'Dancing With the Stars': Four scored
“Tonight has turned into a feast,” exclaimed Bruno after one of the performances. “I cannot believe the standard of dancing.” And this, with each contestant performing two full individual routines: one ballroom and one Latin. We also were treated to a little more insight into each contestant: Not only were the stars required to perform a solo during their Latin dance, but there was also a little segment about their backgrounds shown, so we could see firsthand how each contestant ended up being the successful, hard-working perfectionist that brought him or her to this semifinal round.
The competition remained tight in this ninth week, with just seven points separating first from last place. And there were two clear front-runners going into next week’s finals.
Retaining their lead were Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough, who continued to build on their success after last week’s stellar performances. Nicole may have been born in Honolulu, but there’s not a lot of that hang-loose Hawaiian in her work ethic. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs even coined her a slogan: “Determination is Nicole.” And the Pussycat Doll’s determination paid off with her Argentine tango, which was as hot and spicy as a habanero pepper. The dance was so neatly executed that it brought Carrie Ann to tears. “What you’re doing is incredible,” the judge said in a well of emotion. Bruno was more effusive. “You were a divine enchantress!” he exulted. “Using each move to draw us deeper and deeper and deeper into a love spell to which there is no escape.” Len gave his best compliment of all: “It was more delicious than my grandmother’s apple pie.” The praise translated into 10s for a perfect score of 30.
Their cha-cha didn’t achieve the same perfection, but it did nicely honor Nicole’s pal Prince. And who knew they were so close? “I even wore his mole,” she said. And though the solo at the beginning of the routine appeared to be more an homage to his purple highness and ”Flashdance” than a cha-cha, I liked how the choreography showed off Nicole’s flexibility. I also liked that clever booty smack at the end. Carrie Ann got bizarrely scatological with her praise. “You do these dance styles as if they were cells from your body and you poop them out,” she said. Len didn’t care for her solo, but said Nicole deserved to be in the finals. And Bruno proclaimed Nicole the “sexilicious purple queen of the cha cha cha.” Despite Derek’s debilitating neck injury, he and Nicole earned a perfect 30 for their tango, which, coupled with the 29 they got for their cha-cha added up to a nice total of 59 out of 60. Not too shabby for the birthday boy.
Nicole is obviously a great dancer who performed her routines impeccably. But I have to say that hers and Derek’s performances weren’t as exciting as Evan Lysacek and Anna Trebunskaya’s this week. And maybe that had to do with expectation. I expect Nicole to be great. I expect Evan to be technically proficient but cold. But Evan really exploded with his two routines in a way that was completely unexpected: He broke out of his shy, solitary ice-skating skin and turned out two ebullient performances – first, a fox trot that was as crisp and clean as a 7-Up and also as fizzy and then a fierce, intense paso doble that sent a delicious shiver of goosebumps down my spine. Thanks to his cute-as-a-button nephew, Evan finally has broken out of his icy shell, and is able to do what the judges have wanted him to do all along — connect with his partner and the audience as a whole.
Evan also tied with Nicole for the sheer amount of star wattage that appeared in his background clip. Sure, Nicole had Diddy and Geffen's Ron Fair, but Evan had gold medalists Scott Hamilton and former “DWTS” champ Kristi Yamaguchi, coach Frank Carroll AND fashion designer extraordinaire Vera Wang. Not too shabby.
The producers arranged to have the golden boy perform last in the prime pimp spot, so you knew that he was going to deliver something special. And boy, did he ever: His fox trot, set to “I’ve Got the World on a String,” put him in his classic tux, with Anna in a gorgeous jewel-blue dress, and Evan hopped, skipped and jumped like a cheery ray of sunshine straight into my heart. Who knew this Olympic champion could be so charming? His boundless energy was infectious, and that victorious leap into the air when Anna graced him with a kiss was just so gosh darn adorable that I wanted to make an iPhone video of it, it made me so happy. Len thought Evan’s “happy-go-lucky fun side” was “absolutely wonderful.” “I completely felt the connection tonight,” commended Carrie Ann. “You were as high as a kite out there!” exclaimed Bruno. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
And the golden boy from Naperville, Ill., improved upon his nearly perfect score by sinking his teeth into that all-out, drag-out, vampire-themed paso doble. And man, did he dance the bejeesus out of that solo or what? The tepid, shy zombie Evan was nowhere to be found during this performance. Loved how Anna’s bustle turned into a cape that Evan flung around and dominated into submission. He was all power and drive and bloodsucking intensity, set to an Evanescence tune, and the whole routine left me breathless. I wasn’t the only one: Not only did the audience (including Kate Gosselin and last season’s champ Donny Osmond) go bonkers after this performance, but his fellow contestants and the judges did as well. “I loved it,” said Carrie Ann. “Fantastic,” said Len, who commended Evan for the dominant way he came out and “attacked” the routine. “Strong, yet artistic. Plenty of attack. The best elevation we’ve seen in a paso doble this season,” growled Bruno. Evan and Anna received a 29 for their fox trot and a 30 for their perfect paso, tying them with Nicole and Derek for the top spot.
