Dancing with the Stars recap: season 19 semi-finals
The duos must dance twice, with "plugged" and "unplugged" versions of the same song.
A funny thing happened along the way to the semi-finals—the dancing on season 19 of Dancing With the Stars got really, really good. There was one sentimental favorite who made his way this far and that, of course, is Tommy Chong, who earned polite comments from the judges and the hearts of the viewers thanks to his humble stance, honest efforts, and easy chemistry with pro dancer Peta Murgatroyd.
The producers had the five semi-finalists dance to a “plugged” and “unplugged” version of the same song, which sounds more challenging than it was—or at least how it might have sounded. The accompaniment was tailored to the dance style so the couples didn’t seem like they didn’t enjoy having the songs that they did. While this season has been devoid of showmances, feuds, and other standard fare found on the show, the dancing level shot up way high this week making it one of the most memorable and competitive semi-finals ever.
Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas: 37/40 (Quickstep)
Can’t figure out for the life of me why the pre-dance package is focusing on how Sadie messed up the last few steps of her dance from last week and how the judges gave her a perfect score anyway. Why remind the judges? They could make up for it this week! Fortunately, Sadie put her teen angst aside when she hit the dance floor. She and Mark gave a great performance to “Problem” by Ariana Grande, mostly because Sadie seems to be really enjoying herself. This one’s a winner. The judges give rave reviews. They’ve fallen back in love with Mark and are still in love with Sadie. I can’t see this couple not going to the finals—I also can’t imagine ABC not trying to secure Sadie to a holding deal for a sitcom. They should at least try to plug her into some ABC Family show. Did Sadie putting on social media for #ManCrushMonday a pic of Len and the number 10 influence his giving her and Mark a perfect score? Who knows. But I think Val Chmerkovskiy should put a pic of himself, Janel Parrish, and the mirror ball trophy out on Instagram just to be safe.
Tommy Chong and Peta Murgatroyd: 28/40 (Jazz)
Tommy and Peta perform their first routine to ‘Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. Before they even start, I’m thinking about Tommy’s health and how much more of this he can take. Peta’s been so conscious of his well-being every (no pun intended) step of the way, but I just want this guy to go. And I don’t mean the way I wanted Wendy Williams or Kate Gosselin or Jake Pavelka to go. I want him to be okay. They do a great jazz. Sure, Peta dances around him a little bit, but she’s also keeping him totally involved in the dance. It’s timed down to the second. The judges give supportive remarks and Bruno Tonioli quips that Peta’s “the human defibrillator.” No kidding. I see her playing a Bond girl someday.
Bethany Mota and Derek Hough: 36/40 (Samba)
Derek asks Bethany to take the lead (no pun intended) because he’s not sure of himself. I’m thinking they’ve brought the trio dance back because there’s Sasha Farber in a wool sweater and he’s trying to horn in on Bethany, but Derek brushes him off as they dance to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. Okay, that’s the end of Sasha in this dance. Wait, he’s come back after Derek and Bethany do the bulk of an amazing samba. Both Derek and Sasha attempt to kiss Bethany at the end of the routine—she playfully ducks and, oh, no! The guys end up sharing a brief smooch! They quickly show mock disgust over this, ‘cuz, you know, kissing another guy is just icky! The struggle continues. Carrie Ann Inaba says she felt a little underwhelmed. Maybe she wanted to see some tongue action?
Janel Parrish and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 40/40 (Paso Doble)
What I like about Val is he’s not insecure so he doesn’t mind having big brother Maks come by and be part of his pre-dance package. “Give the people what they want and they’ll vote for you,” Maks advises his kid brother. Boy, no kidding. Maks opened up more veins than they do in an entire year of Grey’s Anatomy last season, and he ended up winning. It’s a funny bit when Maks and Val dance and spar together. These two make the Winchester brothers look like Cain and Abel. Great segment and an even greater paso doble follows to “Blame” by Calvin Harris. Bravo! This team deserves to be in the finals. If they’re dating on the side, now might be the time to officially go public with it. Hey, it can’t hurt and will likely help.
