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"Dancing with The Stars": The semi-finals see high standards and crazy scores

DANCING WITH THE STARS - KATHERINE JENKINS & MARK BALLAS - Classical singing star Katherine Jenkins joins two-time champ Mark Ballas, who is returning for his 10th season. The two-hour season premiere of "Dancing with the Stars" airs MONDAY, MARCH 19 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/CRAIG SJODIN)
Craig Sjodin
Classical singing star Katherine Jenkins and two-time champ Mark Ballas.
ABC/Craig Sjodin

(CBS News) Monday night's "Dancing With The Stars" took on a strange hue.

It was as if, after weeks and weeks of ambling and babbling, the producers suddenly wanted to get on with the show. Well, it was only ninety minutes long and each couple had to dance twice.

"Dancing with the Stars" Season 14

Within seconds of Brooke Burke-Charvet repeating her first TelePrompter lines, there was gorgeous, pouting William Levy in rehearsal. Levy has a difficult tendency of wearing bandannas while he's practicing his moves. This doesn't help him resemble Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Levy's tango was so sweetly aggressive that it almost resembled a paso doble. About two-thirds through the dance, he grabbed hold of his jacket lapels and one felt sure he was about to split them open and reveal copious bare chest. But then he seemed to change his mind. This was a rare concession to subtlety. His partner, Cheryl Burke, seemed utterly delighted with his performance, as did approximately 10 million women.

And, well, head judge Len Goodman, it seemed.

"I've not been this excited since my mother put me in long trousers," he exclaimed.

Ah, but he wasn't referring to the dance. He was referring to this hugely competitive semi-final.

Bruno Tonioli said there was no doubt who was on top in that dance. I fear he meant sexually. Carrie Ann Inaba said Levy was "so much more than a pretty face." This sounded awfully sexist.

She then went on to explain that there had been an over-rotation on the drop. This is something we have all suffered from at moments of pressure and her comments seemed a trifle gratuitous.

"Wiggle like you've never wiggled before," Mark Ballas said to partner Katherine Jenkins. Surely no one had ever told her that during a classical performance.

She began her quickstep in a cage. Soon after, she managed a little stumble, as if she had the wiggles on her mind. This was largely a traditional quickstep--at least the Al Capone version of tradition.

Tonioli praised her "amazing technique."

Inaba tried the tease. "In order to make it to the finals, you've got to bring you're A game. And I don't think you did that," she said. Ah, because she thought Jenkins brought her A+ game. Yes, once we get to this stage, the judges are such nice people.

"That might be the best dance I've ever seen on 'Dancing With The Stars," she added. Oddly, she didn't mention the stumble.

Goodman at least mentioned the stumble.

"It's not right for a man to be like this," was Donald Driver's considered view of the samba. It's the hip action he objects to. One suspects one or two members of the Green Bay Packers might offer a joke or two on the subject. However, first he had to waltz. Driver's arm movements are still a little wooden. Actually, the whole of this was a little wooden. But there was quarterback Aaron Rodgers standing to applaud, so he must have deemed it better than his touchdown dance.

"There were a few times when your feet didn't finish the step," said Inaba.

"You're like a big rough, tough cream puff," said Goodman, trying to be nice.

Maria Menounos' partner Derek Hough began to lose his head in rehearsal. He couldn't find the right routine. It was so bad that he threw a water bottle. Dear me. Maria Menounos began to cry. But just because she didn't want to let him, America and the world down. In this tango, Menounos began with very tentative legs, as if she'd borrowed them from a "Toy Story" character. However, by the end she seemed so overcome by the erotic nature of the choreography that she was but a millimeter from making out with Hough.

Tonioli called it "titillating." Menounos was already weeping. Erotica can affect some people that way. Inaba offered so many adjectives that even several DVR rewinds couldn't capture them all. They were all of a gushing nature. The scoring was gushing too: three 10s.

Then we were on to personal stories. These were supposed to show us the inner motivations of these apparently superficial stars.

Levy talked about his difficult upbringing in Cuba-- which led to his joyous samba. Wearing a daring pink satin shirt and white trousers, Levy managed the sort of natural arm movements that elude Driver and the sort of natural hip movements that so eluded, say, Carson Kressley.

"You've entered the pleasure zone and savored the flavor of sexy Brazil," oozed Tonioli.

"You had me at hello," said Inaba. "Your bounce was like a thrust."

"I've never looked at a man's bum for so long," said Goodman.

You really did wonder if they had all paid the same undersexed scriptwriter. Yes, this was the night of truly technical appraisal. Each judge offered him a 10.

Levy is Cuban, so the samba might have seemed a little natural. Katherine Jenkins is Welsh, so the producers decided that her natural dance would be a salsa. (Does Wales even have a dance?)

Her personal story was wonderfully irrelevant--a story of her breakup from a Welsh TV presenter. What on earth had this got to do with dancing or, indeed, the salsa?

Still, after last week's Bollywood samba, here we had a snake-charming salsa. Jenkins emerged from the snake basket in a midriff-revealing two-piece. Then we realized that it was here that her wiggling was required. She didn't seem entirely comfortable with this constant body motion, but she offered her best.

Sadly, at the end she seemed to lose her rhythm entirely and fell completely out of step. The last move was unconsummated, but in a different way from Menounos. She grabbed her head in her hands and kept apologizing. She explained afterward that she'd felt her back give way.

"It was like you'd hung out with Beyonce at the weekend," said an enthusiastic Inaba. Goodman described her as "Katherine The Great."

Donald Driver is one of five kids raised by a single parent. They lived under a bridge. Finally, he was sent with his brother to live with his grandparents. He ended up being a drug dealer. Only meeting his wife saved him. This was a moving story, one that had as much of a role in a dancing show as had Doanld Duck talking about existentialism. Driver, too, was charged with the samba.

This was a pleasant affair, one that required precision of Driver-- who again tried to cover up missteps with sheer exuberance.

Tonioli described it as "dangerous, because it was completely out of the range of Brazil." Well, yes, this was the Green Bay samba. Inaba adored it, but two 10s out of three was very generous.

Maria Menounos is the daughter of immigrants. Her parents cleaned floors. She worked hard all her life. She progressed from interviewing President Bush to "Dancing With The Stars." She even got an endorsement from Vince McMahon. Who would be next? Russell Simmons? Gene Simmons? Simone De Beauvoir?

This all naturally led to her being revived by Hough on a table after cardiac failure. Well, this was the last body part she had left, after injuring all the others. Once brought back to life, she jived away with enormous confidence. This was a subtle, sophisticated jive, with few of the usual inane kicking. Surely this would upset at least Goodman.

Tonioli called it "redefined and reinvented."

Inaba loved it. And, incredibly, Goodman declared that he liked it.

Which just goes to prove that the judges don't want to call this one. It will all be down to the voters. So let's focus. The average age of the viewers is not far off 50, skewing very heavily toward women. So which of these four do you think won their hearts? Probably not the one who danced best.

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

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