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Billy Ray heads for the hills on ‘Dancing’

Final four couples are equally strong, setting up a suspense-filled semifinal. By Linda Holmes
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

After a hectic and sometimes downright nutty performance show on Monday night, “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC, Mondays/Tuesdays) was well positioned for a big night on Tuesday. Well, as big as a bloated results show can get. Would the judges come to blows? Would Carrie Ann Inaba’s scoring snafu turn into a national scandal? In the end, the obvious elimination of Billy Ray Cyrus came as planned, though a former frontrunner got a rude surprise in joining Billy Ray in the bottom two.

The show started with a recap of Monday’s craziness, giving host Tom Bergeron a chance to point out all the times that Len Goodman was out of sync with the other judges, and to narrate footage of himself almost beating Len over the head after he gave a poor review to a tango from Apolo Anton Ohno and partner Julianne Hough.

In any event, Apolo and Julianne had ended the evening with a perfect 30 for their paso doble, making that an obvious choice for the encore dance. The dance still looked exciting, though the fact that the music periodically turned into “My Darling Clementine” was still vaguely distracting. A paso doble performed well always looks right on the edge of turning into camp, but Apolo and Julianne did a good job of staying on the right side of that line.

The night’s first superfluous musical performance was from Nelly Furtado, who sang her years-old hit “I’m Like A Bird” while pros Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko danced. While the song is badly overexposed even now, and while the dress that Furtado was wearing looked oddly like she was on the way to the prom, the dancing didn’t make as incongruous a match with the music as it sometimes does with similar numbers. Perhaps that overexposure can be recast as pleasant familiarity.

In a backstage chat with host Samantha Harris, Laila Ali said that she was just happy to have danced in front of her father, and Billy Ray Cyrus agreed that having Muhammad Ali there had been a thrill even for him. In fact, having received marks far lower than anyone else’s on Monday night, Billy Ray immediately ceded the competition, saying that he had already accomplished a great deal, and that he was now ready for the traditional post-elimination appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. It wasn’t clear by then whether he was steeling himself for elimination or praying for it.

Oh, the horror, he said ‘crap’The audience comment segment unsurprisingly revealed great unhappiness with the judges’ remarks on Monday night — particularly Bruno Tonioli’s comment that Billy Ray’s dancing was “crap.” One woman, in fact, could barely bring herself to say “crap” above a whisper, and wanted more “constructive criticism.” It appears that Billy Ray is beyond constructive criticism, but of course, one can always hope. There was much love for Laila’s dad, including — somewhat randomly — from Marilu Henner. You do get the most unexpected celebrities showing up in the audience to give their opinions.

In one of the show’s least suspenseful announcements in its history, we next learned that Billy Ray and his partner, Karina Smirnoff, were in the bottom two. Billy Ray jokingly gasped.

Next was a performance from Laila’s partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy and his brother, supposedly having a “dance-off” with their partners. While there was plenty of skilled dancing, this performance was closer to veering into true camp, and it sometimes seemed to be a lot of hip-wiggling, signifying nothing. It was the kind of moment that makes clear that the results show does not need to be an hour long.

In the next backstage interview session, Samantha calmly asked Apolo whether he was feeling confident after getting such high scores, and Apolo started to calmly answer, only to have Ian Ziering very much not-calmly lean over and choke him. While the gesture was made in fun, Ian clearly did surprise Apolo, to the point where it took the guy a little time to recover. It’s not every day Steve Sanders tries to kill you, even if he’s kidding.

Nelly Furtado returned for a second number, accompanied by Cheryl Burke, who’s Ian’s partner, and Louis Van Amstel, a past pro who danced with Lisa Rinna and Trista Rehn Sutter, among others. Again, this was a number most likely forgotten almost as quickly as it was completed. Even Furtado’s guitar couldn’t make it memorable.

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It turns out that Jimmy Kimmel and his assistant, Guillermo, don’t know how to do the waltz any more than they know how to do any other dances. While this was not particularly surprising, what was surprising was that they were visited by a helpful dancing fairy, who turned out to be a miniature Master P, famous for lasting far longer than his “talent” should have allowed in his own season. Master P instructed Jimmy and Guillermo in a “waltz” that looked a bit like a pared-down Electric Slide, and then Jimmy and Guillermo “accidentally” stepped on him. More and more every week, these segments sound like medication-induced hallucinations.

Most suspenseful moment of the nightThe results began to look interesting when the first couple declared safe (that is, not joining Billy Ray and Karina in the bottom two) was Ian and Cheryl, who had the lowest scores of the remaining couples. This meant that one of three couples once regarded as frontrunners — Laila and Maks, Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson, and Apolo and Julianne — was headed to the bottom two. It’s important to remember how big the role of a fan base turns out to be in this competition, and nothing Joey Fatone has done sets you up like “Beverly Hills, 90210” has set up Ian.

In a backstage segment, several of the contestants talked about missing all the couples who have been voted off, although interestingly, the athletes — Laila and Apolo — were much more sanguine, simply noting that someone has to go every week, and they’re always glad when it isn’t them. Watching Joey Fatone pretend that he was upset about Shandi Finnessey’s week-two departure wasn’t too interesting, but it was nice to see Paulina Porizkova again.

Ultimately, the announcement of who would join Billy Ray in the bottom two came in the form of starting with who would not. Despite the bad luck women have had throughout the competition, Laila was not in the bottom two. Apolo and Julianne, who received the highest scores on Monday, were not in the bottom two, either. That left Joey and Kym, who have at times looked like they had the entire thing knocked.

Of course, being in the bottom two doesn’t mean elimination. Being Billy Ray Cyrus, at least on this particular night, means elimination. Billy Ray and Karina even bopped happily while listening to the thumping, suspenseful music that the show uses to build tension before reading the names of the couple going home. They knew they were going, and they were right.

Billy Ray’s exit leaves an interesting situation in its wake. Four dancers, all of whom are decent, and one of whom (Ian) showed tonight that he has more fans than Joey Fatone. Will Joey be bounced no matter how high his scores are? Can he earn a few more 10s? It appears that unless someone else falls down, Joey had better be looking for a couple of strong routines for next week.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.