If the Dancing with the Stars judges have a favorite for season 24, it’s definitely Normani Kordei. While other great dancers like Rashad Jennings and Simone Biles receive harsh and specific criticism every week, Normani has been riding high for the past few weeks, topping the leaderboard and getting two perfect scores. But is she really as good as the judges seem to think she is?
Since Disney Night, Normani has received 10s from Bruno Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba, Julianne Hough and the guest judges for every single individual routine she’s done. That’s right, five dances in a row and Len Goodman is the only one who has given her anything less than a 10.
Some of those routines definitely deserved the praise. Her Mulan-inspired Paso Doble was fantastic, as was her powerful Contemporary routine. But others weren’t, like her hip-hop dance that claimed to be a Salsa during Boy Band vs. Girl Group Night.
There seems to be a heavy favoritism for Normani among the judges, especially when you compare her to the other stars. Was her Mulan dance really better than Simone’s Moana dance? Or was Normani’s Argentine Tango from A Night at the Movies truly three points better than Simone’s Charleston or Rashad’s Paso Doble?
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My biggest complaint, however, lies with what the judges are looking for. Dancing with the Stars has evolved over the years to the point where simply delivering a great ballroom dance is not enough. As Julianne Hough said to Simone, you need the “Wow” factor. And while I agree that it’s important to be entertaining for the audience, the judges shouldn’t put so much focus on it. They’re here to provide critiques of the technical aspects of the dance that casual viewers may be unfamiliar with.
Just look at the quarterfinals. Normani’s first performance was a Contemporary routine that elicited sympathy before it even began due to her personal story of being bullied with disgusting, racist attacks on social media. Some of the judges probably gave her a 10 before she even took one step and most of their comments weren’t about her dancing at all.
Then came her southern-themed Trio dance, which was more of a showcase for Val Chmerkovskiy and Alan Bersten than for Normani. She stood on the judges’ tables and did a few line-dancing steps while the boys did most of the work.
This is what’s wrong with the show and with the judges in particular. They want a story and a big, elaborate production, something Val understands and knows how to deliver. Their Disney dance was all about female-empowerment and their Contemporary routine was about anti-bullying. Their week 6 Salsa had a bunch of troupe members on a construction site, her Memorable Year dance incorporated the rest of Fifth Harmony and the Trio Jive had fun costumes.
By contrast, most of Simone and Rashad’s dances are much simpler, focused primarily on the actual dancing and technique. They don’t often add a bunch of troupe members or elaborate sets. And it’s clear the judges aren’t as interested in ballroom dancing as they are in entertainment and emotion.
But as they say, don’t hate the player, hate the game. And that may be what’s really wrong with Dancing with the Stars. It’s become a game, one that Val knows how to play. If you add enough gimmicks, emotional stories, troupe members and guys ripping off their shirts, the judges will reward you. If you just try to master the technique of ballroom dancing, the judges might claim that they respect it (with all of their comments about wanting more content), but that won’t be reflected in their scores.
Normani is definitely a good dancer, which is no surprise since she’s a professional performer who tours with her girl group. But the judges have given her a total of 17 perfect 10 paddles so far, while all of the other stars combined have received only 15, including just three for Simone. That seems wildly disproportionate and reveals that, for whatever reason, the judges prefer her substantially over the others.
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)