Thursday, January 1, 2015

DWTS Season 19: Alfonso and Witney Pull It Off

The last three standing of Season 19 of DWTS.
The dust has settled on Season 19 of Dancing with the Stars, and we have a winner. It was, quite possibly, the closest race ever. What it seemed like, to this viewer, was that there were a bunch of people who couldn't dance, and a bunch who were actual contenders. Once the former got weeded out, it was a cutthroat race amongst the latter. It was always very close among these, even right up to the end. For example, the finalists came down to judges' points like this: number 1 (Alfonso and Witney), 120; number 2 (Mark and Sadie), 118; number 3 (Val and Janel), 117. The 50% total of audience votes must have come out exactly the way the judges voted, because that is how the finalists ranked too.

There was a two-hour show on Monday night where we got to see what I would call some of the most amazing freestyle dances we have EVER seen. In fact, they were so great (uniformly) that the one the audience voted for as an encore was from Bethany and Derek (who weren't even in the final three).

The three hours of DWTS on Tuesday included a one-hour "Road to the Finals" program, more or less focusing on the final three. It promised to show us a lot of footage "never aired before," but I saw a lot of footage I'd seen before. The final two-hours included interminable recaps, and each competitor dancing one of their previous dances. (Yawn.) I would even say that of all the shows this season, the last three hours of Season 19 were the worst. (Perhaps if you hadn't seen the whole season and needed an update, you might've enjoyed it, but I'd been there, so I was mostly bored.)

I was correct in my assessment from last week that two of the people who HAD to be there were Mark/Sadie and Val/Janel. I was incorrect that the other one would be Derek/Bethany. It turned out to be Alfonso/Witney, who ended up winning.

Various comnmentators have referred to the Alfonso/Witney pairing as "the favorites," but that's not what I saw or experienced. Sure, when he danced The Carleton originally, he did have the country in the palm of his hand, also when he danced his first dance. But throughout the season, I would not say that statement was true.

On social media, I was much more aware of Mark and Sadie, Val and Janel and Bethany and Derek. In fact, I saw very little social media from Alfonso or Witney. So I'm not sure where this "favorite" business comes from.

For myself, I was torn between the lyric poetry of Val and Janel or the creativity and spark of Mark and Sadie, but after I saw the incredible mind-blowing Super Mario and the Princess videogame routine that Mark did as his freestyle, I was 100% convinced that Mark Ballas should be winning this season of DWTS.

Sadie and Mark as the Princess and Super Mario.
I don't really take the position of being entranced by the various competitors (as most people do). I am much more enthralled by the pros, they are what keep me coming back to my television screen season after season. And, at some point, the two individual people (celebrity and pro) gel as a dance team. That is what is exciting.

All four finalists were amazing to watch, especially in later episodes. Derek and Bethany were the fun couple, doing interesting, fun dances. Val and Janel had this palpitating sexiness that permeated all their numbers. Alfonso and Witney had some fun numbers, which for me, gravitated too much to hip hop music. Maybe that's why I didn't like them as much overall.

But for me, Mark Ballas' choreography and creativity are what stood out to me the most about this season. Dance after dance after dance. He said later that he found it to be his favorite season ever. I thought his dances were just far and away better than anyone else's. Far and away.

From the buoyant joyousness of Up, to the cowboy country number, to the stunning threesome with Emma (Can't Take My Eyes Off You), to his fantastic Argentine tango (with guitar), to this indelible freestyle, his muse was on it this season. Truly like never before (that I've seen). I will remember his dances from this season for a long time to come.

Super Mario and the Princess. Amazing.
And when he didn't win, after all that, I was, frankly, crushed. As crushed as I was when the judges gave his brilliant Halloween number bad scores.

