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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Fantastic Four

124225_6502_pre It’s the semifinals, ballroom fans, and emotions on “Dancing With the Stars” Season 12’s penultimate performance show ran high both on stage and off. There was laughter, a serious injury, tears, frustration, elation. Three perfect dances! A saucier Brooke Burke! A wardrobe malfunction! A pro dancer dressed like a cat! And a new third dance to boot!

In addition to the requisite two individual dances, there was a Winner Takes All Cha-Cha for the first time ever — liiiive!

According to the hosts, the winner take all idea was conceived after previous seasons' high-scoring contestants like Brandy and Sabrina Bryan were ousted due to a poor show of viewer votes. And considering the landscape of the four semi-finalists in this competition, this whole idea seemed to be cobbled to ensure Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas made it to the finals, no?

Pretty, pleasant, precise, niche-y Chelsea, whose only claim to fame at this point is being a Disney Channel star, is the only one who would suffer from a lack of viewer votes. Think Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward is hurting for calls? What about "Cheers" star Kirstie Alley? And lest we forget, hobbled, low-scoring Ralph Macchio was saved from certain, put-him-in-a-body-bag-Johnny doom when masses of voters phoned in their support. 

Chelsea would have the most to lose with a competition as close as this, if left to just the viewers’ votes. Winning the Winner Takes All Cha-Cha and its 15 extra points would give her the boost that she needed to all but ensure her a spot in the finals. And she did do a good job in both her cha-chas, and I liked both her Christmas wreath of a skirt, and how she and Mark changed up the choreography from the first dance to the second (even though the latter showcased that unseemly dip-and-bob move that I’ve come to associate with Derek Hough). Fellow finalist Hines, however, had the swagger and the hip action that Chelsea didn’t. But all the judges ultimately gave the points to Chelsea, which bumped her and Mark over Hines and Kym into first place.

Not to say that Chelsea herself wasn’t feeling the semifinals heat.

Persnickety Mark wasn’t happy with her lackadaisical attitude during rehearsals and demanded nothing less than 110%. “I’m lifting a dead weight,” he said unkindly. You know he means business when he’s got that guyliner on. Their first dance was the Argentine tango, which I thought was going to be distracting because of the wave in Chelsea’s hair, which was two parts Gwen Stefani, one part Sharon Stone and one part Ed Grimley. But the dance turned out to be crisp and clean—though Carrie Ann harshly pointed out that Chelsea lacked through motion (after which I thought Chelsea was going to burst out in tears). “You’re such a fantastic dancer, but I found that to not be up to par,” the judge criticized. “I didn’t feel like you finished your moves.” “Don’t hold a grudge against the judge,” said Len to the booing audience. The head judge agreed that Chelsea’s legs lacked a bit of authority throughout the dance, but “the lifts were right in character.” Bruno, however, likened her to Sharon Stone. “You had a kind of basic instinct there,” he said.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., raised Chelsea talked about her lucky Hollywood break. Joe Jonas spoke on her behalf and said, “she’s doing such a great job. I think this is just the beginning.” Which led into their angsty, romantic rumba, which Chelsea nailed with her long legs and come hither looks. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” exulted Carrie Ann. “Full range of motion, full passion, full commitment to movement.” “It had mood, it was very expressive,” said Len. “Tonight, you have fulfilled your potential.” It was “like a hypnotizing sequence of standing shapes, beautifully linked,” Bruno described. “Romantic and erotic, but perfectly pitched.” Mark carried Chelsea through the doorway of the celebraquarium like a newlywed. And like newlyweds, they had something to celebrate: A perfect 30 score! Chin-chin! Add that to the 28 they received for their tango and the extra 15-point bonus for besting the winner take-all cha-cha, for a total of 73.

124225_6611_pre Which kind of put a damper on Hines Ward and Kym Johnson’s triumphant, near-perfect night, but not by much. Here’s where the waterworks start. First, we saw the absolutely harrowing footage of the rehearsals when Kym, in an effort to up their game and take more risks, fell on her neck and was crushed by Hines’ weight. That built to shots of Kym in a neck brace, more concerned about lost rehearsal time than her own well-being, taken away in an ambulance. And then to witness Kym without the brace and on the ballroom floor and then dance the Argentine tango — Kym looking slinky and shiny, and Hines extra attentive and receptive to his partner — both putting their all into the routine? Amazing. When Hines and Kym got emotional after the routine ended — no doubt a mix of relief and elation of a job well done mixed in with a sobering realization of how serious this injury could have been — I got emotional, too. This is one of those moments when dance hit all the right buttons. This routine was fraught with emotion and ultimately cathartic, which is what made it so breathtaking to watch. Not to mention that it was beautifully choreographed and performed. “This is a tango!” Len praised. “I was there at the club watching the whole story unfold.” Bruno brought it back to a more carnal level. “It was like good sex – you never wanted it to end!” he crowed. Carrie Ann was overwhelmed with emotion. “I’m just happy you’re OK,” she said quietly.” I’m so impressed with the routine…and Hines, the way you partnered her through the routine. … The connection is beyond what we ask for.” This routine deservedly earned the first perfect 30 of the season. It transcended what we expect from this show and showed us how dance can delight, define and restore in a series of sweeping movements.

