“Dancing With the Stars” Season 16’s semifinals are upon us, ballroom fans! And we were treated to two full dances from the five remaining couples — one a regular dance, and one a never before seen dance chosen for each couple by a Twitter republic. We got Afro Jazz! The Lindy Hop! A Flamenco! A tie for first place! And a whole slew of perfect 30 scores! Who has the Mirrorball in their court, and who is primed to get their sparkles ripped from them just one week shy of the finals?
Olympic gymnast Alexandra Raisman showed she was ready to rumba (into the finals) with two stellar routines that have really show how much she’s grown in the competition. The 18-year-old had to channel her romance and sensuality in her first dance. And Mark Ballas did a good job channeling more date night high school rumba, rather than a bed sheet version, using the Olympic gold medal winning gymnast’s flexibility and emotion to good effect. The routine had Carrie Ann up in arms. “Way to go!” the judge exulted. “The rumba is all about being a woman, and you were all woman out there.… I cannot believe the maturity of your performance.” Len said the dance “had romance but it wasn’t raunchy.… It had a lovely story and it was told beautifully.” Bruno said Aly’s transformation to a butterfly was complete. “You’ve proven such a performance level that we’ve never seen before.” And a score that Aly and Mark had not yet seen: A perfect 30!
It was almost two perfect scores with their Afro Jazz. The Needham, Mass., native showed her dedication and commitment to gymnastics at an early age, and her parents, her coach and Olympic teammates Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney (as well as fellow “DWTS” contestant Shawn Johnson) all attested to Aly’s dedication and development as a performer. Mark chose Lion King-like costumes to ostensibly get him and Aly into character for their Afro Jazz routine (“I almost wore that today,” Tom quipped). The whole dance was fast and furious and quad-heavy and had Carrie Ann whooping with joy. “That was ridiculous. I don’t think people know how hard that is athletically,” she said. “You guys were in perfect sync.” Len commended the duo for capturing “the feeling of the dance,” though “I like to see a little bit more connection.” Bruno said Aly was half warrior princess, half bird of paradise. “You have exceeded all expectations,” he said. “If you don’t make the finals I’m going to judge in Speedos!” Aly and Mark got a perfect 30 for their rumba, and a 29 for their Afro Jazz. Total: 59 out of 60.
Uber-competitive Super Bowl champion Jacoby Jones was frustrated after last week’s lowish scores, complaining that he “can’t get a 10 to save my life.” And the stress came out during rehearsals, with the pressure of the whole season accumulating and the NFL star having trouble with even the most basic-looking steps. It took an injury that had partner Karina Smirnoff landing nastily on her jaw to help to put everything back into perspective. Jacoby said he was more worried about his partner than he was about the dance. Luckily, Karina emerged unscathed, but that scare helped Jacoby take the focus off being so competitive and back to the routine. And that might have been the best thing for them, as their Argentine Tango was cool and slick and straight from the streets from Buenos Aires. I loved that tempo change mid-dance that went from short and staccato to long and slinky. “That’s what I’m talking about. Mood! Intensity!” Len crowed. “Ka-ching! Right on the money.” “The sexual tension was unbearable,” purred Bruno. “It was so slick and so clean you were like a prowling predator. … Best performance ever from you.” Carrie Ann was so choked up she couldn’t speak. A kiss on the cheek from Jacoby loosened her neck muscles and she acted out her critique in hairography. And gave him the first of three 10s! Another perfect score! Forty if you count the 10 paddle Jacoby’s mom fashioned for herself.
Godfather Allen Woods said Jacoby Jones’ story “is the story of a thousand kids in New Orleans that needed a chance. And he made it.” Turned out Jacoby had wanted to play football even as a baby, but his small size kept him from even making the team in high school when he first tried out, and he was a walk-on in college. And he didn’t let a muffed punt as a Houston Texan dissuade him from coming back as a Super Bowl star. Even when he got kicked out of the horn section of the Harold Wheeler band Jacoby didn’t lose his mojo. Jacoby delivered a Lindy Hop that was full of energy and verve and style, and one which won Karina a great big hug from Bruno at the end. Len said Jacoby “got on the wrong foot early on,” but “that was full-on and fabulous.” Bruno called it “a frantic frenzy of electricity. You got everybody powered up, including me.” Carrie Ann deemed Jacoby “the number one entertainer of Season 16.” The routine had Jacoby fighting for breath. “Right now I am not joking. I’m half dead,” he panted. But he got up to do his shoulder shimmies of joy when he was awarded two more 10s in the sky box. Total: 59.
Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough were still stinging a bit from last week’s smackdown from Len. So Derek took care to make sure all the arm placement and footwork were as traditional and correct as possible for their two dances. And their Argentine tango was absolutely stunning. Those initial silhouettes against a red background created elegant, sexy pictures that were stylistic and cool. The dance had grumpy Len smiling. “That was a mix of pride and joy,” the head judge said. “Pride in the technique, joy in the performance.” Bruno likened Kellie to Chita Rivera and said, “that silhouette section was like watching two people become one… and your split second turn is just incredible!” Carrie Ann couldn’t believe the country singer could attain that level of attention. “It was perfection,” the judge said. And so was the score: Kellie and Derek’s first perfect 30.
