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‘Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars’ recap: ‘Show me something amazing’

Well, that was a treat, wasn’t it? Because at first, when larger-than-life Len Goodman was projected onto the “Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars” big-screen, Big Brother like, to issue a challenge to the all-stars to redo an iconic dance and “show me something amazing,” all signs pointed to some gimmicky trick. It didn’t help when we saw Maks in a pageboy haircut and guyliner, oversize chess pieces, livestock, and living statues pass by shortly thereafter.

“No, it’s not our Halloween edition,” host Tom Bergeron assured. The all-star celebrities, who are now seasoned “DWTS” vets, were tasked with taking over creative control and putting their own choreography and vision on full display. What resulted was evening of routines both original and impassioned, and finally seemed to bring this all-star season into its own.

Yes, there were oversize chess pieces. A harness dangling from the rafters. A live donkey and a heckling mariachi band. Though perhaps it was precisely because the stars were calling all the shots and had more on the line that they seemed to be more invested in their routines. The performance factors were upped. The lines were just a little cleaner. And the dancers seemed to enjoy themselves just a little bit more. “One incredible dance after another tonight,” Tom remarked.

PHOTOS: ‘Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars': Meet the Season 15 cast

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And as is now par for the course of this all-star season, the leaderboard has been shuffled again. Tied for first place this week were Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani and Kelly Monaco and Val Chmerkovskiy. Melissa Rycroft wanted to do a redo of Season 13 champ J.R. Martinez and Karina’s samba to Gloria Estafan’s “Conga”. The threat of the double elimination was weighing heavily on Melissa’s slender shoulders, so she figured she had to appeal to her fans with some death defying tricks. Only, the tricks were a lot easier said than done. “Can we try not to kill ourselves?” sensible pro partner Tony Dovolani wondered. But Melissa said that because this was an all-star season, “You just gotta do it.” And she brought the party, and Tony brought his best footwork skills, balancing Melissa’s head and neck on his foot like Pele would handle a soccer ball. “Wow … great neck muscles,” Tom admired. The dance had Carrie Ann’s arms up as a gooooooooaaalll! “That was fantastic!” she cried. “I love all the salsa drops with the legs.” “That’s what I’m talking about,” Len applauded. “It was like a can of cola: It was fizzy, it was refreshing, and satisfying.” “Shake me, take me anywhere you want me,” Bruno teased. “One step [was] more complicated than the other … and you did it like a star!” Total: 27 out of 30 - the highest score so far this season.

Though Melissa and Tony’s sole lead was quickly tied by Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy, who Carrie Ann called “the couple to watch.” Kelly had a week off from her day-job “General Hospital” duties, and she put those extra rehearsal hours to “try to take it to the next level” and re-do brother Maks and Laila Ali’s paso doble. “I think you can do better than your brother,” Kelly threw down. And I absolutely loved this routine, starting from the great sheath of red fabric that fluttered like a Christo exhibit over Val’s rippling bare chest, to the great twirly move at the fiery and dramatic end. Bruno called it a “defining performance. “Beauty, artistry, power. I’m tingling with pleasure.” It had Carrie Ann rattling off a bunch of censored expletives. “You slapped that paso doble’s booty! Amazing.” “Where did that come from?” Len wondered. “One of the secrets … your arms have to be as expressive as your face, and that’s what you’ve got.” Total: 27.

Just a half point behind, but leaping over all the other stars in sheer moxie was Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough. We all knew that Shawn was a gymnast and a scrappy dancer, but this week, she was able to bring her tumbling and her dancing skills to new literal heights. She didn’t need a harness a la Gilles to get air – just a trampoline, and sometimes not even that. Shawn was challenged by Len last week to show more content, and she smashed in a season’s worth of routine into one action-packed quickstep, a redo of Helio and Julianne’s “Mask”-inspired “Hey, Pachuco” dance from Season 5, for a showstopping event. There were the flips. The super-fast passes across the floor. The side-by-side- split leaps. The side-by-side splits. The back flip over Derek’s shoulder. And my favorite, the split leap with the kick underneath that got so much air that it practically had to get flight clearance. And of course, falling into the crash pads at the end, which brought half of the Harold Wheeler Band to its feet to make sure they had landed safely and the rest of the roaring audience to its feet. “Incredible, spectacular, unforgettable!” Bruno bellowed. “One of the best dances, if not the best dance I’ve seen in 15 seasons.” “That was by far the best dance we’ve ever seen on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’” she avowed, though she did have to “slam” about breaking the “ruleage.” “Your ability to interpret music into movement is incredible,” Len said. The head judge said he had “never enjoyed a routine more … please don’t think I don’t appreciate how fantastic it was,” but still docked them for breaking the quickstep holding rules. Still, they earned a 9.5 from Bruno, which is the highest single score to date. And if there’s any justice in this glittery ballroom world, they’ll dance it again as an encore. Total: 26.5

