Planet Mirrorballus itself nearly bursts into tears as the 10 contestants re-live the most memorable years of their lives

Credit: ABC

Big theme night this week: “The Most Memorable Year of My Life.” Do you have your shimmery tissues ready? We’ve got deceased parents, premature miracle babies, a broken back from a Little House on the Prairie musical (?!), and the alter-ego of Steve Urkel. And they’re all in one bawlroom. Get ready to cry!

Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhh-ber!

Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas: 29 out of possible 30 Katherine was wise to cover her ears as her “memorable year” package played pre-waltz. I was sobbing over the idea of her losing her father at 15 years old well before Josh Groban’s “To Where You Are” began. And the tears just kept gushing as I realized they were dancing in a galaxy, thus proving correct my suspicion that Dancing With the Stars takes place on another planet. It was almost too much to handle. But there was more! By the time Carrie Ann suggested that Katherine had two partners in the dance because it was almost like her father’s arms were wrapped around her, I was full-out sobbing.

So was Katherine, obviously. Tom Bergeron even had to assist Mark’s double-armed hug with a supportive shoulder squeeze. Agggghhh! Tears on my sofa pillow! Flames on the side of my face! Also crying: Peta Murgatroyd (the shot of her wiping away tears reminded me of Zoe Saldana getting emotional at the ballet in Center Stage, even though Eva the Diva had just let those tears fall) and Katherine’s adorable mom in the front row.

The result of such an emotional dance: The first two 10s of the season from Carrie Ann and Bruno! DANCMSTR Len Goodman thought there wasn’t quite enough dancing in ballroom hold.

William Levy and Cheryl Burke: 28/30 Well, it happened. William Levy unbuttoned his shirt just a few seconds into his salsa, and the world didn’t end, as I had feared. Nobody’s head exploded as far as I could tell. It was a close call! William set the stage for greatness with a tantalizing personal anecdote about his family’s immigration to the U.S. from Cuba in 1995. “I kept eating apples,” he remembered from his first night in our fruity empire. “I had a pancake with butter on it. I thought it was ice cream. I was like, Oh my God, ice cream in the U.S. doesn’t melt.” Wait, was the pancake cold? I was almost as confused as blank-stare Cheryl, but the story certainly left me hungry for more.

The pair earned the third 10 of the night with their party time/excellent salsa. There was a drum (see ya), a hat (later), a teal bandana (YES! it stayed on), and an impressive series of “walk over your partner while you’re both twisting” obstacle course steps. Len, eager to throw out all of the pop culture references he knows, compared William to William the Conqueror (king of England, 1066) and Free Willy (king of the sea, 1993). Len has been around for awhile.

“I want to go to Cuba!” screamed Carrie Ann. No you don’t, silly. You won’t make any money.

Quick, Cheryl, trade lives with me.

Do it!


NEXT: Speaking of doin’ it….Maria Menounos and Derek Hough: 27/30 Maria and Derek had a sexy “will they or won’t they” moment on the floor a few seconds into their “Material Girl” rumba.

Oh my. I’m sorry, you guys. Pardon me for watching.

This sepia-toned rumba (reminiscent of Chelsea Kane and Mark’s waltz in season 12 and Derek and Jennifer Grey’s waltz in the season 11 semifinals) was beautiful and I definitely appreciated Maria’s “maturity, sensuality, and languid movement from movement to movement” along with Carrie Ann (yes it’s a direct quote; to be fair, she was probably crying). But I got a bit distracted by the stripped-down, rhythmless rendition of Madonna. I kept wondering if an American Idol contestant had wandered over from next door to “make the song her own.” Anyway, Bruno admired Maria’s ability to dance with “no hard beat.” I personally admire her ability to participate in WrestleMania28 with two broken ribs.

I mean, no one really thinks her ribs are broken after they showed that clip, right? Am I missing something? Besides about a quart of my own tears?

Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd: 26/30 Their rumba — inspired by the life of Donald’s best friend Brian Pretlow, who passed away in Donald’s arms — prompted Len to use the all-American term “awesome.” Boston Tom corrected him: “Wicked awesome.” Len didn’t expect so much emotion to come from “a great big hunky-dunky football player.” (That term must be British.)

