Dancing With The Stars Recap: Bolton in the Doghouse

Monday's Dancing With the Stars featured an unusual number of references to the "shocking" elimination of David Hasselhoff last week, along with reminders that we had to VOTE for our favorites. The Hoff was tied for the lowest score so in that respect no one should have been surprised to see him go, but the point Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke were trying to make is that we, the viewers, aren't supposed to be getting rid of their biggest stars and tabloid draws while it's still September.

But there isn't much chance of something similar happening this week. One score was so terrible as to make Tuesday's elimination inevitable, and the astonishing leniency of the judges made one of the season's biggest lightning rods totally bulletproof, at least for now. Memo to future contestants: Make sure your mother is in the audience. Even the notoriously negative Len Goodman will go easy on you.

The night's disaster came courtesy of Michael Bolton, who must have had one of the most miserable DWtS weeks ever. Even when healthy last week, he didn't seem to be having much fun, and he was hampered in this week's rehearsal by a case of laryngitis. To make matters worse, partner Chelsie Hightower, formerly believed to be a sane person, decided it would be a wonderful idea for Michael to start his jive to "Hound Dog" by literally crawling out of a doghouse. Points to him for going along with this bizarre plan, but it looked like he could barely move. Chelsie danced, Michael sort of trailed glumly behind like a whipped mutt, and the judges gave the whole spectacle a score of 12, with Bruno Tonioli actually brandishing the 3 paddle that hasn't been used on DWtS since the evil reign of Steve Wozniak. How are we supposed to live without you? I imagine we'll find that out Tuesday night, Michael.

But Bolton is expendable. The producers have high hopes for Bristol Palin, however, and pulled out their biggest promotional gun this week: Sarah Palin was in the audience, and got her own interview segment with Bergeron. She was also seen when Bristol and partner Mark Ballas made a pointless and time consuming visit to the Palins' Wasilla cabin in the woods, carefully disguised as a really big house. Bristol's quickstep came last in the show (another way to help her vote totals, not that Hasselhoff got much benefit from it), and while one can see she tries hard, she is still very uncomfortable with any sort of public role and it came across as pretty mechanical. However, the judges compared her to Kelly Osbourne, another contestant who benefitted from low expectations and family backing in the audience, and inexplicably gave her a score of 22, with Len deciding it was worth an 8. After an appearance from her controversial mom and two straight songs about a mother's advice (this week it was "You Can't Hurry Love," also known as the advice Bristol didn't take), it might be time for her to give that angle a rest.

There was one obvious standout on Monday, even if the scores didn't really reflect her dominance: Jennifer Grey, whose protests that she really was just an actress playing a dancer are looking weaker than ever after she and Derek Hough tore it up with their jive. Their rehearsal footage dealt with Jennifer's recent cancer diagnosis (something discovered when she was getting a pre-DWtS checkup last year), and her spinal issues that make certain moves impossible. But she kept up with Derek nearly perfectly, even if the effort left her exhausted in the end. Jennifer got a score of 24 just like last week, but this time it wasn't a blatant overscore; it wouldn't have been surprising to see a 9 in there somewhere.

Close behind Jennifer was Audrina Patridge, who is proving to be a major surprise. My expectation was that she wouldn't be any more animated on the dance floor than she was playing herself on The Hills, but her quickstep with Tony Dovolani was excellent for this stage of the season. It helps that she seems to be really enjoying herself, although we could probably stand fewer self-pitying rehearsal breakdowns about how her boyfriend is upset about the time she's spending on DWtS, and the "sacrifices" she's making. Did Audrina get a job when none of us were watching, or a boyfriend that wasn't a Hollywood sleazeball? The best part about her score of 23 is that by not getting three 8s, Tony must now go through with a promise to get his legs waxed.

It's hard to know what to make of young Kyle Massey so far, but he had one thing in common with Bristol this week other than being a teenager: his score was also a good deal higher than it should have been. He's having a great time and knows how to entertain -- he has a lot of grace and stamina for a guy that could stand to lose some weight -- but the sense I'm getting from his rehearsal footage is that the technical side of ballroom dancing really isn't for him. He's fortunate to have a partner in Lacey Schwimmer who herself is more of a high energy dynamo than someone who will wow you with her footwork. His quickstep delighted the audience with its flair, but as Bruno pointed out, it appeared almost as much a jive as a quickstep. Despite the lack of any technique, Kyle got a 22 (the 8 was from Carrie Ann Inaba) and a gentle prod to consider doing the actual dance next time.

The two ex-athletes both did the jive, and both ended up with 21s. It appeared last week as if Kurt Warner might be overmatched by DWtS, but he and Anna Trebunskaya showed real improvement Monday. It's a good sign for Kurt that while he's taking the competition seriously, he's also visibly having a good time, even in rehearsal -- a nice change for someone who wasn't really Mr. Personality in his playing days. I still think he's going to be a big threat this season. Rick Fox and Cheryl Burke had the handicap of going first, and Rick informed viewers of another potential handicap, the ruptured foot tendon that ended his playing career. Their dance was solid, the height difference between the two was less apparent this week, and Rick lifted up Cheryl's skirt, always good for a few bonus points.

I think Brandy might be in some trouble -- not this week, but soon. Even if she picked a rehearsal fight with Maksim Chmerkovskiy because viewers have come to expect Maks is going to clash a bit with his partner, it's still risky, and even more so when you blame your pro for an element of the dance that a judge didn't like. There seemed something oddly flat about their jive, a sense that we were waiting for something big to happen that never did. Their 21 was a solid score, but the judges expected more. On the other hand, there's not much expected from Florence Henderson and she is being judged accordingly. Her quickstep with Corky Ballas had all the steps; they just came a lot less quick than they were supposed to. But she got two 6s and a very iffy 7 from Carrie Ann. Bruno's comment that the dance was more like Driving Miss Daisy is closer to the truth.

Margaret Cho seemed to realize she dodged a bullet last week when her goof on the waltz went over like a lead balloon. Her jive with Louis van Amstel suffered from a lack of height on the kicks, but otherwise she handled some difficult choreography well, and she's gotten the judges to take her seriously. Her score of 18 left her tied for next-to-last with The Situation, who might be decent if he could get over his grade school notions about ballroom being for dorks. He seemed surprised that he and Karina Smirnoff wouldn't be dancing to club music, and joked that he felt like Mary Poppins while rehearsing. His quickstep was judged pretty loosely considering he didn't seem to have learned many of the steps, but the judges seem to want him to succeed, and Karina hasn't yet turned her wrath on him.

If she keeps up at this rate, Jennifer has this season in the bag.