‘Dancing With the Stars’: The final four


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It’s the final four, ballroom fans! After all the leader changes and last week’s shocking elimination, it has never been more crucial for the stars to be at the top of their game and deliver two perfect performances. And Monday’s dances were a real treat. So considering all this excitement leading to next week’s finale, wasn’t it a little surprising to see all that filler between the stellar pro dance and the actual competition itself? The couples’ DVD-commentary-esque critiques of their breakthrough dances were likable enough, but did they have to come at the beginning of the program? Actually, did they even have to come at all? It seemed like this show could easily have been shortened to an hour and a half, rather than be stretched into two (gone so soon, “Surviving Suburbia”?).

And the segments where the contestants’ friends and family were interviewed were sweet, if repetitive. I mean, wouldn’t all the contestants have to be driven and competitive to make it to this point? Though it did drive home the fact that winning the Mirrorball trophy is no small feat. Shawn Johnson practically equated it to the Olympic gold medal, Melissa’s mom was quoted as saying it was “coveted” (I’m sure the producers didn’t feed her that line), and Gilles actually said this award was “the biggest trophy on national TV in America.” Wow. (Sorry, Oscars. Maybe next year.)

And while we’re on this tangent, allow me take a break in our regularly scheduled programming to say what, in the name of all that is good and shiny, was up with Samantha’s dress? Was it supposed to be snakeskin? Fish scales? Some sort of metallic interpretation of a Native American print? A manhole mosaic? The Chrysler building? It was utterly mesmerizing, whatever it was. I couldn’t stop staring at it. The unsettling thing was that, at times I also felt like it was looking back at me.


But I digress. This week, we witnessed chiseled, sparkly perfection. And I’m not just talking about Maks, who was sitting in the audience. No, I’m talking about…

Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke, of course. And after a couple of weeks of slumming, the golden couple came into the semifinals spray-tanned and sculpted guns ablazing. Their beautifully lilting waltz and sizzling salsa rocketed them not only back into the lead but also into the rarefied, hallowed halls of “DWTS” superstars who earned a perfect 60 out of 60. The son of a baker worked out the rises and falls on his waltz so that he and Cheryl appeared as though they were floating on clouds. (And perhaps in honor of Gilles’ dad, Cheryl made her dress look like something that would befit a wedding cake.) “You look like a matinee idol out there,” commented Bruno. Carrie Ann called it “breathtaking,” and Len said, “I’m giving you a sitting-down standing ovation.”

(As an aside, did anyone else notice during Gilles’ background segment that when he spoke about the French’s joie de vivre, the camera pointedly focused on some Cannes woman’s derriere? Um, is that where the joy of life is?)

It looks as though all of Cheryl’s “cranky” nit-picking served the Gaul well. And it sure does seem as though the producers are chomping at the bit to get Gilles in the finale. For his part, Gilles did hold up his end of the bargain during the salsa. And by that, I mean he wore pants that hugged him in all the right places and sexily swiveled his hips and shook his hot-crossed buns. And Cheryl wore a matching purple dress that looked like it was slashed, harlequin-romance style, right down the middle of her chest. But the judges were also more than effusive. Len did not hold back on his praise. “I wish I had an 11 paddle,” the notoriously fickle judge said. Carrie Ann not only gave a standing ovation but also did the helicopter turn and said she wanted to see them next week in the finale. And Bruno, ever the double-entendre-spewing charmer, said that the rump-shaking booty of “Lil’ Kim is alive and well and she’s hiding in your pants!” Okay!

Back on earth with the other plebes were Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas, who came in second with a combined total of 56 out of 60. Anyone who watched the Summer Olympics last year knows that Shawn hails from West Des Moines, Iowa, and has a fighting, determined spirit. And all her success at the ripe young age of 17 could only mean that she was ahead of her time. Sure enough, as her mom Teri revealed, Shawn “started walking at 9 months and hasn’t slowed down since.” And she really let her intensity show with their Argentine tango, earning Team Shark its first perfect 30 score. When Shawn pushed Mark down to the ground during the routine, it really looked like she shoved him hard. And she got some major air on that split leap. (Extra points to Mark for the bold eyeliner and for keeping the hat on the entire performance.) “Precision is your middle name,” praised Carrie Ann. Len said it was the couple’s best dance yet, and Bruno stretched her name to the pun of no return by dubbing her “Catherine Zeta-Shawn” and likening her dance to the Oscar-winning actress’ jailhouse romp from “Chicago.”

Their jive was not so lucky. While I loved that Shawn seemed more comfortable taking center stage by herself, the dance itself seemed all over the place. Plus, their different-sized polka dots were oddly hypnotizing, and the bright pink bows on her pigtails didn’t match her lipstick, which was distracting. Len said there was “too much messing-about dancing going on,” Bruno said at times it looked “more like a Lindy hop than a jive,” and Carrie Ann thought Shawn “lost a little steam” at the end. And while I thought the 8 from Len was a little harsh, Team Shark earned a 26 for this dance, for a total of 56.

