“Dancing with the Stars‘” semifinal episode was going to be a huge hoot, with bad boy Maksim Chmerkovskiy returning to the ballroom as a guest judge and the remaining five couples performing a plugged/unplugged theme. Monday night, the celebrities would dance to the same song – but one version would be acoustic. I was particularly curious to see how Maks would handle the transition to judging. Len Goodmanstill had that target on his back after both Julianne Hough and Cher subbed for him; tonight, though, he would be part of a four-judge panel.
The show opened with the headline "Maks is Back" and then spun into a masquerade ball style opening pro dance number. Maks was indeed at the judges' table sporting a little red bow tie. Then the parade of stars commenced of the final five couples. And FYI, the scoring would be based on a top score of 40 this week to account for the four judges.
Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani: Paso Doble
This couple would be taking on Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and Tony was looking forward to his friend Maks being a guest judge. Leah was still giving Tony a lot of lip in rehearsal as he mocked the sexy face she put on. "We'll see how it goes," Maks told host Tom Bergeron before Leah and Tony took the floor. The couple circled each other to start the number and Leah twirled her skirt, matador-style, looking fierce which comes easily to her! Everyone is exhausted by this time of the season and Leah seemed a bit halting in her movements. Still, her footwork seemed solid. Unfortunately, Leah had a big boo boo on a turn at the end, although Tony looked pleased with the overall routine. Len Goodman called it neat and precise but a bit too careful. Bruno Tonioli asked where his untamed girl was; he pointed out she missed two turns. Carrie Ann Inaba said Leah brought the drama but her spins got out of control. "'I tripped on the dress," Leah sighed. According to Maks, he couldn't believe he was sitting there-then praised Leah as "great" although she lacked some of the emotion needed in Paso Doble. Straight eights!
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Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff: Tango
Brooke Burke-Charvet kindly mentioned that Maks was Karina’s former fiancée and reporters went “Oooh!” backstage. In rehearsal, Corbin wondered if they should attempt a lift and Karina said Maks would understand it. “I think it could go either way for Corbin and me,” Karina said as part of the TV package, given her past romantic background with Maks! The tango began with the two in what looked like monks’ robes and then they stripped down to more normal dance attire. They were truly on fire just like their song and Corbin unexpectedly blew some glitter around, which I’d never seen before on “DWTS”. It was an angry dance in which Corbin dragged Karina along the floor at the end, to reporters’ delight backstage. Elizabeth Berkley and Val kept trying this type of dance but it never worked; this one totally did. Bruno called it “Fire and brimstone with the power of an exploding volcano.” Still, Bruno said they’d lost the frame at times. But Carrie Ann declared she’d like to see that tango again and Maks said the content was amazing. “That’s the type of tango that I like.” The former “DWTS” pro said Corbin’s butt stuck out but he had the same problem! Then Len burst everyone’s bubble by saying it was too full on with the frame too wide.
Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke: Jazz
The Osbourne kid said in rehearsal that his vision was bad this week due to having MS. "Your health is way bigger than this show," Cheryl told him. She treated him very tenderly in rehearsal even though he had a "show must go on" attitude. They were dancing to "Roxanne" by The Police and it began with Jack lifting Cheryl overhead and then flipping her head back over and over. What was going on tonight with all the aggressive moves? Women were being tossed around like rag dolls! I felt Jack was doing too much standing in place in this one while Cheryl danced circles around him. But Sharon Osbourne was crying and Kelly Osbourne standing for him in the audience. Carrie Ann praised Cheryl's part in the dance, which made total sense, because she was the only one dancing. She felt Jack was out of his comfort zone; this just wasn't jazz. Maks thought it was "great" and I believed he'd need to drop that innocuous word if he's going to be a real judge next season (was this "guest" judge business really a trial run?). He said Jack had issues with syncopation. Len felt this number lacked finesse and dance quality while Bruno said he was hot and bothered by sitting next to Maks.
Bill Engvall and Emma Slater: Cha cha cha
Last week, the Blue Collar comedian defied the odds again by being the lowest scorer but squeaking through with enough viewer votes. In practice this week, Bill left the room in disgust because he was having a hard time. Making matters worse, the comic suffered a groin strain that flared up during a Sunday dress rehearsal. They were dancing to "I'm Sexy and I Know It" to a workout fitness theme and again, Bill was doing disco moves even though this was supposed to be a cha cha. Bill twirled Emma around pretty well in the spins but there were some bobbles and he was so stiff looking, like he could barely dance anymore. There were some groans in the press room after this one, which ended with the pair wielding shooting stuff out of toy guns. "Why, Bill?" Maks said. He felt there were a lot of issues but said people were looking up to him. Len congratulated Emma for bringing out the best in Bill and called him the people's champion (how very British, Len, like the people's princess!). "Let's get physical!" Bruno shouted, and cited the pure joy of watching him every week. Carrie Ann was taking off points but couldn't wipe the smile off her face. Bill admitted he was in pain but was still having the time of his life.
