Is it possible the much-touted “best season ever” of “Dancing With the Stars” could end with the worst final dances ever? After Monday night’s performance show, it sure looks that way. The stars and their partners took on the judges’ picks and freestyle routines, in anticipation of Tuesday night’s finale, but even the usually point-happy judges appeared disappointed with what the final three couples brought to the stage.
In fact, in the penultimate show of the season, only a couple of performances stood out at all. And as Marie Osmond demonstrated, that’s not always a good thing.
Barely in the leadOpening the night, Mel B and Maksim Chmerkovskiy performed the cha-cha. It was a chance for them to show how far they’ve come by reinterpreting the dance that earned them a 24 on the first episode of the season.
In one of the few highlight dances of the show, Mel and Maks offered a sassy, fun routine. The progressive steps, high-energy moves and healthy portion of non-cheesy theatrics entertained. Still, even with all of that, it wasn’t up to the constant 30s M&M have grown accustomed to lately. It did earn them four more points than their last cha-cha, though.
Head judge Len Goodman found the dance “crisp and clean,” and Bruno Tonioli loved it, though most of his raves were about how amazing Mel looked in her red bedazzled bikini. As for Carrie Ann Inaba, she could have nitpicked some of the routines tiny flaws, but instead went after it for lacking excitement — the one thing it had in abundance.
For the next number, Mel promised, “Our freestyle dance is going to be very young, hip and fun!” An odd boast, given that the dance that followed could hardly be described as any of those things. The routine at times straddled ballroom, hip-hop and contemporary styles, but never found a way to bring them all together cohesively. Surely with M&M free from the ballroom rules, a sexy powerhouse dance was what the fans wanted, rather than the strangely paced mash-up.
Carrie Ann wasn’t shy in telling Mel that “it wasn’t all that I was looking for,” earning Carrie boos from the Spice Girl gallery. None of the judges looked impressed. Which made the generous score of 27 a surprise, even to Mel. “I thought I was going to get a four or something,” she gasped.
Is it too late to get Jennie Garth back?Next up, host Tom Bergeron introduced, “The star who, despite never topping the judge’s leader board, made it to the finals.” That, of course, would be none other than Marie, who said she was “stoked!” to be in the finals.
What followed was a good example of how far from par Marie is in this competition. Taking another shot at the samba, aka, the fainting dance, she and Jonathan Roberts only eclipsed their previous effort in that they both remained conscious following it.
Throughout the samba, Marie displayed dismal footwork, along with arm and leg lines to match — points that the judges kindly glossed over. “Technically you’re not the strongest of our finalists,” Len stated plainly. “But for entertainment and fun, you’re second to none.” And so went most of the comments, citing problems with “movement” and “technique” but followed by kudos for entertainment.
Defiantly, Marie shouted, “I liked it! I liked it!”
But Tom Bergeron jokingly gave it to her straight, “They didn’t! Don’t have a hissy fit.” The all eights she earned left Marie shocked, rather than thanking the panel for such a high score, relatively speaking.
Then there was Johnny and Marie’s freestyle, and, well, no one remembered the samba after that. Marie took the stage in a fluffy pink baby doll dress, complete with pink circles on her cheeks and miles of false lashes. See, she was a doll, animated by Jonathan’s giant key, and the staggering, stomping and falling around the floor that came after was somehow meant to be dance.
It was as if Marie said, “Hey, I made it this far without dancing very well. I wonder what would happen if I didn’t dance at all?” The main result? Baffled judges. Len attempted to sympathize, saying that some ideas are better in one’s head than on the stage. “I’m not buying it,” Marie interrupted.
Since the nice way wasn’t working, Bruno threw caution to the wind. “It defies criticism,” he explained. “It’s like ‘Baby Jane’ meets ‘The Bride of Chucky.’” Once again, Bruno and Len’s sevens were virtually gifts after that mess, but the head-scratcher was how Carrie Ann thought it ranked an eight.
Foot failureThe judges wanted to see Helio Castroneves and Julianne Hough perform the jive once more. Their last attempt, in week three, disappointed the officials and left them with 24 points. Unfortunately, the take-two dance on Monday night showed no improvement.
Dressed in sock-hop pink and black, the couple bounced and boogied in a fun and cutesy way — from the waist up. The problem was Helio’s feet, which seemed to act on their own rhythm-less volition. And those toe-only steps that Len warned the Indy champ about three weeks ago were back in force.
The audience didn’t notice the problems, or didn’t mind them, as they cheered and gave Helio and Julianne a standing O. Carrie Ann claimed to agree with the audience, calling it “fun!” Len on the other hand felt it was “really a disappointment.” The jive only merited one point more than their first one.
Any letdown from the jive was quickly forgotten after Helio managed one feat his competitors couldn’t — a decent freestyle. After tearing off their matching racing uniforms, Helio and Julianne worked an energetic, if not creatively reaching, number. But what it lacked in detailed choreography, it made up for in a series of difficult lifts.
Calling it the perfect blend of what Marie and Mel bring to the game — entertainment and technique — Carrie Ann loved it. Bruno dubbed Helio, “Mr. Irresistible,” and Len looked relieved to finally see “the best freestyle of the night … by miles.” Carrie Ann’s nine was all that prevented the night from ending on a perfect score.
So, to the surprise of no one who’s watched the show so far, that leaves Mel and Helio neck and neck heading into the finale night. Neither of them showed the full extent of what they’re capable of, but, hey, at least they didn’t put on some over-the-top creepy skit. And speaking of Marie, don’t count her out just yet. Her fans carried her this far, and they might still take her all the way. The suspense ends Tuesday night.
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.