The dance floor was a little light on glamour and little heavier on twang Monday night as "Dancing With the Stars" kicked off Country Night in honor of Thursday's upcoming CMA Awards, which just so happens to share a network with the ballroom bash.
But despite the sudden proliferation of cowboy hats and boots in the ballroom, it wasn't the sidesteps and country kicks that really stood out. Instead, the judges stole the "Dancing" spotlight as they just couldn't agree about much of what they saw on the floor or what they heard from each other.
The bickering began after Melissa Rycroft delivered her best routine of the season so far. The countrified Viennese waltz featured a strong solo (in a dance that doesn't exactly lend itself well to solo efforts) and saw the reality-star-turned-host overcome her recent neck injury with smooth moves.
It also packed a rule-breaking lift -- not that the judges saw it that way. They were too busy getting caught up with their own problems.
First, head judge Len Goodman broke from his usual reserved manner and stood up to applaud the dance. He then told Melissa she had the "how" and the "wow" ... whatever that means. Bruno Tonioli was equally impressed, going way over the top by comparing Melissa to Cyd Charisse in "Brigadoon."
But Carrie Ann Inaba? She complained that Melissa wasn't "dancing out enough." Her moves needed more, well, outness.
As far as Bruno was concerned, those were fighting words. He bolted out of his seat and spoke over Carrie Ann until neither one of them could be heard -- save for one comment from him. He looked to Melissa and assured her that Carrie Ann was "making a point that doesn't exist."
Despite all of the hubbub, Melissa's scores put her just a half-point from perfect for the night. So much for all the disagreement.
But the judges weren't through grumbling. When Shawn Johnson cha-cha'd to "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," Bruno loved the dance and told the gymnast she was the sexy one, while Len just complained about the presence of a tractor on the ballroom stage (and he wasn't too happy about the big plastic cow, either). Carrie Ann didn't like the solo section of the routine, calling it stiff. Bruno endured the dissenting opinions without shouting that time, but he made plenty of exaggerated expressions of disgust. At one point he even stuffed his notes in his mouth to keep from voicing his real take on the matter.
This time the disagreements showed up on the scoreboard, as the points ranged from 8.5 (Len) to 10 (Bruno).
The next incident came when Kirstie Alley took the stage for a sleek and sexy rumba. After a hard week in rehearsals, which saw the actress continuing her recent trend toward teary moments, she pulled off the dance surprisingly well -- though she could have used bit more hip action.
Carrie Anne love it all and called Kirstie the queen of sexy. Bruno agreed. Len, on the other hand, to the obvious disapproval of the others, nitpicked that aforementioned hip problems. He concluded, "I like it, but not much."
Still, with just a one-point spread between the points, Kirstie's 27.5 wasn't anything to argue about.
In fact, that was it for the big fuss between the esteemed panelists. But when the judges weren't judging each other, the viewers (at least this one) sure were.
After all, while Apolo Anton Ohno's emotional Viennese waltz was his best dance of the season -- and certainly scored big as a sentimental favorite of the night -- the perfect score the judges gave it didn't exactly line up with all the moves. The best, most lyrical maneuvers in the routine were Karina's, and Apolo's weren't bad. They also weren't perfect.
Then there was Emmitt Smith's big foxtrot, which turned out to be a big letdown. The retired running back just wasn't feeling the country groove, and save for his wild moment in the solo spotlight, the dance was stiff, with more than one poorly executed pass.
It seemed like the judges felt the same way, as they ticked off some of those problems in their reviews, but when it came time to score it, Bruno really fell under the judgmental glare of fans (or fan, ahem). Len and Carrie Anne gave the routine a very generous 8.5 points each. But Bruno came up with a 9.5 based on ... a bad dance.
There wasn't much controversy when it came to the rest of the night's dances. OK, sure, maybe Sabrina Bryan's comeback rumba wasn't quite worth 30 points. But Gilles Marini's 27.5 point cha-cha, with slightly off steps and loose hips, seemed about right. (Though an extra half point for the see-through shirt and shiny black pleather pants wouldn't have gone amiss.) And Kelly Monaco's snap-free tango might have merited a slightly higher score than 27 (when compared to the scoring curve for the night) thanks to great footwork, but it was close enough too. Plus she was rewarded with a kiss from pro Val Chmerkovskiy, so she's got nothing to complain about.
No, the only other real injustice of the night was the group dance, which saw every hoofer hit the stage in a jumble of moves. The clear standouts were Gilles and Kelly, who outdanced the competition by far. But it was Kirstie who picked up the 2-point bonus for a cute, partner-smacking but not so dance-packed moment. Apparently the judges can agree on one thing: They like to see Kirstie's pro, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, get spanked.
So, after that hoedown, who's set to giddyap and get out of the ballroom Tuesday night? It's tougher than ever to say. After all, Monday night's votes will not only be added to the judges' scores from the same night, but also to last week's group efforts and solo dances. In other words, it's anyone's guess.
Who do you think put on the very best performance Monday night? Take our poll below and then share your thoughts about the show on our Facebook page. And be sure to join us on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. PT / 3:30 ET to chat about who you think might be going home!
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