Since the two dance genres on last night’s “Dancing With the Stars” were the dramatic paso doble and Viennese waltz, it was perhaps inevitable that actor Gilles Marini would come out on top again, earning a near-perfect score of 29. That left the “Sex and the City” star three points ahead of two of the other Season 8 front-runners—singer Lil’ Kim and gymnast Shawn Johnson—and four points ahead of “Bachelor” dumpee Melissa Rycroft. (Steve-O of “Jackass,” working without the safety net that was Steve Wozniak, hit bottom this week.)
Lest viewers assume that Gilles was a shoo-in to win the season after his perfect score of 30 last week, host Tom Bergeron considerately pointed out that in season 5, Sabrina Bryan, who was in the audience tonight, had posted an early perfect score but had been sent home early because of low viewer votes. Judging by the studio audience’s ecstatic reaction to Gilles’ paso doble tonight with partner Cheryl Burke, that outcome seems unlikely, and it’s currently hard to imagine anyone else catching up with him this season.
Perhaps the producers could even things out by forcing Gilles to dance to music that’s completely at odds with the spirit or even the rhythm of the genre he’s assigned, as they did this week to Melissa and to Ty Murray, with predictably bad results.
The first song selection, Rascal Flatts’ “Feels Like Today,” worked well enough for the elegantly choreographed Viennese waltz by country singer Chuck Wicks and his partner, Julianne Hough. During rehearsal, Julianne had demonstrated to her boyfriend the difference between moving your arm like a professional dancer and moving it like a student. (The moment was a little reminiscent of those times on “America’s Next Top Model” when Tyra Banks shows her pupils the difference between posing “high fashion” and posing “hoochie.”) Sadly, in their performance, Chuck did the move like a student, and throughout he lacked in grace and polish.
The male judges saw a big improvement: Len Goodman praised Chuck for having “come out of hibernation,” and Bruno Tonioli said, “Check [he probably meant “Chuck”], you’re emerging from the shadows of beautiful Julianne.” Carrie Ann Inaba, however, called the couple on a questionable lift (big surprise), and said that Chuck was failing to live up to his potential. “It’s irritating to me,” she added, prompting Bruno to cut in with “You’re irritating to me!” and her to reply, “You’re irritating to me!” and both of them to start talking over each other. “I’m already liking this night,” said host Tom Bergeron with a big grin.
Backstage, hostess Samantha Harris pointed out that Chuck had ended the routine on bended knee, asking him, “Anything we should know?” “No,” said Chuck. Fortunately, he and Julianne both laughed. The judges’ scores—8’s from the guys, 7 from Carrie—should keep the couple happy enough.
In his taped segment, Lawrence Taylor said his general problem with the music is that it’s hard for him to keep the beat when he doesn’t know the words to the song. Ever obliging, the producers made him dance his paso doble to an instrumental. Though he promised to bring to the dance the same intensity he brought to football, he instead made us wonder if he was always a step behind when he played defense and if he always paused for a half step before making a big move.
The judges erred on the side of kindness, all finding something nice to say. “What have we got here?” said Bruno. “The prince of darkness. Strong, fearsome and powerful.” Carrie Ann, after noting Lawrence’s “lack of musicality,” said, “The intensity was there.”
“The dance quality’s not quite there,” said Len, “but much better. Your best dance so far.” (Len gave Lawrence a 5 last week, so that’s not saying much.)
Apropos of nothing, Lawrence told Samantha backstage that his golf buddies back in Florida are now saying that if they beat him, he has to do a lap dance for them. Fortunately for him and them, he may not be going home soon; his score from the judges was up one point from last week, with Carrie Ann giving him a 6, Len a “seVEN!” and Bruno a 7.
(Note: Longtime “DWTS” fans may be forgiven if they think that the paso doble—the so-called dance of the bullfight—was just made up in season 1 so John “J. Peterman” O’Hurley would have something to do with those eyebrows. But in fact, a Google or YouTube search will produce evidence that the dance existed before then.)
