers together.


It seems fitting that no one was eliminated in the semifinals and the last five couples will all dance in the ultimate episode together one last time before they part ways.

"A lot of us got to spend extra time with each other and actually see each other, going through what our journey is," said Gomez, 17, of the team dances.

"I feel like a lot of the time, we are in our own rooms rehearsing and don't get to see other people struggle or get it right or do certain things. You're like, 'Is it like this for everybody else?'

"To be there and to have that mutual experience is really bonding. Everybody's on each other's sides," she added. "It's so hard to say 'goodbye,' so I'm happy we didn't have to do that last week."

Chmerkovsky, who has been a professional dancer on the show since 2006, noted that it makes sense that the longer couples last in a competition, the closer they will become.

"It happens organically throughout the season," he said.

"The longer you stay, obviously, you share more experiences," Chmerkovsky added. "Most of it is in passing, a lot of it's during the blocking on show day."


During the rest of the week, couples are alone in their isolated bubbles.

"That chemistry and that camaraderie and that friendship really blossoms," Chmerkovsky said, noting that as a veteran pro on the show, he always feels responsible for his newbie partners.

"These are our guests and we want to treat them really well, all of them," he added. "[The pros] all take care of each other and we want the best experience for them."

Going into Tuesday's finals. Chmerkovsky said he feels "optimistic and proud" of the Baby-Sitters Club alum, so they're still working hard and keeping their eyes on the top prize.

"I usually try to keep my competitive side during the actual dance and my motivation to learn it and execute it as well as I can," Gomez said.

"It's not my personality to trash-talk anyone, so I try to do the best I can because that is the only thing I can control, so that is usually where I put all of my competitive energy."

No matter who wins in the end, Gomez said she feels like this experience has changed her forever.

"I had no professional dance training at all. I did Zumba, Pilates, martial arts, that's it. I kind of was fake dancing before. I went into this, thinking, 'If I make it to Week 5, that's wonderful,'" Gomez said.


"Here I am, in the finale, and I think that's just really shown me, personally, that if I have a good mindset and I actually have a lot of determination and I really enjoy what I'm doing and the atmosphere is wonderful, I think I can literally do anything I put my mind to."

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