Coming in third place were Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. And it was revealed that the Tampa, Fla., native, who grew up “skinny as a toothpick” and “taller than all the boys” had decided to come onto “DWTS” after her stalker scare in an empowering move to demonstrate that she was not going to be the victim. And the ESPN reporter really has grown leaps and bounds since the start of the season. Erin’s first dance, the Viennese waltz, was sweetly elegant, and Erin more than held her own opposite her bare-chested partner in her sparkles and aqua palazzo pants. “It was like a symphony in blue,” lauded Bruno. “You have improved so much since the beginning. The continuity of movement is great.” Carrie Ann commended her on her “grace,” despite seeing a little nervousness in her ankles. Len said “the fight for the final starts now … for me, you just made a giant step through the door.” Erin and Maks earned three 9s for their first dance – even though Bruno committed a faux pas, “had a premature paddle” and pulled out the 10 by mistake.
Erin and Maks ended up earning their 10 paddle from Bruno in their next dance, the paso doble. Though it didn’t come without its own censorship. Anyone catch what Bruno said that had to be bleeped out? No matter. Erin came out kicking with her no-nonsense thigh-high boots and Barbarella wear. I liked how the short dress gave way to the flowy gold-lamé-skirt action mid-routine. And how Maks’ near-fall left the pair in a Twister-like pose at the end. Len didn’t care too much for the progressive choreography – “this is a funky-monkey type of paso doble,” he complained. But the other two judges enjoyed it. “You are a hot chick with an attitude!” Bruno exclaimed to Erin. “Your performance was stunning.” “That’s what it feels like to be in your power,” said Carrie Ann, approvingly. Erin and Maks earned a 27 for their waltz and a whopping 29 for their paso, which prompted Maks to take off his vest in celebration and for Tom to quip, “Don’t miss Maks’ regional-theater production of ‘Spartacus’ coming to a town near you." Total: 56.
Which leaves Chad Ochocinco and Cheryl Burke bringing up the rear. Chad, as we discovered, has had his share of hard knocks, both in life – growing up with his grandmother in a tough neighborhood, hopping around from school to school until he ended up in the NFL – and on the ballroom stage. So how great was it to see the Cincinnati Bengal finally get all of his elements together and deliver that lovely valentine of a waltz? He lilted with the best of them, and his movement across the floor was seeping and fantastic. Rick Fox sure liked it and gave his fellow athlete a very tall standing ovation for his efforts. “Woo hoo!” praised Carrie Ann. “Chad Ochocinco just nailed the waltz!” “Fantastic,” said Len, adding that if his fellow semifinalists had "climbed hills, you’ve climbed mountains.” “Respect,” said b-boy Bruno. “We’ve been so harsh because we knew there was something for us to see. Tonight you showed it to us.”
If only his samba could have had the same results. But the 8-pound, 10-ounce baby from Miami whose first words were “child, please” struggled through the Brazilian party dance, which Len confirmed was the toughest of all the Latin numbers. Ochochinco’s ripped chest made it through intact, however. “Your torso is a bit like mine -- I’ve got a few more tattoos, but basically they’re the same,” sized up Len. “Unfortunately, your technique hasn’t matured like everyone else,” said Carrie Ann. “I’m torn between admiration and bitter envy,” said Bruno of Chad’s ripped upper body. “I will never take my clothes off again.” (“Thank God for that!” sighed Tom.) Chad and Cheryl earned a 27 for their waltz but just a 25 for their samba, for a total score of 52.
Which makes it pretty evident that Ochocinco should be the one deep-sixed come Tuesday night. Unless, of course, Chad’s strong sports contingent, coupled with voters enticed by the Bengal’s suggestion that he’d show up pantless, cause an upset going into the finals.
What do you think? Did you enjoy Monday night’s performances as much as I did? Who do you think should be in the final three? Who would you rather see shirtless: Maks or Chad? Are you excited for “the most ambitious finale ever”?
— Allyssa Lee
Photos: Adam Larkey / ABC