Coming off bad marks last week for including too many gymnastics tricks in their routine, Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas danced a very traditional waltz full of classic moves that one might assume would have pleased the very traditionalist Len, ending in a blatant lift that one might assume would have angered the lift-phobic Carrie Ann. Wrong on both counts. Len criticized Shawn because she didn’t step forward on her heels, which is evidently a requirement in the Viennese waltz. (Usually, the judges dock the stars points for “heel leads.”)
Upon being booed roundly, Len said, “Why do I get that? I’m a stranger in this country. I get booed for telling the truth.” “We all agree,” said Tom. “You’re very strange in this country.”
Stranger still, Carrie Ann forgave the lift because it was the couple’s “artistic finish.” (Are ballroom rules so complicated that we’re still learning new details after eight seasons, or are the judges just making this stuff up as they go along?) She praised Shawn and Mark for keeping it simple. Bruno, agreeing with Carrie Ann about the simplicity, matched her score of 9, while fussy old Len came up with an 8. Oddly, the total score was only one point higher than last week’s, further evidence that it’s probably best not to pay too close attention to anything the judges say.
Since Melissa Rycroft was going to be performing the intense paso doble, her big problem this week was losing what she called “the big cheesy grin” she’d had to keep glued to her face during all of her previous routines. (Could all that smiling be losing her sympathy votes from her “Bachelor” fans?) Much of Melissa and Tony Dovolani’s rehearsal footage showed him trying to wipe that grin off her face.
The producers helped in that effort by saddling the couple with the totally inapt “Poker Face,” by Lady GaGa. The lack of connection between the music and the dance was so great that you were tempted to call the cable company and say that you were getting audio from a different channel. (This happens all too often on “DWTS.”) Even when Melissa and Tony were on the beat, they seemed off. (To add to the confusion, Melissa was wearing flamenco clothes and Bollywood makeup.)
The judges rightly praised the dramatic choreography but said there were some mistakes. Bruno, the most enthusiastic, said, “Melissa, or should I say Carmen, the ballsy heartbreaker, you went for it in an extremely difficult routine.” He gave her a 9 to the other judges’ 8’s, leaving Melissa a full four points lower than last week.
Another odd song choice, Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” actually kind of worked for David Alan Grier and Kym Johnson’s waltz. Or at least it wasn’t the worst thing about the performance. As the judges pointed out, David and Kym failed to connect, and David’s solo moves were painful to watch. Being kind (and, as usual, going for the wordplay), Bruno said, “David, the spell worked—at times,” but added, “You lift a leg, you looked like a dog at a lamppost.” Len praised Kym’s choreography for telling a story (although he didn’t hazard a guess as to what that story was). Accordingly, he gave the couple an 8 to the other judges’ 7’s.
Conversely, Len was the only negative in Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke’s paso doble, a performance that fans will still be YouTubing years from now. The segment started with a filler-friendly visit to a martial-arts center so Gilles could show off his skills and his cute son, who squeaked, “You’re going down, Papa!” (To make it more adorable, the kid put the accent on the second syllable in Papa.) Teasing his performance, Gilles told the camera, “You’ve seen me love, you’ve seen me intense, now get ready to see me fight.”
Since Maksim Chmerkovskiy is out of the picture, it’s now safe for other men to rock the bare-chested-but-belly-button-covered look on “DWTS.” So Gilles came on stage wearing nothing but shoes and tight, very high-waisted black trousers, posing dramatically until Cheryl slipped a sequined bolero jacket on him. Dancing to a spot-on arrangement of the “Habanera” from “Carmen” (a.k.a. that song you know from “Carmen”), the couple brought more drama in one routine than we’d seen all night. Gilles was in command throughout, even when he was just standing and letting her do all the work. He even brought some flamenco flavor, performing high-speed foot stomps. The routine ended with Gilles delivering the coup de grace to Cheryl’s chest; in the overhead shot, she actually looked afraid.
