Semi-finals! With guest judge Maks Chmerkovskiy! What is up with all these Len absences? I do not approve. Oh, wait! Maks is there, but so is Len. Huh. Crowded judges' table. Maks is looking quite dapper in a suit WITH A SHIRT and a bow tie.
Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani
Paso Doble to Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"
Leah and Tony make fun of each other's "sexy faces." I like it when the stars and the pros get this relaxed with one another.
Tom tells us that Maks, behind the judges' table, isn't wearing any pants. IF ONLY.
It's all very classic Paso, despite the song. There's a little bit of uncertainty in Leah's final move leading up to the closing pose.
Len says it was neat and precise, but he'd have liked a bit more shaping from her body. He also thought it was too careful to get into the finals. Bruno agrees that it was too tame, and also points out that she missed two turns.
Carrie Ann liked that she brought the drama, but says it was too controlled. She thinks that when Leah abandoned herself to the drama, she lost the control in her turns. Leah interjects that she just tripped on the dress. Maks liked it, despite the fact that it was basic. Maks says he's going to overlook the problems in the turns because she stepped on the skirt, so it wasn't a technical mistake.
Karina wants to put in a jump, while Corbin's worried that the judges will call it a lift and dock them. Karina insists it's not a lift, it's a jump. Corbin's still worried they'll call it a lift. Karina counters that with Maks being a guest judge, he won't dock them for the lift. Karina, honey, MATH - Maks is only 1 point, the other judges are 3.
Karina then says that she and Maks were engaged at one point, and that that could go either way in how he judges her and Corbin.
There's a bit at the beginning with cloaks and a cauldron, but then the rest of the routine is all flame-themed, including the lights on the floor.
Bruno says that because of the passion, Corbin lost control sometimes. Carrie Ann says it was danced with fury, passion, intensity and speed. No mention of the lift, Tom points out.
Maks says dancing on DWTS is different than competition, so he's not worried about the frame. He also says he'll overlook that Corbin's butt was sticking out because he has the same issue. Len chides Corbin that it's not "Manic Monday," and says it was too full-on for a tango. Len says the dance should be about calmness AND attack and this was all about attack. He liked it as a performance but not a tango.
Oh, OK, their song is "Roxanne" so the pimp/ho thing makes more sense.
Carrie Ann says it was outside Jack's comfort zone because it was not in hold, like most of ballroom. She points out that his weight was held in a ballroom stance, not a jazz one. Len liked his commitment, but thought the dance lacked finesse. Bruno starts flirting with Maks. Bruno then explains the difference between jazz and ballroom in movement.
Bill is giving it his best, but the semi-finals can't be about "A for effort." They end the routine shooting off confetti things and Emma almost shoots Tom in the face. Whoops.
Maks opens with "Why? Why? Why? You're a lot of people's inspiration." He adds that he doesn't believe in talent, but in hard work. Maks says there were a lot of holes in the routine. Bill says, "You think?"
Len congratulates Emma on her choreography throughout the season -- that's high praise for a rookie pro. Carrie Ann says she has to be picky because it's the semi-finals and she's taking points off for footwork, timing and a whole bunch of other things.
Those should have been sixes -- both for the quality of the routine compared to what else is being danced tonight, and to widen the gap between them and the better contestants so that fan votes can't save them.
Amber Riley & Derek Hough
Amber's doctor explains that there's no risk of permanent damage to her knees, so she's ready to go all-out. Nevertheless, Derek is doing intricate choreography that will still manage to spare her knees.
That choreography involves a lot of work with a table and two office chairs at the beginning of the routine. They're both wearing white gloves, the better to see their jazz hands. That was a fun routine and I loved how into-it Amber was.
Len's first and only comment is, "Do it again." Bruno said it was surprising, amazingly in-sync, and that Amber's versatility is terrific. Carrie Ann says it was Einstein dancing. Oooh-kay. Maks namechecks Fosse again.
Huh. Maks didn't say anything to indicate that he was going to score lower than the other judges. Wonder what that was all about.
The second round is "stripped down" versions of the songs from the first round to new dance styles. Based on the preview clips, it also appears to be life history and "tragic backstory interview" time. Blech. Y'all, I just can't bear to recap the sob stories in too much detail. I'll try to sum them up in one sentence.
Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani
Argentine Tango to instrumental version of "Bad Romance," heavy on the string section
Leah grew up impoverished and then didn't have instant success as an actress.