Alfonso Ribeiro and Witney Carson: 36/40 (Argentine Tango)
I’ve seen lots of pre-dance packages in which either the star or the pro appears to be truly hurt and then they go out and perform like they were never injured at all. Or at least it seems that way. That’s not what happened tonight with Alfonso as he and Witney danced to “Love Runs Out” by One Republic. The poor guy’s in agony. I’m not seeing any lifts, which I know you can do in this dance, but it’s still full of passion and power and pain. (And by pain, I mean the look on Alfonso’s face.) Alfonso was favored to win from the beginning—will this injury cause an upset? I sure hope not.
NEXT: The cast gets “unplugged”
Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas: 37/40 (Argentine Tango)
I found the use of the guitar a little cumbersome. I get that they’re telling a story, but I still want Mark to lose the instrument. We’ve seen a lot of Argentine tangos, so I applaud Mark for making this one different. And kudos to host Tom Bergeron for quipping it was the show’s first “Guit-argentine Tango.” Mark may have been holding the guitar against Sadie, but the judges sure aren’t holding anything against her. Their glowing comments are practically assuring her a place in the finals. Will Sadie end up guest-starring on Pretty Little Liars? My guess is yes.
Tommy Chong and Peta Murgatroyd: 34/40 (Rumba)
All season long, Peta has managed to make Tommy shine while simultaneously showing us her own fantastic moves, but never at his expense. Her sensitive ballerina was a terrific character and the judges praised Tommy for doing his best dance. A teary Carrie Ann said it was poetry and magic. Carrie Ann added, sure, she cried last week, too, but that was because of PMS. TMI, Carrie Ann.
Bethany Mota and Derek Hough: 40/40 (Contemporary)
The duo dance again to “I Want You Back,” this time by The Civil Wars. The pre-dance package revisited Bethany’s having been bullied as a child and how that led to her becoming a YouTube sensation—she’s clearly getting the last laugh. The timing at the end of their dance seemed just a smidge off as Bethany was still climbing through the photo frame after the song had pretty much finished, but who knows? Maybe that was the plan. I suspect Bethany’s openness about being bullied will get her some votes, but so will the fact that Derek went shirtless.
Janel Parrish and Valentin Chmerkovskiy 38/40 (Argentine Tango)
Val and Janel get another sexy dance that requires passion and power, something Val can bring like nobody else left in the competition. The pre-dance package revisited her family’s journey from Hawaii to Los Angeles so Janel could pursue her career. There’s a lot of dynamic physicality between these two because Val’s super strong and Janel’s very light. Carrie Ann, however, must really have a thing about lifts. Even when they’re legal—which they were in this dance—she finds something about them to criticize.
Alfonso Ribeiro and Witney Carson: 39/40 (Contemporary)
I wasn’t surprised to see Alfonso’s former Silver Spoons buddy Rick Schroeder in the pre-dance package or in the audience, but Dan Quayle? A quick Google search appears to show that the two men haven taken part in the same celebrity golf tournaments. Does this mean we’ll see the former Veep on a future season of DWTS? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, Alfonso and Witney’s midnight blue outfits were perfectly suited for the dream-like contemporary routine. There’s a lot of running away and toward each other in these dances. The judges give Alfonso added kudos for dancing through the pain. I didn’t get Carrie Ann’s comment that not the best dancer makes it to the end. (Huh? I thought Alfonso was the best celeb dancer?)
Heavens to Murgatroyd!
After giving two great performances tonight, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Tommy Chong go to the finals, but the fan bases and dance levels of the other four couples were just too powerful. Tom gently read Tommy and Peta’s names as the ones going home tonight (or rather going to New York, where they’ll be doing a round of media interviews in the morning). The good news is this fan favorite duo will be back on next Tuesday’s finale when all the ejected duos will get to perform one final dance.
I truly can’t predict which couple’s going to take it this time. Of the remaining pros, two (Mark and Derek) have won mirror ball trophies before and two (Val and Witney) haven’t. I could see the votes for the women splitting and—if he can beat that injury—Alfonso could take it. But, given their dance level, all four of them deserve it, and that’s not something that can be said every season about the finalists.