Sadie and Mark paso doble (with flamenco touches). Bad scoring from the judges on this one.
In comparison, Alfonso and Witney had the Carleton dance, their Batman and Robin, the first dance which blew us all away, and that stunning Turn Down for What threesome. The rest didn't do much for me. Certainly weren't as memorable as any of Mark's dances, or any of Val's sexy numbers, or even as much as Derek's stunning dances.

This was the best moment in this Goldmember number. 
This season of DWTS was supposedly the lowest rated, which is sad, because the pros and what they present to us just keeps getting better and better. There was a new energy with the new showrunner and director, and Erin Andrews was a wonderful change.

Next season, we will have no Len and no Cheryl Burke. I suspect, though it hasn't yet been announced, that Julianne Hough will be Len's replacement, and if that's true, I'm glad for it. She was a good judge this season. Plus, Bruno and Carrie Anne are so wacky that sometimes Carrie Anne falls right off her chair. It was good to have Julianne bringing some gravitas to these crazies. I wanna know (from a professional's perspective) why a dance was good, and what could make it better.

From a production standpoint, I really liked the multi-camera viewpoints that were new this season, showing backstage in several areas. It really helped to know what was going on during a show. I'm pretty social media and tech savvy, but I didn't once check out their behind the scenes interview thing. Maybe some people did. Personally, I'd prefer to know what's going on, you know, on the show.

The whole stage area seemed to be utilized to greater effect this season than ever. My favorite moment of that was when host Tom Bergeron ziplined across the stage. Just cause.

Costumes seemed to be better. There were a few garish missteps, but no major travesties with celebrities getting entangled with them or tripping on long gowns.

We were graced, this season with three near-impossible things to pull off: the Singin' in the Rain number, the West Side Story tribute and the Nintendo game freestyle. It is a testament to this show (and Derek, Val and Mark's talents) that they were able to finally get these clearances, and in these cases, deliver amazing dances which honored and respected the original artforms.

What I would wish for (if I had these powers) would be to have Derek be the creative visionary of this show (which he is), and have Mark Ballas be the musical visionary. He has consistently used music which goes above and beyond, always fits the dances. It still seems like music for this show is all over the place. Sometimes really crappy, sometimes sublime. There needs to be someone (of Mark Ballas' calibre) who takes a handle on that. The dance he did for his Halloween number was of the sublime variety. Perfect and wonderful, and very theatrical. I don't know if the "celebrities" have any hand in picking the music, but they shouldn't. This show would be infinitely better if there was someone else who had a consistent hand in music selection. None of this "I'm going to dance to a number my husband wrote" crap that we've had in past seasons. Or even all the heavy-handed hip hop things that Alfonso danced to. The music should fit the dance, or at least fit the show (or both, ideally).

Derek did "All About the Bass" with Bethany before I'd even heard of the song, and although I didn't appreciate "Turn Down for What" at the time, it was also a timely song. Sure, if it motivates the celebrity, great. But for heaven's sake, make it a good (or great!) song.

Alfonso and Cheryl Burke do flamenco. Courtesy of ABC.
Cheryl Burke will indeed be missed. There are a few pros which are the backbone of DWTS. Maksim Chmerkovskiy was one, and he is now gone from the show. Cheryl leaving is going to be a major blow. She just kept getting better and better and better. But I think a dance show really only thrives by adding new blood.

Allison Holker and Keo Motsepe were welcome additions this season. I hope they will be back.

But it's a dicey business, being a pro on this show. It almost seems like you need pros who are sympathetic and able to handhold whiny celebrities at the beginning, who can also morph into creative geniuses carrying off grand visions by the end. Or at least pace the celebrities so that they can make it to the end.

And you need pros who are enough stars in their own right to carry off conversations and make a show interesting. Some are ready, some are not. Sasha Farber? Maybe not. Jenna? Maybe so. Artem? Still not sure on that one. You don't want pros who shine too much, and leave their celebrity behind in the dust. Although in the end, I was rooting for Lea and Artem, so maybe they do work it out.

