It's Most Memorable Year of Your Life night on Dancing with the Stars this week, and in addition to the usual tearjerker stories and flashbacks, we get our first 10s of the season - and one of the dancers loses a tooth (!).
Nastia Liukin and Derek Hough (tango)
The dance: Nastia picks 2008, the year she competed in the Beijing Olympics. And she puts all of her gymnastic skills on full display for this dance. The lifts are insane, her flexibility and legs are practically inhuman, and per usual, Derek's choreography takes the routine to new heights (sometimes literally). It might not be the most sensual tango, but their chemistry and the clear trust they have in each other is palpable.
What the judges say: Len calls it was a "fantastic dance," but lacked enough passion to be considered a tango. Julianne agrees with Len about the passion comment, but says Nastia matched her Olympics routine in terms of quality. Bruno, on the other hand, calls the dance an unequivocal "stunner," and Carrie Ann tells Len to quit being so grumpy.
Score: 36 (out of 40)
Michael Sam and Peta Murgatroyd (rumba)
The dance: Michael and Peta take the floor seconds after finding out they're in jeopardy. Michael picks the year he came out as gay, which destroyed his relationship with his father (whom he had only reconnected with a few years prior). And whether it's because of his personal connection to the music ("I'm Not My Father's Son" from Kinky Boots) or not, this is Michael's strongest dance to date. He's looking much more comfortable on the floor, for the most part, and the dance tells a lovely - if gut-wrenching - story.
What the judges say: Julianne admires Michael's vulnerability and footwork. A teary-eyed Bruno tells Michael to be proud of himself and that this was his best week yet. Carrie Ann calls the dance "breathtaking" but says he needs to work on his posture and use a little less strength, and Len has nothing but positive things to say.
Riker Lynch and Allison Holker (tango)
The dance: In honor of 2014, the year his band R5 found success, Riker hopes to use his and Allison's momentum from last week to continue his upward trajectory - even if they are in jeopardy. Their tango certainly doesn't have the flair that Derek's and Nastia's did, but it's fine. The biggest drawback is that Riker looks like he's counting out every step rather than just feeling the music.
What the judges say: Bruno compliments Allison for incorporating a tango into an "almost impossible" song (Walk the Moon's "Shut Up and Dance"). Carrie Ann says their chemistry felt off, but praises Riker for incorporating their critiques. Len thinks the dance was a bit "hectic" and Riker's hold could have been better, but liked the routine overall. And Julianne offers Riker advice on his frame, but says they "pop" as a couple.
Robert Herjavec and Kym Johnson (waltz)
The dance: Robert's Most Memorable Year is 2006, the year his mother passed away from ovarian cancer. His story is incredibly touching, but unfortunately the waltz itself lacks a bit of emotion and any elegance in the dance itself feels a bit forced, to my eyes. This is definitely not the most natural-looking waltz we've seen on Dancing. Also, maybe it's just me, but I found Robert's continued beaming a little disconcerting, given the dedication of his dance.
What the judges say: Carrie Ann says Robert's mother is somewhere smiling and was "transported" by the dance. Len says the waltz is their best dance, and Robert's mother must be cheering. A teary-eyed Julianne tells Robert his frame is "incredible" and compliments Kym's choreography, and Bruno calls the routine "absolutely wonderful."
Chris Soules and Witney Carson (rumba)
The dance: To no one's surprise, Chris' most memorable year was this one, when he was asked to be The Bachelor after a previous failed engagement to a girl who didn't want to live on a farm. Dedicating the dance to his other W[h]itney, Chris shows a lot of passion in his face but not so much in his feet. There are a few missteps here and there, and his lines seem a little half-baked. But mostly, the dance just seems to lack any real feeling and emotion.
What the judges say: "That wasn't that great," Len says flatly, after a long-winded disclaimer about how hard this week is to judge. Julianne makes a note about the lack of a connection between Chris and Witney (not Whitney), and gives Chris notes on his lines. Bruno says Chris' turns have improved but his flow needs work. Carrie Ann disagrees with Julianne about their chemistry, but says Chris is sometimes too timid.
