‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: Semifinal showdown

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We’re down to the final four contestants, ballroom fans. The themed shows have gone by the wayside, and so has the chaff. This week, each of the remaining semifinalists danced two full routines: The first one was Latin – with a solo. The second was a ballroom dance that they had never performed before. It was an action-packed 90-minute program, the coveted Mirrorball trophy was close at hand and all the couples brought their A-game. Let’s shine a spotlight to the bedazzled grand staircase to see where each star landed.

Regaining sole ownership of the top of the scoring charts were Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough. This week, the couple to beat were nothing short of perfection. After scoring the season’s first perfect-30 routine last week with their rumba, Jenougher had set the bar for themselves pretty high. Turned out that they had no problems clearing that feat and positioning themselves in prime Mirrorball position just one week before the finals. Their first dance was the cha cha, set to Duffy’s “Mercy.” And as Uncle Jesse would say, have mercy! Jennifer was all positive thinking and the picture of health during rehearsals, and the confidence and optimism showed during her performance. She looked fantastic. Her dress looked like a fantastically sexy feather duster. There was a lot of dirty dancing going on. “That really was a luminous, vibrant, sexy cha cha,” crowed Bruno. “The execution was flawless.” Carrie Ann also loved it, but took issue that Jennifer just did the “shimmy booby thing” on Bruno and not any of the other judges. Len said Jennifer “combined good technique with a really high performance level — and you introduced fun and entertainment.” With great praise like that, how could they not get another perfect 30?


And it just got better from there.

Well, after the biographical segment that recounted Jennifer Grey’s tragic car accident and her constant neck injuries, that is. Their second performance, a pared down waltz, seemed to take out all the drama and the injury that had weighed her down these previous weeks, leaving us with an elegant routine that was purely dance. It was like we were peeking into a couple having a lovely, intimate moment after everyone else had already left the dance floor — a nice, lilting sentimental coda to her high-octane cha cha. “This was a gem of a waltz,” said Bruno. “Full of stylish elegant detail, danced with ease.” Carrie Ann called it “one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.” “Be still my beating heart,” declared Len. “This was quiet, delicate, poignant.” And perfect. Jennifer and Derek got another perfect 30 for their waltz for a grand total of 60 out of 60.

Roaring into second place on a moonwalk and a bouncing ba-dunk-a-dunk were the great “kidtender” Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer. And let’s give it up for the “last man-child standing.” I liked the game this guy played: Kyle didn’t come into the competition with any drama, any injuries, anything but a positive attitude and energy for days. Not to mention buckets and buckets of joy. This guy’s got so much chutzpah, how can you not root for him? And how infectiously entertaining was his rumble of a samba? It was a streak of fun from beginning to end, no buts about it. “I think you have a bionic bum,” Len proclaimed. “You had more bounce to the ounce –- great rhythm, great entertainment, and fabulous dancing.” “You are truly a bouncing bundle of joy,” Bruno declared to the man-child. “The samba is all about excitement and fun. And you are a natural generator of excitement and fun. … And your bounce. Your bounce!” Carrie Ann ventured into near-uncomfortable double-entendre territory when she said, “I have never seen so much pelvic action … ever!” It was enough shimmy and shake to land Kyle and Lacey two 10s and a 9 for a near-perfect 29.

Oh, Kyle. So, so charming, even when he’s got his serious face on. Though the Atlanta-born-and-raised child actor almost didn’t make it in L.A., only to find out he had booked a Disney TV show as he and his family were on their way to the airport to go back east: ‘That’s So Raven.’ Also so Raven: Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., who proclaimed Kyle has everything it took to win the competition. That was evidenced in Kyle and Lacey’s Argentine tango, set to the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionare’s” anthem “Jai Ho.” And to his credit, Kyle didn’t break character once. “Look at you, all strong, sharp and masculine!” Bruno appraised. Carrie Ann said Kyle reminded him of Season 3 champ Emmitt Smith. “In 11 seasons, I don’t think anyone has ever come out with so much attack, so much enthusiasm,” said Len. “You are a star.” Love how Maks seductively rubbed Kyle’s satin-sheathed belly for luck and for kicks when the credits rolled at the end of the program. Mostly, I want Kyle and Lacey to stick around because their freestyle dance is bound to be a hoot and a half. The couple also received a 29 for their tango, which added up a grand total of 58. That was enough to earn them the second-place position, and prompted the teen actor to do a smooth criminal Michael Jackson-esque side-to-side head move. Hee hee!