It's not as fast as we've seen Argentine Tangos be in the past. I think the judges are going to ding her again for being "too careful."
Bruno thought it was pretty, but it had some slip-ups. Carrie Ann wants to talk about how far Leah has come and encourages Leah to have more confidence. Then she says, "Balls to the wall," which I didn't know you could say on prime-time TV. FAMILY HOUR, Carrie Ann. Maks wants to see her go into "the next gear."
That was better than just one point more than Bill & Emma - Carrie Ann, Len, & Maks got it wrong. Bruno at least seems to understand that.
Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff
Rumba, with someone named Kerli doing the singing, apparently.
Corbin has always been cute and entertaining. He's also been in the business since he was a kid. He got booked for "High School Musical" at the same time he got into Stanford. Oh, to have such problems.
Bruno says the quality of movement was unbelievable. Carrie Ann is so impressed by the movement of his body -- his shirtlessness was nice eye candy, but also afforded the opportunity to see that movement. Maks says something sweet to Karina and then there's a cut to Brookebot with her batteries out, a black screen, and then Karina kisses Maks. Weird.
Argentine Tango, with a really cool reworking of "Roxanne" as some sort of three-penny-opera melodrama
Jack's move to L.A. and subsequent reality TV experience gave him an extra-weird adolescence that led to drinking, drugs, and rehab at age 17. He got his life together, got into nature and TV production, met his wife, had a daughter, then got diagnosed with MS.
Jack shines in ballroom dances and Argentine Tango is no exception. Despite occasional pigeon-toes, his foot flicks are good. There are even a couple of lifts that they execute really, really well.
Carrie Ann says he's an inspiration because of his MS. She says unfortunately she has to judge on the dancing -- unfortunate for everyone else because he was in the zone! Maks says he has a best friend going through MS and appreciates Jack showing that you can still have a full life with the condition. Len says that Jack really sold the dance despite a few "scruffy" moments. Bruno calls him a panther.
Argentine Tango -- Noah Guthrie is doing an acoustic guitar version of this song and it's so, so weird to hear the lyrics like this.
Bill had a normal childhood, then went to college. Gail met him at fraternity party when he was on roller skates. She thought he was an idiot. When he first went on the stand-up circuit, he was starting to have a problem with alcohol, so he got that under control. Of all people, Darius Rucker (AKA Hootie of Hootie & the Blowfish) shows up in the clip package to say nice things about Bill. Gail chokes up while talking about Bill's success on the show, explaining, "He's my husband -- I love that people love him." Aw.
Emma's outfit covers as little of her body as is possible. She's doing Peta proud.
Maks says the musical interpretation was amazing and so was the dance. Maks gives credit to Emma for her work with Bill. Len says Bill may not have the skill to win, but he has the will to win. Then he says to Emma, "It's one thing if you've got a 24-year-old guy to work with," but that she's nurtured Bill fantastically. Bruno says that they set the mood and played it straight, with good, full content to the routine. Carrie Ann liked that Bill didn't joke around and that he didn't miss a beat.
Back to Len's comment: Corbin is 24. Is that Len's not-so-subtle way of letting Karina know she shouldn't get so full of herself when she was handed a certifiable ringer? I hope so. I like when Len gets catty.
Amber Riley & Derek Hough
Viennese Waltz -- with reappearance by Kerli
Amber says growing up, it was either singing or dancing -- her family couldn't afford both. Amber recounts some of the horrible things casting directors have said to her, criticizing her hair, her skin color and her weight.
This arrangement of the song, with its bells, has a real fairytale feel to it and Derek is emphasizing that in his choreography. It's a smart choice for the Viennese Waltz. I have my usual complaint about too much dry ice obscuring a good look at footwork.
Len brings up the dry ice because we are on the same curmudgeon wavelength. Otherwise, the judges love it.
I'm worried for Leah & Tony, since they didn't put more separation between themselves and Bill & Emma.
The first couple through to the finals is Corbin & Karina. Duh. Next couple is Amber & Derek: Also no duh. The third couple through to the finals is Jack & Cheryl. Jack seems genuinely chuffed by the results.
We're told Bill & Emma and Leah & Tony are not necessarily the bottom two. And the Bill Engvall Dance Juggernaut continues, taking down Leah & Tony.
Well, our winner is clearly going to be either Amber or Corbin. Technically, Corbin is the better dancer, but I think Amber is more winning personality-wise. Corbin seems sweet and nice, but Amber has more sparkle.