The image of Peta standing halfway up the stairs, bathed in light, looking back upon the mortal visitors to Planet Mirrorballus, was a perfect way to end such a weeper of a night. I’m liking Peta more and more — she takes her time to make the most of every movement and she doesn’t wear any makeup during rehearsals. In that vein, are we sure this was a rumba that they danced? Peta seemed alarmingly covered up in that pink grecian gown.

Carrie Ann’s not calling lifts today! The scoring gods (which take the form of sparkly gold paddles, of course) must have been shining down on Donald from heaven along with his late friend. Donald was so overcome with emotion after their critique that he became the second person to completely snub Brooke in the celebriquarium. Sorry, I never told you / All I wanted to say….

Roshon Fegan and Chelsie Hightower: 25/30 I thought Bruno went a little overboard (ha! understatement of the series) when he said after Roshon and Chelsie’s samba that he thought he was watching Michael Jackson. Um no. Nobody thinks that. But this dance was great! Even if Roshon skimped on some of the transitions because he was trying too hard to hit all of his MJ moves, Chelsie was an absolute delight during this samba, and the presence of 8,683,405 mirrorballs big and small twinkling around the couple certainly did not hurt.

I loved watching Chelsie get the most out of their training session with guest choreographer Travis Payne, who had worked with Michael Jackson. She looked like she was having a blast during this whole segment. I’m surprised she didn’t end up donning an afro herself. (Remember Anna?) Also, hidden audio gem: Roshon’s dad mouthing “Nice” at the same time Tom Bergeron spoke the same thing into his mic off-camera.

NEXT: He could have married Laura, but instead he danced the rumba with KymJaleel White and Kym Johnson: 25/30 Jaleel’s most memorable year was when he stepped it up on Family Matters and played an ultra-suave alter-ego of Steve Urkel named Stephan Urquel. And like…really? I was totally under the impression that he hates being called Urkel and just wants to be his own person. But maybe that’s what this was? Either way, it was a good use of props because Jaleel got to exit a “Cool Machine” that had transformed him into someone of esteem, just like he had on TV in the ’90s.

Much like Stephan Urquel, Kym wanted to show people there was more of her to offer, so her sheer black fringed “dress” was fastened on the left side with gem-studded nude tape. Jaleel got his hips going pretty well, but Len said the melody had to come out of his upper body, and Bruno reminded him not to “throw it” (complete with demo) with his arms during what is supposed to be a fluid dance.

“Any time I touch that stuff, it’s my Mickey Mouse,” explained Jaleel, which was less of an explanation, really, than a chance to wonder whether “Mickey Mouse” is a weird new drug that only the cool non-geeks know about. “Stephan and Steve Urkel are my Mickey Mouse,” he sputtered, in tears. “I love entertaining people. I’ve done it since I was three and I just wanted to complete this week.” Wait, dude! What about next week? Is this it? Mickey, no! You got a 25!

Gavin DeGraw and Karina Smirnoff: 24/30 Gavin dedicated his rumba to his family, who were so supportive after Gavin moved to NYC in 1998. He’d become so discouraged that he no longer wanted to even try to get out there and look for gigs. So his dad came to New York, said “Stop being such a Violet Sanford from Coyote Ugly,” and went door to door to tell everyone how great his son was. Eventually it worked, and Gavin “never had any limitations because they allowed me to dream.” And there they all were in the ballroom! There’s his bald dad with tears in his eyes! No wonder Gavin couldn’t give Brooke the time of day up in the skybox. Karina helpfully found Gavin’s words for him and saved the day.

I’m loving this couple. They look amazing together and Gavin’s got a sort of understated approach to this whole thing. As a result, when their dances work — as I think this rumba did, big time — his “authentic attention to detail” (said Carrie Ann) comes as a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t help but think this dance was way too brief, but that’s probably because I spent most of it mesmerized by Karina’s costume — a diagonal stripe of white bedsheet offset by a silver fringed bustier and bedtime shorts. It reminded me that I really need to step up my pajamas.

NEXT: The dog days, and Maks’ association with shirt buttons, are doneMelissa Gilbert and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 24/30 This rumba was set to Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” because last year Melissa had a broken back but this year she does not. She had been using a walker to get around following a “pretty physical” tour with the Little House on the Prairie musical — who knew? Not I, said the fringe fairy. Their jive was a creative use of the slow-quick-slow nature of the song, but the slower beginning and ending to the dance were miles better than Melissa’s side-by-side actual jive steps. I wish this hadn’t been a jive at all.

