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'Dancing With the Stars': Baz relief

September 29, 2009 |  6:45 am


It’s only the second week of competition, but already the stakes have been raised. Instead of 4 1/2 weeks of practice, each couple had just four days to prepare a fast-stepping jive, a sultry tango or a, um, fast-stepping quickstep. And the 14 different couples made the two-hour program scurry by in a hurry. This week’s treat: Baz Lurhmann was a guest judge! Loved “Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo + Juliet” and the singular “Strictly Ballroom,” which, we discovered, was one of the inspirations for this show. It also made the director particularly suited to judge this competition. (Turns out Baz’s mom spent time as a professional ballroom judge as well.) And while no one can take the place of head judge and notorious cranky-pants Len Goodman, I quite enjoyed the Australian director’s refreshing and unique insight. And how he looked at each dance as a cinematic story. For most of the evening, however, it seemed as though the judges were content to stay safely within the 6 and 7 range. That is, until…

Aaron Carter and Karina Smirnoff, who scored the season's first nines and racked up a total of 27 out of 30. Aaron was the top-ranking guy coming into this second week, which ratcheted up the pressure all around. Karina seemed to come down particularly hard on the singer, but maybe that’s just a testament to this guy’s potential. And to her credit, what resulted was a really great quickstep. Baz called it “real clever, inventive” and Carrie Ann said “the contact in your hold was ridiculous.” Though while their routine was very well-executed, can they really take all the credit? I mean, they got to use Muppets! Animal opened the set on the drums, and Gonzo made a cameo at the judges table. I’m not sure how I feel about getting actual Muppets to show up in the routine and curry favor. Doesn’t that mark an unfair advantage? Couldn’t the "Muppet Show" theme, Kermit the Frog green suit, Miss Piggy sparkly bra top and Snuffleupagus skirt be enough?

Also scoring a 27 were Mya and Dmitry Chaplin. And this was sans Muppets (though maybe Dmitry’s nerd glasses and extreme flood pants also helped to curry votes). Mya had a great fringey dress straight out of the Roaring '20s and a cute little bob to hop around in for their jive. Baz commended them for being “the real deal…taking the dance, claiming the dance, telling a story with it, making it your own.” Carrie Ann loved the great energy throughout, and Bruno said “it was like seeing Josephine Baker and Clark Kent doing it like I’ve never seen it before.” (Okaaay…) While I liked how Mya worked the theatricality and had great musicality, I found the “Will you go to bed with me?” line and Dmitry’s pants a little distracting. Still, the judges loved it, and also lavished them with 9s.

Coming in third were fan favorite Donny Osmond and his partner Kym Johnson. While I liked the routine, with the disco moves and the mod wrist moves that they performed in unison, I thought their jive was all over the place in the beginning. Or maybe it was because I couldn’t make heads or tails of the outfits. Was Donny in velvet? And was Kym wearing knee-high boots, or were they cleverly arranged stockings fitted into dancing shoes? What was up with her deceptively revealing jumper/flopsy top? Did those shorts have fringe? The judges sure liked the routine, though. “Secret Agent Osmond: Mission accomplished,” crowed Bruno. Baz said the dance was “accurate,” and Carrie Ann said “this is why the name Osmond carries so much weight in this business.” And while I wasn’t sure it warranted such high scores (particularly that 9 from Baz – maybe it was a show of support for fellow Aussie Kym?), Donny ended up with a total of 25.

The rest of the group followed the top three in a trail of 6s and 7s.

On the higher end with 21s were Natalie Coughlin and Alec Mazo, Debi Mazar and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and Mark Dacascos and Lacey Schwimmer. “Queen of the chlorine” Natalie continued to unleash great potential with her quickstep, which showed off positive energy and purple sparkly arm cuffs. Though after a career spent holding your breath in the water, it’s not so easy to break out of the habit and, you know, start breathing again. And the “million-dollar mermaid” was having trouble with the airflow. Loved how in the rehearsal footage, that Natalie admitted that “all this oxygen is making me dizzy.” And it still seemed as though she held her breath the entire routine. While Carrie Ann flat out said, “You’re so far one of my favorite competitors” and Baz said she can really “light up the room," Bruno encouraged her to “relax a little bit more.”

Also waiting to exhale was “Iron Chef America” chairman Dacascos. He looked like a croupier for his quickstep, and partner Schwimmer was a flapperesque diva with a mink stole on her sleeve. It started out with an explosion of a split leap over Lacey and ended with a flip at the end and had great energy throughout. “What a great performer!” Bruno said. “If you could only get your feet under control.” Baz commended Mark on his incredible comeback after an initial slip, and also said he thought the martial arts master had the goods to become a great ballroom dancer. 

Coming up in the ranks were Mazar and Chmerkovskiy. And it was a nice strategic move to choose the version of “Roxanne” that was used in Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge” for their tango. Plus, they were able to play up their own love-hate relationship to their advantage. “Maks is like my younger brother, but sometimes you have to smack him to get through to him,” stated Debi. And their dance was a real crowd pleaser, with Debi (whom Tom and Samantha insist on calling MaZAR, rather than MAzar) looking like she just emerged from the Argentine bordellos in her ripped skirt and corset and thigh-high stockings. And was it just me, or did she really give Maks a hard shove at the end? Baz was a fan, and not just of the song choice: “That dance, that tango, that really is about a love-hate relationship…. Playing out that story was really an achievement.” Carrie Ann praised Debi’s form and posture, and Bruno said, “I love it when you’re channeling the feisty ball breaker.”

