There was an otherworldly force swirling around in the glitterverse in Part 1 of the "Dancing With the Stars" Season 18 finals on Monday night.
The remaining four couples danced two full routines: In the first, the judges asked them to perform each star's switch-up dances with their original partners. Then there were the make-it or break-it freestyles.
And the final four brought their A-plus games now that the coveted Mirrorball was close at hand – their routines at times reaching, soaring, even transcendent heights and deemed "divine" and "profound" by the judges.
Also: How else to explain Candace Cameron Bure's staying power? The "Full House" actress has consistently scored at or near bottom of the leader board for much of the latter part of the season, and yet she and her pro partner Mark Ballas have skirted elimination time and time again.
This week was no different. While Candace was fully expecting to be sent home in part one of the Finals, the couple eliminated instead was James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd. And not even their full-frontal attack of two very attractive people with a committed willingness to strip down and even lock lips(!) could keep from getting kissed off from the season.
James kept his emotions in check during his concession speech (perhaps in an effort to keep the guyliner from smearing). " I've really had an amazing experience. I've enjoyed it more than I ever thought possible," the Big Time Rush singer said stoically.
One would only imagine the emotions will come out when he and Peta are beyond Glitterdome. James wanted to be in the finals so badly, and he wasn't afraid to take risks and work hard to get there, and his tango and freestyle/audition for the Cosmopolitan casino's next commercial were edgy and on point.
Sad to see "DWTS" lose a fierce competitor and Season 18's major source of eye candy. Not to mention the last man standing. His fauxmance with Peta may have fizzled, but the Big Time Rush singer's can-do spirit and his waxy smooth chest will be missed. I don't know what to marvel at more: James' amazingly lush Latisse-worthy eyelashes long before Latisse, or the fortitude of the unsinkable Candace Cameron Bure's voter base.
Here's how the remaining three couples fared:
In the lead were Meryl Davis and Maskim Chmerkovskiy, who first re-danced the Argentine tango, originally performed with Maks' brother Val. And watching their video package just confirmed how much I don't want their partnership to end. Meryl and Maks bring out the best in each other and in themselves. Meryl said she'd be "most excited for Maks" if they won. "I'd want this for him," she said. Maks is also thinking of his partner and said a line that would make any woman into putty. "I just need you to be you," he told Meryl. "And I'll be better." And their Argentine tango was perfection personified. Meryl was piping hot in her brazen red number and Maks was cool in his chair. It was so hot it was cool and moved us all over without even breaking a sweat. "Your dances seem to be developing, linking into a storyline – it's almost like watching a dance version of a concept album," Bruno marveled. "Perfection again," Carrie Ann said.
The Olympic gold medalist's background package told of a painfully shy dyslexic girl from the Detroit suburbs who's always been a hard working perfectionist, and whose new partnership with Maks uncovered Meryl's quiet and demure exterior belied a fount of passion and emotion underneath. And the passions came to the forefront in their stripped down freestyle routine. Watching this fusion of souls laid bare on the floor was a privilege. "There's good, there's great, and there's Meryl," Len said. "What you did there was the stunning example of divinity in motion," Carrie Ann said tearily. "I think you guys should get married."
Maks told Erin he could dance "another 100 weeks with this one," and I for one would gladly watch all of them. Meryl and Maks achieved double perfection: A 30 for their Argentine tango and a 30 for their freestyle (though Len and Bruno offered to give out 11s if they had them). Total: 60 out of 60.
Close on their heels were Amy Purdy and Derek Hough. Not that their journey to the finals had been easy. The back spasm that sidelined the Paralympian a couple weeks back came back to rear its ugly head, but the Sochi bronze medalist was determined to do whatever she needs to work through it and win this thing. "This is just another hurdle that we've had to overcome," Derek said matter-of-factly. And it is really amazing how Amy and Derek have made the dancing look so natural. "It was bright, it was colorful … the more you see, the more you admire and love it," Len said. "Flashing, exhilarating, flamboyant – I'm not talking about myself," Bruno crowed. "Great instrument you've got there, Derek." The dance left Carrie Ann baffled. "Not only were you better, you've grown and you've improved," the judge admired.
Amy's inspiring story, as seen in her background video – how she bounced back from having her feet amputated after nearly dying from bacterial meningitis to standing triumphant on the medal stand at Sochi – was no less remarkable upon second viewing. Nor was the snowboarder's soaring freestyle routine, also stripped down and expertly choreographed to highlight the snowboarder's strength and beauty both on the dance floor – and above. "Talk about flying high," Bruno said about the aerial rope work. "Lyrical, ethereal, involved … you just redefined what was possible." Carrie Ann called it "just so profound." Len called it "a really polished performance," but didn't think the rope was necessary.
Amy and Derek received a perfect 30 for their salsa and a 29 for their freestyle. Total: 59.
Candace and Mark also had a traumatic week leading up to the finals. After Candace left rehearsals in tears after feeling "pushed" by her pro partner, a bad move during camera blocking on Sunday morning left Mark writhing on the floor in pain with his strained rotator cuff. But after an MRI, the doctors cleared Mark to dance, and the original couple was able to perform a Great Gatsby-esque quickstep set to Rihanna's "Umbrella" remixed for the Jazz Age. And while the "Full House" actress seemed a bit tentative and that top bun was distractingly like a nubbin on her head, the judges seemed to like the routine well enough. Carrie Ann called it her most "light-hearted" dance, but said her "shoulders were a little up." Len said Candace "did good" despite "a heck of a week." Bruno said it was "so much better than the last time … much more in control [and] you moved very very well."
Southern California native and Valley girl Candace booked the role of DJ when she was just 10, though having to grow up on TV was not all it was cracked up to be. Transitioning from "Full House" to wife kicked off a new chapter and gave her new confidence in her life. Though I'm not sure why or how a Jamiroquai disco featuring those gold people on Hollywood and Highland were chosen for this freestyle routine, when Candace is clearly more suited for something a little more clean-cut (and a little less gold lame). Len lauded the actress for working her butt off, but Carrie Ann didn't think Candace "connected to the music." Bruno agreed. "You've got to be on the beat."
Candace and Mark received a 27 for their quickstep and a 24 for their freestyle. Total: 51.
Looks like it's a neck-and-neck two-pony race between the two Olympic athletes. Meryl and Maks have the judges' scores, but Amy and Derek seem to be more of a crowd favorite. Unless Candace's otherworldly fan base votes her straight to the Season 18 title.