We've reached the Dancing with the Stars
season 16 semi-finals, and it looks like we're still a week away from anything resembling a tough elimination. With Sean gone, it seems inevitable that Ingo will be at the bottom this week: he stepped up admirably in both of last week's routines, but he's still way behind the top four. From there, the always entertaining but technically lacking Jacoby seems like a likely candidate for elimination, though democracy could of course shuffle things up. Unfortunately, that doesn't have much bearing on this week: we'll have a four-way finale this time, and we've had a solid top four the whole season.
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Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough
Dance: Argentine Tango
Ah yes, there was that weird batch of twitter-picked dances this week. Kellie and Derek will be doing a flamenco routine later, but they lead with a fairly traditional Argentine tango, perhaps as penance for their genre-busting paso doble last week. The number starts in stark red and black silhouette, and almost feels like a classic animation in its point to point perfection. The bar has officially been set.
Len: "That was a mix of pride and joy: pride in the technique, joy in the performance."
Bruno: "I am delighted to say welcome to the world of the sublime!"
Carrie Ann: "It's absurd that you can attain that level of perfection."
Ingo Rademacher and Kym Johnson
Ingo caught a bad break coming right after Kellie, but honestly he's out of his league here regardless. His Samba seems a bit tired and stilted, and it doesn't help that, relative to Kellie, he looks like he's moving in slow motion. He's been working hard all work, I'm sure, but that's not much help if he's exhausted by performance time.
Bruno: "It's like a dog with a bone: I don't give up."
Carrie Ann: You're the underdog, and you have to step it up a hair more."
Len: "Through the darkest clouds, occasionally a ray of sunshine breaks through. I'm your ray of sunshine."
Alexandra Raisman and Mark Ballas
Aly and Mark start with a tender and lyrical Rumba, playing up romance, drama and story. The risks with a routine like this are similar to those of singing a ballad: unless it's really beautiful, it could be really boring. I'm a bigger fan of Aly than most, but at the risk of sounding like a Philistine, I never really got into this one. I'm far more intrigued by the prospect of Afro-Jazz.
Carrie Ann: "Every moment of that story, you drew us all in."
Len: "It had a lovely story and it was told beautifully."
Bruno: "You had us all enchanted."
The judges, on the other hand, were won over quite completely. All good.
Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff
I didn't even need to watch the backstage tapes to see that Jacoby was having a tough week; it's clear from the moment he stood in front of a camera without mugging. When the routine begins, however, it becomes clear that he's not being sour, he's just focused: Karina has outdone herself on the choreography this week, and Jacoby steps up admirably.
Len: "That's what I'm talking about, mood, intensity!"
Bruno: "Best performance ever from you."
Carrie Ann: "Woooooooooooooo!"
Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy
For their quickstep, Zendaya and Val perform in full racing jumpsuits, recalling the ill-advised scooter cop routine that did in Wynonna Judd. Dubious framing devise aside, this routine really feels like a race, and not necessarily in a good way: Zendaya and Val are frequently out of sync, rubber banding past each other like a tough round of Mario Kart. It's not bad, but it's bad timing: Zendaya is not in the perfect 30 club tonight.
Bruno: "Did you have rocket fuel for breakfast?"
Carrie Ann: "Uh oh, trouble in paradise. That was kind of a mess."
Len: "Parts of that dance I felt were fabulous. ... The speed came in, and the style went out."
Kellie and Derek
For the second round, we finally get around to those oddball Twitter routines. Though dressed like a bad arthouse deconstruction of a cowboy, Derek is taking this flamenco very seriously, placing a firm emphasis on form and footwork, and even wearing tap shoes to heighten the routine's rhythmic precision. At this point, Kellie and Derek are clear frontrunners.
Len: "As far as I'm concerned, you've just booked your place in the final."
Bruno: "You tightened up, and Flamenco does not stop."
Carrie Ann: "You tightened up, did you feel it?"
Ingo and Kym
Welp, this is one of the goofiest things I've ever seen on television. That's not to say that Ingo is bad, per se, just that he's having fun: this isn't a competitive routine, it's a silly celebration of getting way farther than expected. That's the biggest triumph of the dance, honestly: you can't fault him for going out on his own terms.
Bruno: "Frothy, bubbling, inebriating, slightly mind-bending."
Carrie Ann: "You made us all smile."
Len: "The semi-final, good time to do your best dance."
Aly and Mark
Awesome. While Afro-Jazz was a frequent Tom Bergeron punchline going into the night, it's now Aly's signature routine, perfectly encapsulating her shocking range and athleticism. Mark's choreography eschews all nudging or winking, instead delivering non-stop hard core war dance. Aly has excelled at dancing in character, and this is the culmination of that -- the only let-down is that it will be tough to follow this routine in the finale.
Carrie Ann: "I don't think people know how hard a dance that was."
Len: "In perfect sync, you captured the feeling of the dance."
Bruno: "If you don't make it to the final, I'm gonna judge in Speedos."
Jacoby and Karina
Dance: Lindy Hop
Music conductor Harold Wheeler gets a line tonight, as Jacoby and Karina start their routine in the orchestra pit. They take off from there with trumpets in tow, performing the Lindy Hop in full Jacoby form -- where Aly has tried something new every week, Jacoby has certainly found his niche. Jacoby is playing to his strengths, and there's nothing wrong with that: he's answered the technical critics by largely ignoring them, and he might just get away with it.
Len: "It was high energy, full on, action-packed."
Bruno: "That was a frantic frenzy of electricity."
Carrie Ann: "I vote you the number one entertainer of season 16."
Zendaya and Val
Dance: Hip Hop
I'll just take a moment here to say that Val has been a real champ for Zendaya this season; he's been great with her choreography and sensitive to her age, and they've had a refreshing brother-sister chemistry throughout the season that pays off here in full. With her half a life of experience in hip-hop dance, Zendaya hardly breaks a sweat for this routine. Val is the fish out of water here, and the dance plays like his reward to her for doing so well throughout the year.
Bruno: "So cool you gave me chills."
Carrie Ann: "I can't wait to buy your album."
Len: "I liked the attitude you both came out with."
That does it for the Dancing with the Stars semi-finals. I personally think that the four-way finale is a mistake: there isn't any suspense going into tomorrow's elimination. And while they have a big 300th episode brouhaha planned, DWTS's pageantry is never as compelling as the core competition. That said, it does set up quite a finale: the last episode of the season will be the first with any real dramatic tension.