The “Dancing with the Stars” judges made their opinions crystal clear on Monday night. They love Apolo Anton Ohno. They really like Joey Fatone and Laila Ali.
And they really, really, really would like the voters to put Billy Ray Cyrus out of his misery and send him home already.
Ohno and partner Julianne Hough led the way on the scorecards, with a combined score of 58 for their tango and paso doble. Apart from Len Goodman’s score of eight for the tango, every mark the duo got was a perfect 10.
Carrie Ann Inaba had a problem with her computer on Ohno’s first dance, so though she clearly held up the “10” paddle and shouted “10!” like she was worried her microphone was broken, co-host Samantha Harris told Ohno and the audience that the score was really a nine.
The collective “huh?” from the contestants, judges, studio audience and viewers across the country caused a quick commercial break and the subsequent revelation that the confusion was the result of a computer malfunction. That keeps everyone associated with the show from having to watch “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” until they learn to count.
However, even had Inaba scored both of the Ohno-Hough dances as a one, they wouldn’t have finished the day in last. That honor was easily, and sometimes cruelly, given to Cyrus and partner Karina Smirnoff.
It’s clear that Cyrus is in way over his head at this point, and though he’s generally been good-natured about his struggles, it seemed to take a toll on him this week. He and Smirnoff didn’t get a whole lot of encouraging words from any of the judges, and were particular targets of Bruno Tonioli.
Tonioli called Cyrus “always deliciously awful” after his foxtrot.
After the audience booed, the judge responded with “I love him like everybody else — but it was horrible. It was crap.”
While awaiting his scores, Cyrus snapped that “Bruno calling me crap is the pot calling the kettle black.” He got a big cheer from the audience, but a total of 18 points from the judges. Combined with a 20 from the mambo, that left the team in last place with a score of 38, far shy of even fourth-place Ian Ziering’s 47.
Cyrus and Smirnoff pointed out that the judges’ feedback was less than constructive. They’re right. Saying a performance is “crap” doesn’t exactly provide much in the way of teaching points. But at this stage in the competition, sometimes it’s a kindness to point out the obvious, and in this case it’s abundantly clear who deserves to go home.
Apart from the Cyrus-related diatribes, the judges had positive things to say all night long. That was particularly true of Laila Ali, whose efforts sparked a rare criticism of professional partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy for holding her back.
Of course, Ali had an ace in the hole. Her father, boxing legend and American icon Muhammad Ali, was in the audience, and got a standing ovation when he was introduced. His daughter said the waltz was choreographed for him, and it was a touching effort. Host Tom Bergeron said afterwards “Every season seems to have a moment, and I think we just saw season four’s.”
The judges agreed — sort of. They complimented the artistry, but gave the pairing a trio of nines. It was much the same on the second dance, a jive, with all three complaining that the effort was long on artistry and far short on technique and challenges. The resulting score of 26 left them with 53 points overall, good for third place.
Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson came in second on the judges' scorecards, but may do better when the audience votes are counted. The duo spent Saturday at the Kentucky Derby, “shaking hands and kissing babies” as Fatone put it. They then came back and played it straight on their waltz in an effort to please the judges, but instead were chided for not being showy enough.
Their second dance, a mambo, was better, and their combined score of 55 makes it very unlikely that the former N' Sync star will be going home before next week’s semifinals.
If anyone besides Cyrus gets sent home before the semis, it will likely be Ian Ziering and Cheryl Burke. The two showed great chemistry in rehearsals, with Ziering getting his partner a birthday cake with a “10” candle … and later smashing it into her chest. It takes a great relationship to pull that off without getting a harassment suit as a belated gift.
Ziering was hoping to give Burke a 10 in the competition, but that wasn’t happening Monday. Both their foxtrot and rumba were just average, and they managed only a total of 47.
Still, that puts them well ahead of the Billy Ray Cyrus benchmark. The country singer/actor has ridden his fan base to the brink of the semifinals, but it will take the entire viewing audience of “Hannah Montana” to flood the phone lines if he hopes to stay in the game another week.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.