(CBS News) When it comes to the finals of reality shows, there's a sudden focus on, well, performance. The fripperies are cast aside and the frills are only seen on the costumes.
And so it was on Monday's "Dancing with the Stars" finals, when William Levy, Donald Driver and Katherine Jenkins vied to achieve the same level of fame last enjoyed by, who was it again? Wait, wait. Yes, it was J.R. Martinez.
This last Monday is traditionally exciting because of the freestyle dance, something that's supposed to be free of all strictures set by the sad and the stickler - yes, head judge Len Goodman.
First, though, the "stars" had to perform dances that the judges thought they should most improve. For Levy, this was the cha-cha.
"I know you've got a nice butt, but keep it under you," instructed Bruno Tonioli sternly during rehearsals.
"That's as good as I've ever seen in 14 seasons of cha-cha-cha," declared Goodman.
"Your hip action leaves me green with envy," shrieked an excited Tonioli. Yes, he stood - as he so often does - to make his review more insistent and graphic.
Let's not forget that the judges seem desperate, at this stage of the joy, not to say anything too critical. Indeed, a maximum of 30 points sailed into Levy's open chest like blossoms tossed by children at spring fairs.
Jenkins has "never had a 10 from Len." How fortunate, then, that Len was her mentor for the evening. He complimented the calves and buttocks of partner Mark Ballas and he demanded the same toning of Jenkins. This was not the sort of toning for which she'd gone to the Royal Academy of Music.
Her previous paso doble had been deemed overly aggressive. Which is odd, as the Welsh haven't been a war-like nation in recent centuries.
This time, she scowled like Eva Peron after a dubious curry. And yet, in an attempt at sophistication, she lost a little dramatic edge, until the very end.
Tonioli praised the "lustrous artistry." Carrie Ann Inaba called her a "prima diva." Goodman offered allusions to tapas. He likes tapas. And - oh, look - three 10s were produced again. Yes, even a 10 from Len.
No pressure for Driver, then. For him, it was the Argentine tango. Driver is, at heart (and in body) the weakest of these three dancers. His acting abilities, too, remind one of Warren Sapp rather than Warren Beatty. As usual, though, he was helped by the fact that his partner, Peta Murgatroyd, chose to wear only slightly more than a naturist.
Driver struggles with fluidity. Too often he seems to want to move in a military manner from one step to the next. Inaba found a new crispness in this performance. Goodman, however, found it "a tad careful." He was right. So right he only offered him nine, while the others raised their ritual "10" paddles.
It was then time for the freestyle. Levy and partner Cheryl Burke decided to go Latin and throw huge lifts into the proceedings. This enjoyed some moves that were so very not PG-13. However, Levy's purpose seemed largely to be Burke's fork-lift truck.
Naturally, his exposed chest incited shrieks from L.A. to Buenos Aires. Goodman liked the changes of rhythm. "But," he added, "for me, it was too predictable."
Why? "All you do is shake your butt and get the women screaming," he explained. For a man who had, last week, found Levy's posterior mesmerizing, this was a curious observation. Tonioli and Inaba loved it, so much so that that Inaba continued to argue with Goodman as we went to a commercial break.
The latter continued to insist that this had merely been "a salsa with lifts." So he only gave it a 9.
Jenkins knew she was up against men. Large men. So how could she stand out? The secret was versatility. This had jive, quickstep, lindy hop and all sorts of other stuff tossed in. The lifts, however - especially the first - bordered on the disastrous. Asked to mount Ballas at pace, Jenkins seems to lose her composure, flailed around and landed with something of a thud.
"You were on the money all the way through," bluffed Tonioli.
"You are a champion," insisted Inaba, trying, perhaps, to one-up Tonioli in the I Am Talking Nonsense Department.
Goodman also loved it. Well, it was very much from his era. More 10s gushed from a suspiciously oily well.
Moved by the legendary two-step routine performed by Drew Lachey and Cheryl Burke in season two, Driver believed that no one would expect him to dance country. One had almost forgotten he's from Texas.
In rehearsals, Murgatroyd's lip was cut thanks to Driver's jagged edges. In the real thing, Cowboy Troy sang as the Packer returned to his roots. He seemed far more comfortable doing this than any of the ballroom attempts in previous weeks. His hoe-down looked natural. He succeeded in effecting a helicopter spin which surely, had he let go at any point, would have seen Murgatroyd land in San Diego. The Cheeseheads in the audience loved it. Inaba stood on the judges' table in order to offer her accolade.
"That was by far my favorite dance tonight," she screamed above the din.
"I cannot resist a ride in the wild, wild west," began Tonioli. Oh, you can guess the rest.
Tuesday night, the couples will perform one last night to curry the judges' favor. The viewers' voting only counts for half of the overall total. For me, Levy may have just shaded this first night of the finals. With surely at least 98 percent of the voters being female, does Jenkins stand any chance at all? The Welsh can't vote, can they?