A "Dancing With the Stars" season is usually 10 weeks of stumbles, struggles and sambas. But here we are in Week 10 and it's only the semifinals, so there will be one more week before Season 17 comes to an end. That means one more week of confused voting by viewers, embattled judges, and exhausted celebrities and pros.
And to make the semifinals just that more special, pro dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy was sitting in tonight as guest judge, side-by-side with judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli. Instead of 30 points, each couple was able to score a maximum of 40 points for each of two dances -- both done in different styles to the same song.
At the end of the show, host Tom Bergeron announced the first three couples who will be in the finals -- Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff, Amber Riley and Derek Hough, and Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke, who fell to the floor in delight. With two couples left, only one would go on, but it's no shocking surprise anymore -- we are ready for it. As in previous weeks, the viewers voting last week for "everyman" Bill Engvall and partner Emma Slater determined that someone else would go home.
This week, it was Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani who were eliminated, even though Leah has been steadily improving each week. Both couples had similar scores with Leah and Tony scoring slightly higher than Bill and Emma -- 32/40 for a tepid paso doble and 33/40 for a much better Argentine tango, both to versions of "Bad Romance," for a combined total of 65 out of 80 for the night. Unfortunately, the judges said Leah wasn't able to get into character for the dances and needed to show more emotion, and she just didn't resonate with the viewers last week in the same way that Bill did.
"I have to thank Tony and my family," said Leah. "I have to thank everyone, especially Tony." Tony added, "I've been here for 16 seasons. This was an incredible experience and if every season will be like this, I'll live a long life."
During the evening, there were some outstanding routines and others that were definitely lacking. The breakdown, from the highest scores on the leaderboard to the lowest, had a spread of 19 points. It will be very interesting to see how the viewers vote as part of the finals, but more about that later.
Amber and Derek -- song: "Locked Out of Heaven"
Round 1 -- jazz. This was a sensational, fast-moving routine that Derek choreographed to take it easy on Amber's damaged knees. Len pointed at Amber and simply said, "Do it again!" Bruno told her that she was "just incredible" and the sync in the dance was "out of this world." Carrie Ann thought Amber was in a class of her own, and Maks thought it was amazing and intricate.
Scores: Carrie Ann, 10; Len, 10; Maks, 9; Bruno, 9 = 39/40
Round 2 -- Viennese waltz. Beginning with a solo spot for Amber, the exceptional performance in a cloud of dry ice was romantic and flowing. Len said, "There's smoke on the floor, but fire in that performance." Bruno thought Amber "danced like an angel," Carrie Ann admitted to being brought to tears, and Maks complimented Derek as a great partner before telling Amber to do the same job next week in the finals and she was amazing.
Score: 10, 10, 10, 10 = perfect score of 40/40; combined total of 79 out of 80
Corbin and Karina -- song: "My Song Knows What You Did in the Dark (Light 'Em Up)"
Round 1 -- tango. The rehearsal package showed how much training Corbin has had, which should give some credence to those who say he's a ringer, and it showed in his dancing tonight. Bruno said there was drive, intensity and passion, but that Corbin lost frame at times (as the audience booed). Carrie Ann called it "hot, hot, hot" and the most intense tango ever. Maks disagreed with Bruno, saying the frame was great, and the content was amazing. Len said it was "too full on -- it's not manic Monday." He added Corbin's frame was too wide and that it was good as a performance but as a tango, it wasn't his "cup of tea."
Score: 9, 8, 9, 9 = 35/40
Round 2 -- rumba. I think that as a rumba, it didn't have enough time in hold, but the judges loved it. Bruno said the quality of movement was unbelievable, Carrie Ann loved the way Corbin didn't wear a shirt, said she watched every muscle and that it was a "fantastic" rumba. Maks said Corbin had a "huge advantage in Karina, one of the top five best female dancers of all time." At that point, Karina came over and kissed Maks, her ex-fiancé. Len liked the "light and shade" of it, thought the technique was great and that it was a great rumba.
Score: 10, 10, 10, 10 = a perfect 40/40; combined score of 75 out of 80
Jack and Cheryl -- song: "Roxanne"
Round 1 -- jazz. With the guidance of Cheryl and his own determination, Jack has really evolved into a good dancer. Carrie Ann said he "killed it," and Maks thought it was great and he loved it. Although he liked Jack's commitment, Len said the routine lacked "a bit of finesse," and was too "full on" for him. Bruno said it was a very hard routine for someone not used to jazz, but noted that Jack needed to have more extension.
Score: 8, 8, 9, 8 = 33/40
Round 2 -- Argentine tango. Jack and Cheryl really had it all together for this routine, which was sharp and crisp and stunning. Following a standing ovation from the crowd, Carrie Ann said Jack was "so in the zone," his hold was incredible and there was passion and precision. Maks said it was a great routine, with great precision and was "pure Cheryl as her best." Having a former pro dancer at the judges' table certainly put a spotlight on the partners, as well as the celebs, this week. Len said, "Jack, you're back. There was so much drama and drive," and Bruno called him, "sleek as a prowling panther."
Score: 10, 9, 9, 10 = 38/40; combined score of 71/80
Bill and Emma -- song: "Sexy and I Know It"
Round 1 -- cha cha cha. Bill didn't show his dancing best in this number, and the judges knew it. Maks said he was a "lot of people's inspiration," but that although there were a lot of holes and issues in the routine, it was still a great performance. It was pointed out that Bill is not the judges' favorite, but is the people's champion. Len said Bill always tries to bring his best (not this time, Len), Bruno commended him for the pleasure and laughs he brings, and Carrie Ann said, "I'm sitting here, taking points off ... but still smiling."
Score: 7, 7, 7, 7 = 28/40
Round 2 -- Argentine tango. Maybe Bill figured that he had to go all out because this routine was much, much better. Maks thought Bill's musical interpretation was amazing, as was his dancing, and said there was passion and emotion. Len said that he didn't know if Bill has to skill to win, but had the will to win, and Bruno thought it was very well done. Carrie Ann declared, "You never missed a beat. Thank you for finally taking our notes." The judges also complimented Emma on her teaching ability with Bill.
Score: 8, 8, 8, 8 = 32/40; combined score of 60 out of 80.
For those of you yearning for the two-night format, your wish will come true. DWTS will return to two nights for the finals. After the four couples dance next Monday night, the viewers' votes from tonight will be added to the judges' score to determine which couple is eliminated.
The remaining three couples will go on to the final dances, including the exciting, unpredictable freestyle, for the finale at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26. For the first time this season, the votes of the viewers on Monday night, not from the week before (and just like we all did it last season), will be added to the following night's judges' scores to determine the Season 17 champion and winner of the Mirrorball Trophy.
Maks did a good job as judge, even agreeing with Carrie Ann much of the time -- to her surprise. Only one question for tonight's show -- did co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet get her dress made of the tuck-and-roll in the backseat of a '57 Chevy? Just wondering. See you next week for two nights of recaps and the crowning of the winning couple of Season 17 -- keep dancing.