‘Dancing With the Stars’ TV Recap: Who Danced It Best?

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‘Dancing With the Stars’ TV Recap: Who Danced It Best?

Posted on: May 20th, 2014 by tommyj

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James Maslow experienced quite the Big Time Rush on “Dancing with the Stars.” The Nickelodeon singer/actor expanded his profile beyond the teen demographic, embarked on a relationship – maybe? – with partner Peta Murgatroyd and outlasted early favorite Charlie White. But now “DWTS” is down to three, and James, the last man standing, is out after the first night of the finale.

There was a lot of booing when this was announced. James and Peta looked grim, and he barely could muster the obligatory enthusiasm when saying farewell. He really, really wanted that trophy.

That means that come Tuesday night, we’ll see Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Amy Purdy and Derek Hough, and Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas battle it out for the shiny bauble. Candace has scores far lower than anyone else, so her fan base must be really, really strong to have beaten out James.

In Monday’s installment of the Season 18 finals of “DWTS,” each of the four celebrities performs their partner-switch dance with their original pro, followed by the oft-discussed freestyles. We’ll also get the biographies of the stars.

The big drama before the night began was Mark’s shoulder injury, which sent him to the hospital Sunday and an MRI on Monday morning. Mark entered the ballroom with a sling and barely patted Candace during the introductions.

Meryl had one of the most memorable, if not the best, routine of the spring the week she and Val Chmerkovskiy were paired up for the Argentine tango. Will Maks top his brother? He has a lot to which he must live up.

As we’re often told, the freestyles make or break the season. They usually come across as overblown, but this year’s batch could be interesting. Derek and Mark have won multiple Mirror Balls in part because of their freestyles. Mark’s shoulder injury could hamper his performance this time, though. Maks has never won the ultimate sparkly gem despite several trips to the finals. Don’t discount Peta. She’s been here only once, but she and Donald Driver sealed their Season 14 win with this unexpected delight.


Peta and James start the night off with a tango. James had great success the week he was matched up with Cheryl Burke, displaying a sexy, manly side not previously shown to viewers. The judges frequently bring up the chemistry between James and Peta, so expectations for this “Adore You” tango probably are high. James finds it easier to rehearse because he’s done the tango before, and we hear him contributing a bit in rehearsal to a kissing plan. Yep, James and Peta go for the kiss in this laser-filled tango. It’s sharp, but James seems to hunch somewhat in the side-by-side moves. Then again, this is how he looks for much of the dance, so possibly this was deliberate posture. He’s got the fierce face. By the way, the dances are really short, at lengths seen in the first couple of weeks in the season. We’re back to just three judges, so the comments should move along. Len thinks the tango was clean and tight. Bruno plays upon the lasers in his incoherent comments. It’s Carrie Ann, normally crushing on James, who delivers some negative feedback. She believes James is uptight and too rigid, not breathing in his movements. Bruno and Carrie Ann engage in innuendo. As James and Peta go to the skybox, the judges hug, and Len seems to scowl at the childish antics. Score: 29 (Carrie Ann 9, Len 10, Bruno 10).

The bumper from the first commercial features Artem from the Troupe as well as three pros. Long time, no see, Karina Smirnoff! Hello to Val and Cheryl, too.

Maks and Meryl move on to the Argentine tango. Their package is all business, showing how Meryl moves into the lifts and Maks’ continuing drama about how he’s never won the Mirror Ball. (Note: If Derek wins, I suspect Maks will melt down on live TV.) It’s a sensual, seductive Meryl in red lace, starting with her lifting the dress up her leg slowly. She has some terrific leaps into his arms, notably a backward leap into what looks like a frog move and a jump into a twirl. The moody music enhances the feel, which is reminiscent of a Parisian street corner at night. Bruno swoons and says that in the past few weeks, M&M’s dances have developed and linked into a storyline, like a dance version of a concert album. Carrie Ann and Len bring up the Argentine tango with Val and say this one is just as good. Score: 30 (10s from each judge).

Surprisingly, the “DWTS” producers have Candace and Mark going next, not saving the injury drama for the end as one might expect. Mark is giddier than she is when they discuss making the finals. They’re tired and frustrated in rehearsing, and for the first time, we see them getting peeved with each other. Then we see him fall to the floor Sunday while blocking their freestyle. Mark is taken to the hospital, leaving Candace to rehearse with Artem. Mark gets medical clearance to dance. The quickstep is Broadway-esque, with tails and umbrellas as canes. (They’re dancing to “Umbrella,” but it sounds nothing like the Rihanna version.) It’s a sweet, cheery confection. Technically, she could be stronger; her steps are dainty and delicate when they need bounce. She just doesn’t have the talent level of the other remaining stars. Carrie Ann is impressed with how calm she is, although the shoulders flying too high remain an issue. Len admires the perseverance. Bruno sees improved control from her first attempt with Tony Dovolani in Week 4. Score: 27 (9 times 3).

Amy and Derek end the first round with their take on salsa. Amy’s back spasms again as it did a few weeks ago, yet she recovers by the next day of rehearsal. Host Tom Bergeron gets a kick out of the start of the routine, in which Derek plays the bongos on her splayed legs. I HATE it and can’t help but remember Gilles Marini and Peta in Season 15 when a similar move was supposed to come across as cheeky but instead read as vulgar. Fortunately, the dancing in this salsa improves my mood. Amy shows surprising rhythm and musicality. A standout moment comes in a several-second sequence in which she takes tiny, tight steps while swiveling swiftly. This salsa is heavy on the lifts. Bruno yells that Amy is “flashy, exhilarating, flamboyant – I’m not talking about myself.” Carrie Ann is agog and once again trots out how amazing Amy is. Score: 30 (10, 10, 10).


Before we see the freestyles, Tom tells us to vote for the freestyle we want to see on Tuesday’s show. This probably will tip off who wins the entire season.

Quick summation of James: cute kid, performing-arts bug in high school, influenced by an accident in 2006 that left his brother in a coma and then in ICU for three months, graduated early and went to L.A., won a spot on “Big Time Rush.” Talking heads include his father and brother and several members of the Nickelodeon stable, including Big Time Rush folks.

This is a dark, gritty hip-hop number, unlike when “DWTS” usually tries to tackle the genre. This isn’t a freestyle for everyone – Len’s praise is far more tempered than Carrie Ann’s or Bruno’s – but man, I loved it. The whole number is reminiscent of something one would see in the “Step Up” movies, a good thing in my book. Does James have martial-arts experience? Some of his moves have the fluidity one associates with that, and he includes a bit of sword work. (Update: He does! James confirms to co-host Erin Andrews that he grew up with martial-arts experience and wanted to incorporate that, although the tricks were new.) He does a backflip off a wall, and he powers through some of the moves. He looks in sync with the other male dancers. James really, really wants to win. Sorry, James. As expected, Len appreciates it without loving it. Bruno raves about the mix of “Mad Max and the Hunger Games.” Score: 29 (Carrie Ann 10, Len 9, Bruno 10).

NeNe Leakes, Danica McKellar and Charlie are in the audience!

Meryl has by far the most people talking about her, from her family to her friends to skating greats Tara Lipinski, Evan Lysacek (our Season 10 runner-up!) and the previously seen Kristi Yamaguchi, the Season 6 winner. Kristi and Meryl’s friend talk about how Maks has opened her up.

Before they dance, Maks and Meryl describe their freestyle as an homage to their journey on the show. It’s balletic bedroom contemporary, and we can in fact see the roots of other dances and moments in their story. Meryl uses her acting and emoting skills throughout, and they incorporate her ice-dance background. The lean back is stunning. Maks is shirtless and barefoot, of course. He and Meryl mime a near kiss at the end, which should make the shippers squeal. He winks at the camera. Danica is wowed in the audience. Tom cuts to Carrie Ann first rather than Bruno “First of all, I think you guys should get married,” she says, sounding more like Erin. She goes on to declare that we just saw a “real, soulful expression of true self” and “divinity in motion.” Score: the perfect 30. “It should be an 11!” Len yells. Erin asks Maks to put into words how it feels on his 13th try for the Mirror Ball. He says he’d spend another 100 weeks with Meryl.

Meryl and Charlie will perform together Tuesday. Yay! And there’s Drew Carey!

For Candace, we hear from her mother, sister, daughter, and “Full House” co-stars Bob Saget and Lori Loughlin (who really, truly hasn’t aged). There’s talk of Candace’s body-image battles and the way she values her faith, and Lori reminds us Candace has no dance experience.

For Jamiroquai’s “Just Dance,” Candace is a DJ in a gold suit. This is disco and boogie with a lot of lifts. Those lifts have some very ugly dismounts, although it’s hard to tell whether this is a result of Mark’s injury or just the way things played out. Given how well Candace did two weeks ago with lifts and Charlie, the first option probably plays a big part. This freestyle is like a well-choreographed wedding number, but as a freestyle, it lacks the sophistication and level of difficulty of the others. Still, it’s very Candace, and for her fans who enjoy her journey and joie de vie, it will get them to vote.

Co-recapper Kerry Grace Benn wonders why Mark didn’t choreograph something in the contemporary vein since Candace has done well with that. Carrie Ann thinks that while Candace went all out, she didn’t seem to connect to the music. Len admires the tenacity, which is lukewarm praise on a finals week. Bruno likes that Candace went for disco diva with gusto, but alas, she was behind the beat. Score: 24 (all 8s). Natasha Bure’s jaw drops and her eyes widen, and she looks as if she’ll cry. Candace shrugs.

There’s Season 3 winner Emmitt Smith cradling a Mirror Ball!

“Amy defies the odds” is the theme of her package, and a lot of it repeats what we’ve heard this season about snowboarding, the bacterial meningitis and its consequences, and the ways in which Derek has choreographed with the different prosthetics. Derek and Amy talk about defying gravity, which might make one think we’ll hear the song from “Wicked” in the freestyle. Instead, it’s a tune called “Dare You,” and its lyrics encapsulate the entire Amy storyline the show has given. As with Meryl and Maks, Amy and Derek recap their season in dance. The talking point of this freestyle, which features Amy in a diaphanous gown and wind-blown hair, will be when she climbs a rope and spins. It’s like watching a Pink show, but is the rope necessary? The audience goes nuts. Len doesn’t love the rope but does like the lifts, emotion and choreography. Bruno hears a conversation with Derek throughout the dance. Carrie Ann doesn’t like the lifts at first but then the chorus kicked in, and she saw profound connection between moves and music. An emotional Derek talks to Erin in the skybox. Score: 29 (Carrie Ann 10, Len 9, Bruno 10). Len gets a lot of boos. He grins.

According to ABC’s press release, we’ll see a few of the best routines of the season again Tuesday, including Team Loca and the “Be Our Guest” quickstep. Last season’s winner, Amber Riley, will be back, but she’ll be in a singing role rather than a dancing one. As for our remaining contestants, they have a 24-hour fusion challenge, in which the couples will put together two styles in one number.

So that’s it, folks! Who’s going to win? Who should? Who do you wish were here instead? Leave your thoughts on these and other “DWTS” matters below. Don’t forget to come back at 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday for Speakeasy’s live blog of the finale!

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