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'Dancing With the Stars': Race to the semifinals

May 11, 2010 |  8:20 am
119792_2887_preWe’ve reached the quarter final round of “DWTS” Season 10, and the closer we inch to the coveted mirrorball trophy, the hotter the competition becomes. No more of this namby-pamby one individual dance and one group dance nonsense. Now each couple had to perform two full individual dances, and we were treated to two full hours of competition programming. And it was serious this week, people. No more fun and games. There were near fights between pros and head judges. Dancers were both reduced to tears and forced to administer punishment to children over the telephone. Snacks were withheld. Len put on his yellow steno pad of a shirt. Everyone means business here!

Well, everyone except Brooke Burke, who remained as calm and as tepid as if it was still a preliminary round. Would it be too much to ask that the co-host’s excitement levels could match the momentum going into the semis?

Because for the most part, the dancers brought it to the Rectagon floor on Monday night, with one ballroom dance and one Latin dance, set to fit the theme of a decade.

Taking a commanding lead on the eve of the semifinals were ...

Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough. It also made them the team to beat. And honestly, they’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who could match Nicole’s dancing abilities and Derek’s superlative choreography skills. Nicole may have had a small meltdown from all the expectations during rehearsals (which also served to show that her arms were noticeably more spray-tanned than her hands), but there was no weakness in any of her dances. And I loved them both: Their fox trot and their 1950s paso were fan-freaking-tastic. The fox trot, set to Michael Bublé’s “Haven’t Met You Yet,” was as adorable as adorable could be: a lovely one-two punch of lyricism and dancerly delight. “It’s nice to see you smiling again,” remarked Carrie Ann to the perfectionist Nicole. “One and a half minutes of pure joy!” exulted Bruno. “That was like a jewel created by a master.” And while Len took issue with the extended time spent out of hold, the head judge noted that “you’ve taken a fox trot, you’ve taken a Michael Bublé song … and you’ve turned it into an enchanting love story.”

Their awesome hybrid of a paso doble and the 1950s was just as great. And while I do feel that he loves himself too much, you’ve got to hand it to Derek for seamlessly integrating these two disparate elements into a masterwork of steps.  He made the “im-paso-ble” paso-ble. The way that they did the guitar strum of their arms into a Spanish flair, and the way that Derek (who, as Tom noted, channeled Johnny Quest) incorporated the greaser hair move with the paso stomp was pretty genius. The judges thought so as well: “A feisty, vibrant, passionate performance,” lauded Bruno. “The flavor of Spain never tasted so good.” “Brilliant,” marveled Carrie Ann. “There was nothing that I could see to criticize,” commented Len. Nicole and Derek earned a 29 for their fox trot, and a perfect 30 for their paso, for a nearly perfect evening total of 59 out of 60.

119792_4101_pre In a two-way tie for second were Evan Lysacek and Anna Trebunskaya and Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Isn’t that funny? Both are involved with sports. Both have just two letters separating them from the other’s names. And both have the goods to really make it in this competition, save for just a few little flaws.

Erin can't trust her partner. And Evan has trouble connecting with his partner and the audience. And honestly, I thought his lack of connection and emotion was a problem on the ice as well. But as Maks said, there are no singles in ballroom dancing, and this seeming frigidity with Anna has become more and more evident as the weeks rolled on. He comes off as a little cold, which is what he was trying to thaw with his Viennese waltz. But Fabio this guy is not -- despite donning a billowy blouse to match with his partner’s billowy skirt, beginning the routine completely supine on the ground, and ending in a pose that could have been splashed across a Harlequin romance book cover. Fashion designer and former competitive figure skater Vera Wang in the studio audience sure liked the routine. And Bruno credited Evan for “the romance of the moment” and said the golden boy’s “lyrical lines … is something to behold.” But Carrie Ann called him the ballroom equivalent of a Monet: “From afar, you’re mesmerized” but up close is a different story. “You have to lose yourself in the moment,” she advised. The whole dance put Len in a tizzy. “I’m in a state of flux,” the head judge said. “I’m not sure if I liked it or not.” Still, Len liked Evan’s posture and movement across the floor enough to give him one of three 9s.

Len was also in a flux over Evan’s second dance -- a futuristic cha cha. Anna wisely chose a “Fifth Element”-type theme over Evan’s preferred Wall-E/Eva romance, and utilized her partner’s natural robotic tendencies to the hilt. Though it’s too bad that they were so shrouded in smoke at the start of their routine, set to La Roux’s “Bulletproof,” that one couldn’t tell that they were on rotating platforms. Len said their dance “lacked a lot of fluidity” (duh, they’re robots!), while Carrie Ann thought Evan was much more committed to his character this time around. Bruno went beyond the final frontier and described the routine as “Mr. Spock meets Barbarella in ‘Cha Cha Trek.’” (I would totally see that movie, by the way.) Evan and Anna received a 27 for their waltz and a 26 for their cha cha, for a total of 53.

