Annie Barrett views the semifinals from a front-row center seat on Planet Mirrorballus; on-scene report!

By Annie Barrett
Updated May 17, 2011 at 10:55 AM EDT
ABC

On last night’s Dancing With the Stars‘ season 12 semifinals, I, Annie Barrett, Fringe Fairy T.T.S. (to the stars), became an official citizen of Planet Mirrorballus. And damn if it wasn’t a lovelier plane of alternate reality than I’d ever expected. The lights are much brighter there — you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, and bedazzle yourself in five different shades of crystal-studded bracelets…because the wardrobe department happens to have 10 billion of them lying around!

My visit continues today, but here are a few highlights of my liiiiiiiiiiiive experience so far. The asterisk/tilden combos are my textual approximation of “sequins and fringe,” with fringe clearly winning because it’s totally in motion. (Skip to page 4 of the recap if you’re itching to see the couples’ scores.)

*~*I arrived on set during dress rehearsal, so the hair and makeup trailers were abandoned. I took plenty of video footage of the mysterious bags of hair lining the floor — don’t worry! Look for a video diary of my ballroom voyage next week, in time for the liiiiiiiiive finale.

*~*As I was hanging out back waiting to tour wardrobe, Maks bounded outside and down the stairs with no shirt on. No joke. What, do you think I’d just invent a story wherein my publicist buddy and I waved at him, he recognized me from his brief stint as an EW.com intern, and trotted over for a (reminder: he was shirtless) hug and kiss? No, I would never do that! I’m proud to report this really happened, and that a spray tan on a man is so jarring, but truly a magical thing. He was warm, but dry, like a fan in heat. So technically, just like me.

*~*One of my main goals for part 2 of my visit, today, is to get Maks to welcome you to EW.com using only his ass. There is no reason this shouldn’t happen.

*~*Minutes before we went liiiiiiive, executive producer Conrad Green showed me into the planet’s central nervous system: The DWTS Control Room! Remember Aladdin’s cave? It was just like that. Gems piled everywhere, fringed fairies working the knobs, thousands of colored Swarovski crystal buttons dotting the walls like in Willy Wonka’s great glass elevator. No, just kidding, it was a bunch of normal-looking humans and dozens of TV screens. I believe more than one of them were British, and all were jaunty. But remember, DANCMSTRs, there can always be a gem heap in the corner if your brain wants it badly enough.

NEXT: A close encounter with the DANCMSTR kind *~*As I was traipsing through the series of small hallways backstage in order to scurry out to my seat, I passed none other than DANCMSTR Len Goodman, standing solemnly in a dark alcove having a silent moment to himself. I stopped short and emitted a delighted gasp, and he looked up, startled. I wanted so desperately to run over and tell him everything (“Your fake vanity license plate is my favorite fake vanity license plate in the world!”), but this was neither the time nor the place. Grumpy had a show to do.

*~*The ballroom floor is SMALL. That said, it was about as big as I’d imagined — I’d lowered my expectations just enough based on rumors and other lore. And because it was so small, the dancers seemed larger and more wondrous than I was expecting, which was fantastic. They were so close.

*~*The whole set was decked out in tiny, colorful lights — a pleasant surprise, considering the 100% Pure Spotlight feel of many sets. Colors (on the costumes, set, etc.) are not enhanced at all on TV. The ballroom is just as psychedelic as it looks on-screen. From the two chandeliers above my head to the blue-tinted band showcase, the entire place had a sort of “purple haze” quality I could really appreciate. Even at its dimmest moments, we were flying high. What I’m saying, poorly, is that I liked that a light wasn’t blaring in our faces the whole time. In between segments, it really did feel like an intimate ballroom. A trippy coffeehouse ballroom. (Whatever that is!)

*~*I settled into probably the best seat in the house — front row center in the section facing the band/technicolor staircase. My view was light on the judges, heavy on the dances. I basically sat in between the two main cameras that swing left and right in the back of the ballroom during the dances. So all the flourish-y final poses (my faves) were executed right to the cameras in front of me. Loved it! I can’t imagine a better vantage point for Mirrorballus Madness viewing purposes, except maybe the vantage point of the “seat” part of the celebriquarium’s wraparound sofa. And who wants to be a sofa? I had a blast being a lady.

*~*Brooke Burke was like a silent movie star, waddling down from the skybox in a tight, slinky gown that could barely accommodate her baby steps, in order to join Tom on the floor for the intros. She looked AMAZING, but unreachable, like a priceless antique doll in a mirrorballed display case. And though she dominates a lot of time during the telecast…in the ballroom, it’s like she’s not even there. Weird!

