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'Dancing With the Stars': Under pressure

October 27, 2009 |  9:01 am

117299_D_1738_pre We're past the Season 9 halfway point, ballroom fans, and there are only nine couples left in the competition. But to make sure the coveted Mirrorball trophy does not fall into the wrong celebrity hands, the producers have ratcheted up the Rectagon competition. This week, each couple had to prepare an individual waltz or a jitterbug and contend with the inaugural competition mambo, which had all the teams vying on the floor at once. Not only that, it's a double elimination week, and each team also had to prepare a "knockout" routine should they end up in a precarious bottom position and be forced to (gasp) dance for their lives.

Exciting, yes, but having to learn three routines in one week was a tall order, and part of me felt that the quality of Monday night’s performances suffered because of it. Case in point: Not once did we see a 10 paddle. But then again, maybe the show needs to kick it up a notch and separate the shredding wheat from the lagging chaff before heading to the finals. Here’s who put the boom boom into the judges’ hearts and who fell short of the Week 6 mark.

Regaining their position at the top of the ranks were Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough. Both the model and her pro partner rebounded nicely after last week’s debilitating misstep/flu and performed a waltz that was both elegant and romantic. Also nice: the fun, sparkly glove-like decoration up Joanna’s arms that held a wisp of chiffon and gave the impression of a scarf flowing in the wind. I also liked the one-legged turn she did with her arm extended at the end. Although Tom aptly called it the “get-a-room dance of the season,” Bruno went the more pastoral route and swooned that “it was like watching a butterfly gently gliding over an alpine meadow.” Carrie Ann had a few quibbles about Joanna’s seeming hesitation in some of her moves, but Len said it was the “best waltz we’ve seen all night.”

Theirs was also the best mambo as well, as they out-danced all the other players and emerged as the last couple standing. I kinda wished we had more of a chance to see all the couples on the floor at once, instead of having to abide by the seeming whims of the cameraman. Joanna and Derek seemed to have a lot of content from the rehearsal footage, though in actuality it seemed to be a lot of skirt twirling. And what was up with that one move where Derek had Joanna by the scruff of her neck and moved her up and down repeatedly by his waist area? When they did it again, it looked like he was pulling a Porphyria's lover and choking her with her own hair. The judges sure seemed to like it, though: Joanna and Derek got the full 10 points for the competition mambo and a waltz score of 26, for a total of 36.

In second place were Mya and Dmitry Chaplin. And though there’s no denying that this singer is rhythmically and technically talented, anyone else a little bit bored by what she does? Maybe because she herself seems so blasé about it all. Or maybe that’s just mellow from all her massages. Their dance was the jitterbug, and what should have been a high-energy romp with polka dots and Swiffer dusters felt more swept under the rug. Mya said she wanted to “float like a jitterbug, sting like a bee,” but it was the judges’ comments that packed the most punch. Though Bruno said her “timing was impeccable,” Len lashed that “it’s not worth it to waste 20 bars polishing my desk,” and Carrie Ann admitted the routine ended up being “slightly under what I expected.” Mya and Dmitry received a middling 24 for their dance. Luckily, their second-place mambo finish (perhaps aided by Dmitry’s shiny pants and bared chest) helped boost their score to a healthy 33.

Which was tied with Aaron Carter and Karina Smirnoff. And if this story arc is to be believed, Aaron is transforming into a man before our very eyes. Because, you know, arriving at rehearsals in a suit and bringing a bouquet of flowers for your pro partner is a sure sign of maturity and, therefore, manliness. Another sure sign of maturity: Wearing one’s hair partly spiked, and partly not. I think Aaron was trying to show that he was serious about his ballroom training, but he hasn’t forgotten his pop star roots — kind of like how a mullet is business in the front but a party in the back. The younger Carter sported a velvet jacket for his waltz, and Karina wore a flouncy jellyfish dress with back straps that resembled a sparkly spiderweb. Carrie Ann said she loved “the new Aaron Carter that you’re bringing to the dance floor” and commended him on doing an arabesque turn, and Bruno crowed that “the boy has become a gentleman.” Len said it was his best dance yet and even trounced out the 9 paddle to prove it.

The couple also forged their own path for the mambo. Whereas all the other couples chose matching primary colors, Karina rocked a Big Bird plumed yellow frock, while Aaron went royal blue lace for his outfit. (Maybe they’re UCLA fans?) It certainly helped them stand out: Aaron and Karina got eight points for their third-place finish, which, along with their waltz’s 25, added up to a total of 33.

Coming in fourth (but moving up in my personal rankings) were Mark Dacascos and Lacey Schwimmer. Mark has always been somewhat lost in the middle of the competition, but he’s been cranking up the personality and energy every week (plus, now that Natalie is gone, I need to find someone else to root for). And although I dismissed Lacey’s ears as a little too cutesy when I first saw it, both the headband and the faux tail seemed to work with their high-energy meow-mix jitterbug. Plus, it made the dance memorable. I like how Lacey’s putting Mark center stage – boy, can that guy tumble! While the judges docked them on losing the timing at the end, Carrie Ann said she loved their energy, and Bruno said it was “truly spectacular. … You managed to keep up with that crazy kitty.” And Len himself, who doesn’t like the messing about, said, “Sometimes less is more but not in the jitterbug. More is more!” They received a chart-topping 26 for their routine and six points for their mambo. Total: 32.