Melissa continues to be completely fearless in their dips together. It was funny when she “let her hair down” during the last few seconds, seemingly as a last-ditch effort to rival her partner’s open shirt and torso tattoo. Good luck, lil’ Half Pint!

Gladys Knight and Tristan MacManus: 24/30 Gladys didn’t mind Len’s constructive criticism from last week, because that’s how she’d begun her career. At 13 years old (!!!) Gladys went on tour with the Pips and all sorts of headliners like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and James Brown. Cooke’s “Cupid” set the tone for their courtship-themed foxtrot, which involved Tristan rapping on Gladys’ door as she waited by the window for their 90-second date in the ballroom. It was slow, but sensual and soulful just like her singing. Len asked if he could be a Pip — too bad it’s not 1957 anymore because I’d have loved to see this — and let his partner-in-age Gladys know that he couldn’t personally handle the work and dedication it takes to be on this show. Carrie Ann and Bruno complimented her improved frame since last week.

I don’t really wish it was 1957. What the hell would I do on Monday and Tuesday nights? Look outside my window? Tristan wouldn’t even be born yet.

Sherri Shepherd and Val Chmerkovskiy: 24/30 The staging for Sherri and Val’s rumba was much more intense than a light-hearted door and window — they stood side by side gazing up at the aerial cam while the heartbeat of Sherri’s miracle son Jeffrey pounded out his encouragement for Mama to mooooooove. The cute-kid quotient this season is off the charts. Look at this little guy.

I can’t even. That sweater vest!

Are you crying? You should cry!

Sherri did struggle with this dance, but “memorable year” night was all about deeply felt expression, so the judges went easy on her. Her pained faces were a bit too much at the start of the dance — I think Val must have snapped at her that it was okay to smile about halfway through.

Tom continued the good-parenting theme as he ushered the weepy Sherri and Val over to the stairs as if he were their dad. “Guys, we have to talk to Brooke, because if we don’t talk to Brooke, she’ll feel left out.” Ha!

NEXT: Is Jack Wagner a candidate for most improved dancer so far? Jack Wagner and Anna Tre-BUN-skaya: 24/30 More parenting/miracle sagas: Last year, a “crying, hysterial young girl” ran up to Jack before a Florida concert and told him “Jack, you are my faaaather.” And they’ve been family ever since. And man do they look alike!

Jack’s daughter Kerry was on hand in the ballroom to witness the rock concert of a lifetime: Jack Wagner atop the Dancing With the Stars judges’ table with a guitar, flaming orange pants, and an orange-to-red gradient satiny shirt. I know this outfit must read as terrible, but that’s incorrect: It was amazing. And alongside the cascades of Christmas curling ribbon loosely attached to Anna’s midsection, this couple was truly a visual delight in that ridiculous “only on DWTS” way we all know and love.

I hope Jack gets a better episode placement next week if he’s still around, because this samba showed promise for sure. It’s just hard to stay excited about a couple after they dance first.

In fact, Jack could be a candidate for the “most improvement week to week” track — you know DWTS loves a grower, not a shower — but it seems like this week at least, that spot belongs to Gavin.

Let’s hope this isn’t the last week for either of them. Then again, if not them, who? It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to anyone tonight. The season’s going so well. Isn’t it obvious? I’m crying!



In this week’s Inside TV Podcast, reluctant DANCMSTR Dalton Ross and I discuss the devastating hotness of William Levy, the possibility of a William-Maks ass-off, whether having big celebrity names in the DWTS cast even matters, and whether Dancing With the Stars should feel threatened by decreased ratings. Plus: I predict the final three of season 14!

Press play on the little triangle below to hear this week’s podcast. The Dancing With the Stars discussion begins at 17:40. (Please excuse my mistake in thinking Dalton might have said “Battlestar” when he actually said “Bachelor.” Ugh, as if!)

If the audio player isn’t working for you, try downloading the entire podcast right here.


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Fringe Fairy

Are you aware of this? DWTS is offering a free trip to the season 14 finale through GetGlue — check it out here or on Facebook. You can win an interplanetary voyage just by watching TV. Worth a shot!

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