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Ladies and gentlemen, your next 'Dancing With the Stars' champion (should be)...

May 22, 2007 |  9:41 am

When the top three dancers hit the floor last night, it seemed like it was going to be tough to pick a winner in the finals of this season’s “Dancing with the Stars,” but pitting top contenders Laila Ali, Apolo Anton Ohno and Joey Fatone against each other actually highlighted what each contestant genuinely has and lacks. Certainly, all are good athletes, good sports, good personalities, good partners and are relatively easy on the eyes, but after last night, one clearly is the top spot.

Apolo4 That person is Apolo Anton Ohno. With his spirited freestyle performance, he demonstrated something that he thus far had lacked a little bit: cultural specificity. Ohno’s been such a gimlet-eyed pro that it’s sometimes been tough to establish just how old he actually is, what he likes to do in his free time, what he’s like when he’s not on-camera.

But the charming breakdance and skater-inspired performance he did with partner Julianne Hough clearly showed not only his athletic and dancing prowess, but also that he understands what generation he appeals to. For once he reminded us that he’s 25 (actually, today! Happy Birthday Apolo, wherever you are) and a pro, and not just a youthful looking athlete.

The weaknesses in the other contestants are minor but they were obvious in comparison to Apolo. Laila simply lacks  Apolo and Joey’s unselfconsciousness, and doesn’t quite make the dancing look as easy as Apolo does. She does rock very hard however in general, with her mix of toughness and sensuality, ambition and charm. Mothers across the country should turn their daughters’ chins away from pictures of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and turn it to Laila’s.

Joey Fatone danced his big Italian butt off, and, obviously, is packed with personality. But comparing him to Apolo, it’s clear that he’s a performer more than a dancer. He’s better at executing “moves” than doing dances, and it actually even seemed like with some of those marionette-inspired steps, he just lifted a batch of *Nsync choreography for his freestyle (this reporter did attend an *NSync concert once in 2000, obviously to prepare for this particular assignment).

It’s certainly been an entertaining set of finals, but Apolo should place that mirrorball (which Tom Bergeron always seems to make fun of, for some reason), in his trophy case next to his Olympic medals. If he doesn’t win, it won’t be a travesty, but he established himself last night.

(Photo courtesy ABC)