Brandy started things off with a paso doble. Initially, I thought the fiery routine was about the tempestuous back-and-forth relationship between her and partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy. But Brandy later explained that the dance was about bullying and coming into one’s own and being a firework, just like Katy Perry’s song. At times, however, it seemed like the singer was off-kilter during the dance, which Bruno explained was maybe a result of too much attack. “You danced like a fury,” he said, but “you went a little unsteady in a couple of movements.” Carrie Ann showed the world that she and Maks had buried their bickering hatchet with her velvet praise. “I thought your performance was amazingly passionate,” she told the couple. “Your upper body shapes were beautiful and gorgeous, and I thought you did a great job.” Smiles all around.

Brandy has had her share of troubles, as seen in the segment right before her second dance. Like Jennifer Grey, the singer was plagued by a fatal car accident that clouded her career. But Brandy’s got a good support system, including Whitney Houston, brother Ray J and Kelly Rowland. And as Carrie Ann said, there was no trouble with her and Maks’ second routine, a sultry and smooth Argentine tango replete with a smoke machine, lamppost and café table and chair that slinked and flicked and smoldered in all the right places. Len commended them for “moving in and out of those lifts with effortless ease” and for creating “an atmosphere.” Bruno called it “lush” “voluptuous” and “full of flavor.” “The way you extended the body … stunning!” Carrie Ann continued with the superlatives, calling it “dynamic,” beautiful, amazing, ridiculous … that was gorgeous.” Brandy and Maks got a 27 for their paso, and a perfect 30 for their tango for a grand total of 57. Not a bad show for Maks, who also got his earring ripped off during the second performance. But, as Tom remarked, “What’s a ripped earlobe between friends?”

Bristol Palin has got a secret weapon hidden under those lace sleeves of hers. Though she maintained it was her relatability that got the teen activist and daughter of the star of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” this far in the competition (“I’m not fake,” she said. “I’m not typical Hollywood”), how sneaky was it of the Pistol to wait till Week 9 of the competition to break out the big dancing guns? OMG, Bristol is going to win this entire competition, isn’t she? Despite what seemed like an endless procession of complaints and sighs that she’s having trouble with the steps during rehearsals, Bristol was able to pull off a pretty fierce paso doble with Mark Ballas in her first dance. Mark did his best to distract with his open shirt, but it turned out he didn’t really need to bare all that skin: Bristol was fairly commanding with her bat cape action, even if her face was a little devoid of emotion. The studio audience (including Mama Grizzly herself, Sarah Palin) sure loved it. And so did the judges. “I’m so happy to see you finally come out of your shell and nail it!” Carrie Ann lauded, giving Bristol a hug. “Bristol the pistol, you’ve fired a few blanks … But tonight. All guns blazing,” said Len. Bruno called her a “tigress,” and Bristol and Mark earned a total of 27 for the dance — their highest score thus far.

It’s been quite a journey for Bristol. Hailing from Wasilla, Alaska, she joined the football team in junior high school, just because she wanted to. Bristol was the golden child -- until she dated Levi Johnston. Now a single mom, this former baby in the corner has blossomed into quite a whirling dervish on the ballroom floor. Because as her mom said, when people get you down, “doggone it, you might as well dance!” Bristol’s second routine was a waltz, also featured a cape, and had the feel of Celtic druid music. And was it just me, or did she seem a little zoned out during her performance? Or maybe that’s just her faraway look. Though it’s a good thing she doesn’t recoil when Mark smashes his face against hers, because he did it a lot during this routine. Len liked the haunted nature of the dance, and said there was a nice “vulnerability” about her. Bruno “quite liked the way you approached this waltz differently.” Carrie Ann, however, thought there were moments when Bristol drifted out to her happy place and the focus was lost. Bristol and Mark got a 26 for their waltz, which added to their 27 for their paso, equaled a total of 53.

Which, again, puts Bristol at the bottom of the leader board, and in prime position to be eliminated before the finalists are announced on Tuesday. But as evidenced in her biographical segment and in this unpredictable competition season, Bristol is quite the pistol when it comes to sticking around week after week. So who knows who’ll get the boot?

What do you think? Did you enjoy the performance quality level of Monday night’s competition as much as I did? Who do you think deserves to be in the finals? And who do you have pegged to win it all?

— Allyssa Lee


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