Rock and roll and Dancing With the Stars don't really go together. The first-ever DWtS "Rock Night" amounted to some silly costumes, a bunch of flames, and someone trying in vain to imitate David Lee Roth imitating Ray Davies. But no one would have minded had the dancing on Monday been a little stronger.
As this season heads into its second half -- only four weeks now till the finale -- it's clear that the dancers are not stepping up to the challenge. By now, we should be seeing frequent 9s and the occasional 10 from the major contenders, but only one dancer on Monday earned the 9 paddle. At least this week's filler segment gave us a rundown of the top ten dances in DWtS history, as voted on by the viewers, so we could be reminded of what winners are supposed to look like. While Kristi Yamaguchi was somehow left out of the festivities, it was a nice recap of ten truly stellar performances -- or rather, nine stellar performances and one by Donny Osmond. The winner was Drew Lachey from way back in Season Two, partnered with Cheryl Burke, who looked older then than she does today.
I had been confident that Jennifer Grey's relatively low score last week (following a suspiciously fake looking argument in rehearsal) was just some harmless expectation-lowering on the part of the judges, in order to keep up the suspense. And for all we know, she is killing it in the voting every week and is still the favorite. But her paso doble this week showed obvious problems, and we have to wonder now if something really is wrong, perhaps having to do with her physical conditioning. Jennifer lost her balance a couple of times and looked "out of control," as an unusually stern Carrie Ann Inaba put it. Carrie Ann also referred to Jennifer as this season's "chosen one," which didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. Derek Hough attempted to take the blame for the paso, but his partner won't be chosen much longer if she doesn't turn it around soon. She got just a 20 for this one, with Carrie Ann giving a score of 6.
Jennifer's loss turned out to be Brandy's gain, as she led the scoring for the second straight week and won both sections of Monday's show (more on the dance marathon below). Brandy doesn't seem much like a future winner so far, but she might get the Mirror Ball Trophy by default at this rate. Following another display of emotion in rehearsal (I doubt this is helping her with voters) and some uncharacteristic comforting from Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the pair performed what looked like the night's most difficult tango with a minimum of mistakes (at least from Brandy -- Maks had a stumble at one point). Was it truly inspired, or a candidate for a future Ten Best Dances EVER segment? No. Was their score of 26 justified? Definitely. Will the tight leather pants Maks was wearing attract as many votes as the actual dance did? You tell me.
Kyle Massey was put on notice last week that the judges weren't going to let his charm make up for his lack of dancing chops any longer, so his response this week was to ... practice the tango with his brother at home. But he looked believably mature on the tango, with excellent posture and better (if still not great) footwork. Kyle is more of a natural entertainer on the dance floor than the other men, so he really just needs to get the steps down to get the judges on his side. His 23 this week (Len Goodman, who still found him a bit sloppy, gave the 7) ought to be enough to keep him around for next week. Now, we just have to figure out why Lacey Schwimmer was wearing a skirt that looked like it was falling off the whole time she was dancing.
Tony Dovolani had a goal for partner Audrina Patridge this week: he wanted her to not think too much. Sometimes the jokes just tell themselves ... the question for her on the paso doble was whether she could muster up the required fierceness, given that lack of emotion has been the one serious issue with her so far. It was more of the same from Audrina, as she managed to nail the technique part of the dance without conveying any sense that she liked what she was doing. She is simply never going to be able to sell something like a paso doble. But strangely, while the judges all called her out for missing "the character of the dance" as Len put it, the scores did not reflect their ambivalence, as she received three 8s. Added to her marathon score, Audrina ended in second place for the night. That doesn't seem at all right, but everyone else had their issues too.
Rick Fox was worried about having to return to the ballroom with this week's tango, given the issues presented by his height. He seriously looks like Beauty and the Beast dancing with Cheryl, who could probably use one of his pants legs for a sleeping bag. He did a good job keeping his posture and not crouching to look his partner in the ... uh, top of her head, but seemed almost too intense as the judges noted. Bruno Tonioli wanted a little more of a romantic feel from the dance, but considering Rick had a blonde mohawk and was trying to tango to "You Really Got Me," selling romance would not have been easy. This pair didn't look good in the marathon, but their 24 for the tango placed Rick first among the men on this evening.
Coming into Monday, it appeared Bristol Palin's luck may have finally run out, given the strength of the other dancers, the fact that she had two things to rehearse, and the general sense that she was overscored last week. But she turned in her first truly good dance when she really needed it. She had admitted to Mark Ballas in rehearsal that she had yet to give her all, but if this is what she's capable of when she tries harder, she may have more potential than I had given her credit for. Her typical lack of emotion actually suited this dance, as she kept up the tango mood throughout. The one unnecessary element was Bristol insisting the two play air guitar briefly, to convey "personality." Mark correctly noted that they would be docked for breaking hold, but Bristol wanted it anyway. Even with Len giving them a 7 for the form break, their score of 23 was easily Bristol's best of the season, and despite a disappointing marathon, she should be safe this week.
Which leaves Kurt Warner and Anna Trebunskaya at the bottom after a paso doble that was a little stiff, but hardly seemed worth a score of 18. This late in the season, the 6 paddle is usually reserved only for a dance with major problems (Bristol got 6s last week for her gorilla dance in which she barely did any steps at all), and this didn't seem to qualify. Kurt had an amusing rehearsal segment where he got advice on rock attitude from Bret Michaels, who prompted Kurt on the best way to look like he was kicking Anna to the curb. The audience was on his side, he had commitment to the character during the dance, and he didn't look like he was about to fall down at times (as Jennifer did on her paso). Yet the scores were 6s across the board. This week could be the first real test of whether there's a subterranean Christian voting bloc keeping Kurt safe.
The issues for Kurt and Anna continued in the dance marathon, where they seemed a little out of it and were tapped out first, for a score of 4. It didn't help that they went later in the show and were likely still tired, but Brandy and Maks danced last and still had enough energy left to win the marathon -- a mild upset considering that Derek and his partner typically own these. Derek threw in his usual acrobatics, but might have been a little wary of tossing around his 50-year-old partner with the iffy neck. These marathons are an opportunity for judges to reinforce a pecking order if they have one, so Kurt getting knocked out first would seem to put an end to any thoughts that he's one of their pets. The order of elimination was Kurt, Bristol, Rick, Kyle, Audrina (who didn't seem to do much at all), Jennifer, and Brandy.
So the upshot is this: Brandy was the easy winner on the night with 36 points, the next five dancers were packed between 32 (Audrina) and 28 (Bristol) points, and Kurt is way down there with just 22. If the old quarterback has a miracle comeback in him, this would be the time.