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'Dancing With the Stars': In full swing

April 27, 2010 |  7:41 am
119788_7721_pre We’re at the halfway point of Season 10, ballroom fans! Six weeks in, seven contestants left and a whole lot of seven paddles from Len.

This week upped the stakes even more for our contestants, as each couple had to perform two dances for Monday night’s program. And good thing for that second routine, because had the competition stopped after just Argentine tango or the samba, then we would have had a three-way tie for last place.

Thankfully, it was the inaugural swing dance marathon that helped make things interesting. Not to mention that it was a hoot and a half to watch. There’s just something so fun about swing, what with its big skirts and even bigger lifts and dancers being tossed around like rag dolls and twisted around their partners like human pretzels. And while the three-minute marathon may have been the equivalent of cardio hell week for the contestants, I sure appreciated the chance to watch each pair strut their stuff on the dance floor.

Retaining their lead, however, were Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough. Can anyone stop these two at this point? Sure, at first she thought she was doing the salsa. And the rehearsal footage showed the pop star getting mixed up with thoughts of camera angles and which side felt better, to the point where she just wanted to let loose and let rip with a barbaric “ohhh!”

But there was nary a whit of nerves or tentativeness in Nicole’s samba routine come performance time. “That was just ridiculous!” said Carrie Ann. “You are one singular sensation!” crowed Bruno. Only cranky pants Len refused to join the party, taking Derek to task for failing to include any voltas or bota fogos and calling the routine a “hodgepodge of sexy moves and gyrations … not a samba.” Bruno even christened them with another 10 paddle, even though Nicole clearly ended the routine a count or two after the Ricky Martin song ended. The couple received a 26 out of 30 for their samba. They were also the ones who outwitted, outdanced, and outlasted all the other couples in the swing dance marathon (and this, without any of Derek’s trademark crotch bobs), earning all 10 points in the group dance. Total: 36 out of 40.

Finally breaking out of the middle of the pack were Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who jumped up the leader board to second place. Erin also revealed that she was a ball of nerves before the performance -- except she called it “geeked up.” But those jitters never showed up in her samba routine, either. Maybe she kept them hidden under that huge Grimace-like purple skirt. Or maybe her confidence was inversely proportional to the clothes on Maks’ body. The jacket comes off? Up goes the confidence level. The bow tie, sleeves, suspenders and the shirt itself? Self-assurance through the roof! And while Bruno and Carrie Ann both credited Erin for her performance (Carrie Ann said she “nailed it”), Len acted like the stern school principal and had the ESPN reporter meet his gaze before reprimanding them for not doing a proper dance: “I’m fed up with shirts coming off,” he huffed. Samba score: 25. Luckily, Maks’ green shirt remained intact for the swing performance, which perhaps is why they lasted long enough to earn 9 points for it. Total: 34.

119788_8111_pre Crabby Len was unrelenting with his criticism on Monday night, slashing egos and routines left and right with his 7 paddle. As it turned out, the only star he gave higher than a 7 to was Chad Ochocinco, for stepping up his intensity and for showing Cheryl Burke who was boss in the Argentine Tango. Cheryl may have been the one who was being led, but she sure looked great doing it in that fiery red sparkly fringe number. Bruno called the dance “strong,” “powerful” and “demented.” “You were like the prowling panther out there,” the judge purred to 85. “Tonight you proved you could actually dance.” Carrie Ann again employed the Bob the Builder metaphor and said that Chad “nailed it.” “It was powerful, arrogant, sensual,” she raved. And Len kept it short and sweet: “You either grow, or you go,” he said. “You grew tonight.” Chad and Cheryl got three 8s for their tango routine, and ended up in fourth place in the group swing. Total: 31.

