It’s like what’s old is new again: The “Dancing With the Stars” Season 17 semifinals had each of the remaining five couples performing two dances to two versions of the same song.
It also marked the return of the Maks. Bad boy of the ballroom Maksim Chmerkovskiy came back buttoned up and in a bow tie, sat between Len Goodman and a thrilled Bruno Tonioli, and offered up his two cents as a guest judge and an unabashed supporter of the Pros.
Too bad Elizabeth Berkley Lauren and Valentin Chmerkovskiy were voted off last week or we would have had the pleasure of witnessing another Brothers Chmerkovskiy interaction (though Maks adorably held up a 10 paddle after his little brother danced with Witney Carson after a commercial break).
Actress Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani lost a bit of the ballroom love as they were the latest couple eliminated from the competition. God bless Tony for resolutely keeping that frown upside down despite his less-than-pleased partner. Even “after 16 seasons … I’ve never looked so forward to practices every single day,” the Albanian stallion said.
This, of course, meant fellow “in jeopardy” (but again, not necessarily in the bottom two) couple Bill Engvall and Emma Slater were going to the finals.
As were Amber Riley and Derek Hough, who regained the top spot this week. After getting the green light to dance with abandon from her doctor, the “Glee” actress was on a mission to redeem herself after a lackluster fortnight. And I’ve got to hand it to Derek in their Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” jazz number for coming up with clever steps that were heavy on the jazz hands but light on the knees. Len “Chuckles” Goodman simply pointed at Amber to “do it again.” Bruno said, “The sync was out of this world.” Carrie Ann said Amber reminded her of Einstein, and that the routine was so intricate it “felt like a mathematical equation,” she said. “And you solved it.” Maks said the routine was like a modern-day Bob Fosse number. And then he got his first boos for giving her a 9.
Kevin McHale and Chris Colfer spoke out in support of their “Glee” costar during a biographical segment. “She makes me think I could do something I couldn’t,” “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy said. Amber, however, had her own best line, saying if you have a passion for something, “Your gift will make room for you eventually.” And her love of dancing has really let her shine. “There was smoke on the floor but there was fire in that performance,” Len said of her Viennese waltz. Carrie Ann said Amber was “so special” in the way she interprets “the music as well as the movement.” Maks pointed out that Amber has “a guy who knows how to win. … You’re in amazing hands.” Amber and Derek received a 39 for their jazz routine, and a perfect 40 for their Viennese waltz. Total: 79 out of 80.
Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff played with fire in their tango, starting out in mysterious capes in front of a trash can fire and then consuming the ballroom in flames by the routine’s end. Bruno said Corbin came out with the “power of an exploding volcano … but you lost the frame at times.” “That was hot and I would like to see that again!” Carrie Ann said. “I’ve never seen a tango danced with so much fury!” Maks liked the content and the wisp of fairy dust, and “I can overlook the fact that your butt was sticking out a bit,” he said. Len, however, was not so impressed with the all-consuming passion. “It was too full on!” he complained. “It was good as a performance … but as a tango it wasn’t really my cup of tea.”
Thanks to his family, Debbie Allen and Kenny Ortega, we learned Corbin was accepted to Stanford and had a good head on his shoulders. Carrie Ann, however, only had eyes for his body during his sultry stripped-down rumba. “Your body is a wonderland,” she said. “I’m so glad you took your shirt off. … You transported me to another world.” “The quality of movement was unbelievable,” said Bruno. “It was like watching a series of stunning sculpture in perpetual motion … the storyline was flawless.” Len liked the light and shade. Maks said Corbin had a huge advantage having a partner in Karina, Maks’ former fiancée and one of the “top 5 female dancers of all time.” All together now: Aw. Corbin and Karina received a 35 for their tango, and a perfect 40 for their rumba. Total: 75.
Jack Osbourne was having a tough start to the week. He was hampered with vision problems in his left eye and a bad headache — the very symptoms that got him diagnosed with MS. “It’s the beast I’ve got to live with, so you’ve just got to roll with it,” Jack said like a champ. So he and Cheryl Burke had to break up their training a bit this week. Jack admirably tried to own his pimp during his jazz routine to the Police’s “Roxanne.” But Carrie Ann said Jack was outside his comfort zone “and I can feel it.” Len thought it lacked a bit of finesse. Bruno likened Jack’s dancing to “catching a hot potato” and said, “Every move has to be extended to the maximum.”
