Dance Moms' Abby Lee Miller joins the judges' panel for the first (and probably last) time as the show introduces the Celebrity Dance Duels

By Samantha Highfill
Updated May 06, 2014 at 04:17 AM EDT
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Week 8 of the competition might not have had a theme, but it did have Dance Moms‘ Abby Lee Miller as a guest judge, which is perhaps why they decided to go without a theme in the first place. Trying to have both would’ve made the night feel like a little much. As far as I’m concerned, Miller’s hair was a big enough deal — and definitely full of secrets — before we even got to her attitude or her absolute obsession with James. (You guys know what I’m talking about.)

So who’s ready to dance? Well, I hope you brought a large number of stage decorations (a.k.a. home furniture), or else you probably won’t be allowed to take the floor this week. Cherry trees and sofas or nothing at all!

We kicked the night off with the debut of Mark Ballas’ best Robin Thicke impression! As far as the song was concerned, it sounded like a fun dance track, but I was a bit more obsessed with the dance number. Ballas’ single, “Get My Name” — I have no idea what that means — got things off on the right note, I’ll give it that much. However, the thing that really got me excited for the show? Watching Maks and Meryl constantly pat each other.

Tonight would mark the introduction of the Celebrity Dance Duel — said in Tom’s best movie-trailer voice — and, of course, Abby Lee Miller as a judge. Her checklist of perfection included: Straight legs, pointed feet, perfect musicality, inspiration, emotional changes, and pretty much everything. And by everything, she means you have to look like James Maslow … and be named James Maslow.

Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: 40/40 The quickstep is usually the kiss of death for dancers, but I think Charlie finally managed to find a dance that matched his energy level. And even though this was the perfect opportunity to get him back in his Mary Poppins blazer, I’m willing to look past that oversight because his mom is so adorable. That’s right, Charlie’s mom paid a visit to remind him what a little optimist he is. And just like that, the man was working those high kicks — Olympian coming through! — and quickstepping his way all around that floor. I was very impressed by how together their feet were throughout the entire routine, and I thought Charlie did a great job of toning it down a little, even though his hyper, six-year-old-on-a-Surge-induced-sugar-high personality worked particularly well for this number.

Afterward, Len was deciding if this was special enough for a 10, but Abby was here to correct people: She wanted him to straighten his knee on some jump that she was wrong about, and get this: Bruno was right! Not an arabesque, Abby. Sorry we’re not sorry! Also, did she really just make a comment that he needed to slick back his hair? Is she crazy? The bounce in those locks accounts for at least 60 percent of his charm. The other 40? All gold medal, smiles, and optimism!

Bruno praised Charlie’s precise footwork, and Carrie Ann thought tonight might be his lucky night. Spoiler: It was. Also, how awkward would it have been if she’d said that and Len didn’t give them a 10? Risky, Carrie Ann. But it paid off.

OK, between Erin’s romper and her making fun of the thoroughbred comment, she did win me over tonight. Plus, anyone who defends Charlie’s hair is alright with me.

Important note: Len loves him some “Hey Ya!”

NEXT: “I smell some spray tan wrestling coming on.”

Danica McKellar and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 38/40 Dancing the tango, Val was out to please Len, the technical specialist. And apparently, that meant putting a huge chandelier in the middle of the room and fighting together over a crown? I’m not really sure, but I was into it! I mean, Danica had a rather scandalous slit in her dress and feathers nearly on her pupils. If that doesn’t win you over, what will? OK, maybe the smoke on the floor was a little much, but Val’s little solo was the only thing I noticed for the first half of this dance anyway. And then once it was over, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Amy who looked like Maleficent watching them from above, didn’t she? Cheer up, girl. Your turn’s coming!

Overall, I thought Danica could’ve been more fierce, and the running back to the podium at the end of the routine was a bit awkward. Other than that, I was a perfectly happy viewer.

Abby thought the concept was amazing and gave us her first inappropriate comment of the night: “I love to see a man down on his knees.” And yes, her prepubescent students were sitting in the audience listening, but we’ll just breeze right past that one for the sake of all things good in the world. Long story short, Abby loved The Wonder Years and didn’t really have anything important to say. Bruno that it was Danica’s most powerful powerful performance, and it left Carrie Ann feeling like a proud mom. Len thought it took a while to get started, but he loved the result. And in an expression I’ve never heard before and will probably never hear again, he said, “You were on it like a bonnet.” Sure, why not?

And now, another Erin gem! Saying the crown wouldn’t even fit on her weave? Damn you, Erin. I was trying so hard not to fall in love with you, but now I just want to watch football with you and go shopping for rompers — in that order.

Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 36/40 Now for rumba time with my favorite couple! This week was all about being sensual and vulnerable. Maks and Meryl were telling the story of a dysfunctional relationship (unlike theirs!) which included a slap, him throwing her around, and this magnificent moment: “Just because a teddy bear is large doesn’t mean he’s scary.” I now want a coffee table book of life advice from Meryl Davis. And let’s not forget this ridiculous, adorable, amazing interaction from rehearsal:

Maks: You can’t pet me.

Meryl: Yes I can.

Maks: Well you can but you shouldn’t.

Meryl: I should.

Maks: OK, fine.

I honestly want a reality show with these two, where she lives her life brushing his insults off her shoulder, telling him like it is, and then they spend their nights dancing together in the moonlight. They’re kind of like a modern day Beauty and the human version of Beast, right?! And I mean that with absolutely no insult to Maks — have you seen Beast? He’s hot.

The routine itself felt more contemporary than anything, but most importantly, it was captivating. There were dishes being broken, faces being slapped, and one Olympian using her legs to the fullest. And the crowd was dead silent during it, which showed just how compelling it was.

Bruno called it a tempestuous melodrama and compared it to a play without words — specifically, A Streetcar Named Desire. (Suddenly, I’m dying to hear Maks’ rendition of “Stella!!!”) Carrie Ann loved the fluidity and chemistry between them. Also, props on the hip action! Although, both Carrie Ann and Len would’ve liked more actual rumba content, and freakin’ Debbie Downer over there sitting next to Bruno made some uncomfortable comment about Meryl’s feet, with which she was obviously trying to flirt with Maks, but he was NOT having it. He is Meryl’s man, guys, and if you insult even so much as one toe on Meryl’s foot, he hates you. As he told Erin, “I really don’t care for anything she has to say.”

And you know what I loved even more than Maks letting that inner beast out? Tom defending Merly too. If Tom calls you out on critiquing the wrong style, then you probably shouldn’t feel too welcome, Abby. At this point, I was ready to bring back Redfoo. At least his hair was bigger. Also, Abby giving them an 8? Really? She was just trying to piss Maks off. Thankfully, Bruno evened it out with a 10.

Tom’s best line of the night: “I smell some spray tan wrestling coming on.”

NEXT: Abby Lee Maslow?

Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: 36/40 Candace’s fox trot was, for lack of a better word, fun. I liked how the routine started with more huge props. She and Mark sat on a couch and fought over the remote, which was cute and likable, and I thought it was her best opening yet. At times, I felt like the music was “Rhythm for Dummies” or something, but at least Candace had a little more personality.

Carrie Ann thought Candace had finally found her footing, and Len called it a joyful dance. Abby talked about herself before making a difficult-to-understand comment about the choreography itself — not helpful! — before Bruno talked about the vivacity of the routine. He thought Candace could’ve extended more, but what else is new?

You know what was new? Could Charlie be the new Tom?! Food for thought!

James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: 36/40 As soon as I saw that James was doing the waltz, I was worried. But as soon as I saw his Big Time Rush members come visit him, all my worries floated away! As the nonexistent age-old saying goes: There’s nothing like three a little bro-time to prep you for a waltz!

Despite the enormous pink trees on stage, I somehow was able to focus on the dance. James felt a little robotic to me. An actual sentence form my notes: “Not sure what’s happening with his face.” Also, “heavy feet.”

Len liked the free-flowing movement, but did not appreciate how when James got into hold, he didn’t straighten his legs and therefore pushed his butt out. I sympathized with James here, because who doesn’t try to accentuate their booty on national TV, am I right? But the judges weren’t having it … except for Abby who was quite literally drooling all over James. She asked him to look at her the way he looked at Peta before she volunteered to fix his booty posture. Sorry scary lady, Peta’s got that one handled.

Once again, Abby’s score was obviously dictated by her feelings for the dancers, because that routine did not deserve a 10. Fact.

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: 40/40 Despite that one rib that kept popping out of place, Amy was ready to tango, literally. And this is where I give Derek a shout-out for being the best choreographer on this show. I loved this routine. I even loved the use of the stool, and you all know how much I hate props. I thought the small stage made it feel more intimate and made the movement more difficult and captivating. The kicks were great, and despite the one mishap with the stool, this routine was perfection for me.

Abby praised Derek for being amazing, before using Amy to threaten her own students — remind me never to allow my child to dance for her — before Bruno talked about Amy’s power and precision. Carrie Ann thought it was incredible, and Len, well, if he was dreaming, he didn’t want Tom to wake him up.