Just a point behind them were Pamela Anderson and Damian Whitewood. Pamela explained to Brooke Burke that she likes to be on top, but neither the voters nor the judges have yet to put her in her preferred position. And sadly, I don’t think it’s going to change this week. I nearly didn’t recognize the “Baywatch” babe when she came down the ballroom stairs at the beginning of the program; that brunette wig she sported turned her into some kind of femme fatale that was a cross between Carla Gugino, Angelina Jolie and Sophia Loren. And her Argentine tango routine, set to Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” was a perfect study in sensual characterization. If only it didn’t falter in the execution. Len said there was “a nice smoldering intensity,” but also pointed out that it was “sometimes a bit scruffy and scraggly here and there.” Carrie Ann said Pamela was “unquestionably sexy,” though the judge wanted to see “a little more technique in your legs.” Pamela and Damian earned a 22 for their tango, but their spirited, high-fling swing dance moves garnered them 8 more points. Total: 30. 

The biggest falling star was Evan Lysacek this week, as not even those shaking hips and arm extensions could save Evan from the sadly somber samba. Could this be a residual effect of being unceremoniously dropped on his head by Anna Trebunskaya? Or by the fact that he was treated by a guy by the name of Dr. Axel? (Dr. Axel. Triple Axel. Coincidence? Probably.) Despite a costume that sensuously showed off the gold medal winning figure skater’s spray-tanned and sculpted chest, the samba and Evan went together about as well as oil and water. Turned out this Brazilian dance just wasn’t the right move for him, said Bruno. Carrie Ann agreed that the samba had Evan beat: “It never really came together.” Len called it “far too balletic.” Loved how Anna (whose hairstyle and makeup made her reminiscent of both Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp in “Alice in Wonderland”) shamelessly pimped out Evan’s chest when stumping for votes nonetheless. Evan and Anna earned a lowly 21 for their samba, and was eliminated surprisingly early on in the swing marathon, for another 6 points. Total: 27.

119788_7421_pre Niecy Nash, who despite pulling out all the gimmicks and jokes and jiggly parts, seems doomed to spend her days in the lower echelon of this competition. And while I liked how she and Louis Van Amstel made their Argentine tango funny, I’m kind of getting full over the Niecy likes to eat jokes. OK, we get it. Girl likes her cheeseburgers. And cookies. Roses? Not so much. But enough of the noshy Niecy already! The girl’s got chops! Though it was funny to see Louis coax a snack out of his jacket pocket and smash it into his face like Cookie Monster at the end of the routine. Bruno said the dance lacked a bit of intensity, but applauded the comedienne for putting a lot of work into her routine (and told her to stay away from his lunch box). Carrie Ann, in a rare glazed twist, said she didn’t care for the routine’s comedy. Len, on the other hand, argued that a biscuit is a biscuit, and not a prop. Niecy and Louis got a 21 for their tango, and 5 points for being the second couple ousted in the swing dance. Total: 26.

Bringing up the rear were Jake Pavelka and Chelsie Hightower. Jake, who made his partner’s samba costume look like a cross between a leopard and a fruit salad at a funeral. And while Nicole and Erin used their perfectionist tendencies to good use, the erstwhile “Bachelor” couldn’t help but to wear his intense heart on his sleeve. Jake so wants to do well. His determination and frustration are written all over his face, and it’s tamping down the samba spirit. Even with those frilly Chuck Liddell Carnivale sleeves, Jake looked uptight and uncomfortable. And that showed in his routine, set to the Revels’ “Comanche.” His shoulder shimmy looked like he was more in pain than in party mode, and there was that unfortunate bobble at the foot of the stairs near the judges’ desk. Len called the performance “more polished,” though the head judge said the rhythm was lacking a bit. Bruno said Jake “didn’t wiggle correctly,” aside from the “pelvic gyrations.” Carrie Ann said his full throttle maximum overdrive is tripping him up. Jake got a 21 for the samba, and he and Chelsie got four points for being the first ones to be tapped out of the swing dance marathon. Total: 25.

Which puts Jake in the pole position to be booted Tuesday night. And I daresay Niecy or Pam may join him in the bottom two.

What do you think? Who do you think will be in the bottom two? Can anyone stop Nicole and Derek? Does it make a difference when Len says “SE-ven” as opposed to “se-VEN”? Anyone miss Kate yet? Is a biscuit a prop or not?

-- Allyssa Lee

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Photo credits: Adam Larkey / ABC

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