Shawn Johnson followed bad advice, Kelly Monaco threw in everything and Melissa Rycroft soared in the all-ladies final of "Dancing With The Stars: All-Stars."
In their final week of competition, the ladies turned in two dances Monday -- with one more to come on Tuesday before the all-star season mirrorball trophy is handed out. One of Monday's dances was a repeat of a previous routine from this season; the second "super-sized freestyle" gave the contestants a chance to conceive and choreograph a production number with all the trimmings.
Points to Kelly Monaco for super-sizing her freestyle, an homage to "Dirty Dancing" performed to the classic '80s staple "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." This one had it all: Kelly performing aerial twirls, dance partner Valentin Chmerkovskiy playing the violin, six backup dancers and a gospel choir.
"I loved the blend of Cirque du Soleil and 'Dirty Dancing,'" said judge Bruno Tonioli.
Kelly has been the surprise of the season. On Week 1, I don't think anyone would have picked her to be in the final. She and Val have had the lowest scores from the judges more than once, but have survived. Kelly has grown on the audience, and on this reviewer. There's an element of fun to her routines, whether it's a stone-faced serious flamenco while splashing in a wading pool or a cheeky three-way routine with two bare-chested male dancers.
On Monday, Kelly wore the pink dress that Baby had in "Dirty Dancing." As a gospel choir pounded it out -- "I'VE ... HAD the time of my LI-IFE" -- Val lifted Kelly in that move, you know, where Patrick Swayze lifts flying bird Jennifer Grey over his head. It's these kinds of smart choices -- "Dirty Dancing" is absolutely a perfect choice for "DWTS" -- that have helped keep clever Kelly in the game.
In her reprise dance, Kelly performed a crisp paso doble marred only by a slippery-hand missed grab where Val couldn't hold on to her. But that didn't stop Tonioli and fellow judge Len Goodman from giving her perfect scores of 10.
"You burned the floor like an awesome fire angel, fueled by passion, driven by desire," said Tonioli with his usual zest.
Feeling the burn Monday was season-long front-runner Shawn Johnson, who tumbled to the bottom of the scoreboard. Shawn made the disastrous decision to thumb her nose yet again at the judges who docked her in the past for not following rules.
I say "her," but what I really mean is "him" -- professional partner Derek Hough. Derek convinced gullible Shawn to do the same (terrific!) quick step from Week 3, with the same detail that annoyed the judges and cost Shawn points. It cost her again on Monday.
In the quick step, the partners are supposed to stay in handhold for most of the entire number and aren't supposed to do lifts. Shawn and Derek's quick step threw that requirement out the window -- just as they threw themselves off the "DWTS" stairway at the finale of their zany routine.
Now, I'm no expert. But if I did a dance once and the judges docked me points for not following the guidelines of that particular dance, I would NOT do the exact same dance the EXACT same way on the season finale. But Derek glamoured Shawn with some twaddle about how it's not about the scores, it's all about pleasing the audience.
"It was kind of our statement dance," said usually sensible Shawn after being sufficiently hypnotized by Derek.
What we saw Monday was a stubborn choreographer who didn't want to change his routine to please some dusty relic on the judges panel. There's a word describing this all-too human flaw of choreographers and politicians.
Hubris: Exaggerated pride or self-confidence; overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.
So Shawn and Derek did their terrific quick step, with flips and lifts and tumbles; and they got docked by the judges. Again.
"I'm a little disappointed,'' said judge Carrie Ann Inaba. "I hope your risk pays off."
"You leave me nowhere to go," said judge Goodman sadly.
So who do you turn to when you've fallen flat on your keester? You call your girlfriends. Or in Shawn's case, "The Fierce Five" -- the five U.S. gymnasts who brought home the team gold from this year's Olympics.
As Shawn and Derek did what Goodman described as a medley of their greatest hits of the season, gymnasts Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber did flips and splits and this and that.
"Fierce. Flawless. Exciting," said Tonioli before the judges gave Shawn three perfect 10s.
But Shawn wasn't as perfect as Melissa Rycroft, the middle-of-the-pack gal who has turned on the gas in the final weeks. Melissa got perfect scores for both dances Monday, putting her in the top position with one dance Tuesday and the audience vote still to be added in.
The judges praised Melissa for her reprise of a samba she did in Week 3.
"You have grown so much as a performer. You have blossomed," said Inaba.
"Carnival queen,'' said Goodman. "Fabulous."
The judges loved it, but I was a little disappointed in Melissa's super-sized freestyle. She and partner Tony Dovolani did a contemporary dance that included scaling some oversized blocks on the "DWTS" set. A few backup dancers spun in the air. But as a production number -- something that had the chance of including lots of Show Biz elements -- I though it was very bare and minimal. Particularly after Kelly Monaco's razzle-dazzle freestyle.
But the judges were practically in tears as they delivered their 10s.
"That had passion. It was wonderful," said Goodman, adding that he wished he could give it an 11.
I have begrudged Melissa her spot on the show from the very beginning, arguing that a former professional cheerleader could hardly be considered a dance novice. Although she's hardly any different from the many other show business pros who have hidden their dance experience for a chance to be on "DWTS." I also found Melissa sort of uninteresting as a personality: a generic spunky gal from Texas.
Like Kelly, Melissa has grown on me. The girl works hard. She can't help being perky. I sincerely believe that's how she is in real life, and has always been. It's not an act.
It won't be the worse thing in the world if Melissa wins. She has turned out consistently sharp dances. And longtime watchers of the show will be happy to see good guy Dovolani hoist the trophy for the first time after 15 seasons.
But the season has belonged to Shawn, who has delivered a half-dozen memorable dances. What should have been a cakewalk for Shawn is now a catfight; she trails Melissa, 60 to 57 points.
The season finale Tuesday will be filled with cameos from the returning contestants before the final questions are answered.
Can the audience make up that difference for Shawn? Will the one remaining "instant dance" on Tuesday be enough to shift the balance? Is this Tony's season at last? Why did Derek sabotage Shawn? Can Kelly pull out one more surprise? What's the truth about that "showmance" between Kelly and Val?
So many questions and just one show left.