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'Dancing With the Stars': Ladies' night

September 23, 2009 |  6:36 am

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Season 9 continued its super-sized premiere week with its round of female contestants. And it did seem like the ladies had the harder job, given that the female role in ballroom dancing is often the showier one, and that the female contestants had to follow the sexilicious performances by our professional ladies the night before.

And there didn’t seem to be any preferential treatment for the fairer sex; the judges were just as harsh with their criticism and skimpy with their scores as they were on Monday. Hey, at least it gives the contestants the room to improve, right? Though the results were somewhat surprising:

In first place were model Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough. Which was surprising, given the spotty record models usually have on the show (Brooke Burke being the exception, of course).

But Joanna and Derek hit it off instantly with a rapport that bordered on flirting, and they produced a winning salsa that was as bright and as lively as the canary yellow that they both wore. (Though between their blond hair and their bright bright canary-yellow outfits, staring at them for long periods at a time started to fatigue my eyes – kind of like trying to stare at the sun.) Derek choreographed a routine that accentuated Joanna’s strengths, and those fringed pipe-cleaner pants were shimmied to full effect.

The dance even lived up to grumpy head judge Len’s exacting standards. “At last, we’ve seen a hot, smoking salsa!” he rejoiced. Bruno said their routine was “what a salsa should be” and commended Derek on his choreography. Carrie Ann remarked that Joanna’s confidence will take her “all the way.” They also won first place on their fox-trot relay (thought the hair was a little bird’s nest for my taste). Joanna got a 24 for their salsa and a 10 for their fox trot, making them the couple to beat with a total of 34.

Here’s something else I never would have guessed. That Kelly Osbourne tied for second! I know I wasn’t the only one who scratched her head in puzzlement when Ozzy Osbourne’s daughter was paired with elder statesman Louis Van Amstel (who returned to “DWTS” after a three-season absence). But Kelly seems to be taking this dancing seriously, and it appears there is no better teacher than Louis.

Kudos to him for smoothing away the rough tomboy edges and teaching Kelly how to dance like a lady. It was so nice to see her blossom under Louis’ guidance, and she looked like she was having the time of her life on the dance floor. Liked how Louis kept the Viennese waltz contemporary, gliding to Ray Montagne’s “Trouble,” and Kelly was the picture of grace and unbridled fun in her flowing blue dress with the flash of fuschia as her scarf. Loved how she got wrapped up in her dress and he unwrapped her out of it. “Not a trace of tomboy,” host Tom Bergeron whispered in her ear afterward. And Kelly seemed as surprised by her own transformation as anyone else, which made the whole experience that much more endearing.

“I cannot believe my eyes,” Bruno remarked. “The wild child rock princess transformed to a vision of grace.” Stickler Carrie Ann docked a point for the lift at the end but said “there were chills up and down my spine,” and Len called it simply “the best Viennese waltz of the night.” Despite the cheese and the spectacle of it all, it’s moments like these, when a contestant ends up soaring beyond her own expectations, that make this show so worthwhile.

It continued with the Latin relay: By the end of rehearsal, Kelly was ready to change her name to cha cha, and her impressive, technical legwork continued to wow the judges. A 23 for their waltz and an 8 for the cha cha. Total: 31.

Also receiving a total of 31 were...

Mya and Dmitry Chaplin. Now, this I expected. Everyone familiar with the recording artist/actress knows  she’s got more than just some moves. I mean, come on: She appeared in both the movie and Broadway versions of “Chicago”! Clearly, this girl has had training, though she insists she has never done ballroom before. Still, she showed studied grace and elegance with her Viennese waltz and gave partner Dmitry “I’m Not Afraid to Show Off My Skills … or My Chest” Chaplin a nice foundation and adoring gazes to work with. And their routine, set to Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love,” displayed some nice extensions and a fun move where she hurled herself into his arms and he set her down on the floor. Carrie Ann said her “lines are incredible,” Bruno said it was “artistry in motion,” but cranky old Len went off on a rant that Dmitry didn’t adhere to the Viennese waltz rules and slapped them with a punitive 5 for their sins. Combined with the two 8s from Carrie Ann and Bruno, that  still gave them a 21, and they were able to pull off all 10 points for their cha cha relay. Total: 31.

Coming in fourth place were swimmer Natalie Coughlin and Alec Mazo. Now, I’ve been a fan of the much-decorated swimmer ever since she showed up on the Olympic scene, so I was rooting for her from the start. And it’s clear she’s got the drive and the work ethic that have contributed to the success of Olympians in this competition thus far. Luckily, she didn’t disappoint tonight.

Despite the potential of having a bloody routine (turns out she bites her lip when she’s concentrating; “blood on the dance floor probably won’t get us a 10,” partner Alec rightfully predicted), her salsa was fun and blessedly blood-free, if a little safe — showing off some nice arm extensions and great flexibility on her part (and pointed toes!).