Which was tied with Erin and Maks. The ESPN reporter rebounded nicely after last week’s stint in the bottom two (which she called “the grossest feeling I’ve ever had”) with her piping-hot Argentine tango. And all that anxious rehearsal footage about her being a scaredy cat and her unwillingness to look like someone “humping the fire hydrant” was nowhere to be seen come performance time. Loved how she started in a crouch position in front of Maks, and loved how she pounced off the stage and onto her partner like a cat in heat. Not to mention that her back bend was jaw-droppingly impressive. “I never knew you could be so bendy,” admired Bruno. “That was just so hot, I can’t even describe it,” panted Carrie Ann. Cheeky Len called Erin a “dirty, dirty girl,” said he “absolutely loved it” and slapped them with a naughty 10 paddle.

Unfortunately their rumba, performed 1980s style, went like much of the fashions of that decade and did not fare as well. Though I loved how Erin sported the “Flashdance” one-shoulder sweatshirt and big belt, and gave a shout out to the Rectagon’s original lady of the legwarmer, Edyta Sliwinska, in her ’80s fashion homage. Erin’s nerves got the best of her, however, during her performance, and the routine, set to John Waite’s “Missing You,” was lacking in fluidity. Bruno liked the routine, and said it had a “spiky Madonna feel to it,” but Len said “the whole thing was jerky … you’ve got to smooth it out a little bit.” Carrie Ann confirmed that Erin wasn’t scoring higher because she doubted herself: “You should be loving every minute.” Though I must say I’m loving Erin’s and Maks’ great rapport. Like when Erin made fun of her Russian partner and impersonated him, saying: “Come on woman, jump on me.” And then how Maks slyly quipped, “Usually, it works.” Ha! Erin and Maks earned a 28 for their tango and a 25 for their rumba for a total of 53.

119792_3744_pre In a distant fourth were Chad Ochocinco and Cheryl Burke. And after all this time spent in the competition, I keep waiting for Chad to operate on all cylinders, and yet he still seems stuck in second gear. His tango this week was no different. The routine was set to Beyoncé’s “Beautiful Nightmare,” and the same could have been said of his dance. “It needed a little more polish, a little more refinement,” said Len. “Sometimes your footwork and your frame went a little bit,” said Bruno. Carrie Ann said Chad’s “posture in this one was funky.”

The football hero’s jive was better. Though that may have had as much to do with the Cincinnati Bengal’s Superfly pimp outfit with the breakaway wife-beater than it did with the dance itself. No, actually, the dance was pretty good, too, like when Chad got down in the pocket and grooved those shagalicious ’60s moves. Len said it was “fun” and “entertaining,” though his kicks were “terrible.” Bruno said Chad definitely “pimped that jive,” and may have referred to Cheryl and her thigh-high boots as a prostitute. Carrie Ann said the dance was “very groovy … the energy was a little wild at times, but I thought it suited you perfectly.” C+C dance factory got a 21 for their tango, and a 24 for their jive, for a total of 45.

Which left Niecy Nash and partner Louis Van Amstel bringing up the rear. The “Jiggly One” sure has a tough schedule. Up at 4:30. On set by 5:30. In rehearsal with Louis by 11:30. Caffeine has supplanted the snacks. It’s a grueling schedule, but Niecy, to her credit, never let any of the wear and tear slip into her attitude. Though sadly, neither of her dances ended up as winning as Niecy herself. Her Viennese waltz, set to “I Got You Babe,” was fairly lilting, and her dress looked either like an orange mop doing a once-over on the ballroom floor or a shiny creamsicle, depending on how you looked at it (or depending on your hunger level). Bruno said he liked her performance, but “at times, you looked like you were chased by a swarm of wasps.” Carrie Ann said “there was a little too much push and pull this week.” Len liked her “floaty quality,” but said her arms were flapping like conductor Harold Wheeler: “Your carriage … went so high I’m surprised you could hear the music.”

Things got worse with her 1990s-era paso doble -- “whatever the hell that is.” First of all, both she and Louis were dressed in some mesmerizingly heinous gold and black ensembles. And secondly, this self-proclaimed “easy-breezy girl” had trouble reigning in the drama of this Latin dance, set to “Rhythm is a Dancer.” “Ooh, Niecy, you scary mama -- I think you threw yourself into this a bit like an avalanche,” said Bruno. “I felt that this was your most ambitious routine yet,” said Carrie Ann. However, “the beginning felt a bit like bumper cars.” Len simply remarked that “the paso doble just was a dance that didn’t suit you.” Still, Niecy would not let her fighting spirit be broken. “Most people who can hula hoop with a Cheerio would not do this,” she said proudly of her efforts. Niecy and Louis earned a 23 for their waltz and a 20 for their paso, for a total of 43.

Which most likely would put Niecy and Chad in the bottom two, with Niecy getting the boot.

What do you think? Which couple won’t make it past the quarter final round? Is Nicole the best star dancer the series has ever seen? Why do the ’70s get such a bad rap? Is this what we have to look forward to in the future: less emotion, and more smoke machines and hair gel?

-- Allyssa Lee

Photo credits: Adam Larkey / ABC

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