Alfonso and Witney FTW.
I have to say, at the beginning of the season, I didn't think Witney Carson had the chops to make it to the end and win. I was wrong. She was a damn fine dancer and choreographer. She even shone when she had to dance with the race car driver. I'm really glad that someone other than Derek won this time.

But still, when I think of the dances that make me swoon of Season 19 of Dancing with the Stars, it's mostly going to be the ones from this guy.

Mark and Sadie and Emma do a threesome that was breathtaking.
Thank God that Mark Ballas is in the world, creating poetry on DWTS. We are all so very lucky for that, even if, this time, he didn't win.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

DWTS SemiFinals: Plugged and Unplugged Brings Surprises and Tears

Tommy Chong and Peta Murgatroyd dancing one of their best dances.
The Dancing with the Stars Semi-finals are upon us. It's down to the wire with the last five couples, and everyone is producing great work.

Sadly, Tommy Chong ended up going home, but danced two of his best dances before that.

The theme of the night was Plugged/Unplugged, where couples would dance first to an electric version of a song, and then dance a completely different style to the unplugged (acoustic) version of the same song.

The keys to this night are two things: creativity and a great song.

Janel and Val doing a paso in their plugged version.
My favorite of all the amazing dances in the Plugged section was Janel and Val's paso doble. They proved clearly why they could easily win this competition. (And if they win, I sure hope that Maks is on hand to give the trophy to Val. Cause that would be awesome.)

Bethany and Derek danced an incredible samba to "I Want You Back" (with help from fellow dancer Sasha).

Bethany and Derek, plugged, to I Want You Back.
Derek's choreography is so amazing, with so many little touches that make it perfect. Bethany isn't quite the actress she needs to be, but the dance steps are flawless. And Derek and Sasha kiss at the end! Bonus! Ha!

Mark and Sadie did a great quickstep. I'm really loving what the costuming department is doing with Sadie, too. They seem to have hit a groove.

Sadie and Mark do their plugged version. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars
Mark's choreography is so stunning, I just love watching his numbers over and over.

Tommy and Peta did a great jazz number to "Tainted Love" (can't ever go wrong with that).

Alfonso has been injured (since doing the crowd-favorite Carleton), and he looked visibly in pain during their Argentine tango. Costumes were fantastic, though.

Witney and Alfonso (much in pain) dance an Argentine tango. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars
MICHE'S SEMIFINALS PLUGGED PICKS
1. Val and Janel (paso doble)
2. Derek and Bethany (samba)
3. Mark and Sadie (quickstep)
4. Tommy and Peta (jazz)
5. Alfonso and Witney (Argentine tango)

Sadie and Mark unplugged. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
Now the challenge of this evening is to do the same song, but with a totally different arrangement, and different style of dance.

My favorite in the Unplugged section (by far) was Mark and Sadie (the judges, as usual, did not agree with me). But here's the thing. The Argentine tango (again) is a very passionate dance. A dance about sex and romance and steamy hot passion. Hard to do that with a teenaged conservative woman who (probably) hasn't known sex or passion. But we have Mark Ballas choreographing.

And what he comes up with is no less steamy a dance than Alfonso and Witney did in their Plugged version. But instead of instilling passion between them, he uses the prop of a guitar, so that it's the guitar which is instilling the passion. So beautifully done, so creative. Truly a stunning dance. I loved it so much.

Normally, I'm like Len, I hate all the frou-frou props and whatnot that dancers use, but in this case, it was just stunning to watch, and totally worked.

The other really stunning thing about this dance is that there is a move (wish I knew what it was called) where the woman sticks her leg in between the guy's legs (it's part of what makes the dance so sexual, that move). It's like invading the sexual space with a leg, very hot. Well, in this dance, ALL of those moves were done by Mark instead of Sadie, which was really interesting and appropriate (and still sexy). I really dug that.

But then... THIS... this dance made me cry.

