Monday’s semi-final round saw this season’s biggest shakeups on “Dancing with the Stars.” In a leaderboard-tipping night, each celebrity had two chances to showcase his or her ballroom best. Some rose to the challenge, delivering their top dances to date. Unfortunately for others, dancing duds were the order of the night.
Of course highs and lows are nothing new to the competition, but the stars responsible for those swings made for big news. At this point in the game, it seemed almost a given for the reigning “Dancing” queen, Brooke Burke, to walk away with a win, but a former back-of-the-pack dancer turned those expectations around.
Boybander Lance Bass, whose previous routines rarely earned raves, looked like a new man as he hit the dance floor with his mambo. Suddenly his chronic timing troubles and footwork fumbles were gone, as new-and-improved Lance focused on toe leads and precision steps.
And Lance wasn’t the only one to break out of some bad ballroom habits. His partner, Lacey Schwimmer, of inconsistent choreography fame, designed a smooth, seamless number that nodded toward tradition but still showcased the ‘N Sync star’s hammy strengths.
“In this competition, it’s not where you start,” Lance’s toughest critic, head judge Len Goodman assured him. “It’s where you finish.”
Good thing, too. When his first semi-final dance was over, Lance finished with his highest score of the season, 28 points — and his first perfect 10 ever.
For his encore effort, Lance jitterbugged his way to a winning streak and then some. As if out-dancing his first routine wasn’t impressive enough, he jumped and jived through a swinging dance with just one shoe. Yes, shortly after the number began, Lance’s footwear flew off. Without missing a beat, he kicked the offending shoe aside and went on like nothing happened.
After another round of praise from the panel, L&L walked away with two more 10s and one more personal best.
Talk about a turnaroundIf anything could shock the crowd more Lance’s come-from-behind lead, it had to be the come-from-ahead failure of Brooke Brooke.
In her first dance of the night, the jive, Brooke struggled to find her footing and her leglines. The bended-knee performance was out of character for the TV host, who could normally count all-round-near-perfection as her biggest strength.
If those fumbles weren’t bad enough, partner Derek Hough made matters worse by ending the dance with a huge spinning lift. That’s a no-no for any ballroom standard, but with Carrie Ann Inaba, self-declared member of the “lift police” looking on, it was evidence of poor judgment from the pro.
The Susan Lucci-caliber performance left Brooke with an all-time low score of 21, but with one more chance ahead of her, she still had time to prove it was a one-time fluke.
And that’s just what Brooke did with the salsa. Despite a couple of minor timing flubs, she was back on proper foot-form in the high-energy routine. As for her leglines, well, her gold lame shimmy pants made those hard to judge. (Too bad she didn’t wear these in the jive.)
“Welcome back into the competition!” Bruno Tonioli exclaimed, before helping to hand Brooke 28 big ones for the improved performance.
Brooke shared the second-place spot with former Super Bowl champ Warren Sapp, who mambo-ed to mixed reviews. Though the dance was pretty much more of the same from the man known for charming the crowd while fumbling his feet, the judges weren’t as lenient as they have been in the past.
Rhythm-wise, Warren was on target, and while he didn’t miss a step, he didn’t land them gracefully, either. The in-house audience didn’t seem to mind, as they gave the big guy a standing “O” anyway.
“You epitomize ‘go with what you know,’” Len said before adding, “But you don’t mess around with technique.” At least the technique-light dance was worth a matching set of 8s.
In his second routine, Warren tackled the jitterbug alongside pro partner Kym Johnson, to much the same results. The slower-than-normal version of the dance, which still seemed to put an aerobic strain on the huffing and puffing defensive tackle, had all the right elements with none of the finesse that one would expect by the semi-final rounds.
For her part, Carrie Ann enjoyed the effort enough to add one point to the previous round of eights, leaving Warren with 49 out of 60.
Teen in troubleOne spot on the leaderboard remained the same at the end of the night. For the second week in a row, teen star Cody Linley landed in last place.
Cody, reunited with returning pro Julianne Hough, took the floor for the paso doble but didn’t bring many of the typical paso moves with him. The pair eschewed the dance’s traditional bullfighting theme in favor of some military marching maneuvers.
The routine fell flat, as the “Hannah Montana” actor stomped through the passion-free number, even stopping once to put on a jacket, and Julianne grumped her way around him.
“It was the AWOL android and the queen of mean,” Bruno said, summing up the dance.
With 22 points, Cody and Julianne turned to the salsa as their last chance to save the night. The quirky dance highlighted the chemistry the pair was previously known for, but failed to show off any big moves.
Well, there was that one double-armed headlock Cody caught Julianne in, but that’s not really the sort of thing the judges were hoping to see. After some criticism about Cody's musicality, mostly from Carrie Ann, he added another 24 points to his total.
Tuesday night is the last elimination before next week’s finale, and thanks to Lance’s shocking turnaround, it’s not looking good for the youngster. If fans don’t save him, it’s curtains for Cody, as well as goodbye to any chance of seeing a Hough sibling showdown in the finale.
Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to Msnbc.com