Kirstie Alley, Hines Ward, Chelsea Kane
Season 12 of Dancing with the Stars may be touted as one of the closest ever, but 52 percent of TVGuide.com readers think Hines Ward will run away with the Mirrorball trophy come Tuesday night. Still, that doesn't mean we can count out fan favorite Kirstie Alley and Disney young'un Chelsea Kane, who along with the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, make up the top-scoring couples of the season.
"This season has been so up and down. There have been so many people on top of the leader board. I think it's really going to come down to who the audience wants to see," Ward's partner, Kym Johnson, says. "All three are such different personalities and such different styles. This one is totally up in the air, I think. You just don't know."
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The trio will face off Monday with a repeat dance, a judges' pick (with new choreography and music) and the highly anticipated freestyle.
So who's got the edge? Let's size them up!
For: Personality to spare and the "transformation" story line. Alley may be the weakest (though still pretty darn good) dancer of the three — she's the only one who hasn't received a 30 — but what she lacks in technique, she makes up in the entertainment factor. Even her perfectionist partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy couldn't help but smile at her pure joy during their imperfect jive. "Kirstie is truly embracing every second of it, so it's very cool and very nice to see that," he writes in his TVGuide.com blog. "I feel like Kirstie represents way too many people out there. They live vicariously through her. It's refreshing to see someone put in that situation."
Needs to work on: Stamina and precision. While Alley's gotten in shape during the course of the show, she needs to kick it into another gear if she wants to contend with her fitter (and younger) rivals. (Alley is 60.) The good news is Chmerkovskiy is never one to rest on his laurels. "I don't want to be that guy who has Kirstie Alley and wants to depend on the vote," he says. "I don't rely on it. I work out every day. I make her work for those votes. I make sure that she doesn't get the pity vote. She doesn't want the pity vote either. [Fans] love how far she's come."
Why she might win: There's nothing sweeter than proving people wrong. An Alley victory would fly in the face of her naysayers, many of whom figured she would crash out early. She certainly has the fan base to pull off a win — and has undoubtedly reeled in new fans over the past nine weeks. "Everyone loves Kirstie," Kane says. "From the moment she did her cha-cha on the first week, I think everyone was wowed by her. She's a crowd pleaser and I think a lot of people love that she's so open with this whole experience. She's just real and funny and she can shake it!"
Keep an eye out for: No aerials, despite what Alley teased last week. Instead, they're going to highlight her transformation over the season in their freestyle. "This season kept changing and changing — changes in attitude, body type, body shape," Chmerkovskiy says. "I think Kirstie is undergoing a life transformation. I'm really excited because that's what the show's all about."
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For: Youth and technique. The 22-year-old is arguably the most proficient dancer left — she did claim the Winner Takes All Cha-Cha — and you can even contend that she could've received higher scores certain weeks if it weren't for her and Mark Ballas' divisive routines and choreography (looking at you, Mark). Still, luckily for Kane, Ballas has won two Mirrorballs already, so experience is on their side. "I love Mark's [past freestyles], so I totally trust him in what he comes up with," Kane says. "He's so great and passionate at what he does, and [the finals] is where you can really let loose and get creative, and he's always done that."
Needs to work on: Getting into character. Though she's usually right on the money with her footwork, Kane has trouble emoting the more expressive dances, like the paso doble and Argentine tango.
Why she might win: On skills alone, a win would not be undeserved. "She's a great dancer. She's going to be really tough to beat," Johnson concedes. "She's young, vibrant and brings a different kind of energy." Disney stars have fallen short at the last hurdle on previous seasons of Dancing, but Kane, a Jonas L.A. alum, has the Jonas Brothers in her corner, and we know what kind of fan base they have. On the flip side, however, younger kiddies may have to hit the sack before they get all their power voting in.
Keep an eye out for: An out-of-the-box (what else do you expect from them?) freestyle, which they have been thinking about for weeks. "We still have stuff up our sleeves. I think we can do something great in the freestyle," Kane says. "The ideas we have for the freestyle are ridiculous!"
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For: Charm, musicality and Steeler Nation. Ward is the only celeb to have nabbed two perfect scores and he consistently brings the crowd to its feet with his sizzling magnetism, ability to adapt to any style and character and that blinding smile. But the best news: Johnson is feeling better by the day from her ghastly neck injury last week that "could've gone a completely different way." Don't think that a medical scare is going to stop her from stepping up their game. "I'm just not going to be trying that trick I was trying! I never want to do that one again!" she says. "But we're doing lifts. We're doing tricks. It's going to be entertaining."
Needs to work on: Refining the little things. Ward is fluid and lyrical for the most part, but can stiffen up here and there, particularly when he's out of hold. Might we suggest more dancing sessions with Rosa the Pillow?
Why he might win: He's got the full package — a perfect blend of showmanship, talent, improvement and chemistry with his partner. "Hines is just so fun to watch and has probably been the most consistent out of all of us," Kane says. "And he's an athlete, a Super Bowl champion, so I don't think anyone thinks he's in this for anything [less than winning.]" Besides, after the Steelers' Super Bowl loss, we're sure Steeler Nation won't let another shiny trophy slip from their man's grasp.
Keep an eye out for: An old Hollywood-style quickstep routine for the judges' pick. "It's total Fred and Ginger. We haven't really seen Hines with the top hat and that's what we're sort of going for," Johnson says. As for their freestyle, it's going to be an homage to college bands and halftime shows — both of which Ward has missed out on. "We decided to go with the halftime act, which he's never seen before since he's always in the locker room," she says. "It means something to Hines. I think he's very passionate about this dance. He could never be in a band in college; he was always on the football team. So this is a way for him to pay tribute to bands and halftime shows."
Who do you think will win?