Tommy Chong and Peta Murgatroyd do a rumba.
Tommy playing the craftsman, Peta his music box ballerina who comes to life. Beautiful dance. Every part of it: the costumes, the set, the arrangement, everything was superb.

Val and Janel do an Argentine tango. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars
The surprises weren't over. Val Chmerkovskiy, in case you don't know this, used to play the violin. He graces us with that skill at the beginning of this dance. (Quite wonderful!)

And that foot move is back to the woman doing it with this dance, and it was appropriately sexy and sensual. Val and Janel's Argentine tango was very sexy and steamy.

It was the night, apparently, for dancing amazingly with props. Derek and Bethany's unplugged routine involved a picture frame. I can't even describe it. Seeing someone in a picture frame that you loved, the song, "I Want You Back." You are part of the picture, then not. It was just stunning. Contemporary.

Bethany and Derek dance contemporary. Courtesy of ABC
At a different part of the season, this would've been my top pick. Beautiful dance.

Alfonso and Witney also danced contemporary (my least favorite dance style).

MICHE'S SEMIFINALS UNPLUGGED PICKS
1. Mark and Sadie (Argentine tango)
2. Tommy and Peta (rumba)
3. Val and Janel (Argentine tango)
4. Derek and Bethany (contemporary)
5. Alfonso and Witney (contemporary)

THE ROAD AHEAD
It was very sad to see Tommy Chong leave. I really truly enjoyed every dance he danced, even when he really couldn't dance. But here's the thing, Tommy. No one who really couldn't dance ever won Dancing with the Stars (since I've been watching it, anyway). So it was time.

Peta and Tommy say Goodbye.
We will miss you, old man. And it's true what Len said. No one your age is ever going to get this far again (unless Betty White decides to dance). But, boy, are we going to miss you.

Tommy Chong dances with Sharna and Peta.
So, we have four contestants left. Here's what I see at this point.

If it were me, I would have two couples guaranteed of the finals: Mark and Sadie and Val and Janel. They have consistently, without misstep, danced amazing dance after amazing dance this season. Val has never won a Mirror Ball (amazingly). Mark hasn't won one in awhile.

So when you're voting tomorrow, please consider all that. Also the judges haven't been scoring Mark and Sadie with as good scores as they deserve. Let's help make up for that, America!

The two wild cards (to me) are Bethany and Derek and Alfonso and Witney. Derek's choreography is phenomenal. And he is one of the choreographers who builds in little grace notes to the whole season once he gets to the freestyle (on Tuesday). I love when they do that. But he has won a lot recently. So I wouldn't be sad to see he and Bethany go home either Monday night or Tuesday. They've done great work, but so has everyone. (But compared to Val and Mark, Derek has been a bit off this season.)

Alfonso and Witney I thought could take this thing when they danced their first dance. Along the way, there have been lackluster dances, and dances where he seemed like he couldn't move cause he was in pain. Yes, he's a pro, and he's toughing it out, but this is when America is his mother, and sends him home so he doesn't have to continue on and injure himself.

My personal choice, for that reason, to go home Monday night would be Alfonso (and Witney). Not because he couldn't do it, just because he SHOULDN'T do it.

Also, if Alfonso went home, it would be a three-girl final. How cool would that be?

MICHE'S PICKS FOR THE FINALS
1. Val and Janel
2. Mark and Sadie

I would really be happy with either of these two couples winning the Mirror Ball this season.
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3. Bethany and Derek
4. Alfonso and Witney

What do you think, America?

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

DWTS Week 9:Trios and Tangos and Flight Attendants, Oh My!

Sadie and Mark Ballas and Emma perform a trio foxtrot. Stunning. Courtesy of ABC.
If you've never seen Dancing with the Stars before and wonder what all the fuss is about, or if you want to see an episode where all the dances are great, Season 19's Week 9 (last week) is one for you.

Wow. Wow. Wow, was it an amazing week!

