Our 'Dancing with the Stars' correspondents Chuck Small and Lenni G will be back on the job for us with recaps throughout Season 12. Chuck gives us his thoughts on tonight's episode.
We're "celebrating ballroom greatness," Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke say, in the introduction to tonight's episode. We'll see. Sixteen-time world professional Latin champion Donnie Burns is a guest judge, saying, "Nobody but nobody does show business like you Americans." (Fawn much?)
The remaining six competitors are dressed in teams in extremely garish outfits. Team Chelsea, evidently inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Barry's "Catwoman" outfits, are Chelsea Kane/Mark Ballas, Romeo/Chelsie Hightower and Ralph Macchio/Karina Smirnoff. Ralph is feeling fish out of water because he hasn't done the cha-cha yet and he's older than his teammates. Romeo and Chelsea are trying to help Ralph make the dance look sexy. Mark is pushing everyone to stay on the beat. Romeo and Chelsie are grinding a bit.
Dancing the cha-cha-cha, they perform to Lady GaGa's "Born This Way," and the group stays together quite nicely. Really, the only beef I have is that Mark, once again, outdances his partner. The judges: Len thought the group did a great job in group formation changes. Bruno, however, thought the couples went off formation several times. Carrie Ann disagreed, specifically saying Ralph held his own with the edgy younger partners. Donnie said Ralph fluffed a bit of footwork but that it didn't affect the team formation. Scores: Donnie: 8. CA: 8. Len: 7. Bruno: 7.
Next, Team Hines clad in hot pink highlighted outfits: Hines Ward/Kym Johnson, Kendra Wilkinson/Louis van Amstel, Kirstie Alley/Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Kirstie and Hines talk about how they have the butt action on their team. Kirstie and Maks' lack of preparedness and the lack of maturity on the team (Kendra farted!) leave Kym and Louis quite worried. Kirstie says, "When in doubt, shake your ass."
The three dance to Ke$ha's "We Are Who We R." Overall, I'm not as impressed with this routine as with the other team's. Kirstie seems the weakest, but it's not like the others are so much better.
But the audience and the judges clearly are more impressed. Bruno says, "A little bit of extra butt doesn't hurt, especially when you use it that well." Carrie Ann says the group performances and the solos, especially Kirstie's and Kendra's, weren't quite consistent. Donnie makes an Osama bin Laden joke (ugh!) and talks about the lack of spacing between the three couples. Tom follows up on Donnie's unfortunate crack (come on, folks; just let it go). Len says Kendra was shaking and he was stirred, Kirstie was right on it, and Hines kept right up. Scores: Donnie: 7. CA: 7. Len: 8. Bruno: 8. (How convenient that the two teams' scores match!)
Before we move into the individual performances from the six stars, we see two champion dancers perform, and they're amazingly fast, with flicks, kicks and all sorts of tricks. But they remind me of Mark Ballas on speed.
An edited package tells us that this week, ballroom champions who were mentors and heroes to the "DWTS" dancers are working with the couples. One of the two is Mark's mom. (Great. I've so enjoyed Mark and his dad, Corky, I can't wait to see what Shirley Ballas brings to the show.)
A quick breakaway to ABC News, who reports that Bin Laden was in his hideout for five to six years and other promos to "Nightline" and Tuesday's "Good Morning America." Tom, wisely, doesn't even try to do a transition but moves ahead. Mark and Chelsea are the first individual couple up. Chelsea says she wants to work harder than ever. They have the paso doble. And, yes, they get Mark's mama as a coach. Shirley says no smiling, you're an actress in a serious role; Chelsea can't seem to fully get it. Chelsea says Shirley really scared her, but we don't see it. We do see how amazing Shirley is as a dancer, though.
Chelsea and Mark really pull off an intense, well done paso doble. The beginning looked a bit like Derek Hough's futuristic paso of a few seasons back but it eventually moves into something original and very intriguing. Len sees he understood the aggression but felt the routine lacked some refinement. Bruno said Chelsea danced with violent intensity and compared her to a Quentin Tarentino film. Carrie Ann says, "Out with the old, in with the new," and raves. Donnie says he got a Hell's Angels vibe from the dance that didn't work. CA and Bruno object strenuously. Donnie: 8. CA: 9. Len: 8. Bruno: 9. Brooke goads Mark into spitting out all of the traditional steps he put in his paso. The defensiveness doesn't look good, kid.