NEXT: I’d probably watch a reality show of Kym painting her nails and running errands *~*By far, my favorite part of the liiiiiiiiiiiive experience was watching Kym Johnson swan her way through the two minutes or so before their first dance. She was up there putting on a mini peep show for us within that giant square of red light bulbs. She tested out her first step-down once or twice (good idea!), and then she just sort of lazily fanned the air with those GIANT white feathers as their rehearsal footage played. Her hands were probably moving only slightly, but the visual effect was sweeping and hypnotic. She was operating in her own little world while also deliberately playing to the audience. It was genius, and gorgeous. I love her.

*~*To answer Jem Ho’s questions: Yes, I was placed right behind Tom on purpose, and YES, it was “excruciating to not just be able to do something blatant and obnoxious” with such an amazing seat. But I’m such a grown-up, and I’m proud to say that waving my sparkly bracelets in front of my face as a jaunty “Hello, loons!” to the EW.com gem hunting community (followed by me randomly digging around in my bag because I couldn’t believe I’d just pulled such a weird move) was as obnoxious as I got. Better luck tonight, huh?

*~*I just need to show you this urgent warning printed on the VIP ticket: “PLEASE DO NOT WEAR JEANS!! Even if they are really nice or really expensive!! No one wearing jeans will be permitted into the studio! This is a glamorous show…” Yeah it is! No jeans, plebes! Enough with the denim. (Emphasis mine.)

The stupid Winner Takes All Cha-Cha (which awarded 15 extra points to just one couple) did not infuriate me until after I saw it on the West Coast telecast. In the ballroom at the time, I was all, “Oh! I get to see to see six more tiny dances. YES!” and didn’t think about how lame it was that the WTACC’s sole purpose was to propel Chelsea and Mark to the finals, likely against viewers’ wishes. Ugh. Come on, show. If more people are voting for Hines, Ralph, and Kirstie to make it to the finals….then put Hines, Ralph, and Kirstie in the finals! You built this popularity contest, now lie in it. Jeez! Random game-changers like this really grind my gears, DANCMSTRs. In fact, it’s hard to pick which is lamer: The Winner Takes All Cha-Cha or viewers who have never bothered to vote, according to Brooke. Maybe I should flip a Len-headed coin to find out. But in that case, we’d really never find out.

NEXT: Hines cries, Kym cries, we all cry for Argentine tangoOkay. Finally, and quickly: Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhh-ber!

Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas: 73 out of….who even knows? 60, I guess. Their Argentine tango excited me right away because I recognized the music from Gilles Marini’s dance in season 8, but I was not blown away by either of Chelsea and Mark’s solo dances last night. They were the most tight and precise in the Winner Takes All Cha-Cha, but like I said above, this was just a blatant attempt to remind viewers that Chelsea is young and able to move the quickest and associated with Disney…so that means she should stay in the competition? The logic is lost on me, too. From my vantage point, Chelsea’s legs seemed kind of gummy and just going through (albeit lightning fast) motions. I got the sense in person, too, that she is deliberately not standing up completely straight or extending her moves so as — maybe — to not tower over Mark? This was most evident in their white-veiled rumba — I think it was because her shoes weren’t the typical ballroom heel but were more like a prosthetic cube at the end of each foot. I could be dreaming this; I realize that. What a nightmare!

Anyway, it’s nice that Joe Jonas can vouch for Chelsea lighting up the room with her energy, but I’m not necessarily feeling her as a potential winner. Love him or hate him for this, but Mark stole the show on the floor with his solo pirouettes and ridiculous short pants. He’s just an incredibly good dancer and a more captivating mover than his partner, and makes no bones about showing off. It was sort of thrilling to see this in action, but I had trouble remembering to watch Chelsea instead. (And then when I did, I regretted the decision if she was in the middle of one of her lengthy lyrics recitations.)

Hines Ward and Kym Johnson: 60 out of 60 I didn’t realize how excruciating it was to watch Kym fall onto her skull and then get crunched further into the floor during an attempted lift in rehearsal…until I saw it on TV. Advantage: telecast! Or disadvantage, really. It was honestly like watching an execution, but why would anybody want to kill dear, sweet Kym? I loved/hated that sad shot of her complaining about the “wasted day” thanks to her swing and a miss at a severe spinal cord injury. Anyway, I’m burying the lead here. Hines was crying! After their Argentine tango featuring “Kama Sutra” legs and Kym’s showgirl start I so admired above, Hines was visibly shaken once he and Kym had walked over to Tom. So then she started crying, and then all viewers started crying. There was Ricki Lake having a moment! Even Tom sprouted a tear. (I didn’t notice this at all during the taping, but when I watched it on TV later, I was a whimpering mess.)