First, sadly, Lea Thompson ended up being the one sent home. And it was sad, because FINALLY, in this week, the promise of the Lea/Artem pairing finally showed itself. They have never danced better together (both in the individual dance and the trio), and Artem's choreography really shone, and showcased Lea. It was phenomenal. If they had danced like this all along, they could've won this thing. It's always sad when that happens in Week 9.

Artem and Lea and Henry do their trio. Courtesy of ABC.
They finally break through, it finally clicks, and they get sent home. *sigh*

But really, at this point, other than Tommy Chong, everyone left is an amazing dancer, and it's going to be some mighty fine dancing from here on out. And on the subject of Tommy Chong, let me just say this...

Peta and Tommy and Sharna do a devilish trio. Courtesy of ABC.
This was arguably the hottest number in all of Season 19 so far. So salacious, so amazing, so wonderful. It's really no surprise that Tommy Chong is still here. America loves him. I love him and want him to still be there. Cause we get wondrous creations like Chong Air.  Oh my! *fans self*

(He also did a Viennese waltz with Peta which was pretty amazing.)

So, let me backtrack a bit. Week 9, everyone did a dance with their partner (all of which were great in their own right). Then, everyone did a trio dance "with a pro who had been voted out, or a member of the troupe." The trio dances this time were phenomenal. Across the board. One more stunning than the next. None MORE stunning than the one that I led this story with. But we'll get to that. Kind of shocking that we had no Cheryl or Karina or Allison chosen for the trios. But we do have four women left, and two men. Usually men are chosen to dance with the women stars, and women are chosen to go with the male stars. We had a little upset with that predictable pattern this time, leading to some incredible results.

But first, let's look at the individual dances.

My favorite among them was this one.

Bethany and Derek did a stirring, emotional Viennese waltz.
Derek's choreography, as usual, was stunning. Bethany was never more vulnerable. Just such a beautiful dance.

Mark Ballas and Sadie had a jive which rocked the house. (My 2nd favorite dance.)

Mark Ballas and Sadie jive. Courtesy of ABC.
Mark's choreography (always, but especially this season) just blows my mind. They did this jive "competition style," even incorporating their voting number on his back. Nice.

It is at this point that I must commend the amazing artistes who created the costumes for this episode. Without exception, they were stunning. Some were even more stunning than others. This one, for example.

Janel and Val do a quickstep. Courtesy of ABC.
Man. Just beautiful work. (The costumes and the dance.) This quickstep was my third favorite. And seriously, already at this point in the show, I am just marveling at how amazing the choreographers are. Such incredible, beautiful work (consistently from Val). Detailed, intricate, stunning.

Witney and Alfonso do a foxtrot. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
Alfonso and Witney kicked off the quarterfinals with their foxtrot. The theme of these individual dances was supposed to be "what America wants." More or less, whoever responded to questions on DWTS' Facebook page about it. (A lame theme, perhaps the lamest of all season.) The dances, however, were anything but lame.

We are getting down to number five out of six on my list, and they are all still amazing dances. This samba that Lea did had her in this sex kitten outfit doing things over Artem's face that poor Sadie will only be able to dream about. For like a couple decades. Rawwwwrrrrr... Unbelievable and incredibly sexy.

The personification of cougar. Artem and Lea do a samba.
Even Tommy and Peta's Viennese waltz was watchable and fun.

MICHE'S FAV INDIVIDUAL DANCES
1. Derek and Bethany (Viennese waltz)
2. Mark and Sadie (jive)
3. Val and Janel (quickstep)
4. Witney and Alfonso (foxtrot)
5. Artem and Lea (samba)
6. Peta and Tommy (Viennese waltz)

BUT THEN....

The roof blew off the joint. Everyone did trio dances. Maybe it's just cause I like threesomes... I dunno, but I have always really loved the trio dances. It's my favorite part of the season. This time did not disappoint, either.

Lea and Artem's paso with Henry continued on the wild sexuality she expressed in her individual dance, and really made me want this team to stick around longer.

