This season’s “Dancing with the Stars” contestants caught an early break, as all 12 couples waltzed through to week two of the competition. Monday night’s performance show proved the deferred elimination paid off for some dedicated dancers. For others, it just postponed the inevitable.
While the first move-makers of the night collectively put their worst feet forward with the mambo and quickstep, as the show went on, the talent-heavy contenders emerged. The top dancer of the night came as a surprise, given last week’s mediocre showing, and begged the question, “Could a male athlete win the ballroom battle again?”
Bottom of the ballroom barrelAfter last week’s foxtrot, Steve Guttenberg proved he was a swell guy, though not necessarily much of a dancer. That image remained intact when he showed the world his “macho mambo combo.” His partner, Anna Trebunskaya, deserved credit for choreographing a number that gave Steve plenty of opportunities to show off his personality rather than his footwork, but that didn’t prevent the judges from spotting the flubs. “All the energy went into the facial expressions,” said Bruno Tonioli. Apparently all that fancy face work was only worth 16 out of 30 points.
Cristián de la Fuente needed to prove his top half could match his hips-down action, given the criticisms his cha-cha-cha earned from the panel. One week later, his posture is improved, but the quickstep didn’t bring out his best. Once again, Cheryl Burke’s perfect moves only highlighted Cristián’s problems — this time all having to do with his sloppy footwork. After getting a couple of generous sevens and a six for his efforts, Cristián oddly added, “It’s OK. (The judges) are never happy.”
It was like seeing her failing foxtrot all over again when Monica Seles performed the mambo. No amount of training from pro Jonathan Roberts seems to help with the tennis champ’s natural lack of fluidity. “I can see you’re out of your comfort zone,” was the kind preface head judge Len Goodman offered before pointing out that she suffered “so many” technical problems. In a repeat of her last score, Monica walked away with 15 out of 30.
While Penn Jillette’s rehearsal footage was good for a laugh, especially seeing his 6-foot-6 frame wedged in a posture bar, his quickstep inspired nothing but groans. Galloping around the stage without an ounce of grace, the big guy fumbled through the routine, and appeared to simply drag Kym Johnson around for the ride. While Len and Bruno told him just how bad it was, Carrie Ann Inaba found something “odd and endearing” about the performance. How he ended up with two points more than Monica is anyone’s guess.
The wildcards take overWhile it wasn’t up to her foxtrot premiere dance, Priscilla Presley managed a respectable mambo. With the help of pro partner Louis van Amstel, the 62-year-old pulled off the fast-paced and complicated dance, showing only a slight stiffness in her midsection (which was a much smaller offense than the creepy kitty cat crawl she threw in at the end). The biggest bash from the judges was a rare one: too much technical precision. Len wanted to see something wilder from Priscilla, but all the judges agreed the dance was seven-worthy.
Shannon Elizabeth flopped last week with her dismal cha-cha debut, but what a difference a week makes. Like a completely different dancer, Shannon clung to Derek Hough through a racing quickstep and nailed the footwork. “This is what we want,” Bruno shouted. The resulting all-eights almost seemed shy for the turnaround performance.
The biggest surprise of the night came from one of the biggest guys, the other 6-foot-6 dancer on the floor, Jason Taylor. The NFL defensive end wowed the crowd with a mambo hardly imaginable after last week’s boring foxtrot. Edyta Sliwinska deserves her fair share of the praise for turning Jason into an at-ease hip-swiveling “mambo king.” After the judges cheered on the couple during the dance, it came as no surprise when they gave the performance a 27 out of 30.
After disappointing the judges with her cha-cha-cha, Marissa Jaret Winokur wept and promised she could do better. Though she’s still not the top dancing queen, the quickstep she and Tony Dovolani delivered did prove Marissa can move to the fast-paced music. Len pegged it when he said Marissa’s “lovely and bubbly” personality made a match with the quickstep. With only a few foot flubs, she earned all sevens.
A mixed bag
He walked away as the lowest scoring man last week, and while he didn’t earn that distinction this time, Adam Carolla’s mambo didn’t do much for his reputation as a dancer, either. His permanently hunched shoulders and his “counting the steps” look, all distracted from, well, thankfully a poor dance. The judges were kind (especially Carrie Ann, whom Adam referred to as a bitch last week). Julianne Hough beamed with excitement after the score of 19 was given. You know it’s bad when Julianne thinks that’s good!
Marlee Matlin continued to stand out as a favorite after she and Fabian “Not Maks” Sanchez showed the crowd their quickstep. With very few flaws to point to, most of the panel simply applauded Marlee’s musicality. Well, Len did have one nitpick about the flavor of mambo that Fabian infused in the dance. Still, with all eights, expect the pair to stick around.
Another shock to absolutely no one came when Kristi Yamaguchi aced it again. The figure skater, who last week insisted she was no ringer, danced seamlessly alongside Mark Ballas with some amazing moves. Carrie Ann summed it up when she said, “The other couples are going to have a hard time beating you in this sport.” Matching Jason, Kristi earned 27 for the night.
The leader of the men’s pack last week, Mario, is still near the top. After taking Len’s criticisms to heart last week, there wasn’t a single heel lead in the whole of Mario’s quickstep. Nice to see he’s a quick learner, too. With bonus props from Bruno for being so darned charismatic, Mario and partner Karina Smirnoff scored 26 out of 30.
Now that the unprecedented non-elimination week is behind them, Tom Bergeron warned that on Tuesday night “dreams of glory will turn into nightmares of failure” for two contestants. While that seemed a little harsh, there’s plenty of boot-worthy action on the ballroom. If dance alone dictates who goes home, then Adam and Monica better prepare their farewells now.
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.