Just a point behind were Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson. The pressure was on for the entertainer to match the intensity and passion of last week’s stellar Argentine tango. But Donny, who devoted rehearsal time to cut a rug with the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, lost a little steam with his choo-choo train jitterbug. Sure, he perfected that move where Kym bent over and Donny moved his hand like a train conductor and mouthed “woo woo” after glancing at her bloomers, but the whole locomotive theme was a big slice of ham for me. I’d prefer to keep my sparkles and my engineering caps separate, thank you. Kym’s outfit was also a head-scratcher. Were those suspenders keeping her bra top in place under her jacket? She looked like she was going to a hoedown, while he looked like he was going to go off and play with his lite brite train set with Bobby Bacala. As for their jitterbug routine, Len said “there was a little stumble,” but that it was “entertaining” and Bruno said it was a “great performance,” but that “it was like the steam engine trying to keep up with this bullet train.” They received a 24 for their jitterbug, coupled with 7 points for their mambo, for a total of 31.

The rest of the couples had totals in the 20s. In sixth place were Kelly Osbourne and Louis Van Amstel. And while her outfit featured a bright yellow that was as cheery as a sunny day, her jitterbug was not. Kelly, it seems, is a victim of her own mindset. Maybe it was because she was still nursing her sprained foot from last week, but even though Louis succeeded in getting her to take a leap of faith on the trapeze, she could not completely let go and let her jitterbug fly. “You have to just stay in the happy place,” encouraged Carrie Ann. “Everything is just kind of…beige,” commented Bruno. Len likened it to a less-than-satisfying bakery treat. “It was like a blueberry muffin with no blueberries,” the head judge said. “It looked tasty, but disappointed.” They received a 20 for their jitterbug, and an additional 5 points for their mambo, for a total of 25.

Next came Melissa Joan Hart and Mark Ballas, who continued their slide down the leader board. And her waltz, despite keeping her puppies up and a tutorial with Mark’s mum and Mary Poppins ringer Shirley Ballas, was unfortunately set to the sleepiest music this side of Brahams, and got a hit with a particularly harsh paddle from Bruno. “That wasn’t good,” the judge admonished. “It didn’t look like you were dancing…it was like you were trying to remember your moves.” Carrie Ann said it felt “sticky.” Leave it to Len to be the lone voice of reason and humanity. “There were some problems with the technique, but I think their critiques are a bit harsh,” he said. Wait, what? Len was the voice of reason and humanity? The judging this week has been as up and down as Mark’s hair. Melissa and Mark got a total of 20 for their waltz, and an additional 4 for their mambo. Total: 24.

Which was tied with Louie Vito and Chelsie Hightower. Louie wanted to show off his powerhouse snowboarder moves on the dance floor. And show off he did – but with the way he tore off his sleeves, plodded around and threw around his partner with abandon, it was more like a Hulk Smash jitterbug than elite athlete. Poor Chelsie (who wore the cutest sparkly green dress) was sent reeling. (Speaking of reeling: Did you catch that huge kiss at the end?) The judges liked Louie's energy, but Bruno warned that he needed “to work on being precise and clean.” And while Carrie Ann said she loved the dance, “you dropped your partner like, twice.” They got a total of 21 for their jitterbug, but just three for their mambo, leaving them also with a total of 24.

Shuffling by in the last-place position again were Michael Irvin and Anna Demidova. Honestly, I thought their waltz wasn’t half-bad — certainly, his lit-up face was infectious and winning -- but it really seemed like Bruno was out to sack the pep-talking NFL Hall of Famer on this one. “It was not a premier league waltz,” he pooh-poohed. “That was not really as good as it should be at this stage.” Carrie Ann said it was “charming,” but then cut them down for a forbidden lift. Oddly again, it was Len who not only said Michael displayed good footwork and posture, but rewarded them with an 8 paddle for their efforts. Michael and Anna received a 20 for their waltz, but just two points for their mambo, leaving them again as prime candidates for elimination with a total score of 22.

Usually, Michael’s legion of fans have kept him out from the glare of the dreaded red lights, but it seems like he might be cut from the team during Tuesday night’s dance off, in which two of the lower-scoring couples have to duke it out for the judges’ mercy. Melissa, Louie, and Michael are all primed to be somewhere in that bottom three, though I feel like we can’t count out Aaron Carter, just based on his prior experience under those heat lamps.

Who do you think will be eliminated on Tuesday, and who will have to dance for their lives? What did you think of the competition mambo? The juicy smack between Louie and Chelsie? Would it just be better to just be eliminated, rather than face the stressful rigamarole of having to go through a dance-off?

—Allyssa Lee


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Photo: Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough; Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin