It was the first time that the grin was wiped off Joey Fatone's face. There was a gasp in the ballroom during Tuesday's Dancing with the Stars, when his name was called out as the second dancer to be scorched by the "red light of shame" in the bottom two. "I didn't see that one coming," said one man seated in the audience. He, like everyone else, expected Fatone to be the sort of Teflon entertainer who would never be stuck with possible elimination.
Fatone himself was clearly shaken. He was the only dancer to get a standing ovation in Week 1. And every week since then, he's heard his name screamed out by adoring fans. While it's true that fans have also fallen hard for Apolo Anton Ohno, Laila Ali — and even Billy Ray Cyrus — Fatone appeared to have kept his place secure as the overall favorite.
Until this week. During the commercial break after the announcement, fans again screamed out encouragement. "We love you, Joey!" yelled one woman from the balcony, to which Fatone replied, "You love me, but you don't vote for me." He was trying to be funny, but it was the kind of humor that came from a painful place. He actually looked wounded. His professional partner, Kym Johnson, spoke to him quietly. And you could tell that it was the kind of pep talk that people give each other when they need reminding about the reality of what they're doing: These things happen. We're not gone yet.
The goner would be Billy Ray Cyrus. The "Achy Breaky" star had had the sword of elimination hanging over his head for two weeks, but like Jerry Springer before him, no one really wanted him to go away. "He's full of charisma," says judge Carrie Ann Inaba. "But charisma can only take you so far. At this stage of the game, you have to have the technique to back up the goods."
"From Week 1, he's been in our bottom two, at least as far as the judges are concerned," says head judge Len Goodman. "But that's part of the charm of this show: People are prepared to vote for the underdog."
As for Cyrus himself, he looked relieved. "Everything hurts," he says, looking over his dance-challenged body. "But of all the things that are hurting, my brain is the most tired. Just driving here, I was almost in three wrecks. I don't know if I'm not as sharp, or the other drivers aren't as sharp, or a combination of the two. But my brain has learned as much as it can."
Was learning the dances getting any easier? "No," says Cyrus. "It was getting harder. I kept hoping it would get easier, but it didn't."
Last week, says Cyrus, after the Tuesday night when he escaped elimination, he was up at the crack of dawn for a photo session for his new album, set to be released on Aug. 28. Called "Ready, Set, Don't Go," the title song refers to his daughter, Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus. "It's a song I wrote about Miley when she left to go to Hollywood," says Cyrus.
But the photo shoot for the album was the last thing his battered body needed. "That made me more sore than anything Karina [Smirnoff, his pro partner] and I have been doing," says Cyrus. "It was in a warehouse and on a concrete floor. It was a 10-hour shoot, and those floors hurt my knees so bad."
Much has been made of Fatone's 25-pound weight loss, but Cyrus has shed pounds, too. The difference is, he didn't have weight to lose. "I've lost 13 pounds," he says. "I think I look unhealthy now. I think I went beyond where I should have."
He certainly went far beyond his own expectations on the dance floor. "When I look back on this, I want to be able to say to myself, 'I gave it everything I've got for as long as they let me stay.' Because I feel I owe that to the fans. I owe it to Karina, to my family and to myself. My motto in life is, 'Some Gave All,' and I want to be able to say that I 'Some Gave All'd' it."
Despite his own lack of ability, Cyrus has developed a true appreciation for dance. "I think I'll add dancers to my concert tour," he says. "Particularly Karina. She's probably going to come out and do some shows with me. And if she does, we'll probably have to do a few dances."
What about the possibility that she and Maksim Chmerkovskiy will be pairing up as professional dancers on the competition circuit? "She should pair up with Maks," says Cyrus. "My dream would be to sing 'Over the Rainbow' in concert and to have her and Maks do a beautiful dance to it. It'll bring a little more class to my show."
ABC's Dancing with the Stars airs Monday at 8 pm/ET, and Tuesday at 9 (results show).
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