Week 9 on “Dancing With the Stars” was filled with surprises, both good and bad, as the six remaining couples performed individual dances and then trio dances with an added pro. In the end, the results left me wondering when the dance competition shifted so far into a personality contest with some stronger dancers sent home by fickle voters.
After last week's Cher extravaganza, this week was pared to the bone with no opening number except for short dances by each of the couples — with viewers urged to vote for their favorite on Twitter. But I won't keep you waiting to find out who was sent packing — it was a huge shock and sets up an interesting semifinal next week.
After Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff, Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke, Amber Riley and Derek Hough, and Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani were declared safe to dance next week, host Tom Bergeron said Elizabeth Berkley Lauren and Val Chmerkovskiy, and Bill Engvall and Emma Slater were in jeopardy. Then, as Emma wiped tears from her cheeks and Bill put on a brave face, poof! Elizabeth and Val were eliminated from the competition and the audience booed its opinion.
Co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet was almost speechless before asking Elizabeth how she was feeling. Come one, Brooke, how do you think she felt? “I'm sad, definitely more things we wanted to do,” said Elizabeth. “I am honestly beyond grateful for this opportunity. This was one of the biggest gifts and blessing in my life. I want to thank everyone, especially Val. I mean, I've learned so much, obviously dance but as a person and growth as a human being from our partnership is something I will hold so dear.” And as she finally started to take it all in, Val kept talking to her. “You've done incredible,” he said. “Celebrate yourself, believe in yourself. I want you to love yourself.”
It was viewers' votes from last week that doomed the couple since their Viennese waltz received an 8 and two 9s from the judges, with head judge even calling Elizabeth his top dancer even though he didn't think the dance was her best. Their trio dance was a salsa with Gleb Savchenko that only got rave reviews and triple 10s for a perfect 30! Elizabeth wasn't my favorite on the show this season, but she was definitely one of the better dancers and scored consistently near the top of the leaderboard. Oh well.
Other surprises tonight were the scores that some of the couples received, both high and low. Here are the couples, from the highest on the leaderboard to the lowest. (Elizabeth and Val had a score of 26 for their Viennese waltz and 30 for their trio salsa for a total of 56.)
Corbin and Karina — waltz; trio jazz with Witney Carson (DWTS Troupe)
This was a beautiful routine, with flowing lines and romantic feeling. Carrie Ann said it was dreamy but told Corbin he “wasn't on his center” in two parts of the routine. Len told Corbin that his dancing was so expressive but that he wished there had been more of the dance in hold, and Bruno called it “enchanting.”
Score: 9, 9, 10 = 28
Their trio jive routine brought nothing but praise. “That may be the best routine I've seen in 17 seasons,” said Carrie Ann. Len said that they came out and exploded, and that “it all came together — music, routine, performance — into one fabulous whole.” And Bruno thought it lived up to the Bob Fosse standard.
Score: 10, 10, 10 = 30 + 28 = total of 58
Leah and Tony — tango; trio jive with Henry Byalikov (DWTS Troupe)
All three judges, particularly Carrie Ann, pointed out how much Leah has improved over the weeks, and it's obvious. Bruno called it a “bad ass proper tango” and said that when she maintains her focus, she's stunning. Len told Tony that “all the steps were there” and that Leah brought the flavor.
Score: 9, 9, 9 = 27
Their trio jive was the most clever and most original of the night. Each portrayed one of the judges (Tony was Bruno with all his flamboyance) and worked in awesome choreography. Bruno said that Leah missed a couple of steps, but that it was the most witty routine. Carrie Ann loved that Leah, as her, took control of the guys, and Len said he loved the concept.
Score: 9, 9, 9 = 27 + 27 = total of 54
Jack and Cheryl — Viennese waltz; trio samba with Sharna Burgess
Jack is another dancer who has improved incredibly, and it really showed in tonight's waltz. Len said it was “crackerjack, Jack,” had a lovely hold and ticked off all the little things they did well. Bruno told Jack that “ballroom just flows out of you,” and Carrie Ann said Jack has “built your entire journey on technique. You're just amazing!”
Score: 10, 10, 9 (to boos) = 29
Their trio samba didn't fare as well, although Len said it was a clever routine and fun, and Bruno said he got a “case of jungle fever” from the routine. Carrie Ann bemoaned the loss of technique but said it was fun, adding that Jack was good with Cheryl but was overwhelmed by both women.
Score: 8, 8, 9 = 25 + 29 = total of 54
Amber and Derek — quickstep; trio salsa with Mark Ballas
Although her knees are a real problem for Amber, she said that she's in it to win it, and it showed tonight. However, the judges found flaws in her performance. Len called Derek's choreography “terrific,” but said it covered up problems Amber was having, particularly in her top line. Judge Bruno Tonioli said she was dazzling but she must work on not leaning forward, and judge Carrie Ann Inaba told her, “You've set the standard very high,” now she has to meet her own standards and that she made a few mess-ups.
Score: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 8; Bruno, 8 for a 24.
Their trio salsa was fast, hot, clever, quick and lots of fun. Len called her “Smiley Riley” and said she was like a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day, but needed to do more hip movement. Bruno said she let it rip but needed more hips, and Carrie Ann said the trio was a “dream team.”
Score: 9, 9, 9 = 27 + 24 = total of 51
Bill and Emma — Charleston; trio salsa with Peta Murgatroyd
Bill certainly tried his hardest and the viewers obviously love him, but the routine was not up to his previous efforts. Bruno pointed out that Bill's timing was off, Carrie Ann said he was totally off the beat, and Len said there “was no swivel,” it was wooden and wasn't a good routine.
Score: 7, 7, 7 = 21
I'm afraid that I just didn't understand the basis for the trio salsa. I guess it was Willy Wonka and two candy dolls, or something, so I was surprised when the routine got poor reviews. Bruno called it “Willy Wonka and the Babes,” and said there was no rhythm or timing. Carrie Ann called it “weird” and said she kept looking for the rhythm, and Len warned Bill that he has to really work and lift up his dances if he expects to get through the semifinals. The audience, who love Bill, too, booed at the scores.
Score: 7, 7, 7 = 21 + 21 = total of 42
So there we are — Elizabeth is out, Amber is near the bottom, and Bill and Leah are in the semifinals. Who would have guessed that lineup? We will just have to watch next week to see what happens next. And if you are marking your calendar, the word is that the finale will be a two-night affair — at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, and a two-hour results show at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26. See you next week — keep dancing.