Tommy and Peta's samba with fellow Aussie Sharna ("Chong Air") was just jaw-droppingly brilliant. And funny, and sexy. Way sexy. Like an Austin Powers fever dream, in dance.

Alfonso and Witney and Lindsey's paso came out of the gate with a bang. You just didn't want it to end. Powerful and passionate. Turn down for what? Indeed.

Tony and Bethany and Derek do an Argentine tango trio. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
Bethany and Derek and Tony did a stunning Argentine tango, so incredible after how soft and vulnerable her previous dance was.

Val and Janel, dancing salsa with pro Keo, did a tribal power dance (with great salsa content).

But it was (again) Mark Ballas who took my prize for best trio dance. Again, he created a compact, easy to understand story. Mark and Emma, the couple, set out to dance. Mark is taken with the beauty of Sadie, and can't stop dancing with her. Emma was an unusual choice, perhaps, since the stars don't usually dance with pros of their same sex, but "all the other men were taken," so Mark had to work around it, ended up creating (to my eyes) the most wonderful dance of the night. Stunningly beautiful.

And, in as much as there was acting involved (and there was some), Emma was just perfect. Mark, perfectly balancing the fact that the spotlight should be on Sadie, and not the skilled pro Emma (which is very tough to do when you have a pro dancing). If you watch one dance from this evening, seek out this one.

MICHE'S TRIO DANCE RATINGS
1. Sadie and Mark and Emma (foxtrot, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You")
2. Alfonso and Witney and Lindsey (paso doble, "Turn Down for What")
3. Bethany and Derek and Tony (Argentine tango, "Into the Jungle")
4. Tommy and Peta and Sharna (samba, "Talk Dirty to Me")
5. Lea and Artem and Henry (paso doble, "Black Betty")
6. Val and Janel and Keo (salsa)

Honestly and truly, at this moment, I do not know who I want to win. But there are some factors at play.

So, let's take a look at the upcoming battles.

MARK BALLAS AND SADIE
PROS: Mark Ballas, even more than Derek Hough, has this season been knocking it out of the park, dance after dance. He has not been scored high enough (IMHO). His genius of creativity has been on full display, as he has created dance after stunning memorable dance. He deserves to win another Mirror Ball, and it's been awhile since his last one.
CONS: Sadie. To my eyes, her conservatism and unwillingness to wear appropriate dancer costumes has really held her back, and could very well keep her from the big win. Also, I don't think America is as in love with her as they are with some others.

DEREK HOUGH AND BETHANY
PROS: Derek is one of the geniuses of this show. His choreography is breathtaking, and he always takes stunning chances. Bethany is a beautiful partner.
CONS: Derek just won. And just won before that. He needs to sit down this time. I'd really rather have Singin' in the Rain be Derek's moment from this season.

WITNEY CARSON AND ALFONSO
PROS: Alfonso knocked it out of the park on his first dance this season, giving us the impression there were no other competitors. There are moments when he and Witney just take my breath away.
CONS: The rest of the season has really been up and down and all over the place (bad music choices, less than perfect dancing). Also, does Witney really have the choreography chops to compete against Mark and Val and Derek, who are doing some of their best work this season?

PETA MURGATROYD AND TOMMY
PROS: I could seriously see this man winning the Mirror Ball. Don't laugh. America loves him, and refuses to let go. Peta is an incredible choreographer, and her beauty and sassiness do often cover Tommy's lack of dancing ability. His trio dance with Peta and Sharna proved he is a showman and an entertainer, and that could take him all the way to the end.
CONS: The man truly cannot dance. He's always forgetting his steps and bumbling all over himself. But then, he's 78 years old.