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Amber Riley and Derek Hough: Jazz
Last week was a disappointment for the two because Amber's knees were injured. But she consulted a doctor who cleared her to dance and Derek would work around her knee issues with complicated choreography. The number started with the two sitting behind a table and doing a bunch of arm movements, pounding on the table and such. The white gloves reminded me of mimes but I'm not sure if that was correct. Anyway, there was a lot of strutting around in unison and they looked confident and ended the dance behind the desk where they started. Hmm. I knew it was well done but not my favorite routine, too stylized. However, Len asked them to do it again he liked it so much. According to Bruno, it was constantly surprising and they were perfectly synchronized. Carrie Ann said they did it like Einstein because it felt like a math equation they had solved. Maks said Bob Fosse would have been very proud of them, but he was the only judge to give her a 9 instead of a ten.
Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani: Argentine Tango
The second round would be personal story time for the celebrities and Leah told the story of growing up in Brooklyn, sleeping on someone's floor, and dropping out of school. The young Leah was determined to be an actress but she did insurance sales after her first show, Living Dolls, failed in the ratings. But she went on to glory with the hit sitcom King of Queens. This "Bad Romance" tango began with Tony playing Leah like a cello with other string musicians playing behind them, unplugged style. Tony put Leah through the tango paces in a slow and precise way, which worked much better for me than their first dance. The lift that ended the dance really soared and there was applause in the press room, particularly for her sultry attitude towards Tony. Len said she never embraced the dance fully while Bruno liked the sensual side of it. Carrie Ann commented on how far Leah had come in the competition and thought she needed to have more confidence. "I see you in the final," Maks said. Carrie Ann had trouble lifting her 8 paddle.
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Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff: Rumba
Corbin's up close and personal segment recalled how he was an adorable child star, with testimonials from Debbie Allen, no less. But he also passed up admission to Stanford to do High School Musical. There was Corbin blowing glitter around again, this time to open the dance. This number was fluid, romantic, and bare-chested, showing off all of Corbin's skills and ending with the dance pair under one of those monk robes from the first routine. They were recycling! Bruno described it from hell into heaven; is that was what it was about? Meanwhile, Carrie Ann thought his body was a wonderland and he had transported her into another world. Maks thought he had a huge advantage having Karina as a partner and she went and gave her former fiance a kiss at the judges' table. Len thought his technique was perfect and they received the night's first perfect score.
Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke: Argentine Tango
Jack recalled how he moved to Los Angeles from London when he was a kid. He also grew up on camera on one of the first hit reality shows, The Osbournes. Jack admitted he took drugs and suffered a near-overdose. Sharon was terrified when she could barely rouse him one morning. But after going into rehab, he never looked back, according to mom Sharon. He's now a devoted husband and father-but is also living with multiple sclerosis, as we've all learned on "DWTS". Now how would his second dance go? Well, Jack was in a more structured routine this time which was better for him and right away, you could tell the difference with his firm hold. I loved how they made "Roxanne" into a cabaret-style number and everyone backstage was transfixed with Jack lifting Cheryl. Wow. In some dances, Jack fizzled, in others, he sizzled and this one was the latter! Carrie Ann said what we all saw-that he was in the zone. Maks said he had a friend suffering from MS and then said it was, yes, great. "Jack, you're back," Len smiled. Bruno called him as slick as a prowling panther in the tango. It was my favorite routine of the night so far.
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Bill Engvall and Emma Slater: Argentine Tango
Bill's wife, Gail, thought he was an idiot when they met as college kids-but later married him. The comic admitted he became quite a drinker when their kids were small but kicked his problem and then Blue Collar comedy became a huge hit. Larry the Cable guy showed up to say what a surprise his buddy's dancing has been. "I love that people love him," his wife sobbed with feeling in the TV package. Bill began this tango sitting in a chair and then led Emma, totally off the beat, into slow tango movements that gave Jack Osbourne no reason to worry. The unplugged version of "I'm Sexy and I Know It" was much better than the dance itself, but still, the two created quite a cool mood. Bill and Emma embraced like they'd won the mirror ball. Maks said to Bill, "I love you," but gave credit to Emma for the interpretation. He said they didn't break character, which was true. Len didn't know if he had the skill to win - but he had the will to win. According to Bruno, they played it straight and well and there was a lot of tango content. Carrie Ann loved that for the first time, he did a routine with no jokes.
Amber Riley and Derek Hough: Viennese Waltz
The future Glee star took singing lessons in Los Angeles as a teen and had casting directors constantly dissing her weight. Hollywood is cruel. Amber tried out for "American Idol" and cried all the way home when she wasn't cast on the hit FOX reality show, her dad recalled. But Glee producer Ryan Murphy remembered how she knocked everybody dead during her audition for his high school musical show. Amber was dancing on a huge tarp alone to begin this routine but Derek was lurking nearby to become her dance partner, of course! This was standard waltz elegance with Amber dressed up to the hilt in a ladylike white ball gown and in perfect time to the music. The two ended it all by strolling through the "DWTS" fog machine. Len loved it; Bruno said "You danced like an angel": Carrie Ann called Amber special; Maks was sorry he agreed with Carrie Ann all night and told the actress she was in good hands with Derek. The Glee champion got a perfect score-she probably didn't feel those aching knees after that.
Okay, so it was time to see who would just miss going to the finals next week.
The bottom two were Leah and Bill. Would underdog Bill pull it out yet again?
And the celebrity going home was….Leah Remini!
"DWTS"' season 17's tough gal just couldn't fight Bill's fan base. A lot of us reporters didn't get to know her very well because she didn't particularly like giving interviews, but maybe tonight? Check out Xfinitytv.com tomorrow for more "DWTS" news and interviews before the big finale!