Next week the winners of “Dancing with the Stars” walk away with the coveted disco ball trophy, but Monday night was just about getting a chance to compete for it. With the competition down to four couples, the celebs and their pro partners put their best moves forward to stay in the game.
Every dance got a standing O and the judges handed out 10s like candy, but even in the midst of all the ballroom backslapping, some stars managed to outshine the competition. And in a season where the male stars dropped like flies, the last one standing could take it all the way.
The worst of the bestThe biggest surprise of the semifinals wasn’t part of any routine. It was the fact that Marie Osmond and her partner Jonathan Roberts made it this far at all. After so many lackluster performances, they remain as a perfect example of how much weight the fan votes carry. And, apparently, Marie has a lot of fans.
To her credit, there was one performance this season that stood out and showcased the best of Marie to offer, the quickstep. Just two weeks ago her “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” routine earned a 28 with judges and rare praise from critics. So it’s no wonder she chose the quickstep again in the ballroom portion of the night’s competition.
The problem for Marie was, after seeing a near-perfect version of the dance before, no amount of playful gestures or move-obscuring costume panels could hide the flaws. The occasional missteps were still evident, leaving the couple with a good, but not great, routine.
Of course, listening to the judges, it sounded like a win. Carrie Ann Inaba thought they were perfect last time, and despite noticing one problem with Marie’s footwork, gave Johnny and Marie a 10. Len Goodman followed suit, but Bruno Tonioli broke away from the pack with a nine — earning him boos from the Osmond-loaded crowd.
For the Latin round, Jonathan picked a mambo. The number was filled with typical Marie shtick: goofy faces, exaggerated characters and clumsy dancing. Or, as Carrie Ann put it, “I was waiting for the confetti canons.” Despite the kind, but obviously not complimentary comments from the panel, it was all nines all around.
With two perfect 30s in their back pockets, Mel B and Maksim Chmerkovskiy didn’t have anything to prove Monday night. They could have simply delivered smooth, quality dances and left it at that. But somehow the two saved some of their best energy for the semifinals.
In week four, the Viennese waltz proved to be one of the lowest scoring routines from Mel and Maks. That made it an even more interesting pick from the duo for the ballroom segment. “I want to prove I can do it better than before,” Mel insisted. And they did.
M&M’s waltz featured the standard turns and counterturns, while incorporating loads of more advanced variations. The series of three full splits on the move from Mel easily impressed. Bruno called it a “Viennese waltz driven to maximum impact,” and Carrie Ann said it gave her chills. It also earned the couple their third 30 of the season.
Given that Mel and Maks’ last paso doble was dubbed the best of season by head judge Len, they were expected to wow with it again Monday night. Before hitting the stage, Maks even warned, “If we get a 29, it’s going to feel like we failed.”
But Mel and Maks didn’t fail. The intense paso, complete with whip rather than cape, showed they owned the dance. It racked up yet another 30 for them, and the first combined 60 for anyone. But they didn’t hold that record long.
Still holding onJennie Garth’s crisis of confidence continued, as she said she questioned why she was even going on in the competition “after getting annihilated by the judges last week.” But, if clip spots are to be believed, a quick stop to Disneyland and a twirl with Mickey Mouse took care of all of that.
Promising to “go out there and show the judges what I’m made of,” Jennie took the floor with smoky eyes and a low-cut red gown for the tango. Back in week three, this was the dance she and Derek Hough performed for the encore. It was easily their best dance of the season, even if the score of 26 didn’t reflect that.
This time, they danced what Len might typically call a “by the numbers” tango. All the moves were there, minus the passion and sensuality. Oddly enough, even though Carrie Ann spotted that, Len claimed to see some chemistry. And, with all the big scores floating around anyway, the managed two points higher than their last tango effort.
With a twist for the Latin portion, Jennie and Derek went with the cha-cha, the first dance from them (or anyone) this season. Good move. Nine weeks later, the progress Jennie’s made, at least where the cha-cha is concerned, is astounding. It earned the couple their first perfect score — a full nine points more than they got for it last time.
The star of the showCameron Mathison’s elimination last week left Helio Castroneves as the last hope for the men. Honestly, that comes as no surprise to anyone who saw the men strut their stuff during the first week. The two-time Indy champ was the only guy with anything close to natural talent, and he’s only improved since then.
First taking the floor with foxtrot, Helio and Julianne Hough went for classic lines and simplicity, sans any flashy moves. It could have come off as boring, but instead, with skill and finesse, they gave a perfect example of how the foxtrot is done.
Bruno dubbed Helio a wizard, “because it’s impossible to believe you’ve never danced before this competition.” He even went so far as to promise to eat his judging book should Helio and Julianne fail to make the finals. But with all 10s for the flawless foxtrot, it’s unlikely Bruno will have to resort to that.
The last dance of the night, Helio and Julianne’s cha-cha, started out goofy. With a looming locomotive skit to match the “Love Rollercoaster” song, it only worked because Helio does goofy so well. But it wasn’t long before the dance evolved into a fast, precision number.
“Tonight the standard has been fantastic,” Len boasted. “And you are the standout couple for me for the night.” From the round of raves and the matching set of 10s, the other officials felt much the same, leaving Helio and Julianne with 60 overall.
From a purely dance standpoint, it’s clear who should be in the finals. But if the last nine weeks have taught us anything, it’s that the fans have the final say. And lately, Marie’s fans have said a lot. But will they vote to keep her around in the final dance off? And if so, who goes home in her place? Perfect scores are all well and good, but with a thin point spread between all the contestants, even the frontrunners could be eliminated Tuesday night.
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.