Up went the swim meet/block party flags for Hines’ second dance, the salsa. I loved the side-by-side portions of the dance because they were facing me directly, but missed out on some of the more playful elements like when Kym wriggled Hines out of those constrictive suspenders. None of that, they said. You gotta dance as a self-expression! Carrie Ann knows a thing or two about this, let her tell you. “You’re just a beautiful man,” said Steven Tyler. I mean Bruno. Thanks to reader Xorp for putting his/her (its?) finger on the subliminal message I was getting from Kym’s mesmerizing red, orange, and yellow butt-ruffle: “Kym’s outfit looks like it should be included in the commercial for McDonald’s new strawberry lemonade.” Totally!

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 54/60 Kirstie, who has recently become a power blonde, was fluid and graceful in the Viennese waltz, which was pleasantly set to Adele’s “One and Only.” Amazing song; great for belting out at 4:30 a.m. while writing recaps. My neighbors love it, too! I also freaked out big time when Cream’s “White Room” boomed out at the start of Kirstie and Maks’ paso doble. Her solo arm motions during the first few counts of this one definitely seemed more demonstrative on TV than in the ballroom — which makes sense, because on TV they’d be able to fill the frame. I let out a pathetic little “Oh!” after the surprise finish, just a few beats before you’d expect. I think the little old lady next to me really enjoyed that one. But she probably just liked me because Tom Bergeron kept coming over to say hi.

NEXT: Bruno seizes an opportunity to say ‘pussy’ on air. She was a cat!Speaking of Tom, Maks, and Kirstie: Because I could barely hear their post-judging banter from so far away, the visual effect — of Kirstie kissing Tom, Maks grrrrrrradually leaning in to get his noggin in the shot, and eventually going in for the Bergeron Booty Pinch as usual — was even more fascinating than it ended up being for me on TV. My eyes were already glued to Maks due to his devastatingly sheer shirt (I’d been way too spoiled by the shirtlessness pre-show), so watching him calculate his way toward the eventual money shot/booty pinch was like observing a rare species at the zoo. I mean this in the best possible way. I swear! So I’m referring to the dancers as animals — who cares, so what? (Puffs out blouse.) Bruno did it!

No illuminating booty news — it was pretty dark and I was pretty prepared for its staggering presence. Like I said, I’ll work on getting bonus footage of this wondrous species today.

Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff: 48/60 At the taping, I missed some little gems in Ralph’s rehearsal footage, like him saying “go for it” to the fake butt underpants. Really glad I absorbed that to its fullest later on. The judges called out Ralph for a lack of emotion during the Argentine tango — I didn’t agree, but this was the first dance of the night and I was super high, so the fact that their sharp movements while holding onto the lamppost made me worry it would break seemed emotionally intense enough for me. Oh, well. Big applause during Ralph’s “this is your life” segment when his wife Phyllis kept saying he was all about his family and made sure to return home from Hollywood after each project. Ralph, former cover model for BOP magazine, and Karina, sultry backup dancer/floor-crawler for Chester the Cheetah, became DWTS caricatures for their second dance, the salsa. It didn’t go over well with the three dwarfs, which annoyed Ralph because why shouldn’t they get to act stupid and cheesy and skanky if everyone else is doing it? (Fair question.)

My mouth was left gaping open for at least a minute after Bruno told Ralph, “You were too rough with your pussy, darling.” I understand this was bleeped out even on the East Coast feed. “WOW. Wow,” Karina repeated, turning around to commiserate with the gasping crowd. “CLASSY. Classy,” she continued, as Bruno played dumb and protested that she was in fact dressed like a cat. “We’ve never expected the judges to be on our side,” Karina told EW after the show. “They’ve haven’t been on our side for most of the season, but it was just inappropriate and rude and uncalled for.”

No hidden gems this week (duty/booty calls), but get a load of this:

LOVE THE LEAN.

Stevie Nicks on tonight’s results show. I’m already freaking out.

Who do you think will go home? All I know is it won’t be me. I’m never leaving. Annie is in it to win it tonight!

XOXO,

Fringe Fairy

Follow Annie on Twitter

Read more: ‘Dancing With the Stars’

‘DWTS’: Karina calls Bruno ‘rude’

‘DWTS’: Hines Ward talks Kym’s injury

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