Len bemoaned the fact that the dance, though featuring a very scantily clad Natalie, wasn’t sexy or steamy. Bruno commended her on “some fantastic shapes and … great positions,” even though she had a tendency to freeze mid-performance. Carrie Ann called her “a diamond in the rough.” The elegant fox-trot relay fared much better, as she rocked a gorgeous blue dress (maybe she was more comfortable in it because it was the same color as the water?) and great extensions. Natalie received a “healthy” 19 for the salsa and an 8 for the fox trot. Total: 27.

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Just three points behind them were actress Melissa Joan Hart and reigning champ Mark Ballas. During the rehearsal footage, we discovered that Mark was a big fan of Hart’s “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.” And though I thought Melissa put in a good amount of emotion and flow into their Viennese waltz, no amount of abracadabra could have saved that routine from her levitating shoulders.

“You’re wearing them as earrings!” Mark exclaimed during rehearsals. And Bruno commented that perhaps she was a little bit nervous. “It lacked a little magic. Watch the top line.”

Carrie Ann cautioned her to connect to the beat of the moment, while Len went into cranky sugar shock at the princess fairy tale of it all (set to David Cook’s “Time of My Life,” no less). “It was all sweet and sickly, and I hate all of that,” the head judge spat in disgust.  “We don’t call him old iron knickers for nothing,” host Tom quipped.

The cha cha relay went a lot better. Maybe it was the shorter, more sparkly dress, but Melissa seemed to let loose and have fun with the routine, and it showed. Len commended her on her higher level of performance, and Carrie Ann called her most improved. Melissa received an 18 for her waltz and 6 points for the cha cha. Total: 24.

Next were Debi Mazar and Maksim Chemerkovskiy. And I had great hopes for the “Entourage” actress. But just because you act with a lot of energy doesn’t necessarily mean you can dance with it. Debi was brave enough to show that she did have some dance experience, strutting her moves on some '80s TV show called “Graffiti Rock.” But she displayed none of the “Graffiti” swagger on tonight’s program. Is it because she’s being silenced by Maks? Is it her attention span?

Her salsa with Maks was fun in a Lucille Ball kind of way, but kind of teetered off balance. Len noted that there wasn’t any hip action, Carrie Ann said there was no connection from her character to her moves, and Bruno, though commending Debi’s ample “bazooms,” said her timing was all over the place. And although she was commended for her fox-trot relay, she still seemed a little stiff and uncomfortable in this new role. She earned a 16 for the salsa and a 6 for the fox trot. Total: 22.

And then came the other model, swimsuit icon and now CEO of her own design and marketing firm, Kathy Ireland. Partner Tony Dovolani had his work cut out for him, as Kathy readily admitted that she not only didn’t know how to dance, but that she was once asked to leave an aerobics class and not come back. She also mentioned that she couldn’t walk in high heels before meeting Tony (whaa? Isn’t that part of your job as a model?).

Plus, I don’t think she did herself any favors by commenting that the last time she modeled was “in the last century.” Don’t make yourself sound like a relic! She also shimmies like she’s driving a truck. And though her salsa dress was definitely sparkly and fringe-y, the dance was not as effusive as one would hope. “Far too careful,” said Len. “I know you can sell almost anything, but you didn’t sell the salsa,” zinged Bruno. And Carrie Ann just told her to loosen up. Kathy got a 16 for her salsa and an additional 4 for the fox-trot relay. Total: 20.

Rounding out the rear were singer Macy Gray and Jonathan Roberts. Bless her heart. Macy, she of towering height and wee Minnie Mouse voice, had to juggle a European tour with ballroom practice. She also commented that the Viennese waltz (“the what?”) she was attempting showed “a different kind of ladylike than me, the modern girl.” And her routine, set to Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” was, as Carrie Ann said, fascinating.

I, for one, couldn’t figure it out: Parts of it looked like she was angry and stomping through life, while at other times her mouth was agape in joy and surprise usually reserved for babies and “American Idol” winners. “There’s a vulnerability about you,” said Len. Or, as Bruno put it, “It was like watching a child taking his first steps into a scary new world. You touch people’s hearts. Now we have to work on your technique.” I just wondered what she said to Samantha backstage that was beeped out.

Did you folks on the East Coast catch it at all? All we on the West Coast got was a big show of silence, followed by the judges busting up in laughter. Despite a couple rewinds, my lip-reading skills just weren’t up to snuff. Also not up to snuff: Macy's cha cha. Len remarked that her lack of rehearsal time showed in this routine, which was also an odd mix of agitated and agape. Macy got a 15 for her waltz and an additional 4 for her cha cha. Total: 19.

Which makes Macy a prime candidate for Thursday’s elimination, though I think Kathy Ireland also has a good chance of getting cut, as Macy at least left some kind of impression, and Kathy hardly left any at all.

What do you think? Who do you think will get the ax tomorrow? Were you as surprised to see Kelly Osbourne soar as I was? Who had the better performances: the men or the ladies? What did Macy Gray say?

— Allyssa Lee

Photos: Adam Larkey / ABC

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