Many a yarn was spun as Dancing With the Stars tackled a storytelling theme Monday night that asked contestants to pick songs to which they had personal connections, then create routines which communicated significant events from their lives. Wendy Williams told us the tale of how she rose to fame as a radio DJ and why she’s destined for a tenth-place finish on DWTS‘ twelfth season. Kirstie Alley and Maksim(mmm) Chmerkovskiy reenacted the biography of Chumbawamba (they got knocked down! but they got up again! you’re never gonna keep ‘em down!). Hines Ward celebrated the perseverance of his adorable mother by putting his impressive backfield in motion. And Brooke Burke enacted a fable about a beautiful android who sought humanity by donning a heinous garment with shoulder straps that looked like badly dyed hair extensions. Those cheeky DWTS cue-card writers kept having the sad robot ask the contestants about their “emotions,” a word so foreign to her that it might as well have been in Latin or French, not source code. Here’s how the stories played out — in chronological order:
Wendy Williams and Tony Dovolani: Foxtrot
DWTS‘ British Voiceover Guy promised us at the top of the show that Monday night’s proceedings were “liiiive!,” and it was only my implicit trust of this disembodied/God-like/unrelentingly peppy entity that allowed me to believe Wendy and Tony’s lethargic foxtrot wasn’t pre-taped and played back in slow motion. “I’m not a dancer,” declared Wendy, in what would turn out to (not surprisingly) be the first of 10 supremely awkward post-peformance interview segments with Brooke Burke. Unfortunately, I think the subtext here was that Wendy knows she’s never going to become dancer, either. I mean, the woman is no stranger to hard work, and she’s a hoot as a talk-show host, but she moves with all the grace and fluidity of a refrigerator getting dropped down a flight of stairs. So while Wendy unleashed her inner Kraken and roared “VOTE!” to the audience as Brooke gave out her phone numbers, I think deep down she knew she’d squeezed Tony’s buttocks for the last time. “You made a great choreograph,” she offered, not even getting the terminology right. Le sigh. Scores: Carrie Ann, 5; Len, 5; Bruno, 5. Total: 15.
Mark Ballas and Chelsea Kane (and a little more Mark Ballas!): Cha Cha Cha
There was a lot of joshing around in rehearsal surrounding Mark’s ability to work his hips like a female stripper looking to make quick change for a fifty-dollar bill, but things got less engaging when Chelsea shared her “story” about her first love (some dude in a band called The Summer Set, if Google is to be believed) declaring his affections for her in a song called (what else?) “Chelsea.” The judges lapped up this routine, with Bruno howling something about “quivering anticipation” for a “delicious first bite of love,” but I honestly felt like Mark (in his saddle shoes, which give the probably correct impression that his feet barely ever touch the ground) was doing most of the work, playing zippy hummingbird to Chelsea’s gold-tassled blossoms. Len made some crazy comment about his first amour (“ol Sally frosty knickers wasn’t a lookah!”) and Chelsea told Brooke she now had “another awesome memory” to attach to a song none of us will ever hear again. At this point, Chelsea is like the barely noticeable fourth lead in the sitcom of her life on DWTS; unless she finds a way to make a stronger impression, I feel like she could be an early “shock” elimination. Anyone else with me? Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 8; Bruno, 8. Total: 23.
Chris Jericho and Cheryl Burke: Rumba
I truly appreciated Chris’ jaunty “devil horns” gesture before his interview package, especially because the season’s resident good-time guy went super-serious for a routine set to “Let It Be” that paid tribute to his late mother. I think the performance would’ve resonated more with me had Chris and Cheryl not opted to include a low-hutch set piece complete with ’80s-era record player and a framed photo of Chris’ mom — I’m not un-sentimental, I’m just not crazy about literal touches mucking up the abstract beauty of the dance — but there’s no denying the wrestler is turning into a true hoofer. I liked that trick where Chis draped Cheryl over his back, then spun her smoothly while she intertwined her leg with his. Better still, though, there was a tenderness to the performance that, as Chris pointed out, was free of masks and walls to hide behind. I mean, how can you criticize a guy who, for the first time in over 20 years, was performing as his true self, Chris Irvine, not as his wrestling alter ego. What’s that, Carrie Ann? “Your hip action? A little strange. But emotionally you were amazing.” Alrighty then. Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 7; Bruno, 7. Total: 21.
