Monday night marked the first round of the finals on “Dancing With the Stars,” as Rob Kardashian joined season-long favorites J.R. Martinez and Ricki Lake for the penultimate dance-off.
That’s right, Kardashian, who, in the early weeks of the competition, stood out for sloppy footwork, a lack of musicality and poor posture, made it to the final three. Stranger still? He snagged the top spot on the leaderboard Monday night.
While a come-from-behind success for a non-dancer is just what “Dancing” should be about, some ballroom fans might find it hard to cheer for Kardashian’s sudden surge to the top — mainly because it wasn’t exactly warranted.
Sure, the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” sibling improved over the course of the season and arguably earned his spot in the finals, but the performances he put on once he got there didn’t reflect his newfound abilities.
In his first dance of the night, a waltz alongside two-time champ Cheryl Burke, Kardashian remembered the moves and maintained the time, but let his footwork, arm lines and posture lag. All three of the judges noticed flaws and commented on them, although in the case of seeming Kardashian superfan Carrie Ann Inaba, the nitpick almost sounded like a compliment.
“You made it to the ball!” she raved after dubbing him a “male Cinderella” and throwing in only a quick mention of flubbed footwork.
While head judge Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli didn’t seem quite as excited, they must have been holding back, because, like Inaba, they awarded the dance a near-perfect set of 9s.
But that was far from the highlight of the night for Kardashian. When he returned to the stage for a freestyle routine filled with even more posture problems and imprecise elements, the judges were completely blind to the problems. They noticed only the impressive lifts he performed (but not the not-so-impressive Burke-groin-grab).
For that, Kardashian raked in a set of perfect 10s.
“I never thought I’d get a perfect score,” he said after the routine.
(You’re not the only one, Rob!)
As for those fan-favorite hoofer hopefuls who’ve been swapping the top spot on the leaderboard for most of the ballroom battle, Martinez and Lake ended the night with a tie — each trailing Kardashian by three points.
Martinez, who showed no signs of ankle problems after his sprain last week, kicked off the night on the wrong foot. In a cha-cha-cha with pro partner Karina Smirnoff, the war-hero-turned-actor lost the beat just two steps into the dance.
The judges were unanimous when it came time to deliver their critical comments, but they weren’t of the same mind when it came to flashing their paddles. The routine earned an 8 from Carrie Ann, a 7 from Len and a 9 from Bruno.
That odd score didn’t hold Martinez back, as his lift- and jump-filled freestyle wowed the crowd and brought the judges to a perfect-10 consensus.
Lake was the lone dancer of the night who didn’t make any major mistakes. Her first dance, a cha-cha-cha, lacked a little fluidity, and her freestyle effort featured a tiny bit of last-step dizziness (the fault of which belong strictly to spin-happy pro Derek Hough), but the dances were strong. Of course, not quite strong enough to compete with Kardashian’s inflated scores. Lake earned all nines for the night.
Tuesday night is the real test. That’s when viewer votes are added to the judges’ scores from night one, and the dancers get one more shot to show the panel what they can do. Can Kardashian continue his late-game streak? Will Lake reclaim the lead? Or will Martinez get that mirror ball trophy, just as most fans have expected since premiere night? It’s anyone’s game.
Ree Hines was rooting for Maksim Chmerkovskiy in the first night of the finals. Sure, he wasn’t in the competition anymore, but who says you can’t root for hot hoofers in the audience? Join Ree Hines and her fellow “Dancing” expert Anna Chan for the last live chat of the season on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. ET, and tell them who you’re rooting for.