Bruno and Carrie Ann joined the audience in the standing ovation. “It almost brought me to tears, it was so passionate,” said Carrie Ann. “Didn’t you find it a tad hectic in places?” said Len, who went on to praise the routine’s passion, but added, “I wasn’t crazy about the top off.” (Whereupon the women in the crowd squealed, and Tom accused Len of “pec envy.”) “Gilles, you’re going in for the kill,” rhymed Bruno, who then recapped: “The sexual tension was at the snapping point. Will he? Will she? Who’s gonna end on top? And then the kill! You nailed it!” Appropriately, Len’s 9 got booed.
If they hadn’t had such a hard act to follow, Steve-O and Lacey Schwimmer probably would have failed to impress anyway. The best part of their segment was the appearance by Steve-O’s “Jackass” colleagues Johnny Knoxville, Wee Man and Jeff Tremaine. Playing the triumph-over-drugs card, Knoxville said to Steve, “You have already won, because a year ago you probably had a couple weeks to live, honestly.” The brief shot of Steve-O and Wee Man dancing was more enjoyable than what followed.
Trying to appeal to the dozens of mime fans in the viewing audience, Steve-O was dressed like Marcel Marceau (sans whiteface) and started the routine by pretending to pull Lacey toward him on a rope. The rest of their waltz was sedate and, on Steve’s part, graceless without being particularly awkward. It was all reminiscent of a dutiful groom at his wedding. The problem is that whereas the dutiful groom knows this is the last time he’ll ever have to dance, we don’t know how many more times we’ll have to watch Steve-O. The accompanying song was largely unidentifiable; it’s possible that the vocalist was just making up French-sounding syllables.
The judges were diplomatic. “Don’t get overexcited,” said Len, “but it was your best dance.” “You deed very well, my darling,” said Bruno in a French accent. (If he can speak English with a French accent, why can’t he speak it with an American accent?) Carrie Ann said she liked the sweetness Steve brought to the routine, although she doesn’t usually like acting on the dancefloor. The judges gave Steve straight 6’s.
Ty Murray was all excited about doing the dance of the bullfight, because, being a rodeo performer, he’s used to “accounting for the bull’s moves.” As filler, he and partner Chelsie Hightower went to a ranch and sat on a bull in a gate for a few moments. “You’ll be as close to being a bull rider,” he told her, “as I am to being a dancer.”
To make sure Ty didn’t make any progress in that direction, the producers chose to accompany his paso doble with Heart’s “Barracuda.” He vainly stomped around, trying to find a beat to go along with the Latin moves. The judges attributed the awkwardness to overthinking. “I thought I was seeing a Transformer doing the paso doble,” said Bruno. Len said that at least it was better than Ty’s cha-cha from week 1. (Len can’t seem to shake that memory.) Bruno and Carrie Ann gave the routine a 7; Len gave it a “seVEN!”
Lil’ Kim’s handicap this week was rehearsing while doing a video and photo shoot. The tension was so great that she had to be bleeped in rehearsal, although she blurted out later that she had been calming herself by drawing on her Buddha Board. (Was that a paid plug? If yes, does mentioning it here qualify us for a payment?)
Kim’s waltz wasn’t quite nirvana. Derek Hough is a very supportive partner, slowing down or speeding up to cover Kim’s minor mistakes, but he can’t help outshining her. If you could keep your eyes on her, you saw a graceful, capable performance.
Carrie Ann said she felt like Kim’s mom, proud that she did so well. Len, however, said he felt like her podiatrist, because he couldn’t stop looking at her feet—those bad non-heel leads again! Tom segued to Bruno by quipping, “As they say in podiatry, let’s look for some corn.” Bruno sort of came through, telling Len, “If you’re always looking at her feet, there’s something wrong with you, because there’s plenty to look.” Kim couldn’t quite decide whether to appear flattered, amused or offended. Carrie Ann and Bruno gave her 9’s; foot fetishist Len gave her an 8.
As Tom kept reminding us, the dance-off is coming back on Tuesday’s elimination show. Steve-O is an obvious pick for the bottom two; of the other near-bottom dwellers, David Alan Grier and Lawrence Taylor are the least fun to watch, or at least to root for. But the viewers have been full of surprises so far this season, so it’s anyone’s game to lose.