Kendra Wilkinson and Louis Van Amstel (and his prominent chest hair): Rumba
I can’t say that I have strong positive feelings when I’m reminded that Kendra used to do the dance of love with Hugh Hefner, but I do love the way the former Playboy Playmate hasn’t tried to erase the crumbs of her past life like birds gobbling up Hansel and Gretel’s trail of bread. I mean, it’s not every woman who would choose to set the interpretive dance of her love and marriage to a song containing the line “I wouldn’t care if you were a prostitute.” Female empowerment FTW! Ignoring the opening 20 seconds — in which some overzealous dry-ice technician was apparently attempting to get Kendra to perform the “stop, drop, and roll” — I actually thought this was one of the evening’s best dances. Kendra is nothing if not a hard worker, and while the rumba wasn’t necessarily the most packed or complicated, it was, as Bruno so succinctly put it, “teasingly erotic,” “hot and arousing,” and enough to make a certain segment of male viewers turn purple. (Side note: Bonus points to Kendra for always offering hearty and heartfelt applause for her opponents — a habit not shared by each and every one of her ballroom compatriots.) Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 7; Bruno, 8. Total: 23.
Romeo and Chelsie Hightower: Rumba
Welcome to DWTS, where the rhumba can take a rare vacation from sexy — and relax on the beaches of heartfelt, vulnerable, and sometimes even sad. Like Chris before him, and Kirstie after, Romeo chose to dedicate his dance to deceased relatives, in this case a pair of cousins who died tragically young. And yet while I appreciated Romeo’s emotional commitment to the dance (if not his griping about his dance shoes), his execution of the required moves was about as crisp as a teething biscuit after an hour of toddler gumming. At some point, the guy needs to strap on his un-macho footwear, quit his kvetching about looking silly, and fully commit to the performance. Bruno and Carrie Ann applauded the routine, but Len managed to separate the intent from the finished product, calling it a “huge step back” before getting distracted by Tom Bergeron and his “big googly eyes.” Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 6; Bruno, 7. Total: 20.
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson: Samba
Everyone appreciates a nice young gentleman paying tribute to his mama through the art of the samba — especially if it contains a double dose of rump-shaking (“Two for the price of one! Happy hour!” shouted Bruno). Indeed, Hines and Kym’s routine — set to Earth Wind and Fire’s “Fantasy” — was far and away the night’s most energetic and demanding, with whimsical hip thrusts, at least a dozen spins, rapid-fire footwork, and a genuine smile plastered to the NFL star’s face from start to finish. The judges seemed to ignore a near catastrophic slip as Kym bounced back from that “between the legs” slide, but maybe they were just distracted by the reemergence of Hines’ best-in-show glutes, non-Pro edition. (Who knew a tucked-in vest with yellow-trimmed neckline and collar could be responsible for so much sexiness?) Carrie Ann was right that the guy dances the samba like he’s been doing it for years. “My whole life experience has been great,” said Hines, before shouting out to his mother, who was in the audience: “We’re going to the moon, Mom!” Adorable! Ten! (Okay, not quite.) Scores: Carrie Ann, 9; Len, 8; Bruno, 8. Total: 25.
Petra Nemcova and Dmitry Chaplin: Waltz
Look, I understand why Len identified Petra as “The One” this week. Her waltz with Dmitry to the strains of “You Raise Me Up” was indeed the picture of grace, elegance, and fluidity, but at least in part because it was the only waltz of the week! It’s easy to glide like a salmon heading downstream when the other fishies are shimmying to a Latin groove or plodding their way through a foxtrot. And while, yeah, it would be nitpicking to point out some of the stiffness in Petra’s movements, or the way she sometimes stalls when transitioning from one move to the next, I also can’t sit here and pretend the routine was worthy of the “Nine” Paddle from our Head Judge. Still, if Petra wants to win the hearts and votes of DWTS viewers, her bigger challenge will be to quash her fourth-runner-up pageant-style answers when she’s confronted by the BrookeBot 8000. I swear I squeaked a “no!” to every word out of girlfriend’s mouth — up to and including the bit about how people who are struggling can “rise above, and rise to vote as well!” Let’s just applaud Petra’s involvement in the Happy Hearts Fund and pretend that last part didn’t happen. Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 9; Bruno, 8. Total: 25.
