Calvin Johnson's remarkable 'Dancing with the Stars' progress leads to semifinals

When Calvin Johnson surprisingly joined the hit ABC show "Dancing with the Stars" right before the football season started, his teammates said he couldn’t dance. His sister said he had no rhythm.

So to see how far the former Detroit Lions standout receiver has come during his "Dancing with the Stars" stint is stunning, because every week he seems to get better. And it’s paid off for him, too.

Johnson is still alive on "Dancing with the Stars" -- a semifinalist who will perform again next Monday night. Not a bad first act after retirement.

Johnson broke out the all-white suit Monday on Showstoppers Night to perform a waltz to the Broadway show "Cats" with his partner, Lindsay Arnold. As an added bonus, they had British singer Leona Lewis performing as they danced to “Memories.”

In the pre-performance taped bit, Johnson dressed in a full cat getup to work with the choreographer from "Cats" -- complete with ears and a tail. Johnson and Arnold traveled to New York to work with the choreographer from the famous Broadway show because Arnold felt that for Johnson to fully embrace the role, he needed to dress up as an actual cat.

So Johnson, in a dancing unitard with the ears and tail, got to work out for a day on Broadway. One problem -- he didn’t put on his “dancing belt,” something he never thought he’d actually hear about.

And something he never imagined he’d actually be doing.

“Never, especially the dance belt," Johnson said on the broadcast. "That was terrible. He told me to put it on, and I was like, ‘What? Like, what is this?’ He was like, 'You have to put this on to put on your unitard, and I was just like, ‘I got my own stuff. I’m good.'"

During his actual dance -- when he wore the all-white instead of the Cats outfit -- Johnson pulled off an impressive spin of Arnold. She appeared to float off the ground for a couple of revolutions before she spun out as part of the dance.

Judge Julianne Hough called his waltz “one of his best dances” of the competition -- and that’s saying something, considering he got a perfect score last week.

They didn’t get a perfect score this week, nabbing a 37 of 40 from the four judges.

Johnson teamed up with IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe for the team dance; Johnson played the role of sheriff and Hinchcliffe the bandit. They entered Monday night as the only remaining male contestants in the competition and performed a Paso Doble. They received a 37 of 40 on their team dance.

Hinchcliffe said in a pretaped piece that he was a big fan of Johnson before, but even more now that he’s gotten to know him.

Here were the judges' comments and scores for Johnson's dance with Arnold.

Julianne Hough (10): What I love so much is your level of commitment to this competition, because you can come out here and you’re the ray of sunshine, you’re [pop-like] and all that stuff, and then you do a dance like this and you’re beautiful and you’re smooth and there’s grace about it. Tonight, I feel like this is one of your better dances.

Bruno Tonioli (9): As always, majestic, like a Siberian Tiger toying with a little pussycat and not a scratch in sight. I love the way you handle her because it’s very, very difficult. There’s one thing I want to point out, because of the difference in size, obviously, to take and balance the stride within the musical phrasing of this song is so hard because it’s not even at all. It keeps changing, and you have to go in and out of tempo and maintaining the phrasing, and you did it, darling. It’s the hardest thing to do.

Carrie Ann Inaba (9): Considering the height difference, you really have learned to dance as one. You continue each other’s moves. It’s like you finish the phrasing with each other. I’m going to give you a point, though, that I want you to work on, because we are in the quarterfinals and everything matters and it’s really close. That one wasn’t your best, musically. It was a little ahead of the music. It wasn’t as strongly connected to the music as you normally are, so I just want to point it out because we are heading to the finals here. But, well-done. Well-done.

Idina Menzel (9): I didn’t see any of that. My dad actually taught me everything I know about football, and he always taught me that football players get a bad rap because you’re supposed to be just tough and tackle each other, but you have to be really graceful, especially as a wide receiver. Am I talking out of my butt? So I know now why you were an amazing athlete and an amazing, graceful dancer. That was beautiful.