Seeing Jack now, trim and fit and happy with his lovely wife and daughter and considerable ballroom skills, you forget how far the young Osbourne had come. He moved to California from England at age 12, was launched onto “The Osbournes” at 15, went to rehab by 17, and then was diagnosed with MS. He’s taken a licking but keeps on ticking, so it’s hard not to stand up alongside Cheryl and his family and root for him — and his terrific Argentine tango to “El Tango de Roxanne” from “Moulin Rouge.” “You were so in the zone,” Carrie Ann said. “Every moment done with passion and precision.” “This was pure Cheryl at her best,” Maks said. “Technical, no nonsense.” Len liked how Jack really came out and sold the dance. “The transformation is unbelievable” from the last dance to this, Bruno thought. “To actually dance with Cheryl at that level is really a great achievement. I want to kiss you.” Jack and Cheryl received a 33 for their jazz routine and a 38 for their tango. Total: 71.
Leah Remini didn’t want attitude from Tony Dovolani’s old friend Maks for her paso doble. Too bad she got a bit of shade from the regular judges for her Lady Gaga “Bad Romance” instead. Leah barely concealed her disappointment when Len said Leah played the routine too safe, Carrie Ann called it “a rough road for you,” and Bruno called out Leah’s two missed turns. Maks, however, said he would discount the turns because Leah tripped on her skirt. Though “I would like it to be a little more emotional,” he said, “because [Tony] looks crazy if you’re not.” Great perspective!
The Bensonhurst, Brooklyn native, mother of lovely Sofia, and friend to Chelsea Handler did not fare much better with her Argentine tango. The judges wanted to see more personality from the “King of Queens” actress. Bruno liked the intimacy — “Nice instrument you’ve got there,” the judge said. “You should play more often, my darling.” But Len didn’t think Leah “embraced the dance fully.” Carrie Ann acknowledged how far Leah’s come, but “you need to have more confidence,” she said. “You stop your movements short.” Maks agreed. “You’re a real woman and you bring exactly what the competition needs,” he said. “If on top the Leah that I know comes out, that will be a whole other performance.” Leah and Tony received a 32 for their paso and a 33 for their tango. Total: 65.
It’s bad enough Bill Engvall suffers from low scores and a painful injury. Why did he and Emma Slater have to be punished further by wearing those jazzercize monstrosities? Not even bedazzles could save that awful pastel and animal print outfits worn in their cha cha, set to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” It didn’t help that Bill thought his cha cha was no good. So the judges chose to focus on the positive instead. Maks said it best. “Personally, I don’t believe in talent. I believe in hard work. You showed that,” he said eloquently. “There were a lot of holes in this cha cha, but don’t worry about that. … You’re amazing. A lot of people are looking up to you for even attempting this.” “You’re not always the judges’ champion, but you’re the people’s champion,” said Len. “Obviously you’re not Baryshnikov but the pleasure you give us … is unmatchable,” Bruno said.
Bill may be down on himself, but his family and friends still support him. “I couldn’t be more proud of Bill right now,” Gail said. “I love that people love him.” And Bill really redeemed himself with his Argentine tango. Set to an acoustic “Sexy and I Know It” version sung live by Noah, the wannabe singer used all his performance skills to enact a sultry routine. “The musical interpretation was amazing,” Maks said. “But the dance interpretation was just as great.” Len said Bill was “full of heart” and gave credit to Emma: “The way you’ve nurtured Bill and brought him along is fantastic.” “You set the mood, you played it straight,” Bruno said. “I loved that for the first time you didn’t joke around,” Carrie Ann said. “You went straight to the game and went straight to the heart.” Bill and Emma received a 28 for their cha cha, and a 32 and a “most improved” stamp for their Argentine tango. Total: 60.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Surprised to see Bill in the finals? How do you think Maks fared as a guest judge? Who do you think will win this season’s coveted Mirror Ball Trophy?