Coming in just a point behind were Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani. And again, just as a hairline fracture and perfect 30 samba were helping America forget this reality TV maven’s former life as the former Cowboy cheerleader from Dallas who was infamously dumped by “The Bachelor,” the producers had to bring it all back up again in the background segment. (How serendipitous! ABC’s “The Bachelorette” is set to premiere soon!) Luckily, Melissa had enough of an arc to put some distance between her unceremonious break-up on national television (her lowest point) and her stint on “DWTS” (her highest). Wouldn’t it be awful if she got to the finals, was awarded the trophy, and then had it taken away on the “After the Mirrorball” special six weeks later, on the account that the Mirrorball was still in love with Brooke Burke? The horror!

Anyway, Melissa and Tony made it a point to work on Melissa’s “hot mess” feet for the quickstep. And the proper heel-toe action did not go unnoticed. Set to the tune of “I Got Rhythm,” Melissa looked like she stepped right out of the roaring ’20s with her crimped hair and elegant dress. Tony, as he did in the fox trot, looked like a steamboat croupier. Resident “ballroom podiatrist” Len appreciated the fancy footwork, though Bruno said “it wasn’t as exhilarating … as it could have been.” Carrie Ann said she couldn’t feel “a real connection,” and I have to agree with her assessment. There’s no denying Melissa’s abilities as a dancer, or her musicality. But there is something missing, and I think Carrie Ann hit it right on the head when she said Melissa’s dances are pretty, but not fun. There’s no breathless, giddy excitement, and no connection. Then again, maybe that’s what happens when reality TV has already crushed your poor soul. You’re just not ready to let it all hang out with as much abandon.

Their cha cha cha was more of the same, however. The hats were a little baffling (and looked as though they were bogarted straight from Mark Ballas’ closet, as Tom said), though I appreciated mixing the fringe up a bit with bigger sequins on tassels, and I really liked that one twisty-turny hold at the end. But as Bruno remarked, “At moments you were sensational, but at times you don’t sustain the energy.” “A bit lackluster,” said Len. Still, the judges liked it enough to give it three 9s (a little high, by my count) for a total of 27, and a combined total of 55 out of 60.

Rounding out the pack were Ty Murray and Chelsie Hightower. And Chelsie gets extra points in my book for (a) riding a mechanical bull in Daisy Dukes, and (b) performing in that pro dance at the beginning of the program. Were all the other umpteen gazillion pro dancers unavailable? It seems unprecedented to have a competing pro perform in a dance exhibition in the very same hour. Not to mention unfair: She could have been using that time to practice with her bull-riding partner. Goodness knows, he needed it. I love Ty, I really do. I am forever charmed by this dedicated cowboy and am a couple aw-shucks comments away from ordering my own set of chaps online (fringed, of course). I loved it when, after last week’s miraculous save, Ty cheekily asked Chelsie, “What do you think got us through? My fans, or our spot-on rumba?” But this week’s Viennese waltz was tough to watch: Ty was out of sorts and out of focus. And then there was Chelsie’s aqua blue horror. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the routine, or the outfit. Why couldn’t he keep a hold? Did that figure-skating costume mesh make her slippery? Where was the rise and fall? Was that a sparkly rhinestone belt on her waist? Surprisingly, Len actually liked the routine, though Bruno said Ty’s “arms were like chasing flies” and Carrie Ann said Ty definitely “struggled.”

Sadly, the samba was worse, an all-too-true embodiment of Ty’s adorably spot-on observation that “the samba’s supposed to be like a party, but it’s more like a pain in the ass with a whole lot of steps you gotta remember.” And while there was a nice little showcase of booty-shaking and samba rolls, the routine was light on the hip swivels and heavy on the rigor mortis. And it seemed like the judges had already made their foregone conclusion -- not even bothering to critique the cowboy anymore. They just offered vague pleasantries, like how it was a good effort, how special it was that he made it this far and what a lovely day it was. Ty and Chelsie got a 25 for their waltz and a 23 for their samba, for a combined total of 48 out of 60.

Which makes our waltzing cowboy the prime candidate for elimination in tonight’s results show. Who do you want in the finale? Can anyone beat Gilles at this point? Samantha’s dress: architectural feat, or strappy scrap metal? Post below, and be sure to bring all your Season 8 comments next Tuesday (May 19) at noon PDT to our “Dancing With the Stars” chat, where we can discuss our favorite contestants, dances, costumes and much much more -- liiiiiive!

-- Allyssa Lee