'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Judgment Day
Three stars! Two dances! One sparkly Mirrorball trophy! We’re in the final stretch, ballroom fans. And in this short hour, each of the remaining finalists performed two dances in a last-ditch effort to drum up any last undecided viewer votes. The first dance was a judges’ choice, where one of our highly esteemed adjudicators came out from behind their podium seats to give pointers to the remaining contestants. The other was the highly anticipated freestyle, known on the streets as the Mirrorball maker or breaker.
In this corner: TV icon Kirstie Alley. In the other corner: hero of the gridiron Hines Ward. And in the last corner: Disney princess Chelsea Kane. Though this final performance hour didn’t seem like the pressure-cooker show it had been during previous seasons, did it? Last week seemed more stressful, what with the two dances and an instant cha cha to boot. This week had more of a laid-back vibe about it. Brooke Burke looked like she was already halfway to Hawaii, waiting to have mai tais served out on the lanai. Even the spray tanning seemed a bit subdued, and Mark Ballas and Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s bare chests looked a little more pallid than their usual bronze hues.
Maybe it was because we all knew who the final two contestants were going to be before this hour began, and the judges seemed to confirm it with their scores. Which of these stars was not like the other one? Tied for first place were…
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas and Hines Ward and Kym Johnson. Chelsea needed to get in touch with her down and dirty sensuality for her judges’ choice samba. Carrie Ann wanted the 22-year-old Disney Channel product to show the world “the woman she’s become.” Can’t really get much more womanly than leather and fringe. Mark was also stripped down, opting for less spray tan than the Chicken McNugget usual. And the resulting routine and the pyrotechnics seemed to announce that we’re not on any Mickey Mouse club anymore. Now we’re in the red light district, and the dance had Len quoting the Police: “Every step you take, every move you make, every rule you break, I’ll be watching you,” the head judge said. “And let me tell you, I like what I’m watching.” Bruno called Chelsea “an ultra sexy bombshell” and the dance “a firecracker of a samba.” “Hot hot hot!” raved Carrie Ann. “You got down, you got dirty, you got sensual, and it worked.”
And Chelsea and Mark pulled out all the stops on their freestyle routine, tapping into sparkles and electrifying “Tron”-like effects to do a Latin hip-hop hybrid that rode in waving a handkerchief on a bike and rode out into the future. I kind of thought the dance was so full out and lift-heavy that it was a bit sloppy at times (and then Chelsea’s battery pack petered out!), but the judges only had glowing praise. “I know people think I’m a fuddy duddy, but this was full-on, it was so much attack, it was fantastic,” said Len. “It’s electrifying!” lauded Bruno. “What’s really, really good is how you interpreted the Latin rhythm with a contemporary twist. Pushing the limit and advancing dance.” Carrie Ann couldn’t find the words, so she thought she’d just dance it in full-on gyrations, causing Mark to fall over in surprise. “I’m just happy we’re getting our batteries’ worth of all the ‘Tron’ merchandising,” Tom said with relief. Chelsea and Mark got a 29 for their judges’ choice samba, and a perfect 30 for their freestyle (after which Chelsea’s battery pack switched back on — it must run on positive emotion). Total: 59 out of 60.
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson had the distinct advantage of having the pimp spot at the end and performing last. And if that didn’t stack the odds in their favor, they also got DANCMSTR himself, Len Goodman, to come by in his limo, show a routine on his AT&T phone, and feed Hines some nuggets of ballroom dancing wisdom. “Gotta get your feet sharper,” Len said. “Let me feel you, come on!” Loved how Len showed off his dance moves and struck a dapper pose. And how he admired Hines’ deltoids. Hines and Kym’s quickstep, set to “Putting on the Ritz," featured Kym at her dressing room, and it looked like she went out on stage in just a petticoat. The routine ended with Hines popping a bottle of confetti’d bubbly at the end, but Len was not so celebratory. “As good as that was, for me, it’s not quite there yet,” he said. The other judges begged to differ. “That was so much fun!” Carrie Ann skedaddled. “It makes me forget that I’m supposed to be judging.” “You’ve got it for me,” said Bruno. “It was like watching a mega production on Broadway. … You just connect with the audience like no one.”
His freestyle embodied the halftime show of Steeler Nation. Hines broke out his Silent Assassin and played the drum major of the band, and Kym dressed up as a most revealing cheerleader in fringe and knee-high boots. Their routine took some of its inspiration from the movie “Drumline.” Now, I love “Drumline,” and wanted to see the routine be more hard-hitting, like the Nick Cannon movie. I liked the drum corps, and the balloon arches were very prom-like, but something about the routine as a whole seemed a little off and muted to me. But what do I know? The judges were beside themselves. “That wasn’t really a halftime show—that was the whole damn Super Bowl!” Carrie Ann exclaimed. “Those lifts were insane.” Len gave them props for giving it their all. “You pulled all the stops and created a crowd-pleasing event!” Bruno crowed. Hines and Kym received a 29 for their first dance, and a perfect 30 for their second. Total: 59.
Trailing in third place were Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. The couple got a judges’ choice tutorial in the samba from Bruno, who I’m inclined to believe chose to give a clinic to this couple in order to dance with Maks. But Bruno got Kirstie to get rid of her “dainty little hands” and for Kirstie to take her moment. Loved Kirstie’s form-fitting number, with a mesmerizing skirt of cascading fringe, but thought the routine was a bit small for a finals performance. “Softer, rich, full of lively pleasures, full of womanhood,” said Bruno, though he told Kirstie to “play to the audience: Conquer the arena, my darling!” Carrie Ann said she loved Kirstie’s “movement quality.” Len liked the “lovely change of rhythm throughout” but said the “couple have been a little bit crisper.”
When Kirstie came out in a brown gunny sack like a Benedictine monk for her freestyle performance, I thought surely this can’t be what she’ll be wearing throughout the performance. And luckily, it wasn’t. The dance, set to an up-tempo version of Pink’s “F**in’ Perfect,” was a lovely tribute to the journey that Kirstie had taken thus far. She may not be perfect, but this is who she is, and it’s time to celebrate, dammit! There weren’t any aerials, like she had touted, but the dance had lots of lifts and great toe point. This kind of felt like Kirstie’s “Dirty Dancing” “Time of My Life” moment, and it was a treat to watch. Loved how she danced in a leotard that showed off every last curve and had her arms up in victory and triumph at the end. “Respect girl. Respect,” said Bruno. Carrie Ann said some of the lifts had a “kind of alley-oop feel to it,” but said Kirstie was the poster child of life as it should be lived at 60. “You took risks, and you’ve got to risk it if you want the biscuit,” said Len. “I commend you. Well done.” Kirstie and Maks earned 27s for both dances. Total: 54.
Which most likely means that Kirstie will be the second runner-up, and will leave the field clear for Chelsea and Hines to duke it out for ultimate ballroom domination. Though there is one more dance on Tuesday night for judges’ scores.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Did the freestyle dances leave you elated? Think the judges were angling for a Chelsea-Hines showdown? Who do you think will win the coveted Mirrorball trophy?
Photos of Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas, Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Kirstie Alley: Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC