After last week’s star turn featuring Cher as guest judge and performer, “Dancing with the Stars” would be going back to basics for week nine. The final six were set to hit the ballroom floor and yes, good old boy/underdog Bill Engvall was hanging in there. Monday night, our couples would be doing an individual dance in a style they hadn’t previously performed plus a trio dance with another pro. The triplicate dances always had the tantalizing possibility of being train wrecks—not that I was hoping for it. Ahem.
The show started with the celebs doing a little intro mini dance by the stairs and Corbin Bleu even gyrated on the judges’ table. Elizabeth Berkley was dressed up as a bride—what was that all about?
Amber Riley and Derek Hough: Quickstep
The Glee star was talking about how much confidence she had gained by doing “DWTS” but was hoping her knees held out. Amber felt a lot of pain in practice and Derek had doubts whether they’d be ready. But the number started with Derek playing the drums and Amber mugging behind him. Derek leaped over her head and took her into a traveling hold move and the actress was using her smile to wring out every vote. Derek did a cartwheel towards the end which took everyone by surprise. I was lukewarm on this one but felt for being hurt, Amber looked incredibly limber. Judge Len Goodman was back in the house after being put out to pasture—oh, I mean taking a break. He cited Amber’s injury, saying the quickstep had needed more polish. Bruno Tonioli agreed with Len and said she made some mistakes. According to Carrie Ann Inaba, she was off tonight. “Yesterday, she literally couldn’t walk,” Derek told the judges.
Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani: Argentine Tango
The tough chick of season 17 was swearing up a storm in rehearsal and even Tony was getting a tad frustrated. "I want you to get a ten," he told his pro when she crabbed too much about the difficult moves. Their tango started with Leah standing straight with her arms up. She looked great in red and as usual, you could tell how much better she was in a Latin dance. This one seemed kind of short but I felt she did a great job; all standard tango moves but the couple made it contemporary somehow. Bruno called it an incredible diva tango in which the actress kept her focus. Carrie Ann was truly impressed but wanted more emotion past her fingertips. And Len said Leah "brought the flavor." No tens but straight nines should keep Leah free from elimination this week-and maybe even happy?
Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff: Waltz
Karina wanted her celeb to do a clean, traditional waltz this time after courting disaster with their earlier Game of Thrones dance (which the judges blasted but I actually loved). So when the couple started this one, they slowly walked towards each other and went into some slow passes in perfect waltz tempo. I thought Corbin bobbled a little in the middle, maybe it was just nerves, but there was some applause in the press room for this one and Karina seemed ecstatic at the end. Carrie Ann called it dreamy but told Corbin he wasn't quite on his center (maybe that was the moment I saw). Len said "it was poetry in motion" but wanted a little more in hold while Bruno praised their waltz for its fluidity. They got one ten, from Bruno, and I thought he was being a little easy on the High School Musical star.
Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke: Viennese Waltz
"You should be so proud of yourself," Cheryl told Jack in rehearsal after oh, these many weeks. They were doing ballroom again in a structured dance that should favor the reality TV son. Jack celebrated his birthday in practice with Cheryl giving him a mini mirror ball trophy with the inscription "best partner ever." The two were in the "DWTS" fog machine during the dance and Jack showed off his enviably straight back again and wound up on his knees during this one, too. It still fascinated me to see how graceful the Osbourne kid was in leading Cheryl; and even though these moves didn't seem too hard, Jack did them so well. Len called the hold lovely and loved his natural turns, flat back, and wide elbows. "Ballroom just flows out of you," Bruno praised, but told him to watch his Matrix hands, whatever that meant. Carrie Ann said his technique was amazing. Then Jack received a near-perfect score!
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Bill Engvall and Emma Slater: Charleston
The comedian said he really had to step up his game after a miracle or two have already saved him. The 56-year-old still improbably said he wanted to win "DWTS" and was going to play a character in this Charleston. As they started, Bill and Emma were sorting laundry to the tune "Yakkity Yak" and then went into a fifties style dance with Bill in suspenders and looking so thin and in shape. But he looked better than he danced, unfortunately. A lot of cutesy moves that weren't done well. At the end Bill picked up his partner and just walked away. His wife loved it in the audience, but I thought it was weak and flatfooted. It just didn't work at all. Bruno said his timing was bad in the fast dance while Carrie Ann he was totally off beat. Len said his second dance better be good because this one was wooden! They got a disaster of a score.
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Elizabeth Berkley and Val Chmerkovskiy: Viennese Waltz
This star, given her background, has underachieved lately and needed to get a perfect 30 to make me a believer. Val wanted her to listen and not speak in practice, which worked well for the couple this week. The "Showgirls" star, who now was going by her married name, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, was the bride on top of a platform instead of a wedding cake to start the dance. She waved her arms dramatically in the air a lot but like last week, there seemed to be some aggression in their dance as they ran away, looked angry, and came together. Was she a runaway bride? But Elizabeth and Val ended up in each other's arms and smiling in the end. Carrie Ann felt she was connecting emotionally and thought her lines were breathtaking; Len said he was an Elizabeth fan but felt the number was too dark; and Bruno thought the waltz had a haunted, tormented quality, which he enjoyed. But the actress only earned a 26, bad news for this front runner.
Amber Riley and Derek Hough with Mark Ballas: Trio Salsa
No surprise that Derek's best bud, Mark, was back to do the trio dance with the golden boy and Amber. The Glee star was dizzy and confused in rehearsal between the two young dancers. So this was a salsa in which both boys picked Amber up in the dance and traded her off between each other. But the parts that looked the best to me featured Amber on her own, in the center and gyrating away. Towards the end, she really shook her booty in the yellow dress! The Glee star had a lot of presence. "You were like a ray of sunshine," Len smiled. Bruno loved the way Amber let it rip while Carrie Ann called the three "the dream team." Amber said, "I'm in it to win it," when Carrie Ann asked about her knee injury.
Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani with Henry Byalikov: Trio Jive
Tony got a perfect score in All-Stars in a trio dance with Melissa Rycroft and Henry, so the pro dancer was back as his third again. They were going to play the three "DWTS" judges in this routine, which promised to be hilarious. They did indeed start at a phony judges' table by giving scores and then going into a dance to Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going To Take It." Henry was very funny adjusting his tie, Len-style, while Leah mocked Carrie Ann's enthusiasm. Tony also channeled Bruno well with flamboyant arm movements. Very funny and the reporters backstage went wild. However, I wondered if it was a one-joke wonder that obscured some stiff dancing by Leah. Her Latin routine was much better. Bruno said, "It was like watching a mirror. Delightful wit!" Carrie Ann said Leah was totally in control while Len loved the concept and praised Henry's "stiff and starchy" portrayal of him.
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Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff with Witney Carson: Trio Jazz
Who the heck was Witney? I assume she'd been in the troupe but didn't recognize her. Anyway, the three designed a Bob Fosse-esque number that was overly ambitious and had Karina dubious about the whole enterprise. But after this one started, I was automatically transfixed. In fact, it was so magical I was completely unable to write about it - except to say it was a tap dance piece of art in which Corbin was front and center and looking like he could hit Broadway any day. His efforts earned a lot of applause in the press room. Carrie Ann stood up and was so excited she called it maybe the best dance in all 17 seasons of "DWTS". What?!! The judge was babbling incoherently and finally said it blew her mind. "You came out and exploded!" Len said, mentioning the dance, the music, and the choreography all came together. According to Bruno, it was Corbin the magnificent tonight and he had truly lived up to Bob Fosse's legacy.
Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke with Sharna Burgess: Trio Samba
Cheryl picked Sharna to round out the trio because they have similar personalities, the "DWTS" vet explained. Or, as Jack noted in practice, "They're both very bossy." Sadly, it was a Latin trio and Jack was having problems shaking his butt in rehearsal; it didn't seem like his kind of number at all. But he gamely hit the floor with Cheryl playing Janes being saved by Tarzan (Jack) by some sort of Sharna creature in the jungle. Ugh, this one was corny and had touches such as Cheryl and Sharna beating Jack's booty like a drum. Jack kept smiling but it all seemed forced and frantic and he completely lost his usual grace. Still, a lot of the other reporters seemed to get a kick out of it. "So much fun," Len said, although he admitted the technique wasn't great. Bruno said he partied like there was no tomorrow. Carrie Ann felt Jack had gotten a little out of control. Yep, it was sloppy, all right, which was reflected in the scores.
Bill Engvall and Emma Slater with Peta Murgatroyd: Trio Salsa
Was the joke over? This trio dance would be crucial for good old Bill and Peta was back (after just leaving last week) to help the comedian and Emma do a "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" theme. Bill dropped Peta in one unfortunate rehearsal moment. Bill walked down the stairs to dance with the two girls and wildly shook his hips. The two girls had on pink wigs and looked like some kind of Japanese anime fantasy. Bill crawled underneath their legs which made everyone chuckle and it seemed like he was throwing in a lot of his disco attitude from last week instead of making this a true salsa; the upbeat music threw me off, too. But Bill was back to his more entertaining side for sure-would this save him yet again? Anyway, the reporters hooted backstage. "I loved the lunacy of it all," said Bruno, who also sighed that Bill had no timing. Carrie Ann thought it was a very weird number but couldn't help liking it. Len termed it good fun although it wasn't all there.
Elizabeth Berkley and Val Chmerkovskiy with Gleb Savchenko: Trio Salsa
The "Showgirls" beauty would complete the second round as part of a Russian hunk sandwich. I had spotted Gleb's old partner from last season, Lisa Vanderpump, in the audience; how nice she was supporting the pro. Okay, so Elizabeth started strutting with the two boys and was passed between them in some fast turns and did another move in which she looked like she was cradling a baby. The men eventually thrilled us by tearing off their shirts to twirl Liz some more. This was a very difficult dance done well; but it couldn't touch Corbin's trio, in my book. Carrie Ann called her a girl on fire and said it was her favorite Elizabeth routine. Len thought she looked like a human Frisbee full of rhythm. "It takes two to get you going," Bruno purred, saying she moved between the men with incredible ease. Elizabeth shrieked after getting the perfect 30.
After this long night then, who would be leaving us? Bill was the lowest scoring by a mile, but we would have to see.
The bottom two celebs were Bill and Elizabeth.
The star going home was…Elizabeth Berkley Lauren!
The reporters backstage were never more shocked! Bill had pulled it out once again and the Showgirls dancer was kicked to the curb.
Well, Season 17 has sure been one of upsets.