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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: A Night to Remember

April 3, 2012 |  5:30 am

"Dancing With the Stars"

Sentiments ran high this week on “Dancing With the Stars,” as the dances revolved around each celebrity’s most memorable year. The stars told tales of their times of adversity and triumph. Feelings flew fast and loose in the ballroom. Some of the stars got so choked up that they had trouble answering Brooke Burke-Charvet’s questions in the sky box post-routine. By the end of the program, feelings were laid bare, heartstrings were sufficiently tugged and viewers were emotionally invested in Season 14 -- weepy puddles of putty in this show's sequined hands.

Emotions ran high in the third week of competition, and so did the scores. The 10 paddle was trotted out for the first time this season, and no couple scored below a 24. Happily addled Len went so far as to dub the entire evening “awesome.”

How did the stars line up for this week? Read on to find out.


Retaining her lead on the judges’ scoreboard (as well as in my own personal rankings) was Katherine Jenkins, with Mark Ballas. As of now, the classical singer can do no wrong in my book. She’s beautiful, humble and hard working. Not to mention that charming accent. Katherine chose 1996 as her most memorable, as that was the year that at 15, she lost her beloved father to lung cancer. And her resulting waltz, set to Josh Groban’s “Where You Are,” was an elegantly effortless tribute to her father that had the studio, her mother and Katherine herself in tears. Carrie Ann called the routine “magic.”

“It was almost like you had two partners,” the judge said sweetly. “Like your father’s arms were around you, wrapping you in the dance.” Len said the routine was danced with “grace” and “elegance,” but was annoyed that “there wasn’t enough dancing in ballroom hold.” Bruno stood up and proclaimed that she was, simply, “sensational.” The routine introduced not just the first, but the first and second 10 paddles of the season. Total: 29.

Latin stud William Levy said he was lucky that his stepfather was granted asylum back in 1995, allowing him and his family to move to the United States from Cuba. And we’re so lucky to have William  Stateside so he can appear on national television and dance the salsa with Cheryl Burke bare-chested. The tasty Cuban dish’s dance, set to Celia Cruz’s upbeat “La Vida es un Carnaval,” opened up his shirt with a pow and had enough hip action and rhythm to send the studio audience into hysterics. And then feisty Cheryl got her head caught in his legs, which made her the luckiest of all.

“You put a whole new meaning to free Willy,” said historian Len, who likened William the Levy of 2012 to William the Conqueror of 1066. Bruno had a love-hate relationship with the actor. “I hate you! That was a-MA-zing,” the judge salivated. Carrie Ann summed up the sentiments of Latin lovers everywhere: “That was ridiculously hot hot hot.” Total: 28.

Entertainment correspondent Maria Menounos’ most memorable year was 1988, when she accompanied her Greek immigrants parents to their jobs cleaning nightclubs in Boston. Every time Maria would find a quarter she’d slip it into a jukebox and play Madonna’s “Material Girl.” And OK, it was a bit of a challenge to find much of a connection between the reporter’s hardscrabble story and the sexy rumba  she and Derek Hough performed shortly thereafter. Much like the challenge Maria faced as she got bodyslammed moonlighting as a wrestler on Wrestlemania (wha?). But taken on their own, her immigrant tale and their rumba, set to a low-key, sultry version of Madge’s ode to consumerism, were both quite moving.

“I felt it,” Bruno avowed, pointing out Maria’s dance to a tune without a hard beat was “incredibly difficult to do.” “That was truly the vertical and horizontal expression … of the true horizontal desire,” said a tongue-tied Carrie Ann. Len liked the routine’s “smoldering intensity. … It was a mix of the ballroom with a little touch of the bedroom,” the judge said with a wink. Total: 27.

For his dance, Super Bowl champ Donald Driver dedicated his most memorable moment rumba to his best friend Brian. Brian was the guy who introduced Donald to his wife, and he was the guy Donald held in his arms when he passed away from cancer in 2010. Football star Driver chose Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” to commemorate his and Brian’s friendship — touching tribute that started with Peta in Donald’s arms and ended with Peta heading up toward the light at routine’s end.

“The passion that you just expressed was just mesmerizing,” said Carrie Ann. Len had never expected a “great big hunky dunky guy” like Donald to pull off “a really top-notch performance,” even though it was “a little hectic here and there.” Bruno liked how the football player pushes himself to the limit every time. “All the passes and drops, you were always in control.” Total: 26.

Roshon Fegan’s most memorable year harkened back to 1996, when the young Disney star first saw his musical hero Michael Jackson on stage. So partner Chelsie Hightower brought in Michael Jackson choreographer Travis Payne to show young Roshon the King of Pop’s litany of moves –- a tutorial that had a gleeful Roshon whooping with delight. “This is like a dream come true,” the freestyle dancer raved. The resulting “Michael Jackson with a samba twist” featured Roshon in an afro and ’70s gear shimmying to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

Len said he liked “the exuberance, I liked the flair, and I liked the devil may care attitude,” though “I would have liked to have seen a little more traditional samba in there.” Bruno saw MJ rehearsing in the ’70s in London, and said Roshon looked just like him. “Michael Jackson would love it, and so do I,” the judge said. Carrie Ann thought it was a great Jackson tribute, but thought the transitions threw him off in timing. Total: 25.

Jaleel White chose the year the “Family Matters” producers introduced Stefan Urquelle to the program. Apparently, the producers “saw the man he hadn’t become” and dorky Urkel’s smooth alter ego “introduced a new side of himself” to Jaleel and people started treating him differently, And he showed all that suavity in his rumba with Kym Johnson, moving like a slow jam in a white tux, while Kym was in tatters in a black lingerie number.

