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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Semifinal shake-ups and breakdowns

William Levy and Cheryl Burke

We’re down to the semifinals, ballroom fans. Four remaining couples are jockeying for a position in the “Dancing With the Stars” Season 14 finale and a shot at the coveted Mirrorball trophy.

Each couple had to dance two full dances this time around. And because all the stars are pretty much evenly matched at this point, it could be anyone’s game. The judges seemed a bit more nit-pickier than usual, but we still ended up with two couples earning perfect 30 scores, as well as an injury that could put a former leading scorer’s position in peril.

Here’s how they ranked our four remaining stars.

In a ballroom reversal of fortune, Maria Menounos and Derek Hough went from the lower end of the leader board last week to the very top. Though this week, Derek was having trouble choreographing and his frustrations were palpable. Mostly, he just wanted to give Maria the right routines so the TV host could shine.

Mission accomplished for their first routine, the Argentine tango, which started, “Artist”-style, with a curtain showing just their knees-down at the beginning of the performance. And while there was great posture and carriage, this routine didn’t pack as much wow as I had hoped. Maria herself looked a bit stricken at the end, which also made it seem like she didn’t have the best performance. But the judges could not find a single fault. Len said he “totally got caught up in the whole thing.” Bruno called it “tailored, enticing, titillating – every step had a meaning and purpose.” And Carrie Ann went into a long diatribe that involved her hands out and circling her head in ecstasy, before saying it was a “beautiful dance … I’m so proud of you.” They received a perfect 30 for their performance, which launched Maria into a rabid frenzy, whooping it out from the benches. “I think Maria almost ripped apart the sky box,” Tom declared.

Or maybe she was just being Greek. As we all know at this point, Maria is Greek. She is the daughter of immigrants who came to the country to give their kids a better future. She accompanied her parents to their job cleaning a nightclub in Boston, and Maria grew teary recounting their struggle to give her a better life. She put herself through Emerson College, dabbled in the beauty pageantry, and her TV host stints are a huge testament to her perseverance. WWE CEO Vince McMahon called her “gutsy.” Her father, Costas, became emotional when he said he was not ashamed of the work he had done; that he did not want his kids to suffer. Her mother, Litsa, said dancing “is her dream come true.”

She’s living the dream in her second dance, a jive set to Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope.” I love this song, and I loved the cool shuffling moves and grooves that Derek choreographed, and the overall feel of the routine. But was I the only one who thought the content was a bit lacking, perhaps hampered a bit by their collective injuries? The judges barely paid it any mind. Bruno said it was “reanimated, redefined, reinvented” and liked “the quirky, unexpected details.” Carrie Ann called it “another stunner.” Len said he didn’t mind(!) the lack of kicks and flicks, because “it felt great.” Maria paraphrased Rocky and said she didn’t want to come off looking like a bum from the neighborhood, and the judges made sure she didn’t. She and Derek earned a 29 for their jive. Total: 59 out of 60.

William Levy and Cheryl Burke kicked off the semis with a tango. In rehearsals, William was having trouble keeping everything straight. In this “Sweet Dreams” performance, Cheryl went for a Matrix-y type video game performance on the dance floor that was kind of video game-laser tag set to the Eurythmics. As impressive as he looked, the dance wasn’t as crisp and sharp as I would have liked. The biggest surprise: Cheryl was wearing big palazzo pants, as seen during her split move at the end. Len thought it was “terrific” overall, though he would have preferred “slightly tighter hold, slightly crisper movement.” Bruno could not find any such imperfection in his darling Billy. “You were like the dictator of the tango,” he declared. “Powerful, firm, convincing, full of animal magnetism.” Carrie Ann, in a rare move, said his “shenays were a little out of control, and there was one over rotation on the drop.” Total: 28.

We discovered that William grew up often without food in an apartment in Cuba, nine people in a two-room apartment. He moved to the States when he was 14 after his stepfather received political asylum and landed them in Miami. Whether in his early career as a hot model, in his breakout role as hot telenovela actor to his U.S. breakout as hot reality show dancer, William made sure he was always really focused, and "always worked hard to make people happy.” And he really did bring out the fiesta in his samba. Set in a Latin-style safari with heat rising from the ballroom floor, William came out with his hips and booty out and gave everyone a party. “You had me at hello,” Carrie Ann said, fanning herself. “Your bounce was like a thrust … freaking amazing!” “You’ve entered the pleasure zone and savor the flavor of Sexy Brazil,” said Bruno. “I’m going to die with bum envy.” Len called William “a hunk with the junk in his trunk”: “I’ve never looked at a man’s bum for so long in my life.” All that looking truly paid off. William and Cheryl received a 28 for their waltz and a perfect 30 for their samba. Total: 58.