Kellie’s backstory was a heartwrenching one. Her mother had abandoned her when she was little and her father battled addictions and incarceration, so Kellie was raised by her grandparents in Albemarle, N.C. She was working at a fast-food joint until her “American Idol” audition changed her life. “That 5-foot-nothing little girl has conquered mountains,” her husband, Kyle Jacobs, said. And she has also conquered the flamenco as well. Sure, at times she seemed a hair behind — “This dress weighs 5,000 pounds,” she revealed. But that flip and a half at the end ended the whole thing on quite an impressive note. “You’re small, but I’m telling you your talent is huge,” Len said. In his opinion, “You just booked your place into the final.” Bruno said Kellie got the “pride and the fiery heart of Spain” of the flamenco, but “there were a couple of moments when you tightened up.” Carrie Ann agreed. “You look so beautiful but halfway through you tensed up,” she said. She and Bruno both gave her 9s (“I picked up the wrong paddle!” Bruno said), and Len gave her another 10. Total: 58.
Zendaya and Valentin Chmerkovskiy tried to rev up their quickstep by going speed racer on it. And it started in this kind of Grand Prix mode and just went nonstop full throttle all the way through to the top of the grand staircase. Bruno called it “a quickstep for the next generation.” The judge appreciated the concept, but “it was so fast and furious … you lost your frame and you lost your footing a couple of times.” Carrie Ann had her sober face on, and declared there was “trouble in paradise.” “That was kind of a mess,” she said. “It kind of felt like you were dragging each other through the dance.” Len said the “speed was so intense, it had so much attack … the style went out a little bit.” I didn't think it was as bad as the judges made it out to be, but maybe they were holding back on scores to shake things up a bit.
It was a good thing Zendaya had her hip-hop to fall back on. And her natural ability: Her parents and Disney Channel cohorts explained what a born performer the “Shake It Up” star is, and how she comes alive when she’s on the stage. Though the onus fell on hip-hop newbie Val to keep up with his star partner this time around. Val got extra hip-hop tutorials from Zendaya’s first hip-hop instructor, Kim Sims Batiste. And their resulting routine was fun and laid-back with a lot of swagger, and as Tom said to Val, “You weren’t bad, either.” “That was ridiculous – so cool it gives me chills,” an elated Bruno said. “I want to see all your videos. Zendaya forever.” Carrie Ann agreed: “I’m just waiting for your album to come out. Val: Nice job, my friend. You killed it!” (Responded Val: “She taught me everything I know.”) Len liked the “cheekiness” and attitude of the dance. “It had great rhythm. I thought it was fantastic,” he said. Zendaya and Val got a 25 for their lightning fast quickstep, and a perfect 30 for their hip-hop (methinks the scoring was more for Val than it was for Zendaya). Total: 55.
Which leaves Ingo Rademacher and Kym Johnson, who are considered the underdogs as we go to the semifinals. But Ingo does have a couple things going for him: His fervent determination, his adorable hatted son Peanut, and his ability to look great in a shirtless vest. And while I didn’t get the backstory Kym had assigned for her and Ingo’s samba (about lovers who had had a fight), he was still pretty sexy, and Kym had a bunch of hair on. “Oh my darling, I love your determination,” Bruno said. Too bad he forced it so hard he lost timing. “I’ve never seen more fervent hip rolls in my life,” said Carrie Ann. Though she said Ingo had to “step it up a hair more…it’s a bit inconsistent.” Len thought Ingo “did a good job with a difficult dance.” What it lacked, however, was “a little more rhythm.” And Len apologized to “viewers of a sensitive nature…for all those hip thrusts.” Ingo and Kym received a 24 for their samba.
We got to find out a little more about Ingo’s background. He’s German and competed as a skier before his family moved to live off the land in a farm in Australia (that explains the Euro-Australian accent). He bought the house in Hawaii so as to not be a typical Hollywood actor, and his friends and family all extol his doggedness and his intensely positive bent. And Ingo and Kym’s Charleston had a really fun sepia-toned start, like one of Gatsby’s parties. If I was a judge, I would give it all the points simply for using “Fat Sam’s Grand Slam Speak Easy” from “Bugsy Malone” — only the best teenage gangster movie ever. Sure, the timing seemed a bit off, but Ingo’s champagne-like fizziness was infectious. Bruno called the routine “frothy, bubbling, inebriating” with the “slightly mind-bending devil may care spirit of the Roaring ’20s.” Carrie Ann said Ingo “hit a grand slam with that one…. You had a few boo-boos, but it worked with the dance.” Len called it Ingo’s best dance: “bubbling and full of fizz.” It got Ingo his first 9s. Total: 51.
Despite his bubbliness, adorable offspring and imminent watchability, Ingo’s lagging technique and lack of perfect 30 scores places him a step below the other remaining contestants, and may leave Peanut's dad sparkle-less come elimination Tuesday.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Who do you think will make it into the finals?
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