Tonight marks the beginning of the end of Dancing with the Stars' 17th season, and by the end of the first half of the two-part finale, only three couples will remain. Who got sent home tonight? Keep reading to find out!
After a performance by reigning champion Kellie Pickler, the competition gets underway. First up: the judges' picks.
Bill Engvall & Emma Slater (Viennese waltz): Bill got his highest score with his and Emma's Viennese waltz way back in Week 5, but Len says the judges think he can do even better this time around. The dance, to Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman," is very moving in a sweet father/daughter way. Bill seems to have more control, but still struggles with the timing (which Carrie Ann agrees is "still kind of a mess") and his frame. Birthday boy Bruno praises Bill's effort but notes that "not everybody's a Rolex" and that he still finds Bill "irresistible."
Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff (Quickstep): Corbin and Karina are focused on trying to maintain control during their quickstep, which the judges thought was a little too frantic last time. The dance is about as good as it was in its first incarnation, and Corbin is definitely more disciplined with his movements. But it's not a showstopper like their jazz routine was last week (which is the bar that everything else will be measured against in this final). Len says the dance improved, but there were still issues. Bruno notes that the footwork may have been too complicated, as the couple had trouble staying in sync. "I didn't see an improvement, and I'm a little disappointed," Carrie Ann tells them.
Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Burke (Jive): On their jive redo, the judges are going to be paying close attention to Jack's kicks and flicks. Nerves appear to be everyone's worst enemy tonight. During the routine, Jack's timing is a little off — and he's clearly making such an effort to not look so serious that his eyes strayed a little into goofy/manic territory. I can't help but wonder if his making Carrie Ann chuckle at the start of the routine was too much of a distraction and threw them both off from the start. "The kicks and flicks were good. The timing went out the window!" Bruno wails. Carrie Ann, who gave the routine a 10 last time, says they should have left the dance alone. Ouch!
Amber Riley & Derek Hough (Charleston): As the pair's guest coach Carrie Ann told TVGuide.com this afternoon, Derek and Amber need to do something really memorable in order to give them the advantage they need to take home the MirrorBall. Check! Their choreography, per usual, is great — and their fun facial expressions/acting out the song --will.i.am's "Bang Bang" -- makes this easily the best performance in the judges' picks round. Whether it's her doctor's go-ahead or just added motivation from being in the final, Amber takes her dancing to a level we haven't seen before in the competition. Carrie Ann is so thrilled that she runs up and hugs Amber, and they get a lengthy (and well-deserved) standing ovation from the audience. Len gives them a vote for Most Improved. Looks like we have a frontrunner!
Round 2 is the samba relay, with the four finalists dancing side by side during a live ("live") performance of "No Scrubs" courtesy of TLC. (Corbin opts to go shirtless, which kind of puts him at an unfair advantage over Jack and Bill, no? I'm just saying.)
Kicking things off are Jack and Cheryl. Jack's fixed his timing issues, but looks a little more uncomfortable with this number and his hip shake should have been a little more pronounced. They're followed by Derek and Amber, whose swivels are impressive but don't live up to their previous routine. Next up is Bill and Emma. Bill always gets extra points for his facial expressions while dancing to modern R&B songs (not to mention his face-off with Derek during the transition), and he's back to looking like he's having fun on the floor. And closing out the routine are Corbin and Karina, who have probably the strongest routine and look like they were born to dance with each other.
4th — Bill and Emma (2 points)
3rd — Jack and Cheryl (3 points)
2nd — Amber and Derek (4 points)
1st — Corbin and Karina (5 points)
That's fair, although I might have flipped Jack and Bill. And now, on to the routine we've all been waiting for: the freestyle!
Bill & Emma: For their freestyle, Bill and Emma opt for an Indiana Jones motif, with Bill hunting the grail in the form of the MirrorBall trophy. He even swings in on a rope! I love their moves set to the Indiana Jones theme, and while their tricks may not be the most complicated of the final routines, they nail it. And Bill rips off his shirt afterwards, leaving Carrie Ann in hysterics at the judges' table. "Dancing is still what it is, but you are the everyman man who's become a dancing hero," she tells Bill. And Len finally rewards them with a 9!
Corbin & Karina: Here we go. Will Corbin and Karina top the performance that Carrie Ann called the best in the show's history? They're certainly pulling out all the stops for "Smooth Criminal," even traveling to Vegas to work with Michael Jackson's choreographer. And it pays off. They look like they could have easily been MJ's backup dancers (RIP), and the best part is an eye-popping slow motion lean. How did they do that?!? (Answer: Gravity boots.) "Michael Jackson moves with amazing ballroom touches, and in a packaging that was pure Las Vegas magic," Bruno gushes. Len even gives them a standing ovation!
Jack & Cheryl: The goal with Jack and Cheryl's freestyle is to show Jack's evolution as a dancer throughout the season. And they definitely do incorporate a little bit of everything into their Old Hollywood top hat number. No timing issues here! Jack looks a little overwhelmed by the time he gets to the final big spin, but otherwise the dance is pretty flawless. It even prompts a "Ride 'em, cowboy!" out of Tom and standing ovations from all the judges. "This is the best fairy tale ending to anyone's story," Carrie Ann tells them. "That was a true showstopper," Len concurs, adding that he'd like to give them an 11.
Amber & Derek: Amber and Derek have led the way all season in scoring, and it looks like they'll continue that trend all the way through the finale. Derek recruits a group of dancers for his and Amber's final gunslinger routine. It's not as good as their Charleston, and for me, Amber gets a little lost in the sea of backup dancers at some points. (All the judges disagree. What do I know?) Her movements are still sharp though, and Derek's choreography is top notch per usual.
Before the elimination, couples with lower scores get to choose combinations for couples with higher scores to do for their 24-hour challenge. Bill and Emma pick Quickstep-Samba for Derek and Amber. Jack and Cheryl pick Cha Cha-Foxtrot for Corbin and Karina, and Corbin and Karina pay them back with Paso-Salsa. And by default, Bill and Emma get Jive-Quickstep.
Unfortunately, only three couples will head to the Tuesday show for a final challenge. Which couple is getting sent home tonight?
Going to the finals: Amber and Derek, Corbin and Karina (no surprise there)
In jeopardy: Jack and Cheryl, Bill and Emma
Eliminated: Bill and Emma. They were the cat with nine lives of the competition, and their run has finally come to an end. Bill looks relieved and says he's not sure whether he had another dance in him. Ha! Looks like it's up to Jack to carry the novice torch into the final!
What did you think? Which was your favorite routine of the night? Are you disappointed Bill and Emma won't be going to the final? And most importantly, which couple do you think should win tomorrow night? Vote in our poll and sound off in the comments!