'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Finals fantasy
After nine weeks, umpteen routines and far too many sequins to count, we’ve come to the final two episodes of “Dancing With the Stars” Season 13. This, of course, is when the remaining contestants take everything that they’ve learned throughout these past 10 weeks and apply it toward their end-of-the-season exams. The ballroom has gotten gussied up for the occasion, and the coveted Mirrorball trophy has made that rare appearance and put itself within reach. Alums like Kirstie Alley, Evan Lysacek and Chelsea Kane filed into the ballroom. And the hallowed pro dancers like Maks, Mark Ballas, Tristan and Val also got to take a seat and enjoy the show as audience members.
The finals were also when the remaining three couples pulled out all the stops and broke out the notorious freestyle routine. Now that they've reached the finals frontier, anything goes during these pieces. The freestyles are famously known as the dances that could make or break a star’s chances with a Mirrorball trophy. So in this first night of the two-part finale of Season 13’s competition, who ended up with ahead? The results may surprise you…
Taking the lead for the very first time was young upstart Rob Kardashian and his twice-decorated partner Cheryl Burke. And in his case, it all seemed to be about peaking at the right time. Rob has turned into the Cinder-fella of the ballroom. Like Carrie Ann said, “You’ve made it to the ball, and deservedly so!” Rob wants to grab that Mirrorball trophy, raise it over his head, and be like, “Yeah! Yeah!” But first, he needed to show off is graceful side in his waltz. Bruno thinks the young Kardashian’s got the goods to go all the way in the competition: “He has incredible momentum and the element of surprise,” he said. Not to mention the galvanizing power of Kardashian nation, which was out in full force in the audience Monday night. Cheryl was outfitted in a feathery pink frock and she and Rob waltzed like Shrek and Princess Fiona to Dana Glover’s “It Is You” underneath the silvery Mirrorball moon. Bruno loved Rob’s continuity of lines, though he “messed up the footwork on the crossover some of the times.” Carrie Ann said the routine was “fluid and flowing and wow.” Len said Rob had “more rises and falls than Pam Anderson jogging” though “occasionally it got a bit heavy and you lost your posture.”
Two-time Mirrorball champ Cheryl had the idea to start hers and Rob’s freestyle routine off slow, only to get progressively faster and then, as Rob said, “shock the world.” And I liked how the routine started with the camera gaining an entrance past the velvet ropes and into the Cotton Club, where Cheryl was a slinky flapper and Rob was a trumpeter in the band. And the whole routine seemed to be one lift after another and left Rob in an exhausted heap after its end. “Brilliant contact! Brilliant execution. Brilliant performance,” bellowed Bruno. “Timing is everything … you peaked at the right time.” Carrie Ann ventured into Bruno-type double entendre territory when she said to “get a 10, you have to blow us away. Consider me blown.” Len lauded Rob for giving it his all. “Your family should be proud.” Proud enough to celebrate his first perfect 30 score. Add that to his 27 for his waltz, and Rob’s sitting pretty at the top of the ballroom heap. Total: 57 out of 60.
Which left Ricki and J.R. jockeying in second. Ricki and Derek Hough were the first to perform out of the finals gate, and the actress and talk show host got a tutorial from Carrie Ann to get her sexuality, fun factor and confidence up for their cha cha. And there was no room for hesitation or insecurity in that itty bitty red fringe dress that she shimmied out in, to the tune of Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3x.” Len said the routine was an “action-packed performance” with “good timing, good rhythm,” though it “could have been a little bit fluid on occasion.” Bruno said Ricki’s cha cha was “running at full steam. … You’ve never been hotter, you’ve never been sexier.” Carrie Ann said Ricki was not just performing the dance, but “living the dance,” despite “a few moments when your arms got a little confused,” she said. “But man, that is confidence at its best.”
Fun fact: Every time Derek’s been to the finals, he’s won. Ricki’s feeling the pressure, and even though she’d resolved to do whatever Derek’s asked of her, she ran like the house was on fire when he told her to be stiff as a plank so he could lift and spin her. Derek went the tough love route, snapping at Ricki to “just shut your face!” in order to get her to shape up and perform the heck out of her freestyle. The resulting cocktail of quickstep and salsa seemed to be an innovative mix that was as suited to her as her white dress with black feathery trim (very white swan/black swan). No season with Derek would be complete without his signature crotch bob move, which he broke out with a vengeance during this routine. Maybe it’s just me, but I still felt it was a bit buttoned up, and not as free and fun as I would have liked. Still, Len called it fun and entertaining, but “you lost it a little bit in the quickstep section.” Bruno said she was so explosive that Ricki will “never go back in again.” Carrie Ann also loved that she “went from one extreme to another.” Ricki and Derek received a 27 for their cha cha, and a 27 for their freestyle (at least they’re consistent). Total: 54.
And now the fan favorite has become the wild card. After last week’s ankle injury, J.R.’s gotten the green light from the doctor to dance, so ostensibly there’s nothing to keep J.R. from fulfilling his potential and help get Karina Smirnoff her first Mirrorball. During rehearsals, Len got the veteran and actor to focus on his hips and arms, rooting on his nether regions and saying things like, “Now it’s working!” and “Whoa! It’s bionic!” So perhaps the pressure and adrenaline kicked in a little too much during his first routine, the cha cha. Karina looked great on top of that judges’ table, and looked like she was wearing a series of sparkly plastic bracelets, strategically placed. And while the energy was great and the applause deafening, something did seem a little bit off about the routine, didn’t it? Did we just see J.R. lose the Mirrorball trophy? Carrie Ann said it was the musicality. “You were dancing ahead of the music,” she said. Len said it was brave that he did a lot of the dance on her own, but “J.R., this wasn’t that good,” he said. “I think your enthusiasm got the better of you. You attacked it a bit too much.” Bruno “really liked the mood you set,” he said, and “when you play with Karina your intensity is right on the money.”
So J.R. and Karina had a lot to prove for their freestyle, which looked like a samba (to highlight J.R.’s Latin roots) but was really a lot of crazy packed with a lot of death-defying lifts. I’m really rooting for Karina to get a trophy, but she seemed to psych herself out in rehearsals Monday morning. And the physical and emotional stakes were higher than ever. “If I don’t do it, or if I’m not in sync, it could be disastrous,” she said, pale as a sheet (though that may be because she hadn’t gone to the spray tanners yet). And while I still don’t get how the “hooks her neck” move is really supposed to look, honestly, I’m just glad J.R. and Karina got through their freestyle without any loss of life or ego. That lift where she goes back and forth on his back was pretty insane. The crowd erupted in applause, and so did Carrie Ann. “That’s the way to come back!” she roared. “Those were the sickest lifts I’ve ever seen.” “Two things were revealed,” Len said simply. “Karina’s body and your talent. Fantastic!” Bruno called J.R. a “wild exuberant with animal physicality. What a comeback!” After all those lifts and those near-death misses, how could the judges not grant them a perfect 30? Add that to the lowly 24 they received for their off-kilter cha cha. Total: 54.
Which means the field is still wide open, and that Mirrorball trophy remains up for grabs. Had you asked me two weeks earlier, I would have said J.R. was a lock. And I'd love to see Karina win her first trophy. But now, I don't know. Ricki's been consistent throughout the season. And I've learned not to underestimate the media power of the Kardashian clan.
What do you think? Surprised to see Rob in the leader position after tonight’s performances? Did the freestyle routines impress you? Agree with the judges’ scores? Who are you hoping to win Tuesday night?
Photo of Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC