As the final night of competition in Season Nine of Dancing With the Stars came down the home stretch, things were unfolding mostly as expected, and it appeared voters would be left with obvious choices. If America wanted to vote for pure dancing prowess, Mya would win, easily. If the voters sided with which dancer showed the most growth, Kelly Osbourne would benefit. And if the determining factor was sheer popularity, a Donny Osmond runaway could be in the cards.
But the season-ending freestyle dance, the traditional maker of champions and crusher of dreams on DWtS, may have changed things. It turned what had looked like a blowout Monday night into a tight battle, and perhaps put Osmond in the driver's seat. The 51-year-old showbiz legend did just enough to make himself a plausible winner for those voters who don't want to tell themselves that they are choosing on something other than strict dancing merits.
Osbourne led off the evening reminding viewers of her journey on the show, which meant plenty of footage showing her trying to dance while nervously glancing at her feet. Her final Argentine tango with Louis van Amstel was as good a job as she has done all season, although it also played up while this nice story can't be considered a legitimate winner. While Osbourne doesn't have the natural grace to ever look transcendent out there, and she has struggled all season in the more passionate dances, it was a solid effort worthy of a 26 (Bruno Tonioli gave Osbourne an 8 and was heavily booed).
Mya and Dmitry Chaplin have been getting stronger in Latin as the season has progressed, and their concluding paso doble showed great verve. Much credit here has to go to Mya's old nemesis Len Goodman, who dropped by rehearsal to warn the pair that they seemed lackluster and needed to up the passion. Mya got the star treatment with the staging of this routine, and things finished with some dramatic stomping. Mya and Chaplin looked a touch out of sync at points, but the three judges were inspired to pull out their 10 paddles for Mya once again, giving her a third 30 in three weeks.
Last up was Osmond, who let us know that he didn't want to win DWtS simply on the basis of being his lovable self. I hate to be the one to break this to you Donny, but there's a reason you're still here while Joanna Krupa is soaking her corns in front of the TV. They chose the cha cha cha, giving Osmond the chance to show off some hip movement, as horrifying as that sounds. The routine seemed slow compared to previous cha cha chas (chas cha cha?), and the middle-aged Osmond always looks like he's going to drop Kym Johnson whenever he has to support her weight. But he threw in some of his traditional hammy elements and the audience ate it up. When Tonioli called Osmond a "credit to his profession," it seemed like the set-up for some low scores, but his 27 was more than respectable -- in fact, he probably didn't deserve to exceed Osbourne's score.
Next up was the "mega-mix challenge," otherwise known as the latest way DWtS has found to stretch these late season shows so they don't end in an hour like they should. The idea here was for the final three to learn the same choreography for a mash-up of Viennese waltz, samba, and jive. Following some tiresome rehearsal footage (Kelly complains that the others are too experienced! Donny worries that he's too old!) the challenge proceeded, with Mya noticeably working on a different level than the other two as she has for the last two months. No one made a mistake, but with the scoring predetermined (30 for first place, 28 for second, 26 for third) it wouldn't have made much difference. This segment came across as a way for the judges to reinforce their pecking order, and no one should have been surprised to see Mya come away as the winner, with Osmond and Osbourne trailing.
Finally, it was freestyle time. Laying on the underdog imagery thick one last time, Osbourne and van Amstel planned out a routine to "I Will Survive," but it wound up being the death knell for what little chance she may have had, thanks to a fall during an aborted lift/spin. To Osbourne's credit, she recovered professionally and took the mishap in good humor, no doubt realizing that third place is going to look awfully good considering where she began. The judges soft-pedaled their criticism -- Tonioli even told her she looked beautiful, Paula Abdul style -- but the three 8s they doled out said plenty, and weren't even accompanied by audience boos for once.
Mya's freestyle looked like it would be the chance for her to put the hammer down once and for all, but something went very wrong in the planning stage. Chaplin announced he wanted to do a bit based on Hairspray, and Mya's worried they were playing it too safe. At some point, she was apparently convinced otherwise and sounded enthusiastic. But her initial instincts proved to be correct, perhaps fatally correct. The routine was easily the most energetic of the freestyles, and nothing about it was off -- Mya has never had a truly poor dance and wasn't about to start now. But it simply wasn't difficult, and Chaplin did nothing in particular to show Mya off, or throw in the sorts of tricks that only she in this field can manage. The judges gave her three 9s, but all made it clear that they had wanted to see more: "I was expecting something to happen, and it never happened," said Goodman, his scolding of Mya sounding remotely realistic for the first time.
Mya and Chaplin left the door open for Osmond, and he sashayed right through it. He used his freestyle to highlight what he does best: pure entertainment rather than precision or power. All season long, Osmond has known who he is, what he can and can't do, and why people want to support him; and this routine was a gigantic thank you to those fans. He and Johnson began with some goofing around, but their salute to Broadway glamour featured some charming if not especially difficult showbizzy stuff, topped with a nice lift at the end to add a little difficulty. The judges went nuts and gave Osmond the first 30 of the season that has gone to someone other than Mya. Perhaps crucially, no one has ever won DWtS without nabbing at least one 30 during their season, and Carrie Ann Inaba compared Osmond's effort to the freestyles of Drew Lachey and Shawn Johnson, both former champions.
The freestyle pulled Osmond to within two points of Mya in the night's final standings, and even though there's one more dance-off to come in the finale, you have to wonder if Osmond doesn't already have this in the bag. If he had the voting strength to get through after finishing last in a field of four, a close second place in a field of three could very well be all he needs to win bragging right over Marie forevermore.