“Bye bye, Urkel. Hello, Stefan!” Carrie Ann exclaimed. “You just glided through that rumba like it was nobody’s business.” Len said it was “a very competent performance” but said Jaleel was “a little stiff in the arms.” Bruno said Jaleel “played cool, you played well, you played smooth,” but agreed with Len that he can’t throw his arms like that. Stefan’s “fake friends” all hooted with pride at Jaleel’s silky moves, though. Jaleel also got a bit emotional up in the sky box. Something about how Stefan was Mickey Mouse, and he loved entertaining people. Total: 25.

First up in the performance schedule were Jack Wagner and Anna Trebunskaya. Jack cited last year as his most memorable, as 2011 was when he discovered he had a daughter. And to his own song and a dance choreographed by Anna, a.k.a., the ballroom dancer on fire, was like a “celebration carnival in Rio” dedicated to his daughter Kerry, who was seated in the studio audience. The samba had Carrie Ann “crying in your package” and demanding to “see more of you,” which was not as dirty as it sounds in this recap. Len, high off his happy pills, was all smiles and called it Jacks’ best dance. “I saw a totally different side to you,” Len said. “I liked the rhythm that you showed, especially in your hips.” Bruno said Jack “got the party started.” Total: 24.

Everyone has a crush on Gladys Knight. Len (who is the same age as the Empress of Soul – who knew?) was trying to be extra nice so he can be a Pip. Turned out that Gladys was all of 13 years old when she and the Pips first went of tour in 1957. While on the road, she learned the entertaining ropes from the likes of Jackie Wilson, James Brown, and Sam Cooke, whose “Cupid” she and Tristan MacManus danced to, and to whom she dedicated the routine. And it was a very cute, chaste fox trot that resulted, with Tristan taking his lady friend out for a twirl and leaving her at the door like a gentleman at the end. “You dance like you sing, sensuous and soulful,” said Carrie Ann admiringly. “Just beautiful.” Len liked the flow, and then asked to be a Pip. “You were absolutely gorgeous out there,” said Bruno. “You have such grace, such finesse.” Total: 24.

Most improved this week went to Gavin DeGraw, who made a marked improvement after last week’s wild one routine. He also gets the week’s award for most supportive family. The singer-songwriter recalled 1998 as his most memorable year, as that was when, after watching a Billy Joel concert with his family, Gavin decided that he wanted to move to New York City. His family was nothing but supportive. “I was told I could do anything I wanted. I never thought I had any limitations because of the way they taught me to believe,” the singer said. You could tell his family’s support meant everything to an emotional Gavin, which made me like him that much more. Though my misty moment came when he recalled how his father went door to door to try to get his son a gig.

And his resulting rumba, dedicated to his family, set to Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” was beautifully moving. Every arm extension was filled with heart. Partner Karina Smirnoff understood the sentiment. “When you let your emotions in the dance, it just makes you do that much better,” she explained. And the judges largely rewarded him for his efforts. “You’ve got hips, and you can move them,” exclaimed Bruno. “I saw good hips, I saw more musicality through your arms,” said Len. “ I see progression week after week.” Carrie Ann was verklempt. “My heart’s going all fluttery for you,” the judge exclaimed. “There was this beautiful sensual tenderness that came out. … I’ve got Gavin fever!” “A good dance and a look under the hat!” exclaimed Tom. “What more could you want?” How about three 8s? Total: 24.

The tears didn’t end there. Sherri Shepherd’s memorable moment came with the birth of her son Jeffrey, who was born at 25 weeks at 1 pound, 10 ounces with severe brain bleeding. And after seeing him now, years later, without cerebral palsy and dancing with his mother, how could there be a dry eye in the house? “He’s my miracle baby,” said Sherri. “He taught me how to smile again.” Sob! And Sherri laid her emotions on her sparkly sleeve with her rumba with Val Chmerkovskiy. Afterward she ran to give her a kiss to her son, who was adorably cheering and jumping up and down with joy. Len “appreciated the emotion” Sherri put into her dance. “Mama can move!” Bruno exclaimed. “It was very deeply felt, very well expressed.” “You’re so true to yourself,” praised Carrie Ann. And, “your lines tonight were the best I’ve seen.” Total: 24.

Who knew that there was a “Little House on the Prairie” musical? Well, Melissa Gilbert was in it – though when she was touring with the company in 2010, she fell and broke her back. “I could hardly walk, let alone dance,” the actress recalled. Fast forward a year and a half, and she’s performing a jive with Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Florence + the Machine was right:  “The Dog Days Are Over.” While my devotion to Laura Ingalls will make me a fervent supporter of Melissa, it kind of felt like the actress was holding onto the dance for dear life. The judges seemed to like it, though. “Well well well!” bellowed Bruno. “Melissa is on a mission to put the raunchy to the jive.” “I thought you were so dynamic,” said Carrie Ann. Len proclaimed the dance good enough for Melissa to “come into the competition.” Total: 24.

Even with Melissa’s entry into the competition, she’s still in a five-way tie for last place and still could leave the ballroom come Tuesday night.

What did you think, ballroom fans? Was this evening awesome, or wicked awesome? Did you find yourself reaching for the tissues? Who do you think will be let go on Tuesday? Think Len has what it takes to be a Pip? Why couldn’t “Happy Endings” star and studio audience attendee Damon Wayans Jr. smile for the camera?


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Photo of Maria Menounos and Derek Hough. Credit: Bob D'Amico / ABC