PHOTOS: ‘Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars': Meet the Season 15 cast

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Not everyone approached this iconic do-over as a positive thing. Intense Gilles Marini, for one seemed to struggle with the concept altogether. So out of respect of his fellow all stars, he decided to take a routine from someone not competing again this season: Maks and Erin Andrews’ “Sweet Dreams” tango from Season 10. But he didn’t want to just dance it out: “I want to fly,” the Gallic Peter Pan said. And while at first I thought his rapturous harness up to the rafters was a bit superfluous, I totally saw how it all fit in with his waking up from his dreamlike concept at the end. And “DWTS” seems to have the production budget, so why not? I like how Peta Murgatroyd was the girl of his dreams (who apparently has longer hair than Peta does in real life). “Strong, dominant, erotic, powerful, 50 Shades of Gilles,” said Bruno. “I think that you can fly in and out of any bed you choose after that.” Bruno did point out that Gilles lost his footing a couple of times, and Carrie Ann agreed, saying he and Peta fought against each other and were out of sync. Still, “If Peter Pan looked that good when I was growing up, I would have listened more to that fairy tale,” the judge proclaimed. Len loved the “menace,” though said his hold could have been tighter, and his footwork could have been a little cleaner. Total: 25.5.

Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno tried to “channel my inner sexy” and show he can be as suave as Gilles during his Season 8 fox trot with Cheryl Burke but “without taking my shirt off, or showing my man boobs.” Certainly, Karina Smirnoff believes Apolo can really show how much he’s grown into a “sexy, strong man.” And the way he pulsed and manhandled his partner during this “Fever” homage was very effective. Len said he would have liked “cleaner placement of the feet” and “a tad more in hold,” but thought the routine “had fluidity of movement” and “great musicality.” Bruno thought it was “sensual” and “classic,” but wanted Apolo to let his hands “travel a bit more.” Carrie Ann thought it was “one of those memorable dances we’ll never forget. … The fluidity and the way you were leading: it was all right there.” Total: 25.5.

Sabrina Bryan said she wanted to “come out with a banging performance” with Louis Van Amstel after making it to the top of the leader board last week. And what more of a banging performance than Maks and Mel B.’s “Free Your Mind” paso doble, which is not only one of the most iconic routines in “DWTS” history, but was performed in Sabrina’s honor a week after she was eliminated way back in Season 5. Sabrina wanted to do the dance justice. Louis wanted to be inventive to stay on top. And in the end it was crisp and clean but I agreed with Carrie Ann that there wasn’t enough innovation to really stand out among the rest of this stacked competition. Len thought it was “full of risk” and “full of great technique.” “Always maximum fire power, strength, a touch of Scary Spice,” Bruno said. “At times it was like you were leading Louis.” Carrie Ann thought the technique and content were all there, but “I don’t’ think you brought anything new.” Total: 25.5

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After suffering the indignity of being in the bottom two, Helio Castroneves and Chelsie Hightower had a huge hill to climb to make sure they didn’t end up in jeopardy again. The Indy 500 driver loves the quickstep, and he loves being in the driver’s seat, and he knows he really needs to hit Apolo and Julianne’s routine out of the park to ensure he’s not simmering under those heat lamps again this week. On the upside: “the wardrobe did an amazing job to make me look like a pimp!” The downside: Helio tripped over Chelsie’s skirt toward the end of the routine and couldn’t quite get it back together after that. “I love when you do quickstep, because all the joy that you are comes out,” said Carrie Ann. “But you did, you stepped over her.” Len quickly waved off the stumble. “I tell you, this dance deserves to be back next week,” he said. “It’s top notch.” Bruno said it “started with a blast – it was absolutely brilliant” but pointed out Helio’s lost steps. They still managed to eke out 8.5 paddles from the judges. Total: 25.5.

