April 23, 2012 at 11:46 PM ET
When the powers-that-be behind "Dancing With the Stars" planned a special Motown-themed episode, they no doubt intended to honor Berry Gordy Jr.'s legendary label and the hit-making talent behind the Motown Sound. But that's not exactly what happened.
Sure, several of the most memorable Motown acts took the stage and resident hoofer hopeful Gladys Knight took the dance floor, but it wasn't a shining moment for most of them.
Of course, there were no stars in the ballroom battle for whom Motown night meant more than it did for Gladys. The singer admitted she was just happy to have made it to the theme week, and frankly, given her recent string of dance floor flubs, she was lucky too. But even with musical accompaniment from her pals, The Temptations -- the one act that did Motown proud Monday night -- Gladys just couldn't get into the groove.
A slow rumba proved too fast for her as she struggled to keep up with the beat, looked lost and even missed a few steps altogether. Some solid hip swaying just wasn't enough to make up for the lack of attack.
Judges Len Goodman and Carrie Ann Inaba heaped on carefully couched praise for the singer, but Bruno Tonioli added a blunt touch.
After applauding Gladys' star quality, he noted that as far as the routine was concerned, "not forgetting the end would help."
The mostly nicer-than-merited reviews were a practically given. After all, it might seem harsh to pounce on the Empress of Soul on Motown night, but feedback is one thing. Scores are really where it counts and the judges gave Gladys a few more than she deserved with a matching set of 7s.
Even with an added three points from the night's Motown Marathon -- a multi-couple cha-cha challenge -- that left Gladys in last place for the night.
But if she felt bad for letting down Team Motown, she shouldn't. None of Gladys' moving violations were as much of a problem as what went on at the microphone when R&B star Martha Reeves stepped up to it.
The former Martha and The Vandellas frontwoman sang one of her classics ("Jimmy Mack") for "Dancing" contender Maria Menounos, but the resulting sound was far from the dulcet tones her fans have come to expect. Luckily for her, Len and the gang reserved their paddles for the dance.
As for that dance, it wasn't Maria's best effort either. The actress and TV presenter slipped on her dress and momentarily lost the choreography in the otherwise bouncing foxtrot.
While Carrie Ann noted the problems, head judge Len turned a blind eye to them.
"It was a joy to my eyes, and listening to Martha, a joy to my ears," the usually critical judge claimed before the panel awarded Maria 26 points.
In past weeks, Len's blamed any uncharacteristic behavior on his "happy pills." It seems he's moved on to the hard stuff now.
Luckily, the night had a few high points too.
Fan favorite William Levy burned up the floor (under the oddly unblinking gaze of Smokey Robinson) with a steamy 27-point rumba that had the audience cheering and some of the judges revved up.
"William, (that was) absolute and utter filth, and I loved every minute of it," Bruno raved.
When Len complained about the routine being too raunchy, Bruno suggested his fellow judge take a different sort of happy pill: "He needs Viagra!"
At least there were a couple of dances all the judges could agree on, including Jaleel White's much-needed comeback routine.
In a nearly flawless cha-cha, Jaleel proved that maybe the recent Dance Duel addition isn't such a bad idea. He and pro partner Kym Johnson both credited last week's bottom-two dance-off with inspiring his sudden 29-point turnaround from so-so soft shoe to serious contender.
That would have been enough to put Jaleel at the top of the leaderboard tied with "Dancing's" leading lady, Katherine Jenkins, whose samba impressed just as all of her dances do. But thanks to those Motown Marathon numbers (of which he had 8 and she had 10), he took the second place spot. Still, that's a big improvement.
Also seeing an improvement was Melissa Gilbert. With her first shot a slower, more lyrical dance in the Viennese Waltz, Melissa showed off her best moves of the season and earned a set of 8s.
For Donald Driver, his 27-point foxtrot didn't mark an improvement on the leaderboard, but it served as further proof that he can consistently do what he does so well.
Rounding out the Motown mix was Roshon Fegan, who (also under the unblinking gaze of Smokey) attempted to showcase a romantic rumba, but instead showcased his lack of hip action and awkward transitions. He hit all the steps, but he didn't really hit the character of the dance. That left him with 23 points and darn good chance of landing in the bottom two alongside Gladys on Tuesday night.
Which hoofer hopeful topped Motown night and which deserves to get the ballroom boot? Tell us on our Facebook page. Plus, join us at 3:30 ET on Tuesday, April 24 for a live chat about everything that went down Monday night!
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