It's semifinals night on "Dancing With the Stars," and Erin is wearing a very sparkly silver dress — almost like a disco ball — so you know I approve. We'll start with a "Judges Challenge Round," where it sounds like they're mostly giving little requests instead of picking a whole dance style.

Normani Kordei & Val Chmerkovskiy

Viennese waltz


Len Goodman swings by rehearsal to tell them he wants to see more ballroom content in their routine. He specifically wants 12 bars of Viennese waltz in proper hold. Len takes Normani into hold and gives her a little lesson in frame. Then he has Val in hold; Len is taller, I think. Normani is tripping a lot in rehearsal and she's only in sneakers — hope she does better in heels tonight.

It's too bad they didn't get a more traditionally sounding Viennese waltz song for this number. The show is also using some weird filter where the only color on the screen is Normani's red dress, and it reminds me of those sappy greeting cards with a sad urchin holding a flower.

This is a very sexy routine and I wonder how that will fly with Len. Normani tells Tom it was one of her hardest dances. Len says there was lovely, sweeping motion but a little stutter as they came out of a standing spin. He says they did meet his challenge. Julianne Hough loved it but says she saw the same little stumble that Len did. Bruno Tonioli says they turned Vienna into Sin City. Bruno mentions the "incident." Carrie Ann Inaba says it's actually a credit to Normani — she's so good that even the tiniest of mistakes proves noticeable.

During the interview with Erin, Normani mentions that Len is her grandma's favorite. Erin teases that maybe they could set Grandma up with Len, and Val butts in to say that Barbara (grandma) is already spoken for by him. Barbara's reaction in the audience is great. I'd sit next to her.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 9; Julianne: 9; Bruno: 9

Bonner Bolton's story comes to an end on Trio Night on "Dancing With the Stars."

David Ross & Lindsay Arnold


They're having him dance to "You Make Me Feel So Young." All this talk of how old David is is killing me, since I'm older than him.

Julianne shows up to challenge them during rehearsal and what she wants is for David to tuck his butt under while he's dancing. He quickly demonstrates his catcher's pop-up stance to explain why his butt naturally wants to go out. Julianne brought in lemons and David is unsure where it's going but correctly guesses it goes in between his butt cheeks.

David's dancing in top hat and tails, which means it's actually kind of hard to see his butt. I feel like that's a cheat, given his challenge. It's like if they challenged a woman on her footwork and then her partner put her in a floor length skirt and had dry ice clouding the stage throughout the routine.

Julianne praises his performance. Bruno calls David entertaining and says he could watch him every day. Carrie Ann asks if it feels good to give the judges what they want. She then praises David's posture and says he improves every week. Len calls David "the boy that brings joy." He also talks about David's footwork and says he could tell David was trying to get the heel leads.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 8; Julianne: 9; Bruno: 8

Come on, Carrie Ann and Julianne. No way was that as good as Normani. This is why they need to stop the score inflation throughout the season.

Simone Biles & Sasha Farber


Simone talks about the judges' comments from last week and ends up crying in rehearsal. Oh, honey. It's OK. You're great.


Carrie Ann stops by and challenges Simone to show more of her authentic self in the dance. So they end up putting on some music and just jamming out. This is a very vague challenge, though.

Simone does look like she's either having more genuine fun or has at least learned how to make fake look authentic. They have a really impressive move where Sasha does something like a cartwheel toward, up, and over Simone. It looks very dangerous and really cool.

Bruno is excited and says "Little Miss Perfect is letting loose." While he's talking, they replay the move I just mentioned — it still looks amazing. Carrie Ann agrees. Len says it was sharp with precise footwork and that her personality really came out. Julianne asks Simone for a sassy name to describe the character she just danced, and she comes out with "Zoe" — in case you're wondering why they keep calling her Zoe after this.

After they get their scores, Erin asks Sasha what his sassy name would be and he says "Steve." Erin looks nonplussed and then explains to Sasha that that's her dad's name. Who knows? Maybe if you're a guy living in America with the name Sasha, Steve sounds sassy. Or maybe he's a huge Steve McQueen fan?

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Two couples were sent home on Movie Night on "Dancing With the Stars."

Rashad Jennings & Emma Slater


Bruno shows up in rehearsal and throws a football at Rashad. Bruno throws about as well as you'd expect an Italian dancer to throw. Bruno's challenge to Rashad has to do with his hand placement and his arm extensions.

This supposedly sexy song contains the lyric, "I held your hair back while you were throwing up." I mean, yeah, that kind of dependability is important in a relationship, but I'm not sure it's something I want to sing along to.

Carrie Ann says it felt a little more elegant and Rashad agrees that he could feel himself extending in every move. Len liked the contrasts in the performance and says Rashad had beautiful fluidity through his arms. He has some nitpicks about Rashad's feet. Julianne says the female pro dancers normally have to "backlead" but that it seemed like Rashad was legitimately leading enough that Emma was able to fully inhabit her own movements. Bruno says the shapes Rashad made was like watching Greek sculptures.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 9; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Round Two

Normani Kordei & Val Chmerkovskiy


Normani's family is interviewed about Normani's childhood. We get to see more of Barbara Stewart, her grandmother. And we find out that Normani's mother had breast cancer when Normani was only 5, and it confused and scared her. They also were living in an area hit by Hurricane Katrina and her grandmother lost her home.

Normani's childhood best friend talks about how hard it was when Normani's family left and moved to Houston. She recalls childhood memories of watching "Dancing with the Stars" with her grandmother, and they're both clearly tickled when Normani is giving Barbara a behind-the-scenes tour of the set. Barbara makes even me tear up when she says, "Is there a limit to proud?"

They're dancing to a Dixieland jazz style rendition of "What a Wonderful World." I like it a lot. There's a part where Val disappears into the deep background and Normani is out in front of backup dancers by herself for a good stretch. I wonder if a solo like this is required of all the dancers in this round or if Val is just that generous. After the routine, Val goes over and gives some Mardi Gras beads to Barbara and kisses her. It's pretty cute.

Len says there was a dash of Lindy Hop and bucketloads of fun. He stands up to clap for Normani. Julianne shares my love of Barbara. Bruno loved the combination of styles in the dance. Carrie Ann compliments Val on his incredible choreography for Normani.

Erin's brought Barbara up to the skybox. Normani asks her if she kissed Val and Barbara declares, "I did!" Erin asks her how it was and she says definitively, "It was awesome." And then she kisses Val again. I'm 100 percent in love with her. Then she starts tearing up telling Normani how proud she is of her.


Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Barbara seems as or more excited at the scores as Normani and Val.

In a shocking upset, Heather Morris was eliminated on "Dancing With the Stars" -- even after receiving perfect 10s from the judges.

David Ross & Lindsay Arnold


David was a standout baseball player in college and then found the major leagues more difficult. He'd been released by the Cincinnati Reds for a "bad attitude" before eventually being picked up by the Boston Red Sox. They show his homer in Game 7 of the World Series for the Chicago Cubs last year and I get chills, especially when they show Bill Murray's reaction in the stands.

The show has been talking all season about MLB "sending them" David — I guess the leagues have say-so about players participating in the show? Or is that just baseball? I mean, David's retired — does the league still have to give permission for stuff like this? Or is it a matter of being able to do things like show footage and use the Cubs logo? I'm maybe too fascinated by the behind-the-scenes aspects of the show.

Bruno says David went for it "like a torpedo in a tuxedo." Carrie Ann is enthusiastic but does mention that Lindsay's foot came off the ground. We hear Lindsay give a surprised and frustrated squeal.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 9; Julianne: 9; Bruno: 9

Simone Biles & Sasha Farber


Simone's grandparents adopted her and her sister in 2000. She started gymnastics at age 6. She wasn't unaware of the sacrifices she's had to make to succeed in going to the Olympics, particularly with regard to her social life. Her dad cries when he talks about Simone winning her first gold medal. Mary Lou Retton says in an interview that Simone is the best, period.

There's a balance beam at the back of the stage and Simone stands against it at the beginning of the routine. Her costume is basically a sparkly swimsuit with a gold scarf around her front, like a beauty pageant sash. I think if they wanted to get her out of the gymnast box, they should have had her in something that looks less like a gymnastics leotard. It's an underwhelming routine because the song lacks a rise and fall — it only rises and then stops.

Bruno calls it beautiful, real and gorgeous. Carrie Ann says Simone danced with her soul tonight. Len says there was nothing he didn't like.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

That's two perfect scores for Simone tonight.

Rashad Jennings & Emma Slater


Rashad was born in small-town Virginia and his brothers are 10 and 13 years older than him. He describes himself as a "whoops" baby.

Rashad was diagnosed with a reading disorder in middle school and was so discouraged that his GPA plummeted and he gained weight, hurting his chances on the football field. He decided to turn things around and got good enough that he transferred from a public school to a prep school with a more competitive football program. His brothers were on the coaching staff there and put their paychecks toward his tuition.

This starts with something of a solo at the beginning, so maybe that was a requirement? Emma's choreographed and staged this something like a Broadway show number at the beginning, which I really like.

Carrie Ann says she's been waiting for this combo of dancer and dance, thinking it would be a match made in heaven — and it was. Len says it was a bit long-winded getting started and that Rashad kept losing his frame. He declares it was good but not great. Julianne says Rashad was light on his feet, and Len protests. When she says Rashad had a great frame, Len interjects, "Do me a favor, sweetheart." Even Tom seems taken aback by the way Len seems to be talking down to Julianne there. She takes it in stride and keeps on giving her remarks to Rashad. Bruno says Rashad's charisma is out of this world. He likes the sway Rashad put in when they were changing direction.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 9; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

"Dancing With the Stars" kicks off its 24th season with strong performances from Simone Biles, Rashad Jennings and Heather Morris.

Elimination Results

First couple announced for the finals are Normani & Val. Next is Rashad & Emma. And, in somewhat of a surprise, Simone & Sasha are eliminated.

Told ya! Told ya we wouldn't have an all-black finale. America likes its young women, especially its young black women, to be smiling and pretty, not ambitious and anything less than "sweet." I thought Simone's comeback to Tom last week — "Smiles don't win gold medals" — was perfect, but I bet that sealed her fate with a lot of voters. She wasn't supposed to talk back, for so many reasons. Sigh.


Rashad & Emma: 38 + 39 = 77

Normani & Val: 40 + 36 = 76

David & Lindsay: 34 + 36 = 70


Personally, I want Normani to take it all — and I think she's got a really good shot at it.