Semifinals: The Bad Boy of the Ballroom returns as guest judge; the final four emerge on Plugged/Unplugged Night
DWTS Recap
Credit: ABC

We have our season 17 final four: Amber Riley and Derek Hough, Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff, Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke, and…. Bill Engvall and Emma Slater.

I know I should be sad about Leah and Tony, but all I can think after listing those names is eff yeah, Emma! Girl makes the finals on her very first season. Her dark lipstick has gently grazed my heart, and no way did I expect that would sound so sinister all the way back at the beginning of the sentence.

Anyway, it’s goodbye to Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani following Monday night’s semifinals — a shame in that Leah was the walking embodiment of the week’s Plugged/Unplugged theme in an Argentine tango during which Tony pretended to play a bedazzled violin on the back of her dress, but not a shame when you really think about who deserves to stick around. Leah had her run. She wasn’t desperate for this. She’d endured a 13-week bad romance with dainty lace-up ankle boots and it was finally time to snip the shoelace.

No, the real tragedy of the night was Tom Bergeron getting acceptance-speeched off-air, liiiiiiiiiiiiiive!, by the modified Harold Wheeler four-person string section. There’s a tiny violin joke here to be made. I choose not to seek it out.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy was back! #MaksIsBack. #SexOnAStick. The self-proclaimed Bad Boy of the Ballroom — this is his show, remember — returned as guest judge, his prize-winning buns nestled snugly between between Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, which allowed for a lovely array of Maks’ reaction shots to Grumpy and Dopey’s antics along with minimal splash-annoyance from Weepy (Carrie Ann Inaba) two seats away.

As usual, I found Maks’ repertoire of moves delightful, from his incredulous yet contained facial expressions towards Bruno, to his highlighting of each pro’s commitment, to the way he held up his paddle backwards and then twisted it to reveal a 10. He wasn’t controversial. He was… nice. Too nice? I’ll let you guys be picky. Me, I’ll take what I can get. I do miss the facial hair. I can woman up and admit at least that.

NEXT: Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhh-ber and Maks: ‘8!’ Amber Riley and Derek Hough: 39/40 jazz + 40/40 Viennese waltz = 79/80 total A few astute readers pointed out that the “difficult, intricate choreography that also will save Amber’s knees” that Derek conjured up for their jazz number reminded them of Nappytabs’ incredible “Puttin On The Ritz” opening number from this past season of So You Think You Can Dance. And they are RIGHT! I mean, it’s not a blatant ripoff or anything, but it sure is more apt than comparing a freakin’ DWTS jazz routine to the work of Bob Fosse, which happened tonight for the second week in a row.

Really, with the Fosse? I don’t regularly communicate with the spirit of the Fos, but I have to guess that if confronted with an episode of Dancing With the Stars, Bob Fosse would provide one dramatic snap of cautious approval and then slowly look away, forever. I mean, granted, Maks would know better than I would, but come on. Enough with the Fosse.

Judge Maks was the only one to not give Amber and Derek a 10 for this, which I loved. I can’t argue that she didn’t perform the hell out of it. She did. But 10s? Much of it was just them sitting down and resting her knees. Einstein could have done it, said Carrie Ann. That doofus was always just lazing around!

Later: A tarp is pulled up. Smoke. Spotlights. Clouds! Stars? What’s next?! An angel? No, dummy, Amber is the angel, dream-gazing her way through Kerli’s acoustic (ha! hardly) version of Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.” I think I spent more time fascinated by how this singer with sticks coming out of her head had managed to change the time signature and entire structure of the song than I did focusing on Amber and Derek — but to be fair, the dancers were extremely hard to see amidst that thick chest-level fog. “There was smoke on the floor but fire in that performance!” raved Len.

Maks acknowledged the elephant in the room, which is that Amber is likely to win the season because if Derek makes the finals, it’s pretty much a done deal that he has the COVETED MIRRORBALL TROPHY (nice enthusiastic delivery by Tom there!) all wrapped up. “You have a guy who knows how to win,” said Maks, adding that it’s not just about making it, but “knowing how to package that and get the trophy.” Underhanded compliment, statement of the obvious, or both?

