Craig Sjodin/ABC
November 11, 2009 12:00 AM

Aaron Carter had a breakthrough like few others have had on Dancing with the Stars: He arrived a teen idol but left a man.

“I grew up on the show,” he told PEOPLE after he was eliminated Tuesday night. “There were a lot of epiphany moments and I learned a lot from pro partner Karina Smirnoff.”

He likened Smirnoff’s support to the way his father encouraged him.

“It was almost like my father a little bit because my dad … taught me so many different things, but the way he did it, he only had to do it once,” he says. “She did the same thing. When it came to learning something about me, she only had to say something one time.”

The couple bounced up and down the leaderboard, and their determination impressed the other dancers, as well as the judges, who praised his fox trot and samba Monday night. Even Len Goodman, who is considered to be the hardest to please, was moved to make some final words about Carter.

“You’re an inspiration to all young that anything is possible and if you were my son, I would be so proud of you,” Goodman said. “But more importantly, you be proud of yourself, because you’ve been great.”

Kelly Osbourne, who was in the bottom with Carter but advanced to the semi-finals, grabbed Carter afterward and told him he should be proud of what he accomplished on the show.

“To come back week after week after week, after the things said about him and kick butt the way that he did, he’s turned into man and he should go away believing that,” she said about Carter. “And he made me promise that we would always be friends and I said yes!”

Carter may have worn his emotions on his often-sparkly sleeve, but Smirnoff says she shared the same sentiment. “We have a lot in common. We’re both very ambitious and very competitive,” she says. “There was a part of me that was hoping that we would make it all the way to the top.”

But that wasn’t the case. Instead, the final four heading into next week’s semi-finals will be Osbourne, Mya, Donny Osmond and Joanna Krupa. –Elaine Aradillas

Tell us: Did the right person go home? Do you think Aaron Carter grew up on the show? Who are you rooting for to take the trophy?Craig Sjodin/ABC

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