Tonight, for the first time on season 8 of “Dancing With the Stars,” actor Gilles Marini didn’t finish in first place. The judges gave higher scores to rapper Lil’ Kim, who won first place for the first time, and to “Bachelor” star Melissa Rycroft. Keeping things comfortably predictable were “Jackass” star Steve-O, who ended the night, as usual, in last place.
Host Tom Bergeron pointed out that the season is at its halfway point and that judge Len Goodman always says this is where “we separate the contenders from the pretenders.” Right now, the contenders would be Gilles, Lil’ Kim, Melissa, and gymnast Shawn Johnson, while the pretenders are Steve-O, country singer Chuck Wicks, former football player Lawrence Taylor, and rodeo star Ty Murray, although Steve barely bothered to pretend tonight.
The second-to-last-place finishers, Ty Murray and his partner, Chelsie Hightower, kicked things off, literally, with a jive. Viewers who never see the jive except on “Dancing With the Stars” may have forgotten just how many of those little flicky kicks there can be in one routine. Except for some opening moves that looked more like a country line dance, this routine was almost nothing but kicks—20,000 of them, according to judge Bruno Tonioli, “and none of them were right.” During the performance Ty fell behind or stumbled ahead of Chelsie several times.
Len Goodman said that although Ty was charming, “it’s as though you’re bewildered.” Bruno agreed with Len that Ty is a gentleman, and Carrie Ann Inaba said that Ty is cute. If you expect good scores after compliments like that, you haven’t seen this show. Sure enough, the judges gave Ty straight 6’s. A pessimist might point out that Ty was down three points from last week, but he said, “That’s four points better than the first week,” prompting co-host Samantha Harris to chirp, “Always a positive attitude!”
The season’s second perkiest contestant, Shawn Johnson, usually has a positive attitude, but this week she said she was struggling with the fact that she’s only 17 and her assigned dance, the rumba, can get pretty sexy. Despite that, sometimes it seems that the real problem isn’t that she’s 17 but that her partner is Mark Ballas and she doesn’t like him, you know, that way. Mark, in the most far-fetched of this week’s far-fetched rehearsal-segment fillers, said he was going to stage a prom for her. So he dressed up their rehearsal space with balloons and a sign saying “Team Shark Prom;” he showed up wearing a tuxedo and bearing a prom dress for her.
After that, they were off like … a prom dress. Performing to “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” by the age-appropriate John Mayer, Shawn and Mark were precise, elegant and romantic. Bruno said that the performance showed “the innocent side of romance” but added that he detected “a hint of the devil.” (Anybody else detect that?) Carrie Ann said she could see the discomfort in Shawn’s eyes at first but then the dance came to life. “The rumba,” said Len, “is a bit like a fire: It can warm, and it can burn. And for me, sometimes the rumbas are too hot. But I think you got this just right.”
As Shawn and Mark waited for their scores, Samantha reminded Shawn that she might miss her real-life high-school prom, and Shawn replied, “This is, by far, I mean, a prom in itself. But much more better than that.” (We got it, Shawn. You’re 17.) Carrie Ann gave them an 8, Len “Goldilocks” Goodman a 9 and Bruno another 9, for a total of 26, which would turn out to be enough to tie them with Gilles and Cheryl in third place.
Lawrence Taylor, who survived the bottom-two dance-off last week, needed to work on his charisma, so in his rehearsal segment, he got a pep talk from a season 7 “Dancing” contestant who was nothing but charisma, Warren Sapp. “It’s third and 10,” Warren said, “it’s 70, 000 on their feet, we’re back in Giants Stadium!” All excited, Lawrence said, “This week for you, I’m gonna let it go!”
After a setup like that, it didn’t really matter what Lawrence and his partner, Edyta Sliwinska, did on the dance floor. Choreographed to “Ain’t That Peculiar,” their jive was the usual assortment of kicks, with what looked like two illegal lifts (although the lift sheriff, Carrie Ann, only referred to one). Warren didn’t seem that much more engaged, although he was hitting the beat better. (Special attention, however, must be paid to Edyta’s pink legwarmers, which looked like cutoffs that were made by someone who misunderstood the concept of cutoffs and kept the bottom part of the pants.)
The judges went along with the rehearsal-segment spin. “LT!” said Carrie Ann. “You brought your groove back!” “You showed a lighter side of your personality,” said Len, “but a little lighter in your feet would be an asset as well.” “Best performance to date for me,” said Bruno. Carrie Ann gave him a 7, Len a “seVEN!” and Bruno an 8, for a total of 22, Lawrence’s best score so far.
Coming off a relatively bad score last week, Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani went for the chuckles in their rehearsal segment. Instructing the “Bachelor” rejectee on how to hold her hand in the rumba, Tony told her, “Pretend you have, like, 10-carat diamonds right there.” “Instead,” she replied, laughing, “here’s my empty finger.” (Aww—she’s both pretty and a good sport.) As they hit their stride, he said, “It’s gonna be such a steamy dance you’re gonna need windshield wipers,” whereupon the two began pantomiming wipers in front of their eyes.
Perhaps because she needs to inspire male voters, Melissa’s bra top was much fuller than it was last week. Even so, the rumba failed to steam up. Melissa seemed to be concentrating on hitting her marks and striking poses rather than working on making the dance look fluid and sensual.
Len told her she could be a bit more earthy and less balletic, but the bra seemed to have worked its magic on Bruno: “You’re so voluptuous and so exotic, and your body can assume the most incredible shapes,” he raved, waving his arms so wildly that he struck Len in the face. (“Why do I have to put up with this?” groused Len. “What have I done?”) Carrie Ann said that Melissa made her believe in the passion but that she needed to work on her “Cuban motion.” (If the rumba is a Latin dance, why did none of the songs tonight have a Latin beat?) Despite their varied takes, the judges all gave Melissa a 9.