NEXT: It’s a #sparklebarf miracle! Gotta take a pause and marvel that Amber’s mom’s name is Tiny Hightower-Riley. Is Amber’s mom Chelsie? I’ll investigate further and get back to you next week.

Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff: 35/40 tango + 40/40 rumba = 75/80 total The pair started out with a blowout fire sale (is anyone buying it?) of a tango set to a Fall Out Boy song called — I sh*t you not — “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up).” Ugh, not sure why that title irks me so much. So many useless capital letters and (punctuation marks)! Every possible way to incorporate flames into live television production was employed, plus five or so others. Einstein may have been involved. I don’t know the specifics.

What Bruno called an “exploding volcano” of a dance left Len practically manic as he thrashed around advocating for more calmness in the tango. It actually was pretty painful to watch, especially if you are already prone to seizures, I’d imagine, and particularly if you focused for too long on the flames — flames! — on the bottom of Corbin’s black leather vest. Too much! I did, however, enjoy how Karina made sure to pull her hair out of her face for the camera as Corbin unceremoniously dragged her by the feet towards the staircase.

And thank you to Corbin for finally providing a literal interpretation of my favorite self-imposed DWTS hashtag! #SPARKLEBARF

After feeling zero sympathy for Corbin’s Stanford vs. High School Musical dilemma, because having done High School Musical, he can now buy himself a Stanford degree in every field including Studies in Leather and Sadomasochism and still probably be less than half as old as you are — I settled in for their “unplugged” rumba enclosed in a half-moon of spotlights. They needed that many because Corbin went shirtless! His body is a wonderland (Carrie Ann and Maks officially disagree on this, for the record) and he undulated for his pleasure. I mean ours. Nope, I was right the first time. Is it just me or is Corbin constantly turning himself on?

Look, I don’t dislike the guy — if I could detect a personality in there, I might, but I don’t. But what exactly am I supposed to be rooting for here? Corbin’s a professional dancer with not much connection to his partner — Maks’ former fiancée (the show found it necessary to bring this up twice), whom Maks lovingly placed tonight in “the top five best female dancers of all time.” When I watch Corbin and Karina, even in this exquisite, perfectly scored bedroom dance, they are technically great, but I just don’t feel anything from them as a unit. I think reader DancingBrenda put it best: “He’s dancing to the camera and she’s along for the ride.”

NEXT: Cheryl don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke: 33/40 jazz + 38/40 tango = 71/80 total Inspired by Cher’s comment that Jack was like a dancing pimp, the couple extended this imaginary storyline for two more dances with plugged/unplugged versions of the Police’s “Roxanne.” Their jazz routine started out backstage, with Cheryl writhing on her vanity (Corbin just got jealous) as Jack skulked around with jazz hands.

Things got crazy: At one point he was swinging her entire outstretched body around his head like some sort of prostitution discus. I very much enjoyed this lift (illegal? who cares) into the floor spin, and the incorporation of the red-paneled door into both dances, but this first one didn’t suit Jack perfectly. Len, perhaps annoyed by all the messin’ about at the beginning, said the jazz lacked a bit of finesse.

Not everyone agreed.

Jack’s biographical package definitely made me cry, and not just because it reminded me of a much freer time in my life when the only reality shows I absorbed on the reg were The Osbournes and Survivor. His mom Sharon, his sister Kelly, his wife Lisa, and an inexplicably un-subtitled Ozzy recounted along with Jack the way he’d turned to drugs as a teenager and more recently dealt with his diagnosis of MS. Oh, and he’s been experiencing problematic vision in his left eye this week, along with shooting pains up and down his arms. It’s not fatigue. He knows what it is. “It’s just a dance show,” Cheryl urges him. But gosh darnit, that trophy is pretty cool, and he’s gonna go for it… unless he can’t.

Thank God he could tonight, because Jack’s dimly lit Argentine tango was hands-down the dance of the week for me, and I say this even though their song is one I can’t stand: “El Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge. (Sorry if that’s sacrilege to you musical fans. But I hate it! If I wanted to hear a monster in the process of dying, I wouldn’t be listening to a cover song of the Police. That’s basically my philosophy on the entirety of Moulin Rouge. Gem-stone me to death for it in the comments!)

