It’s finale season, and one of my favorite shows is ending -- largely following the script that has been written on the wall for many weeks: two clear favorites pursued by a pretty blonde upstart with a disarming smile, heart-warming back story and folksy charm. But I’m not here to recap the "American Idol" finale…
Bah dum PAH.
I should probably confess that I never really watched "Dancing with the Stars" until this season. I had always considered it more of a "Dancing with the D List as Arranged by the Publicist" kind of program -- where people like Heather Mills went to redeem herself, Joey Fatone propped up his falling star or a perky bachelorette extended her 15 minutes. And it clearly is all of those things. It never occurred to me that it could be anything more, though, until I started to see people actually grow and evolve in ways that they may have not anticipated. That’s the story that I became interested in.
Like Nicole, who entered amidst a cloud of controversy as the one with the most dance and performance experience, only for us to discover WHY she is so successful. Say what you want about innate ability, but every minute of the day she seems to be squeezing every last drop of talent that she was given to earn her success, as opposed to taking it for granted.
Or Evan, who started the season as a largely disengaged perfectionist, only to come out of his shell week after week to connect with his dance partner, draw us in as viewers and become an engaged perfectionist.
And finally Erin, the long-shot who used the show to heal her broken heart, reclaim her life and start learning that she is good enough, smart enough and people like her -- no matter what I may say week after week.
These are the things that have kept me watching.
Each couple’s first dance was their "redemption" performance -- a second chance to take a dance style they didn’t excel at the first time and give a re-do. Bruno paid a visit to Maks and Erin, and began his coaching by once again delivering a confidence-building "you can do it" pep talk. And even though she still wasn’t totally buying it, this time her samba revealed a rump-shaking, hip quaking confidence that we’ve never seen before.
First Dance: 29
The second dance was freestyle -- meaning anything goes. No rules, no limits. Maks brought in professional contemporary dance teacher Mandy Moore to help them out with their routine -- which they decided needed to set them apart from the normal hip hop crowd pleaser for them to have a chance of breaking free from the pack.
Not really sure what they were doing here. They started on a sofa, melodramatically wafted over to a bed and started rolling around with pained looks and chest thumps -- while somebody wailed Heart’s "Alone" in the background. Although the dance sparked strong emotion in me as a viewer, I’m not sure that 'pity' was what they were going for.
Second Dance: 26
Evan and Anna were coached by Len as they were tasked with redoing their stale Viennese Waltz from earlier in the season. Len had to keep reminding Evan that he was actually dancing with another human being, and to focus on her as much as on the steps. Maybe it’s because he’s a man, or taller than most, but I’m always surprised at how effortlessly he moves -- as if it’s always going to be more difficult for him than either Nicole or Erin to keep the limbs under control.
His scores were lower than Erin’s even though the dance was clearly better -- another by-product of the judges’ affirmative action for Erin and a transparent attempt to build tension in the results.
First Dance: 28
Evan and Anna’s freestyle was fraught with conflict in rehearsal. Evan wanted to do something he’s never done before, and Anna was more comfortable with traditional choreography. To get past it, they brought in sassy choreographer Bobby Newberry whose spiky blonde haired optimism mended all conflict with a healing, gay salve.
Or did it. I don’t know exactly what I’m seeing here, but it looks like Evan is having a seizure and Anna started dancing a beat late -- all to the hackneyed sounds of the "Footloose" title track. They were energetic, desperate and frantic, as if somebody was holding a loaded gun to a sweet old lady in the audience and they were told to dance for her life. Judges weren’t impressed -- forcing Evan and Anna to talk about how much “fun” they had. And we know what that means.
Second Dance: 24
Nicole’s redemption dance was the rumba as coached by Carrie Ann. The only challenge that she needs to overcome at this point is her nerves and the immense pressure she puts on herself every week. This time she nailed it, only to have the judges erupt into an argument about whether the lift at the end was "sanctioned" rumba behavior. We don’t know -- nor do we care -- but if they are going to continue building the fake tension it was important to find something wrong.
First Dance: 28
These two came out swinging -- literally -- and this may be where there is a valid complaint about her previous performance experience. Her band, The Pussycat Dolls, rely on intense choreography for their concerts and because there are no ballroom rules to follow for a freestyle dance, Nicole could have broken loose and done a routine straight from one of those concerts. But to her credit, she focused mostly on skills she’s learned since she’s been on the show and mixed lindy hop with quickstep and other ballroom and Latin styles for the most ambitious, and technically complicated, performance of the season so far. If only they hadn’t tripped up on the last lift, they would have surely scored perfect 10s. Once again, she gets props for pushing past her limits when a safer performance probably would have sealed her lead.
Second Dance: 27
So, here’s the surprise -- as manufactured as it may be. Erin and Nicole are at the top of the leader board with Evan three points behind. They will dance two more performances tomorrow night to complete the judges’ scores which will be added to audience scores from tonight’s performances. Right now, it truly is anybody’s game -- but Nicole still seems like the one to beat.