It was Celebrity Dance Duel Night on the eighth week of "Dancing With the Stars" Season 18, where celebs had to show off their true ballroom skills when they were forced to dance with each other without the support of their pro partners.
Taking a tough and brassy stance between Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli was flinty guest judge Abby Lee Miller of "Dance Moms" fame. And her no-nonsense critiques were somewhat of a tart splash in an unabashedly sweet and sparkly show, at times landing more like a confetti gun to the face than the normal celebratory sprinkling of glitter.
But not even the Twinkleverse can be a shower of funfetti all the time. Booted out of the glitterverse this week were Danica McKellar and her pro partner Valentin Chmerkovskiy. After suffering a broken rib, this "DWTS" superfan found her quest for the Mirrorball trophy cut short in this eighth week of competition, and now the Season 18 competition has found its Chmerkovskiy quotient cut by half.
The once and forever Winnie Cooper took her walking papers graciously. "I didn't want to see any of them eliminated, so I guess it works out," the "Wonder Years" actress said with a sad smile.
Though think how much more dramatic the ouster had been had she been wearing her fantastic "Black Swan" black and white lace dress instead of her Greek-by-way-of-Miami Beach-goddess team duel dance samba wear. At least Danica got to wear that cool crown and that fabulous feather plume of mascara and eye shadow (Johnny Weir, eat your heart out) during that "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" tango.
Here's how five remaining couples fared on this Cinco de Mayo night.
In the lead for the first time this season were Amy Purdy and Derek Hough. And the Paralympian bounced back from her medical emergency, which left her out of the group dance last week. Amy got a green light to perform after a chiropractic specialist determined that it was a back spasm that caused the Paralympian her injury last week. The Sochi bronze medalist knew she was going to have to "really dig deep" in her Argentine tango with Derek Hough, and this dance really took Amy's game to a sublime level. The routine had mood, attitude, and flair for days, and not even an upset stool could have ruined this performance. Abby was all compliments and all smiles: "Derek, a great choreographer makes the dancer look incredible, takes risks and pushes the envelope – you did all those things." Abby also used Amy as a teaching moment to her dance students in the audience. Bruno called the Paralympian "Amazing Amy – that was totally spellbinding." "If I'm dreaming, Tom, don't wake me up," Len said. "That was terrific."
And Amy and Derek's celebrity dance duel with James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd was the gold standard for this never-before seen event – great fun and great synchronicity. Which is not a surprise, considering that Derek is an expert choreographer and is what Abby termed "the legend." Carrie Ann saw one thing get started at the wrong time, but Len took from Robert Randolph's song title and said "Ain't nothing wrong with that." Amy and Derek received a perfect 40 for their individual dance, and a 39 for their dance duel. Total: 79 out of 80.
Charlie White has struggled a bit in the last couple of weeks. The Olympian admitted that he was focusing on the scores a little too much, and losing a bit of his trademark positivity. But goldilocks and Sharna Burgess were able to find a routine that was just right in their quickstep (and the pro looked great in a low-plunging dress that looked as though it came from the Amy Adams "American Hustle" collection). The quickstep had more hearts scrawled on it than a schoolgirl crush, so it's only natural that the judges would also feel the love. Though the comments didn't exactly set it up for a perfect 40 score. Len was coy on his paddle position, and Carrie Ann said the Olympian finally broke his stride and "gone a step beyond." But Abby was all about Charlie slicking back his hair and straightening his knee up the stairs. And while Bruno likened Charlie to a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby off the starting block, he also said "you were not quite clean on the stops."
Charlie and Sharna up with Candace and Mark for an achingly lovely contemporary routine. The concept of Candace and Charlie wanting to be with each other despite having their own partners worked seamlessly into their 20-second lift solo. And this routine truly played to both stars' strengths. Abby thought Candace looked "like an Abby Lee Dance member" and Charlie was "lyrical, feeling the movements." Bruno thought Candace and Charlie were "made for each other … the four of you click as a unit." "In tune with the music, in tune with yourself, in tune together as a whole," Len lauded. Charlie and Sharna also received a perfect 40 for their individual quickstep, and a 38 for their duel. Total: 78.
James Maslow was also feeling the pressure after landing in the bottom two last week. Peta Murgatroyd said it was her "most nerve-racking jeopardy." But Big Time Rush came out to visit to help boost their bandmates' confidence and crack more jokes about James and Peta's chemistry. And while love was definitely in the air during James and Peta's Viennese waltz, the regular judges found James' flexed legs and stuck-out booty distracting. "If you're in ballroom hold, you've got to learn to straighten your legs," Len said. "In hold you've got to control your buttocks," Bruno agreed, before offering to help. Lady of the Lifts Carrie Ann also saw Peta's foot come off the floor in those cherry blossoms and docked them a point. Though Abby – clearly a fan of the boys – saw only love in that rose-tinted routine. "Peta, you are perfection, but James, it's the male dancer's job to make the woman look amazing, and that's what you did," the "Dance Mom" said to James before awarding them a perfect 10. James and Peta received a 36 for their Viennese waltz and a 39 for their duel jive. Total: 75.
Still breaking through to the other side is Candance Cameron Bure. Mark Ballas' turtle just put on some roller blades and is taking big strides in her performances. And the fox trot set to a couple fighting over control of the remote was whimsical and relatable. "I can see you have found your footing," Carrie Ann said. Len thought Candace could work a bit on her posture, but said "it was so joyful to watch." Bruno thought Candace had the bright vivacity of a sunny '50s sitcom, though cautioned the "Full House" actress to "watch on extending the lines." Abby Lee Miller's comments were a kind of a jarring, unwelcome pop-up ad in this judges' love parade: "I would have dropped her on the floor and walked off, because I quit, right?" She was referring to the song, but it kind of was a bit off-color for this otherwise sunny yellow judges' cheer. But Candace didn't let the odd comment ruin her fun. "This dance suited my personality so well," she said. "I feel like Lucille Ball." Candace and Mark received a 36 for their fox trot, and added 38 for their dual duel with Charlie and Sharna. Total: 74.
Emotional were raw during Meryl Davis and Maksim Chemerkovskiy's tumultuous rumba. Not just in the dance itself, which threw down plates and laid bare dysfunction and prompted Bruno to say, "It was like watching a play without words." But also because of the tempest of bad blood it brewed between Abby and Maks. Bruno loved how "inspired" and "unconventional" the routine (one of Meryl's favorites for its vulnerability) was, and likened it to a scene from Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." Carrie Ann and Len both thought it was brilliant, though they both would have liked a bit more rumba content. But Abby stomped all over this raw display of emotion in the name of sickles and ice skate-booted feet. Maks shot back in the skybox, claiming, "I don't really care for anything that she has to say." When Abby then slapped them with a punitive 8 score, Tom quickly quipped, "I smell some spray tan wrestling coming on!"
Things didn't get much better for Meryl and Maks during the duel, despite a visit from Maks and Val's lovely grandmother/expert tension breaker Sofiya. Taking a page out of a J.Lo/Versace/Scarface Miami Beach extravaganza, the judges thought Meryl and Maks' and Danica and Val's samba was performed well enough, but could have used a little more in sync bounce. "Some of the turns, the spots were off, and some of the bounces the timing was off," Carrie Ann said. Abby also would have liked the girls in heels. Meryl and Maks received a 36 for their rumba, and a 34 for their duel dance, leaving them at the bottom of the pack. Total: 70.