(Sidenote: I really hope Tom doesn’t call anyone a “stool person,” because people can only take so much, you know?)

Also, can we give a mirror ball trophy to that little girl from Abby’s company that said she thought Abby “would be ruder.” That’s one brave little girl considering she has dance rehearsal tomorrow. I like her!

NEXT: Introducing the Celebrity Dance Duel (to the death!)

Moving to the Celebrity Dance Duels, the celebs and their partners hit the floor with another duo to try their hand at a small group number. The twist: For approximately half of the dance, the pros would leave the floor and let the celebs duke it out. Sadly, it turned out less like Stomp the Yard than I had hoped. Or even American Gladiators for that matter. Here’s how it went down:

Meryl and Danica: 34/40 Going into this samba, I was really excited to get some brother time x2, not to mention two great female dancers. However, Danica and Maks immediately butted heads in rehearsal, so somebody — Tom? — called in the boys’ grandmother for back-up. She was just the thing the boys needed. Well, sort of.

Something was off from the start of this number. The music was weird to me, and the timing was iffy at best. I loved this shirtless brother aspect — obviously — but the routine didn’t let the girls play off each other. It was a little awkward at times, which pains me to say.

Len acknowledged that the samba is very difficult, but also mentioned that lack of synchronicity. Abby tried to critique Danica, but now the other brother was on top of her. Val wasn’t about to let her critique someone who wasn’t a professional dancer with her standards. And why did she want them in heels? Abby and I do not see eye-to-eye. Carrie Ann agreed that the content was there but that the timing was off, and Bruno gave us more of the same.

And just in case you were wondering, the boys’ grandmother loves them both the same. That’s right. Tom asks the hard-hitting questions. Next stop: 60 Minutes!

Charlie and Candace: 38/40 Charlie and Candace’s approach to contemporary was simple: Keep Candace’s feet from touching the ground. And aside from an opening pose that looked like Candace was a sack thrown across Mark’s back — I laughed out loud — this dance exceeded my expectations. I thought the concept was genius — purple belongs with purple! Matching is important! — and worked so well with the choreography. Not to mention that it was educational.

Also, I appreciated Candace’s crazy hair, because it gave me a glimpse into what I would look like if I ever went on the show.

Abby loved it, but wanted to know what a one-night stand was. Really? Your students are still here, and also, just stop. Did you all see Carrie Ann’s face when she made that comment? Oh yeah, Abby’s definitely not invited back.

Bruno thought Candace and Charlie were made for each other, and Carrie Ann thought the lift was flawless. Well, except of Sharna’s one screw up. Len, however, thought the whole thing was in time with the music, everyone involved, and the universe as a whole. OK, I added that last one, but he was thinking it.

I kind of want an app on my phone that tells me what Len would say about any given decision I make. You know, just to see how I’m doing in life. That being said, I don’t want one that says what Abby thinks, because who cares?!

Also, Gymnastics With the Stars? I’m in, Candace! Let’s watch people wear sparkly leotards and hurt themselves! I’m only sort of kidding.

James and Amy: 39/40 The final celebrity duel of the night involved James nearly killing Amy but oddly sort of fixing her rib in rehearsals before hitting the stage for the jive. I’m not sure I saw much of the actual routine through the layers of fringe, but from what I think I saw, Amy out-performed James. Her kicks were sharp, and I thought that this group choreography really worked well. What we’re learning is basically not to pair the Chmerkovskiy brothers up for choreography (though they do get shirtless, so …)

Bruno thought the number was extraordinary, and Carrie Ann loved how their knees were all at the same height. She, of course, mentioned Amy’s one mess up, but we all knew that was coming. Len said it was everything and more, and Abby was — shockingly! — still in love with James.

At the end of the night, Danica and Val were eliminated, which actually bummed me out. Danica is a good dancer, and Val is approximately 30 percent of the sun in my DWTS sky. I would’ve rather said goodbye to either James or Candace, if I’m being honest. But if James had left, I’m scared Abby would’ve run out on the floor and tried to fix his butt, so I’m thankful to all of you for making sure that didn’t happen.

What did you all think of the episode? Did Danica deserve to go home?

The dancers’ total scores from tonight’s two numbers are below. Combined with the viewer votes from this week, these scores will help decide which couple leaves us next week:

Amy: 79

Charlie: 78

James: 75

Candace: 74

Meryl: 70

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Google shirtless pictures of Val and weep while I DON’T watch Dance Moms.

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