Trailing a point behind them were model Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough. And maybe it was because I was distracted by Joanna’s miles and miles of hair extensions — which started as a whirl on top of her head and then went down her back in a seemingly endless cascade — but I thought their jive was fun, if not spectacular. The judges seemed to agree. “The feet were spastic and got out of control at times,” pointed out Carrie Ann. Bruno said she had to keep it clean. And Baz said they lost the footwork now and then, and that he’d “like to see more relationship, more connection.” Kind of like how her mass amounts of hair looked to almost be connected with the fringe on her skirt?

While a 20 was a small step down for Joanna and Derek, it was a nice jump up for Michael Irvin and Anna Demidova. Michael seemed, again, to be his own worst critic, berating himself that he had let his partner down and failed to challenge himself with his dance. So it’s great that they were able to rebound this week, trading their blues for some really bright hot pink outfits and displaying heaps more content with their quickstep. “This is the way to improve,” said Bruno. While Baz unfavorably pointed out Michael’s flapping tongue (which seems to have a mind of its own), he also praised the NFL hall of famer for challenging himself. And Carrie Ann said, “Compared to last week, this is a touchdown!” Score!

Stuck in “DWTS” purgatory were Chuck Liddell, Melissa Joan Hart, Kelly Osbourne and Louie Vito, all with middling scores of 19.  Liddell improved on his painfully awkward dance last week, channeling his ultimate fighting champion aggression for the tango, set to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Loved how partner Anna Trebunskaya, in a fun heap of a tulle skirt, was decked out in a face decal that matched Chuck’s head tattoo. But man, did the fighter look mean. I wouldn't want to encounter him in a dark alleyway. While Carrie Ann said it was “sexy, but kind of scary,” Bruno commended him for delivering a proper tango, and Baz thought Chuck’s “human story…was fantastic.”

Less scary were Hart and Mark Ballas. And their jive was very enthusiastic, though their outfits were a little Minnie Mouse for my tastes. (Mark, I think you’re great, but stop with the polka dots already!) Carrie Ann praised them for being “bright red with spots,” and Bruno said they were like “two flittering ladybugs,” even though he did point out that at times, Melissa’s bottom half “kind of fell to pieces.” And a special shout out to Tom Bergeron, who read my mind when he pointed out Mark’s short pants and shiny socks: “You’ve been shopping at again.” Ow!

Also scoring a 19 were Vito and Chelsie Hightower. And while Chelsie aimed to use their collective youth to their advantage, I think Louie's too-cool-for-school jacket, as Baz said, counted against them. Could Louie not find some properly fitted clothes? He almost drowned in that hoodie. Luckily it didn’t deter from the jaw-dropping flip that he did over Chelsie at the beginning of their jive. Or mask his completely adorable smile. “What’s so great about you is that you have so much joy when you dance,” said Carrie Ann, though she also mentioned Louie “lost touch with the music.” Bruno said he could do much more, while Baz said the routine was “tremendous and joyous and what a jive should be.”

The last of the 19s were Osbourne and Louis Van Amstel. And how cute was the cut-to-commercial bit when Louis feigned boredom as Kelly pretended to apply lip balm on him? If only Kelly had that kind of calm with her tango. But her nerves got the best of her, and even an untrained eye could tell she messed up when she broke her composure. “I just freaked out, I just panicked,” said Kelly backstage. And while the judges docked her for not staying in character, they were still rooting for her. “Your story to me is much greater than a dance, or this show,” encouraged Baz. 

Bringing up the rear with 18 points apiece were Kathy Ireland and Tony Dovolani, and Tom DeLay and Cheryl Burke. Though had Tom DeLay not stumbled and nearly dropped his partner at the end of their routine (a "cliffhanger," summed Baz), I daresay he would have received higher marks. Whether or not you agree with his politics or not, you have to admit that DeLay’s tango was in control and on point. And as odd as Carrie Ann’s statement was when it came out, he and Cheryl do seem to be suited partners for one another. One wonders how long his pre-stress fracture will hold up as the competition intensifies, however.

And while the rehearsal footage of Kathy Ireland awkwardly making her way through Tony’s legs was a little hard to watch, their quickstep, danced to “Shall We Dance” from “The King and I” was perfectly fine and serviceable, if a little slow and yawn-worthy. I was also distracted by their uncomplimentary outfits. Can you really pair sparkles and embroidery? Purple and burgundy? Plus, the ruffles on her skirt reminded me of bobbing jellyfish. “You’re elegant, but you have to be engaging,” said Bruno. “You’re so reserved,” said Carrie Ann. “ It still seems so carefully placed.”

As much as she seems like a really nice person who makes lemonade from lemons and says she welcomes criticism as a gift, I wonder if Kathy will accept the fact that she’s been cut from the competition quite as graciously.

What do you think of Monday night's performances? Did you enjoy Baz Lurhmann as a judge? Were the Muppets an unfair advantage? Who deserves to get the boot tonight? Check back for the results!

-- Allyssa Lee

Photo credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin