'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Emotional 'Most Memorable Year' performances

For The Baltimore Sun
"Dancing With the Stars" recap: An emotional night for "Most Memorable Year" performances.

This week on "Dancing With the Stars," each star invites us to look at their "Most Memorable Year." At the end of last week’s recap, your regular correspondent, Amy Watts, said that I was much nicer about sob stories than she was, but I have no idea where she might have gotten that idea.

In the first minute of the show, the stars are teasing deaths, marriages, births and Olympic medals; earlier in the day, Tom Bergeron tweeted out a hankie warning. For you youngsters in the audience, the strange appliance in the opener is a slide projector, what we used in the old days to put photos on our walls.

Music for the opening number is provided by Andre Rieu with a 60-piece orchestra and chorus, in a soaring performance of “My Heart will Go On” with bonus solo piccolo. The women musicians are wearing full ballgowns, like in a 1940s Technicolor musical; their long skirts solve the problem of how to play cello like a lady. Newly engaged couple Emma Slater and Sasha Farber lead out the pros, and Andre Rieu stands in the middle of the floor, smiling benevolently at the dancers as he plays violin.

Tom and Erin Andrews take the stage. Erin is wearing an extremely short dress made of crushed aluminum foil, personifying leggy blonde-ness.

Maureen McCormick and Artem Chigvintsev are up first, with the foxtrot to “From the Ground Up.” Her most memorable year is 1985, when she met her husband, Michael, after a five-year post-child-stardom cocaine addiction. Michael makes an appearance in the rehearsal studio and Maureen promises America to never shed another tear, a promise which holds until the end of her performance. Her costume is wedding gown-adjacent and the ballroom is lit like church windows.

Len Goodman is still tending the mothership, "Strictly Come Dancing," in England, so the judges are Julianne Hough, Bruno Tonioli, and Carrie Ann Inaba. Julianne says Maureen is a different person than when she started the competition and that this was her best dance. Bruno sings a few bars of “Goin’ to the Chapel,” demonstrating his skill as a dancer, and says every girl in the country wants to get married to have a number like that. Carrie Ann says Maureen is slow and steady, a slow learner but growing steadily.

Erin’s dress matches the sparkly background of the red room. Michael is waiting for Maureen there and speaks so sweetly about Maureen that Artem gets weepy.

Scores: 8s all around, 24 total.

Next up are Calvin Johnson Jr. and Lindsay Arnold, in a jazz routine to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” His year is 2012, when Lindsay graduated high school, and Calvin broke Jerry Rice’s record for something sportsball. In the package, Jerry Rice seems OK with it. Calvin introduces his father and talks about the importance of family.

The dance starts on bleachers with members of the troupe, like "Grease," but the dance is all Calvin and Lindsay and amazing lifts. At the end of the number, Jerry Rice pops up from behind the bleachers and passes the game ball seen in the package to Calvin, who catches it — fortunately, because wouldn’t that have been embarrassing — and hands the ball to his father in the audience.

Jerry Rice gets kisses from all the judges and leads a JER-RY chant before Tom sends him upstairs. Bruno calls out the Motown stylistic bits and the height of the lifts. Carrie Ann says Calvin brings out the fun on the dance floor and every move is fully expressed, but he should be hitting the beats more strongly. Julianne thanks him for bringing out everything he has but tells Lindsay he’s got more to bring out.

Erin hands Calvin a towel — he’s sweating badly — and jumps excitedly in high heels. Calvin and Jerry have never met before tonight.

Scores: 8s all around, 24 total.

Jana Kramer & Gleb Savchenko are dancing to “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” a contemporary routine, which means no shoes. Her year is 2016, when she had her daughter, completing the healing process after an abusive relationship 10 years ago. The baby makes an appearance in the studio but while barefoot, as contemporary requires, may need to practice the walking thing for a bit.

Gelb is impressing me as a choreographer this season; Jana’s not that strong or interesting as a dancer but he shows her off well. The baby is in the audience wearing a tiny pink tutu and wee blue ear protectors and gives Mommy a hug and a bit of drooling before the judges give their scores.

Carrie Ann is not weeping; I’m stunned. She congratulates Jana on her courage and says she had a breakthrough in her performance. Julianne admires Jana's perseverance and Bruno her total commitment.

Scores: 9s from Carrie Ann and Bruno, 8 from Julianne, so 26 total.

We come back from commercial with the pros dancing in a preview of the next "DWTS" tour. I’m glad to see bearded Keo is with them — he wasn’t a bad pro but his partners were terrible (let us remember that swimsuit model and shudder in collective embarrassment.)

Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke are next. Any costume points from Ryan’s shirtlessness are negated by his horrifying beige polyester pants. He has been better in dancing and attitude than I expected from him. His year is 2008, when he won his first individual Olympic gold medal; he gets teary recalling the victory. He dedicates the routine to his mom, who says she wants the world to see him as he is and not his one mistake.

The dance takes advantage of Ryan’s size and strength, and I really cannot emphasize enough how ugly his pants are. He runs into the stands to give his mom a hug at the end. Julianne is really impressed. She says what she likes about "My Favorite Year" week is how it drives the stars into a vulnerable place; I wouldn’t have suspected her of such a cruel streak. Bruno says it was was Ryan’s most honest performance to date. Carrie Ann says it was his best performance.

Erin congratulates Ryan on his recent engagement and his fiancee’s thumbnail-sized diamond; Ryan says it cost a lot.

Scores: 8s all around, 24 total.

Laurie Hernandez and Val Chmerkovskiy will be doing a paso doble. Her year is 2016, when she finally made her dream of being on "Dancing with the Stars" (there might have been an Olympics thing, too). Like Lochte, her life has been training, with the winning more visible than the hard work.

She starts with a dramatic solo in a box, then, in a "DWTS" first, adds a skirt to her costume instead of tearing one off as she and Val begin the paso. Bruno says she set off seismic alarms across the nation but points out a mistake in her footwork. Carrie Ann calls her a warrior goddess and channels Len Goodman to say Laurie didn’t need the opening bit. Julianne liked the box bit but thought her skirt might have been distractingly heavy. She says she only sees Laurie on the floor but Val takes it well.

Scores: 8s from Carrie Ann and Bruno, 9 from Julianne, 25 total.

Marilu Henner and Derek Hough have a Viennese waltz to “Surprise Yourself.” Her year is 1978, when her mother, a dancer and a dance teacher, died and Marilu got the role in "Taxi." Marilu seems much more assured this week; previous weeks have been uncomfortable to watch. At the end, the judges rush from behind the stands, Carrie Ann and Julianne hugging Marilu and Bruno hugging Derek, and, frankly, Derek deserves it for giving Marilu such a vehicle to shine. Carrie Ann says Marilu allowed herself to be great, and Julianne is happy for her — this is the routine that makes them weepy. Bruno says Marilu was brilliant.

Scores: 9s all around, 27 total.

Amber Rose’s year is 2013, when her son was born, and she is dancing a samba to “Woman Up” in a celebration of womanhood. Her rehearsal footage with Maks Chmerkovskiy is not pleasant — this seems to be the week when stuff gets real between the stars and the pros — but the dance is all smiles. Maks gets out of the way for her to dance with women from the troupe, and I can’t help thinking Len would want more work in hold.

Julianne loves Amber’s rhinestone body suit and the concept of the dance, and says Amber should be as open with Maks as she was dancing with the troupe. Bruno repeats that Amber should trust Maks and, Carrie Ann says she filled the room.

Scores: 8s all around, 24 total.

James Hinchcliffe and Sharna Burgess will tango. His most memorable year is 2015, when he had the biggest crash of his career, hitting the track wall at 200 miles per hour. Part of the car’s suspension went into his pelvis; the doctor says he replaced James' blood three times over. When James woke up, he apologized to his mother for not being an accountant.

In the dance James is on point and not just doing the steps, but performing. Bruno says he puts in all the poses that makes it special; Carrie Ann says he’s the one to beat. Julianne says his frame is the best she’s seen.

The track surgeon is the special guest in the red room; Erin says she could make all the love into a three-part special, and goes to scores.

Scores: 10s from Carrie Ann and Bruno, 9 from Juliann, 29 total. Erin promises to get the doctor into sequins next week.

Terra Jole & Sasha Farber are the final couple, dancing a contemporary number to “Stand by Me.” Her year is 2013, when her father passed away while she was on tour with Miley Cyrus (apparently playing Mushroom #1). Terra started "Little Women: LA" later that year. The ballroom has, no joke, projected blue sky and clouds and an actual pearly gate, so clearly we have abandoned all subtlety. Sasha is really impressive as a coach and a partner, letting Terra shine.

Carrie Ann says performing is what Terra was born to do, and Julianne says everyone believes in her tonight. Bruno says there’s not a dry eye in the house. Tom comments on the link between Terra and Sasha, and Terra says she feels connected to Sasha, but not like Emma is.

Scores: 9s all around, 27 total.

James and Sharna end in the lead, but it’s a very close pack, with no contestant getting fewer than 24 points. There’s no elimination this week, but Tom and Erin encourage us to vote anyway.

Next week, Amy will be back from celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving to report on poutine-stuffed turkey and the next step of Laurie Hernandez’s Death March to the Mirrorball Trophy.

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