Tonight is a a big night for Dancing with the Stars, as Stevie Wonder will be performing his songs throughout the evening, including "Superstition" and "Higher Ground." Beyond the big name guest star, the contestants will also be divided up for a team dance this evening, dancing Sambas and Paso Dobles alongside their competitors.
Like last week's side by side challenge, this will offer a stark point of comparison that could really hurt the weaker contenders. While Victor, to draw on the most prominent example, has gotten by on personality in spite of his sloppy footwork so far, it'll be very tough for him to keep up.
Our live blog starts now:
Stevie opens with "All I Do," and segues into "Ain't Gonna Stand for It" featuring some kid named Hunter Hayes. The man's voice is still strong after all these years; it's gonna be a good night for music fans.
Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy
Dance: Cha Cha Cha
Zendaya leads the proceedings with a Cha Cha to "Do I Do," and she's as strong as ever -- it's kind of frustrating to write about contestants like her, because you just want to type "Girl dance good again" every time. As Tom notes, she had a standing ovation before she started.
Len: "What's one word that sums up great dancing? Zendaya."
Bruno: "You can cha cha me any time you want!"
Carrie Ann: "I feel sorry for everyone who has to come after you."
Andy Dick and Sharna Burgess
Andy bags one of Stevie Wonder's most beloved songs this week, as he Sambas as a mailman to "Signed Sealed Delivered." He worked hard on technique this week and it pays off ... well ... every once in a while. I like Andy, but this is a rough routine for him. Better luck in the team dance.
Bruno: "It was a personality-driven shamble of a Samba."
Carrie Ann: "There were times when I wondered, 'What dance is he doing?'"
Len: "I want you to do what you do, and what you do is give us fun."
Sean Lowe and Peta Murgatroyd
Sean's Samba is a bit more polished, but only just a bit. Performing to Stevie's "I Wish," Sean spends most of the time bouncing around like he has hydraulics in his shiny blue pants. Apparently, he missed a rehearsal this week, and it shows.
Carrie Ann: "You have to listen to the music!"
Len: "You kept getting on the wrong foot, there was no hip action..."
Bruno: "Look on the bright side, you can always get a job as a stripper."
Alexandra Raisman and Mark Ballas
As a Boston native, Aly was a little shook up throughout rehearsals this week -- fortunately, she still manages to land a light and entertaining Foxtrot to "Isn't She Lovely." Aly has always been a graceful and technically sound dancer, but her greatest strides have been as an "actor," so to speak: it's not easy for someone as Olympic serious as her to just be fun, and she's doing a great job with that lately.
Len: "Your performance level is great."
Bruno: "The frame is the only thing that lets me down a bit."
Carrie Ann: "I see that you are heading toward perfection."
To my enormous pleasure, we have a solo performance from Mr. Wonder of his classic "Sir Duke." I haven't had much chance to comment on the music yet, but it really is excellent -- he has an amazing catalog, and he's a professional singer in every sense. Not sure if he's plugging a new greatest hits album or something, but I'm in the mood for one now.
Ingo Rademacher and Kym Johnson
Poor Andy -- Ingo is the second performer tonight whose only stated goal is to beat Andy Dick, presumably because they see him as the bottom performer. Here's the thing: Andy is never boring, and Ingo almost always is. The judges seem excited about something, but this is, in my opinion, the exact same middle of the pack stuff he always does.
Bruno: "A couple of foot faults, but other than that, that is the way to do it."
Carrie Ann: "Finally, welcome to the game!"
Len: "Bingo, Ingo!"
Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough
Girl dance good again -- oh wait, I already committed to not doing that. Kellie is fantastic, and this is my favorite routine of hers so far. She and Derek put the quick in Quickstep here, delivering a dizzying density of content in a perfect blend of personality and technicality. The only thing that isn't perfect is her frizzy, superfluous wig -- maybe she lost a bet in rehearsals.
Carrie Ann: "Everything about it was perfect, except there was some space in your hold."
Len: "For me, that's the best dance I've seen in season 16."
Bruno: "I tell you, this was sumptuous dancing of the highest quality!"
Victor Ortiz and Lindsay Arnold
I have to say, I'm not sure why Victor is still here. He's still being melodramatic about his recent breakup, and it seems to be affecting his willingness to commit to rehearsal. Lindsay is meeting him more than halfway -- about 90%, I'd say -- while he stares at her and throws a series of middle school portrait poses.
In a desperate attempt to make him seem interesting, Brooke tries to get him to confess his love for Lindsay or something, and it is just devastatingly awkward. See ya, Victor.
Len: "This is a tough dance for you, and you've coped very well."
Bruno: "This looked like an airline safety drill: exit to the left, exit to the right."
Carrie Ann. "You had that sparkle in your eye."
Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff
Jacoby has gotten by pretty well so far without much in the way of footwork, and he reiterates his commitment to charismatic pigeon-toeing tonight. Unfortunately, when he says backstage that he's just gonna go out and dance, he invites extra scrutiny. His routine is reasonably strong, but the judges' quibbles finally catch up to him in the scores.
Bruno: "There's room for improvement, but I enjoyed it."
Carrie Ann: "The feet are a little funky, but you make up for it."
Len: "It was like a Beatles medley: it started out with 'Please Please Me' and ended at 'Help!'"
Stevie's voice sounds a little worn out by the time he starts his next solo performance, "My Cherie Amour," but he gets the crowd singing along and finishes strong. It is a two-hour show, after all. After that, it's time for the team dance.
Team Paso features Zendaya, Jacoby, Victor, Ingo and their partners dancing to "Higher Ground." The men instantly dispense with their shirts, and the routine is essentially a pectoral showcase. Honestly, I'm not terribly impressed with this one: these gentlemen are very good at being good-looking, but they're not great at dancing in sync or maintaining purposeful, fluid motion. As expected, Victor is a weak, soggy cardboard link in this chain.
Len: "I thought it was a spirited effort."
Bruno: "It was like watching an episode of Wrestlemania!"
Carrie Ann: "Zendaya, it was like you were the glue trying to hold it together."
Kellie, Andy, Sean and Aly all team up for a Samba tribute to Boogie Nights, apparently. Sporting '70s 'staches and crazy costumes, this routine is on the sillier, more accessible side of the male sexuality spectrum. It's an incredibly fun and infectious routine, but it doesn't lack for technical prowess, either: every dancer functions as part of a coherent whole.
Bruno: "It was like a reunion of the cast of Boogie Nights!" (Dammit, Bruno stole my joke.)
Carrie Ann: "You guys worked completely as a group!"
Len: "It was tight, together and well done to you all."
Tonight's big winner is Stevie Wonder. While I'll go to bat for the DWTS singers, there's no substitute for a real musical legend playing the songs live and in person. He did a great job tonight, particularly given the marathon length of this show.
The big loser, on the other hand, is Victor. He's clearly ready to be done, and I hope that the voters will grant him that wish. While everyone on-camera seems to have given up on Andy, I do think that, given the right choreography, he could really hit another level before leaving. Victor, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but home.
Compete in Fantasy TV: Make your picks on who you think will be going home. Hurry, you have until April 23 at 12pm PST to cast your vote!
(Image courtesy of ABC)