We saw Hines’ inspirational story again. About how he was born in Seoul, South Korea, where mixed kids weren’t accepted, to an injury causing him to be drafted low, to become Super Bowl MVP. Funny that his mom didn’t think he’d last a week on “DWTS.” But as he said, success is made with cans, not can’ts. And last he did: straight through to another perfect salsa performance with him decked out in festive red and a Panama hat, and Kym dressed in a Carmen Miranda Big Stick popsicle colored frock. “You were steaming, and I was beaming,” said Len. Bruno was crushing, big-time: “Just one sentence: You’re just beautiful, man.” Carrie Ann’s been bitten by the Hines bug: “I can’t even explain how much joy I get when you dance,” she beamed. Another perfect 30 for the couple. Total: 60.

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy continued to bicker, but the pressure of the semifinals churned it to epic proportions and caused Kirstie to lose her top (figuratively, not literally). Luckily, all that squabbling, as well as eating 5 meals a day, getting as much sleep as she could, and saying “hot diggity dog diggity” as much as she could, worked in their favor for their first dance, the Viennese waltz, which was elegant and played out like a slow burn on the dance floor. Couldn’t tell if Bruno was being laudatory or insulting when he said Kirstie set sail beautifully, “like a majestic clipper riding the waves.” Carrie Ann pointed out how Kirstie magically brings the audience in to the whole performance: “You transform the ballroom.” Len, perhaps in a reference to Alley’s “Star Trek” history, said he thought Kirstie would be “a Klingon” and hold on to Maks for dear life (well, who wouldn't?). You can set your phasers to stun, Len: she didn’t.

In her background segment, Kansas-born Kirstie talked frankly about her drug problems as part of her roller coaster of a life. Lows included cocaine addiction and her parents’ accident, met with the highs of “Star Trek II”  and the “nirvana” of “Cheers.” But after that was over, she focused on her kids, made cookies and gained weight. She has a great support system, which includes her two kids, John Travolta and Kelly Preston. And she showed off her newly trim figure in her paso doble. “That wasn’t the paso doble. That was ‘Dance Trek 12, the Wrath of Kirstie!’” blared Bruno. “You were really going like a force of nature.” Carrie Ann called the actress “the queen of the paso doble.” Len said it was “fabulous.” Kirstie and Maks got 27s for both waltz and paso doble. Total: 54.

Ralph Macchio’s knee is better, thank goodness, and I thought his Argentine tango with Karina Smirnoff was a real crowd-pleaser: feisty yet precise. There was a nice tête-à-tête with a lamppost, and I thought Ralph displayed a nice Macchiochismo we hadn’t seen before — maybe it was the carefully mussed hair. Or the underpants Karina suggested, which boosted Ralph's bottom line (“The butt-pushing pants worked, buddy,” said Tom). But what I thought was stern command, the judges took as frigidity. “It lacked a bit of emotion throughout the dance — it didn’t really smolder,” said Len. Bruno made his innuendos by saying there was something “happening when you were stroking the lamppost” but when he and Karina got in hold “it was very stern,” he said. “It was too flat in interpretation for once.” Carrie Ann agreed. “You have got to get the emotion all the way down to your feet,” she said. “I want to see it all connected.”

And committed. According to his wife of 24 years, Phyllis, “committed” is the word that best describes Long Islander Ralph. He has “stayed the same throughout it all,” both in his family and in his baby face. How touching was it to see an old picture of Ralph palling it up with the late Pat Morita, a.k.a. Mr. Miyagi? And loved that Randee Heller, who played Ralph’s mother in “The Karate Kid” also made an appearance (Miss Blankenship lives!). For his second dance, Ralph donned a Mr. T-size weight of chains and channeled his inner Tony Montana while Karina from the block unleashed her feral inner feline (“We want to thank the Bert Lahr estate for Karina’s wig,” said Tom, slyly making a reference to the guy who played the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz”) for their ’80s gangsta-style salsa. Len thought it was “all too hard, too in your face,” he said. “It was too wild. Wild!” Wild is a good word for Bruno, who went way over the edge with his sexual innuendos, some of which was bleeped out, but I’m guessing has something to do with Karina’s cat-like outfit. Carrie Ann, however, liked the routine. “It was the most fun I think you’ve had throughout the entire competition.” Ralph and Karina received a lowly 23 for their “The World Is Mine” salsa, and a low-ish 25 for their Argentine tango. Total: 48.

Which puts Daniel-san, again, in the lowest-scoring position and ripe for the elimination picking. What do you think, ballroom fans? Will Ralph bow out before the finals next week? What did you think of the Winner Takes All Cha-Cha? There’s a coin with Len’s head on it?!

—Allyssa Lee

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Photos: Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas; Kym Johnson and Hines Ward: Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC

 
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