Sugar Ray Leonard and Anna Trebunskaya, Paso Doble
Unfortunately for Sugar Ray, his “personal story” was closer on the scale to “a guy wrote a song about me” than “dedicated to a deceased loved one,” but the judges didn’t seem to care, and graded him on the forgiving scale of “compared to last week’s debacle.” I liked how before the performance, Anna did her best impression of a Price Is Right girl by “displaying” her partner’s “championship” belt, but once things got underway, it was clear she’d loaded the routine with props and gimmicks to distract the crowd from the boxer’s middling moves. To me, this felt a little less like matador-bull and more like county dog catcher-cockapoo mix. Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 6; Bruno, 7. Total: 20.
Kirstie Alley and Maksim(mmm) Chmerkovskiy: Rumba
In retrospect, there was plenty of “foreshadowing” to Kirstie and Maks’ Tumble Heard ‘Round the World. “I almost died dancing the quickstep,” said Kirstie, recalling the prior’s week’s fleet-footed theme with mock horror. Then we had the former Cheers star sadly recounting how she lost her mother (and nearly her father, too) when they were hit by a drunk driver on the week she’d gotten cast in her first major move Hollywood role. Choosing “Over the Rainbow” as her theme song, Kirstie then said she sought to portray “the agony and the ecstasy” of her life at the time. But who’d have thought that seconds later, we’d see Maks’ thigh give out after attempting a low bend with Kirstie’s leg wrapped around his hip.
Please tell me I’m not the only DWTS viewer who gasped, covered his face with his hands, and started chanting “ohno-ohno-ohno-ohno!” the moment Maks and Kirstie collapsed into a silk-swathed heap, then attempted to get up while Maks grimaced in pain and attempted to find an opening for the couple to reenter the dance. What followed this gut-wrenching mishap, however, was a minute of pure DWTS magic. Kirstie barely let her confusion pass over her face before surrendering to Maks’ lead and delivering a rhumba that transcended reality-show “success” and quite possibly passed into the realm of genuine art. Yeah, I said it. I’m corny that way, but it doesn’t make what I’m saying any less true. Maks and Kirstie’s rumba was downright gorgeous, her footwork swift and elegant as she swayed in front of him, his spins sharp and precise as he whirled around her. I know you’re not supposed to break out the “10” paddle for a couple who committed a catastrophic error, but I kinda wish at least one judge — Carrie Ann or Bruno (or maybe even Len) — had had the audacity to do it. “Sometimes tragedy leads to amazingly beautiful moments,” said Carrie Ann. “You can’t keep good talent down,” added Bruno. “My heart stopped beating back here,” chimed in Brooke, almost convincing the audience she was made up of real human-like organs, not just wires and gaskets and synthetic hair. Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 7; Bruno, 7. Total: 21.
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff: Rumba
My husband pretty much summed up the appeal/terror of Ralph as he watched the preternaturally youthful star’s intro package and demanded to know, “How is anything about Ralph real? I don’t understand!” But ours is not to question the swiftly aging portrait in Ralph’s attic, but rather to revel in the fact that the undeniably awesome actor chose “Stay Gold” (or “So Gold,” as the sheet music indicated) and not Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” as his theme music. I loved Ralph’s disastrous rehearsal attempts at making sexy face, and having him tell Karina, “it’s worked for my wife for 24 years…I think.” And while this was his weakest dance of the season — Ralph occasionally fell out of step with Karina, and his extensions all seemed kind of wobbly — the sight of the guy kissing his wife’s hand and high-fiving his son at the end of the performance must have activated many a viewer’s speed-diailing fingers. And who could blame ‘em? Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 7; Bruno, 7. Total: 21.
So to put our judges’ scores in perspective, Carrie Ann gave 7s to Chelsea, Chris, Sugar Ray, Kirstie, and Ralph. Bruno gave 8s to Chelsea, Kendra, and Petra. And Len scored Sugar Ray and Romeo only a point higher than Wendy. Chew on that and let me know if you see any fuzzy math going on. And in the interim, what did you think of this week’s DWTS overall? Which contestant improved the most? Did you vote for any of the dancers this week? And who do you think will go home on Tuesday night’s results show? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.