I liked reader fridgedancer’s remark: “I didn’t realize the Count from Sesame Street was a singer on this show now.” Ha! I wish it were the Count.

Side note: In general, there should be a fictionalized version of DWTS in which the entire cast is Sesame Street characters. Perhaps I will write this as a blog series over Christmas, but do not hold your breath.

Anyway, this Argentine tango of Jack’s just swept me up in a shared vibe that’s difficult to describe. Everyone had just sat through that emotional package, and here Jack was in his element (ballroom dance, in hold) just going for it in this confident, controlled, yet vulnerable-at-every-moment manner. I love when I can feel someone’s adrenaline rush, but what comes across is not wild and unruly but precise and contained. And he’s invincible as long as he’s within this 90-second power-pocket he created (with Cheryl’s help) through a combination of positive thinking and newfound ability. And it just works! I sound CRAZY. I’m sorry. It’s so late. I’m really into this.

Still firmly in the power-pocket, at the very end of this dance, Jack launched into this crazy lift, whipping Cheryl up and over his head while standing practically still, just this unlikely pillar of strength. (Jack Osbourne! That sad, misguided TV kid! Man, this show is so nuts!) The music stopped and Cheryl’s left arm fell limp as she shook her head at him in proud disbelief. Aggghhhhh. Major DWTS moment right there. I could watch a loop of those few seconds for hours. Preferably without the audio!

“The transformation is unbelievable,” cried Bruno, nearly taking Maks out in the process. “THE SHAPES!”

Is it any wonder Maks is a pro/Our Pro? His “top line” in this dance sequence was exquisite!

NEXT: ‘Something in my groin went way haywire’ Bill Engvall and Emma Slater: 28/40 cha cha cha + 32/40 Argentine tango = 60/80 total

“Something in my groin went way haywire” is what you might want to hear from a typically listless DWTS viewer upon realizing Emma was pretty much wearing Just Undies for their Argentine tango, but not from one of two remaining non-medically compromised contestants! But so it was for Bill, who strained his junk while lifting Emma during rehearsals this week. “I need two minutes,” Bill warned Emma as he beelined towards a mirrored door. (WHOA.)

Following Bill and Emma’s messy and absurd Workout Zebra Barbie rendition of LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” in their cha cha, the judges turned their first set of critiques into what seemed like a farewell speech of sorts. Len called Bill “the people’s champion,” Carrie Ann thanked him for bringing the joy back into the ballroom (had it escaped last week along with Elizabeth Berkley’s dreams?), and Bruno helpfully reenacted Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” video, for which Emma was already dressed. Then there was Maks: “I personally don’t believe in talent, okay? I believe in hard work.” Bill was like wait, not okay! I’m talented in other ways, I swear!

Their second-round “Unplugged” attempt fared much better. Against all odds (the song was still “Sexy And I Know It” and the singer was a “YouTube sensation”), their Argentine tango was sultry, smooth, and serious. I don’t mind that Noah Guthrie and his acoustic guitar, I tell ya! I probably would if I saw ’em on YouTube, but cast in this thick, familiar goop of spray tan and sparkles, it all just seemed so odd and so right. Emma is even slinkier than I thought! I need to go seek out more clips of her dancing the Argentine tango… on YouTube. Full circle. Full sheer bodysuit. Butt partially covered. Doin’ it right. Everybody will be dancing and be doin’ it right…. Sorry, drifted off into some Daft Punk there. That song would’ve been great for Plugged/Unplugged, just sayin’.

How great is Bill’s wife Gail? “I love that people love him!” she choked up. Simple and perfect.

Parting image: Plugged

Oh, hey guys!

I just love this intricately arranged shot of every pro aside from featured It Couple Derek and Sharna at the end of this week’s incredible opening number by regular So You Think You Can Dance choreographer Mandy Moore. (Not that one.) All that posing for only a split second of footage? Oh well — that somehow makes it even more special.

Parting image: Unplugged

Len. You stripping scoundrel.

Are you happy with the final four? What’d you think of beardless Maks?



Fringe Fairy

Bonus: I had a lovely chat with DWTS showrunner Conrad Green about the difficulty of downsizing the show to one night a week. Click here to read his thoughts on less-than-ideal voting, the judges’ eternal dilemma, and the future of the series….

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