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Ian ends his ‘Dancing’ career on a high note

Final looks to be a great contest between Apolo Anton Ohno, Laila Ali and Joey Fatone. By Linda Holmes
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Monday night’s “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC, Mondays/Tuesdays) left all the couples bunched tightly together, with very similar and very high scores. Laila Ali and her partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Joey Fatone and his partner Kym Johnson had perfect scores of 60 on the night; Apolo Anton Ohno and Julianne Hough had a 59, and “90210” underdog Ian Ziering was close behind with a 58.

Given the strong influence of viewer voting, it did seem like anything might happen. But in the end, the underdog had too much to overcome.

The encore dance that opened the show was, as might be expected, Joey and Kym’s energetic jive, which deserved all three of the perfect 10s it received on Monday night, if for no other reason because it found a way to use Joey’s outsized personality for good instead of for annoyance. Joey and Kym dance very well together, and while he doesn’t have a traditional dancer’s build, Joey manages to look surprisingly light and agile when he dances, which is a great improvement over even the beginning of the season.

Enrique Iglesias, the musical guest, came out to look earnestly into the audience and sing of romance, while two pairs of professional dancers wiggled seductively in front of him. It’s always nice to see the hips of Alec Mazo (who was paired with first-booted Paulina Porizkova this season) again, but honestly, the presence of two couples was somewhat unsettling.

The dance aimed for a rather intense level of sexuality, to the point where it made something of a mockery of Len’s chastising of Apolo and Julianne’s cha-cha on Monday night for being “too raunchy,” and it wasn’t clear why there would be more than one couple on the floor at a time. While Iglesias smoldered meaningfully, the couples spun and the women’s dresses flew most of the way open, but the effect was, as usual, enormously cheesy.

When that was over, it was time for a backstage segment in which Joey and Apolo both stated that they had absolutely no regrets. It continued to look like perhaps Apolo had trimmed back his soul patch as he maintained that pleasing the crowd was very satisfying, even though he didn’t get the perfect scores he was hoping for.

Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman comes out to support Joey
As for the audience segment, it revealed substantial popular support for Joey’s jive, including from Jane Seymour, and a lot of love for Apolo’s cha-cha. At least one gentleman opined that Len’s criticism of the sexiness of the cha-cha indicated that Len needed “bran,” but another British fellow took the position that Len was right. (Figures.) Someone even took the position that Ian was going to win, which reinforced the point that there’s just no accounting for taste.

It was then time to reassure one couple that they would be moving on to next week’s finale, and who was reassured? Joey and Kym, who saw the bottom two last week but apparently received more viewer support this week. Maybe it was that trip to Disneyland that was shown on Monday. People in the Magic Kingdom do tend to be forgiving about egregiously hammy performances.

As dull and weird as some of the show’s professional exhibitions sometimes become, it’s hard to take anything away from the appearance by Joaquin Cortez, whom you probably could not have identified as the world’s greatest flamenco dancer. Well, he is.

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And while the first part of his appearance made it seem like maybe he was the world’s greatest hand-clapper, the performance evolved into a fascinating demonstration of a form of dance that’s rarely seen on American television. Somebody might have needed to tell Joaquin that if you wear a purple suit and gold shoes in these parts, people will stare at you, but the dancing itself was first-rate and a great deal of fun to watch.

Jimmy Kimmel and his cross-dressing pal Guillermo have provided commentary all season, and they provided an apparent send-off for their segments this week by showing us that everyone around the offices of Jimmy’s show now dances everywhere. It was easy to find oneself hoping that really was a “staff writer,” as the caption said it was, dancing down the hallway, and that that really was the receptionist doing a boogie while making some copies. Just for sparing us any additional Guillermo-in-a-dress jokes (other than … the presence of Guillermo in a dress), the segment was a success, and was actually pretty cute.

Enrique Iglesias performed again, and this time, there weren’t any dancers. That meant that this was essentially just like watching Enrique Iglesias on Leno or what have you, so whatever your recommended daily allowance of Enrique Iglesias may be, you likely reached it during this particular hour.

Entertainers vs. athletes
Next was a surprisingly cogent segment examining the fact that the final four include two athletes (Laila and Apolo) and two entertainers (Joey and Ian). With a fair amount of insight, the judges discussed the fact that athletes (referred to as “sports people”) have advantages of muscle memory, training, competitive experience and other factors, while entertainers have more natural razzle-dazzle and are more at home in the performance environment with the makeup and lights and so forth.

Much of the time, “Dancing’s” filler segments are enormously dull and certainly don’t show any particular insight, but as the judges talked about how Apolo and Laila naturally have more “game face” than Joey and Ian, it became clear that ... they were right. And when they said that Ian and Joey find it easier to crank up their presentation than Apolo and Laila, well … they were right about that, too. It was an unusually substantive little bit of film, particularly on a show that devotes quite as much energy as this one does to self-tanner and spangles.

Less substantive was the following segment, in which the contestants all sized each other up. The expected comments were made — everyone fears Joey’s showmanship, everyone respects Ian’s extraordinary work ethic, everyone knows how strong Apolo is, and everyone knows how Laila can “work it.”

The “I came here to win” mantra was repeated a few more times, and then it was time to find out another couple who was safe. When Laila and Maks were told that they were safe, it started to look grim for Ian and Cheryl. After all, Ian has been the weakest dancer of these four all along, and he had lower scores than Apolo last night. Apolo has been a frontrunner all along; it seemed impossible that he wouldn’t even make the final. On the other hand, Ian finished ahead of Joey last week, despite having lower scores and being a worse dancer.

The closing moments were tense. Who would go home? In the end, the right thing happened, and Ian was sent home. He was out danced in the final analysis, and he had the comfort of going home on a high note. Ian gave all credit to Cheryl for getting him as far as he got, and in his send-off, it was clear that he had a very satisfying and very happy experience. Honestly, as appealing as Ian is, had he stayed around when Apolo went home, there would have been nothing awaiting him but backlash. As has been the case fairly often this season, Ian went home at about the right time, and he takes a good story with him.

So now, we head for the finale. Joey, the ham? Laila, the elegant fighter? Apolo, the young, adorable one? It most likely will be the strongest actual dancing the series has ever produced, and it’s likely to be a pretty good show.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.