Donald Driver is bringing his A-game. Peta Murgatroyd knows to tap into the Green Bay Packer’s emotional side for their first dance, a waltz. And it came across like a beautifully classic dream. They started out on opposite sides of a window, and pranced around beautifully amid fog as though in a dream. I loved Des’ree’s “I’m Kissing You,” and I loved this routine, despite the occasional misstep. “You’re so dreamy!” Carrie Ann said, swooning. “I was trapped and brought into the love story … [but] there were just a few times when your feet didn’t quite finish the step.” Len called it “absolutely charming … you’re like a big buff tough cream puff.” “It was like a romance blossoming in front of my eyes,” said Bruno. “You had a caring, gentle soft quality to it; extremely light on your feet.” Got a 10 from Bruno (not Len) for a 28 for their waltz.

Donald was nicknamed “Quickie” by his dad, who was in prison. He was raised by his mom, and at times they were homeless. Donald grew up in a tough neighborhood in Houston selling drugs and stealing cars, and being the bad boy until his impressive, tough-love wife gave him an ultimatum to give up the drugs, or give her up. Good thing he chose wisely. And I quite liked their second routine, which was a business-suit take on the samba. Len did as well, though it was “here and there a little bit careful.” Bruno thought the routine “was completely out of the realm of Brazil … and it worked beautifully.” Carrie Ann sat with her chin propped on her hand, looking at Donald dreamily. “I just thought that was A-plus game,” she said. Props to Donald for giving props to his mom. Again, no 10 from Len. Total: 57. 

Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas came off a fault-filled Week 8 with the intention to show two different sides in her quickstep and salsa: Classy and sassy. And in the quickstep, she was the moll imprisoned in her chain-link cage of emotion, and Mark was the gangster who set her free with a flick of his cane. Mark and his UFC affection may be the reason why he consistently has chain-link fences, but I prefer Katherine to be cage-free, thanks. Once she was free, however, her routine had great energy and a crisp and clean series of steps. She also looked fabulous in her fuchsia flapper dress. The audience loved it, and so did the judges. “Bang!” crowed Bruno. “Picture perfect rendition of all the energy and razzle-dazzle of the Roaring ’20s.” “You brought your A-plus game,” Carrie Ann said. “That might have been the best dance I’ve ever seen on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’” Len, however, begged to differ, citing a foot fault early on. Still, “Overall, what a fabulous number.” They received a 29 for their quickstep.

Katherine grew up in Neath, Wales, which looked like a charming hamlet right out of a storybook. She did her first performance when she was 4, and had the likes of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Piers Morgan singing their praises. Her personal hardship came when her very public engagement to a British TV personality ended. 

And really, her salsa performance should have been her perfect-30 redemption. She started out as a wily belly-shaking cobra lured out of her basket by Mark the snake charmer, and you could tell she was going all out and then some with her Latin moves. But then there was a move at the end that looked as though Katherine had hit herself, and she and Mark ended the routine shaken and apologetic and possibly with a lower back injury. It was really too bad, as you could tell the audience and the judges were hoping for a more triumphant ending. Instead, we were all left feeling her pain. “It was like you hung out with Beyoncé over the weekend,” said Carrie Ann of her all-out performance. “You were pushing the boundaries.” “You absolutely came out and gave that 100%,” said Len, who revealed he scribbled notes like “Katherine the Great” and “the world’s Wonder Woman” while she danced. “You unleashed the harlot, which is good to see,” said Bruno kindly. “Handle with extreme care, because it bites!” Still, the lost move at the end (Katherine later tweeted that her doctor called it a “reflectoral spasm” in her lower back) left her with three 9s and her “DWTS” future in jeopardy. Total: 56.

With only three points separating first from last place, who will make it through to next week? Will Katherine’s fans vote to save her from elimination? Will those with “bum envy” refrain from giving William votes? Will Donald Driver ever get that 10 from Len? Who do you want to make it into the finals? 

—Allyssa Lee

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Photo:  William Levy and Cheryl Burke. Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC

 
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