You might have expected similar unanimity of opinion about Lil’ Kim and Derek Hough’s hugely entertaining jive routine. (Let’s try to ignore the irrelevant rehearsal filler showing them visiting a retro burger joint and meeting people who were actually alive during the 1950s.) Danced to “Jailhouse Rock,” the number featured Derek as an escaped convict and Kim as some kind of law-enforcement official. Full of humor and razzle-dazzle, it was the first jive of the night that didn’t give us an overdose of flicky kicks; in fact, there were so few that one might have begun to suspect that a certain ballroom stickler would penalize the dancers for not following the genre closely enough.
But first, Bruno lost his mind: “Warden Kim!” he shouted. “I’m guilty! Arrest me! Frisk me! Take me! I’m guilty of love in the first degree.” Carrie Ann got so excited she lost her diamonds, then praised Derek for his “fantastic choreography.” Len, however, said, “It was fun, you had energy. I think you got so carried away with the story of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ that it lacked a lot of jive that I would like to see.” After a chorus of boos, he added, “It was a tad theatrical. What was on the label wasn’t in the tin.”
“We’ll examine Len’s tin after the break,” said Tom. (Good thing Len used the British term “tin” rather than “can.”) After that break, Carrie Ann gave the pair a 10, Len an 8 and Bruno a 10 with a fist pump.
Doing her postmortem, Samantha Harris actually questioned a judge’s judgment, saying, “If it wasn’t for that poopy head Len giving you guys that amazing 8, which is still good but…” Derek graciously said that Len was right and that his choreography had emphasized theatricality over strict ballroom rules. (Although he didn’t disagree with the “poopy head” remark.)
But unknown to viewers, Lil' Kim nearly had a big wardrobe malfunction. Host Tom Bergeron provided cover while the rapper adjusted as she and Hough approached the judges table.
Lil' Kim told KABC-TV after the show: "I don't know why this happens a lot of the time, but ... the girls were tryin' to come out."
It turned out Shawn Johnson wasn’t the only dancer having a problem with the romantic rumba tonight. Steve-O’s partner, Lacey Schwimmer, complained to the camera that he has so far been unable to “find some sort of romantic connection” with her. “You can’t have a romance with yourself,” she told him. “Oh, I can,” he replied, deadpan.
The problem, Steve said, is that they’re like brother and sister, which evidently means that he picks his nose, passes gas (mildewy gas at that) and scratches his posterior around her. His true love, it turns out, is his dog, Boogie, who bounced into the rehearsal space just in time to win over the crucial demographic of people who love dogs but don’t mind bad dancing.
The pair’s rumba was their first routine that Steve didn’t ruin. He achieved that by not dancing at all, unless you can call walking while stretching out your arm dancing. “There was something oddly mesmerizing about watching you dance,” said Carrie Ann. (Have we seen a segment in which she says she loves dogs, or Steve-O?)
"I was totally taken in,” Len and Bruno were a little more grounded. "There was no hip action, there was no footwork, and it was no good,” said the former. “Steve,” said the latter, “you have the charm of a puppy, but the dancing is bad.” Carrie Ann gave Steve a 7 (maybe she had been looking for her diamonds under the table during the performance), Len a 4 (good job, Poopy Head!), and Bruno a 5.
Trying to come up with a problem for Gilles Marini’s pre-jive rehearsal segment, someone decided it was that he has a hard time looking like he’s having fun. So he went to play his favorite sport, soccer, proving that he even can be graceful kicking a ball.
Sadly, Gilles didn’t score with his jive. Set to Fall Out Boy’s too-fast “Dance Dance,” the routine initially seemed viable, as Gilles managed to keep kicking in double time. But it gradually lost energy, and according to Len, Gilles made a major misstep in front of the judges’ table. “It was a little bit frantic,” Len said, fairly. “You’ve got to remember,” said Tom, “he’s usually past the early-bird dinner by now.” (It was still only around 6 p.m. Pacific Time.)
Comparing Gilles to a “mad squirrel,” Bruno said that because of the speed of the music, Gilles lost his sharpness, but both Bruno and Carrie Ann praised Gilles’ showmanship. They gave him a 9 to Len’s 8.
Given that the rumba is supposed to be so romantic, Chuck Wicks and Julianne Hough should have had an advantage because they’re dating. “This is one dance I don’t want to mess up,” said Chuck, “because obviously we love each other, and I don’t want them to say we have no chemistry.”
Naturally, the rehearsal footage showed them bickering, so they went off to where they reportedly had their first date, the Santa Monica Pier, and did the kind of things that people do in movie montages showing a growing romance, ending with a dance at the end of the pier.
Julianne’s cleavage-baring top and thigh-high lace stockings signaled where she and Chuck were going to go with their routine. She spent much of the time writhing up against him. He made a decent effort to create some good lines, considering that he must have known no one was looking at him anyway.
The routine provoked a debate among the judges on the nature of the rumba. They all agreed that the performance was raunchy, but Bruno and Carrie Ann thought that was a good thing, and Poopy Head thought that was a bad thing. Fanning herself, Carrie Ann said, “That was definitely the most passionate and sexy number of the night.” “For me,” said Len, “parts of that were more suitable for the bedroom than the ballroom.” Everyone agreed, however, that Chuck needs to work on his technique. Carrie Ann and Bruno gave him an 8, Len a “seVEN!”
Since most people are a little less conservative than Len, Chuck and Julianne will probably avoid the bottom-two dance-off Tuesday night. The question is whether Steve-O will remain invulnerable, leaving Ty and Lawrence competing in a cowboy-Giant matchup.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.