11/19/2013 AT 7:55 AM ET
It sounds like Maksim Chmerkovskiy has found his calling.
The once hot-tempered Dancing with the Stars professional, 33, showed off an entirely new side when he acted as guest judge during the show’s semi-finals on Monday night. His much more relaxed demeanor received praise from many, including his ex-fiancée, Karina Smirnoff and her partner Corbin Bleu.
“He did a superb job,” Smirnoff, 35, raved to PEOPLE at an after party for the show at Mixology 101 in L.A., right after learning she’d be in next week’s finals. “He’s been on our side as a dancer. He knows how much work we put in and how many hours of rehearsals it takes. I was looking forward to him being the Maks that we all know who doesn’t have a lot of filter, but he was actually very nice. I don’t know [why he was being nice], but I liked it. I’ll take that Maks over the other Maks any day.”
Added Bleu, 24, “He ended up giving constructive criticism and yet he also ended up telling everybody an incredible compliment about themselves.”
Just before the dancing duo hit the ballroom for their first number, one of the show’s hosts, Brooke Burke, made a point to announce to viewers that Smirnoff would be “judged by her ex-fiancé.” But the comment didn’t faze Smirnoff one bit.
“What’s really funny is you can’t hear anything in the ballroom,” she explained. “When we get on the floor, people start screaming, and at that point, we’re like two racehorses. We’re in the zone. So, ex-fiancé, current fiancé – none of that got in my head.”
And while Smirnoff and her partner stayed mum on their plan of attack in winning season 17’s coveted mirror ball trophy, Bleu would only say this: “Jack [Osbourne] has really, really just stepped it up. Oh, my gosh, his tango tonight was phenomenal. For me, it’s always about me improving myself. I’m always in competition with myself and want to make myself better.”
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