Patti LaBelle and Artem Chigvintsev (jazz)
The dance: Patti's most memorable year is the year her son was born - and decades later, she's still got it! Like a true diva, she commands the floor and totally steals the spotlight from all her backup dancers. This is a hard dance for someone of any age to tackle, and she gives it her all, admirably. What's more, she looks completely delighted as she's shimmying around and bumping up against Artem like she's in an old-school jazz club. You gotta love it.
What the judges say: Julianne and Bruno marvel at the amount of moves they incorporated. Carrie Ann screams and says Patti is hotter than Bruno Mars. And Len calls it "a cappuccino of a dance."
Rumer Willis and Val Chmerkovskiy (waltz)
The dance: Rumer's year is 2014, the year she finally learned to ignore all the people who have bullied her for her looks and feel beautiful (thanks in part to Dancing). Now this is a waltz. It's passionate and heartfelt, and Rumer and Val seem effortlessly connected to one another. Even after setting the bar so incredibly high right out of the gate, Rumer keeps one-upping herself week after week.
What the judges say: Bruno says Rumer consistently does a great job connecting to the character of the dance, but could work on her footwork. Carrie Ann gushes about Rumer's "velocity." Len compares the dance to Nastia and Derek's - in both good and bad ways (i.e. not enough waltz). And Julianne says Rumer creates a nice juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability.
Suzanne Somers and Tony Dovolani (foxtrot)
The dance: Suzanne dedicates her dance to her former Three's Company co-star John Ritter (whom Tony channels in a skit at the start of a dance in a replica of the show's set). Suzanne at times looks a little disconnected from this dance, and her footwork is a little unsteady at times, but for the most part it's pretty charming.
What the judges say: Carrie Ann thanks Suzanne for showing us some depth and grace, and Len always appreciates a good heel turn (as well as the concept). Julianne says Suzanne was "totally in her element," but she needs to make some improvements on her upper body. And Bruno says the dance really encapsulated the essence of a sitcom.
Willow Shields and Mark Ballas (contemporary)
The dance: Willow doesn't have that many years to choose from, but she picks 2011 because that's when she got cast in The Hunger Games. Fair enough. Mark brings his set/costume/choreography A-game here, with a cool Hunger Games theme that is just entrancing enough without distracting from the dance itself. The lifts alone are a sight to behold, but Willow's fierceness and passion are as intense as the dance itself.
What the judges say: Len always thought The Hunger Games was about food, but felt the dance was "fantastic." Julianne adopts a big sister approach and says she's so proud of Willow. Bruno calls Willow "a little warrior" and asks viewers to vote for her, while Carrie Ann praises Willow for nailing the tone of the dance.
Noah Galloway and Sharna Burgess (contemporary)
The dance: Noah recounts the story of when he was catastrophically injured in Iraq in 2005 - and suffers another mishap when Sharna accidentally knocks his tooth out during rehearsal (whoops). His strength and balance is really a marvel. Those lifts! Incorporating a mirror at the beginning is also a nice, poignant touch. (And, not to be shallow, but Noah's decision to perform the dance shirtless isn't a bad call either.)
What the judges say: Julianne and Bruno both gush about Noah's spirit and heroism. Carrie Ann compares Noah's dancing to a haiku - minimalist, yet profound. Len calls Noah an inspiration and asks the crowd to give him a standing ovation.
Now for the elimination. The standings, as revealed by Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews throughout the night, are as follows:
In jeopardy: Michael and Peta, Riker and Allison, Willow and Mark
Safe: Willow and Mark, Riker and Allison
Eliminated: Michael and Peta
What did you think, Dancing fans? Are you sorry to see Michael go home? And who do you think had the best routine this week? Sound off in the comments!
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.
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