Kendra and Louis are next. Louis is pushing Kendra to do ever-tougher choreography. Kendra's having a little meltdown, when guest coach Luca Baricchi steps in and tells her to find and use her body. His suave, lady-killer approach seems to spark Kendra, and Louis says he immediately notices an improvement. I have to say that was Kendra's best dance of the season! Bruno says Kendra has never looked more elegant and ladylike but needs to work on the frame a bit. Carrie Ann says she's very proud of Kendra and thought she bounced back from a little hiccup in the middle. Donnie said she did a "bloody good job" with the demanding choreography. Len would have liked just a little more crispness and needs to lift up a bit. Donnie: 8. CA: 8. Len: 7. Bruno: 8.
Kirstie and Maks are up next with the jive. Shirley is helping Kirstie, but Maks is starting to get really critical, and Kirstie is having a bit of a meltdown. Kirstie says she and Maks have hugely high standards. How will it show in the jive? Not so good. Kirstie sometimes looks lost. I think this might be her last week (hate to say it, but Kendra danced better!). Lots of goofing and not enough dancing. Judges are wildly out of consensus. Carrie Ann says Kirstie brings complete entertainment but she and Maks were completely out of sync in the jive. Donnie says he buys what Kirstie's selling. Len says it was fun and playful and Kirstie's character was fully realized but the kicks were leaden. Bruno says as entertainment, it was superb. Donnie: 9. CA: 7. Len: 6. Bruno: 8. Kirstie says, "I forgot to move my feet." That's honest, if not exactly a ringing endorsement for a competitor on a show called "Dancing With the Stars."
Another professional dance, and I'm noticing that these dancers don't have to deal with the cheesy singers. That has to be a plus.
Ralph and Karina are next. All's well from last week's fall, but the couple want this week to be a comeback, not a fallback. Coach Luca gives Ralph tips on leading his partner and not worrying about pleasing the judges. Karina thinks Ralph is gaining in his confidence, which he'll need for this week's quickstep. Ralph is worried about his 49-year-old body's ability to handle it. Do they have reason to be worried? Their routine is lots of fun, though with fewer steps than I've seen in some quickstep routines. What will the judges think? Donnie liked Ralph's footwork and thought the two rocked. Len agrees on the footwork, but wants more stability in the upper part of his body. Bruno says the routine was an example of "how to grab a quick one at the speakeasy" and felt Ralph sold it. Carrie Ann said, "Boo-ya! You're back!" and thought Ralph had full exuberance. Donnie: 10. CA: 9. Len: 8. Bruno: 9.
Hines and Kym get coaching from Luca and a surprise visit from Jerome, a former teammate of Hines'. Their tango starts out strong but has an awkward moment in the middle; Hines can't seem to master consistency -- moments that are awesome are often followed by times when he is uncertain and in his head too much. Len sees it and calls the dance a mixture, from sharp and crisp to a "fairy," dainty mode. Bruno says he likes light and shade and appreciates the slinky, smooth side of a killer tango. Carrie Ann likes how Hines takes command but adds that she saw the off-balance moments. Donnie thinks Hines has a winner mentality, but thinks his arms need more stiffness. Donnie: 9. CA: 9. Len: 8. Bruno: 10. (Overinflated, I think.)
Last up, with the samba: Romeo and Chelsie. Shirley says Romeo's a naughty boy but she gets him to shake it up. He says he's throwing a samba party in his pants and everybody's invited (hmm...). With that kind of a lead-in, I was surprised the dance was as reserved as it was. It had a lot of attitude, but not the kind of heat I'm used to seeing in the samba. The judges agree, though they're much harsher than I would've been: Bruno says Romeo needs to get the legwork down. Carrie Ann says the sexiness was up, but the technique needs to improve. Donnie said Romeo needs to get the leadenness out of his feet. Len says the hottest part of the dance was the fire on the stage, and tells Romeo to up his game. (Before Donnie puts up his paddle, Carrie Ann tells Donnie that he has an 8? Evidently, Donnie scored a 7 but lifted the wrong paddle. At least that's what the show is saying.) Donnie: 7. CA: 8. Len: 7. Bruno: 8.
That leaves Hines/Kym and Ralph/Karina at the top, with Kirstie/Maks and Romeo/Chelsie at the bottom. Who'll go home? I'd be sad, but not surprised, to see Kirstie leaving tomorrow.