Narrowing it down: "Dancing With the Stars" first freed Shawn Johnson and Lil’ Kim from danger, then Gilles Marini, and then it pulled the early shocker — Tom Bergeron announced that low-scoring Steve-O was safe. Gulping hard at this news? Ty Murray, David Alan Grier, and Chuck Wicks, the three most obvious underperformers (who weren’t NFL stars like Lawrence Taylor) who might logically be at risk. The show next freed Chuck and Melissa Rycroft, further frightening Ty and David and their fans. Surprisingly, though, Ty was declared safe, so the NFL magic may not be working that well in Lawrence’s case — he was left to compete against David in the dance-off.
The dance-off and the elimination: In last night’s competition, David scored a 22 and Lawrence scored a 20, so David had a very slight advantage as the dance-off began. David went first, and his Viennese waltz did look a bit better. It was smoother, it was (somewhat) more relaxed, and he managed to collect two more points — 8s from Carrie Ann and Bruno, who had both given him 7s last night. Next up was Lawrence Taylor, whose paso doble looked about the same — maybe a tiny bit more ragged, in truth. His score remained unchanged at 20. Would David’s advantage in scoring help him stay in the competition? It would not. David was sent home, looking really mad, frankly.
At last, indeed: One of the nicest performance segments the show has mustered in quite a while came with the help of Etta James, who sang her legendary “At Last” — perhaps hoping to cure anyone who watched the inaugural balls and now thinks of that as a Beyonce song. James still sounded like herself, though a different version of herself than you’d have heard when she was younger. Her voice is lower and the notes are less sustained, but she is still Etta James, and not to be trifled with. For once, the dance by Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff fit the music perfectly, the two parts worked together, and at least one filler segment actually came off as watchable entirely on its own.
That was ‘Le Reve’: Co-host Samantha Harris spoke effusively about the theatrical performance whose cast would perform midway through the show, then swallowed the show’s name so thoroughly that few people who heard it would ever even realize what she said, let alone seek out a performance. (It originally sounded like “The Wrap.”) For the record, the show is called “Le Reve,” and the dancers were just as athletic and impressive as Samantha promised. Next time, she would be well served to work less on praise and more on enunciating.
That was not good: The other performance, by Disney Channel songstress Demi Lovato, featured dancing from Lacey’s “So You Think You Can Dance”-winning brother Benji Schwimmer and his partner. The genuinely terrible song and Lovato’s unskilled vocals had all the charm of her non-groundbreaking work in “Camp Rock.” Nothing makes a show feel too long quite like a performance of a song called “La La Land.”
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com