The top scores of "10" flew like popcorn as the "Dancing With The Stars: All-Stars" celebrity dancers tried out unfamiliar dances before guest judge Paula Abdul.
It was a night in which the professional dancers were in despair trying to teach their amateur partners dance styles they themselves didn't know. But that didn't stop two of this season's frontrunners from serving notice again why they're the teams to beat.
Unsinkable Olympian Shawn Johnson delivered a sexy, taut mambo that brought her three "10s" out of four. Johnson keeps building sparkling performance quality into her impressive dancing and gymnastic skills and is, as judge Carrie Ann Inaba pointed out, the dancer the other contestants need to fear.
And heavy-lidded French hunk Gilles Marini uncorked the bronzer bottle and played to his strengths, i.e. shirtless, for a Bollywood number that head judge Len Goodman described as "hotter than a curry."
"Smouldering and spicy as a vindaloo,'' added Abdul who, like Goodman, must have been thinking about dinner.
Both Johnson and Marini earned 39.5 out of a possible 40 points for their routines, which are insanely high scores for this early in the competition.
As judge Bruno Tonioli remarked after Johnson's mambo: "This show -- you think you've seen it all -- and it keeps getting better."
Abdul was a fun addition to the judging panel this week. She looked great and seemed sober. If you've ever seen Abdul on "American Idol" or other talent shows, you'll know that she slops on the sugar when giving her critiques. But as a longtime choreographer, she actually has insight to share with the dancers, even if it's filtered through a fuzzy Los Angeles sensibility.
"If you don't push boundaries, they'll push you ... and maybe not in the direction you want to go," Abdul advised Bristol Palin after an energetic, if amateurish rock 'n' roll number.
After Emmitt Smith delivered a bolero (backstage they called it a Cuban dance of love, that's all I can tell you) that had the lady judges panting, Abdul called him a "sexy beast."
"Less is more," she told Smith, "and you left us wanting more."
Describing Shawn's sexy mambo, Abdul was less eloquent: "To me, my most favorite dance."
In minor news of the night, Palin climbed out of the basement with a score second to the bottom for the first time in two weeks. As her partner, Mark Ballas, pushed her to try more inventive choreography, she instead pulled him back for safer stuff. It might be a smart choice by Palin to deliver, as she did Monday, a dance she can sustain from start to finish.
Sabrina Bryan went back to "Studio 54" days to deliver a rollicking disco number that easily could have been the best of the night. Except better dances kept coming along after her.
Ditto for Melissa Rycroft, the reality star who dances great but doesn't seem to be making a memorable impression. This despite a jitterbug that included a ton of difficult lifts and flips that she and her partner made look effortless.
Losing a bit of ground this week was skater Apolo Ohno, who lost his body mike during a semi-convincing hip-hop number. The dance ended with his sly partner, Karina Smirnoff, crying crocodile tears about how she'd let him down. Karina is a smart lady who knows when to play the sympathy card.
Soap star Kelly Monaco, the Season 1 champion, had what the judges called the biggest challenge of the night: dancing contemporary style. She and partner Val Chmerkovskiy solved it by dancing in their underwear, a sensual turn that judge Tonioli called "emotionally charged, deeply felt."
Monaco and Chmerkovskiy seem to be falling in love, or at least building out that talking point in their backstage storyline.
"I've got a lotta walls, you know. And Val is slowly knocking them down," Monaco confided to the camera in a tremulous voice. "He's teaching me how to trust again."
In trouble this week is comic actress Kirstie Alley, who served up a snappy Charleston that landed her at the bottom of the scorecard. Abdul oozed about how great Alley looked, but the clock is ticking. Alley is fun to watch and was game about inverting her 61-year-old body into a cartwheel. But she knows...
"I'm trying to channel Shawn (Johnson). But I'm channeling that girl from 'Psycho' getting killed in the shower," she lamented.