Emmitt Smith’s number is 22. The point 5, however, is not. So to make up for his lowly 22.5 score last week, Emmitt really took on the creative reins for the redo of Mario Lopez and Karina Smirnoff’s paso doble. Loved to hear him talking about lighting with a producer to “give it that hold desert feel.” Emmitt was the matador saving Cheryl from her boozy mariachi band life. And he really took control of the routine. “The raging bull is back!” Bruno bellowed. “You got the flavor of the fight of the corrida,” though the judge did say his shoulders came up a little bit. Len said Emmit’s “got presence, and you dominate the floor” but at times “you had so much attack, it lost a little bit of finesse here and there.” Though Emmitt and Cheryl should be allowed to go straight through to next week solely on the fact that he was able to shoot himself like an arrow through Cheryl’s legs at the end of the routine without killing them both. It also earned Twinkletoes a new nickname from Carrie Ann: “The Human Torpedo.” Total: 25.

Drew Lachey is going back to his boy band roots, and is taking the cha cha cha from Season 1 set to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Crazy in Love.” He wanted to remake the entire number like a concert, he wanted to use his B-boy moves, and he wanted partner Anna Trebunskaya to “unleash her inner stripper.” Mission accomplished. Anna looked like a pole-dancing Merida in her tight curls and gamely swirled her skirt away and opened up Drew’s chest to reveal his waxy smooth chest. Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minnillo liked it, as did Drew’s wife, who whooped it up after his smooth moves. “I liked the concept, I liked the content. Overall, that was terrific,” lauded Len. Bruno said Drew went “Magic Mike … like a power drill. … It worked for Channing Tatum, it’ll work for you.” Carrie Ann liked the creative direction, and thought the cha cha moves “were tight and precise.” Total: 24.

Kirstie Alley had a revelation last week: The actress realized she needs to be fearless to really make it in this competition. And she wants to be entertained, dammit! Which is why she chose Carson Kressley’s struttastic “Moves Like Jagger” cha cha with Anna from 2011. And Kirstie really took creative control over this one, detailing her vision of Maks as Jagger riding up in a Union Jack Mini Cooper with Mirrorballs dangling from the rear view mirror, and her costume with a bunch of side boob. She also chose to put Maks in a pair of low-skimming skin-tight pants. Maks worried about standards and practices. “Your junk is not going to be out,” she dismissed. “That’s not what this show is about.” And while Maks’ wig looked more like a pageboy than Mick Jagger, the tight pants were, um, appreciated. “That was the most fun I’ve had,” said Carrie Ann. “That was your best dance so far this season.” Len wanted the celebrities to be in charge of the choreography every week. “Nice timing, good foot placement,” the head judge said. “It was the whole package.” Bruno said Kirstie was “fully loaded with fun … I nearly busted a gut.” And he said Maks looked like “an extra from ‘Boogie Nights.’” Total: 24.

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If you missed the gazillion promos hyping it up prior to this segment, there was trouble in training between Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas this week. Apparently, Mark missed a rehearsal, and Bristol was feeling that he’d rather be with Sabrina or Shawn and what he really wants to do is go home. Words were exchanged, feelings were hurt, tears were shed. And then they made up. Turned out, the quasi-tension was a great strategy to help Bristol and Mark to fuel the fire in their paso doble, a reinvention of Derek and Joanna Krupa’s futuristic routine re-strategized as a chess game. Bristol was the ice queen in white, Mark was the wild rumpus king in black. She ended up committing regicide and a cool light of red blood flowed on the floor at the end. Len said when he was dancing that he “always used to have a flare-up with my partner” before the paso to inspire his routine. He also said it was easily her best dance. “Get out your aggression, it worked,” Bruno approved. Carrie Ann said Bristol was “proving yourself a worthy competitor,” though she warned that her expressions can be one-dimensional. Total: 22.5.

What do you think, ballroom fans? Were you also impressed with the level of dancing during this program? Should the celebrities choreograph every week? Straight up: What do you think of Paula Abdul as a guest judge next week? Who do you think will fall in the dreaded double elimination? Now that we’ve had “Iconic Dance Week,” should the next theme be “Ironic Dance Week”?

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