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'Dancing With the Stars': Race to the semifinals

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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Comments () | Archives (13)

Erin shouldn't even be in the competition at this point. She's had professional dance experience her whole life but still can't get the footwork or arm placement properly. Niecy has better footwork, and Chad gets into character and has more grace than Erin. I can't understand why everyone is trying to shove Erin down the public's throat. She's not that good. Also, I would think being filmed in that hotel room would be "the grossest" feeling ever, not messing up on a two-bit dance show. Priorities.

Nicole and Derek were a delight to watch. She is simply fluid and elegant no matter what she does, and Derek's choreography is extremely artistic.

If Erin isn't eliminated tonight I'll know the show is fixed, something I suspected when Kate Gosselin hung around as long as she did.

Niecy or Chad will go home, especially since the judges (correctly) insulated Erin from low audience voting with higher than usual marks.

I'd love to see Erin win, based on spirit/effort, etc. but clearly Nicole is the best dancer and it is, after all, a dance competition, even if the casting is unfair.

Next year, they should consider some kind of handicap system based on some kind of objective review of previous experience - if you're in a boy band or a girl band, or are a professional figure skater, only 80% of your audience votes count (or whatever).

Nicole 1 - Evan 2 - Erin 3

I don't know whether it's the arrangements being used this year or something else going w/the singers that we, the audience, aren't privvy to, but they sure do seem to be butchering every song they are asked to sing this time around. I've gotten to the point where I wish Mr. Wheeler would just cut out the lyrics for the rest of the season.

All the contestants are continuing to improve and last nights show was very entertaining.
I agree that Nicole, Evan and Erin should be the last 3 standing - in that order. They are all excellent dancers.

Nicole is a professional dancer so I'll be shocked if she doesn't win. The others are all improving but unfortunately I don't think they can catch her.

Just a small quibble, Len did not remark on the time Nicole and Derek spent out of hold. Rather, he complained that they did not have enough body contact when they were in hold, and for him that spoiled the dance a bit.

WTF with your comment that Derek loves himself too much? Please spare us the armchair psychology. You just ruined your whole blog for me. Bah.

Erin is just nasty. She likes the attention, she exploits her body and then gripes when men react to her...

Wow, people are super-pissy in the Comments section this week! 'Sup, peeps? Chill.

Why is everyone dissin' on Erin all of a sudden? Not to mention Allyssa, who's just calling things as she sees them. (And isn't that what a blog is all about? This isn't a news article, after all.) Of course Derek finds himself to be the most terribly clever and talented person in the room. That's a no-brainer that anyone who's watched the show could see. Allyssa's pointing it out doesn't mean that Derek ISN'T arguably the best choreographer; she's just saying that he's an attention hog -- which he is.

Anyway, back to Erin. She's a much better dancer, on a much more consistent basis, than either Chad or Niecy, and she deserves to be in the final. And Chuck, are you serious??? Being on "dance team" for the basketball team while she was at university is light-years away from having "professional dance experience her whole life, " the operative word in that phrase being "professional," meaning she'd have been paid to do it, which university-student Erin was not.

Nicole, on the other hand, HAS had "professional dance experience her whole life," which is precisely WHY you find her a "delight to watch" and "simply fluid and elegant no matter what she does." I agree with Carrie Ann: Nicole's clearly the best celebrity dancer who's ever been on the show. But if she doesn't win, it's not because the show is rigged; it's because people who vote like to see someone come in with little to no dance experience at all, who then learns and grows throughout the season, blossoming into a "real" dancer by the end. Voters want to reward someone for taking a risk and embarking on that journey and completing it successfully. Nicole had no journey. She started out nearly perfect and there was nowhere to go.

I predict Niecy goes this evening. Her waltz was quite good (except for the windmill arms), but that paso was pretty bad, and that was the last dance the audience saw of hers. Chad's weaker dance was his first, so the final impression the audience got of him was a decent jive. I think that will give him the edge over her -- assuming, as Allyssa does, that they're in the bottom two.

Erin didn,t do her public image any favors by joining DWTS,she dresses like a tramp,seems to spend a lot of time arguing with her partner and although she can dance,she is not likeable.A bit obnoxious and full of herself.Certainly not the sweet teary eyed victim of last year.

Kathode, Erin HAS been paid to dance before. x17 outed her with a video. Her sister is a professional dancer (albeit not a very good one) and Erin has had some dancing gigs. The fact that she sucks at it doesn't mean she hasn't worked hard at it for nearly a lifetime.

Hey Chuck that was a paid advertisement commercial for some dude that wanted to peddle his DVD. She was a paid "actress" that says "seeing said dude dance makes me want to too"...that is outing her for professional/trained dance experience? LOL. Don't believe me go to x17 online...for a good laugh. Chuck hun what is your deal? Are you a guy she wasnt into years back? Are you that guy from West Virginia that the FBI had a talkin too? Poor thing, get a girlfriend ...pray for ya!

Um Erins sis is also on a new REAL dance movie...not a paid advertisment :). She was also a dancer for the Academy Awards....the girl is a very accomplished hip hop dancer. Now Nicole on the other hand...maybe your just Nicole's biggest fan, or perhaps a sibling with a strange hate for Erin? Are you Perez Hilton?

Why are people trying to hate on such a funny/sweet gorgeous woman like Erin? She is sucha sweetie and unlike EVERY other girl in Hollywood she hasn't had plastic surgery....she is REAL in every way! If anything take a look at Nicole. She was sent to performing arts schools since she was a little girl. She was taught dancing/acting/singing in school while most of us were doing regular subjects. Nicoles whole life is dancing/acting and performing that is what she does for a living! Erin Andrews is a sports personality on ESPN, granted a hot one but anything she did was more then 10 years ago! This is Nicole's life and she is a trained pro who had gigs before, during and after the PussyCatDolls. She travels the world doing this...she had an event right before the show! She is also an actress, thus the crocodile "vote for me" tears in Mondays episode. The premise for the show is to make a celeb, this fish out of water sweat and work harder then ever to become almost as good as a pro in the end...a flower in bloom if you will. Nicole aint bloomN' cuz she can't get much better then she already has been, consistently since she was a little girl. Erin is someone that while may adore the performing arts was/is a tomboy (a sexy one) that reports on ESPN for major sports events. Yea, exactly what i want to see someone like Erin as opposed to someone like Nicole on DWTS. As a personal trainer/dancer myself it is extremely obvious that Nicole not only has way to much dance experience to be on the celeb side but she learns new choreography and new types of dance every month since she was a child...She gets paid to do that! Big difference...look i'm just telling you what needs to be said because the bottom line is i see a ton of improvement with Erin, she is growing like nobody else in this competition. Nicole could practically design her own choreography...and then throw Derek on top of that? New meaning to not fair...i never cry foul but i would be extremely upset if i were on that show. Check out what the other stars think, they are really close but they are ALL saying the same thing. Nicole goes out there and dances as well as the pros in that minute and a half..all that bull she whines about before the dance is just smoke and mirrors designed to create sympathy for a "celeb" that should not get any in this competition.


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