VAL CHMERKOVSKIY AND JANEL
PROS: Val has never won a Mirror Ball before. His choreography is top-notch stunning. His choreography can knock it out of the park. Janel is a willing and beautiful partner. Sentimental Chmerkovskiy double-header.
CONS: He doesn't seem as laser-focused on the win (as, say, Mark Ballas is this season). Janel isn't America's sweetheart, the way Bethany is.

Val and Janel and Keo do a salsa.
Any of these people, and I'm not kidding, ANY of these people could win. If I had to give the edge to anyone, I'd say Mark Ballas and Sadie for the win, because his choreography has never been better, and that's pretty amazing to watch. However, the judges have not been good to him this season, for whatever reason, and young Sadie may not be up to the challenge.

My second favorite to win would be Val, cause it would be so nice to see a Chmerkovskiy double-feature (Val winning for the first time right after Maks (Maksim C, Val's brother) won his first one).

But I'm not kidding that I think Tommy Chong could also win. Those same people who voted Jesse Ventura (or Arnold Schwartzenegger) governor are sitting by their phones. Heh, heh, heh. Yeah. Tommy Chong. 76-year-old Tommy Chong to win Dancing with the Stars. That'd be good. *snicker, snicker* I could totally see it. Whatever happens, it's sure going to be fun to watch the next few episodes.

Tommy Chong and Peta Murgatroyd do a Viennese waltz. Courtesy of ABC.
I also want to shout out to the other talented craftspeople on this show: the hairstylists (especially Sadie's hair in the trio dance), the camera people (really nice shot of Sadie crying on Mark's shoulder). Also the three camera shot of people getting ready is a really nice touch. All in all, the craftspeople were at the top of their game on this episode in particular. Stunning dresses on Emma and Sadie, and Janel earlier. So so much good stuff in this episode, you really should check it out. This is a great example of why we watch.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

DWTS Week 8: Delightful and Dastardly Duos

Lea and Artem doing Bonnie and Clyde. Courtesy of ABC.
This week at Dancing with the Stars, it was Duos Week, meaning famous duos from history...or TV...or the Bible, or wherever we decided to pull them from... In some cases, this worked, in others, it didn't.

I'm sitting here now, trying to think about whether Lea would be going further if she had a different partner. If she were paired up with Mark or Derek or Val (I honestly think she would be going further in this competition). Cause the thing is: Lea Thompson is a star. Artem (insert long Russian name here) is not. He THINKS he is, but he is not. Stardom is earned. You don't just get it because you become a pro.

And most of their missteps this season have, frankly, to do with his ego being too big, and not nurturing Lea, who is truly the star. Derek Hough, who is truly THE star of this show, knows that you have to step back and let the other person shine, especially if they really need to. Witness his season with Amber Riley. That girl would NOT be held back, and their best routines were where Derek just let her go to town. And that's why they won. Derek was no less a star, he was just being the professional that this show requires, and I don't think Artem has learned that yet.

Allison seemed to struggle with that concept this season, too.

Lea was rocking her best Faye Dunaway in this number. And I'm struggling to pinpoint why it wasn't a better routine. The judges basically said the same thing.

Here's the thing: Lea COULD, at this point, really turn it around, and rock her way to the end, or she could be leaving soon. It really depends on her. The judges said as much too.

But contrast what she and Artem are doing with what Witney and Alfonso are doing. Alfonso proved Week 1 that he could win this thing. He and Witney were Batman and Robin, and they danced to Prince. Great song, great costumes and makeup, great presentation. They have everything to win.

Alfonso and Witney as Batman and Robin.
And for something completely different, but also with a winning demeanor, how about Janel and Val? They chose Romeo and Juliet this week, and it was stunning. Contemporary, which is an acquired taste, but it scored perfectly with the judges, and was beautiful to watch.

Janel and Val do Romeo and Juliet. Courtesy of ABC.
Val's choreography takes my breath away, every single week. This was no exception. Wow.

Then we had the costume malfunctions. Michael and Emma are planning costumes for their duo, Tarzan and Jane. As Michael examines all the various incarnations of Tarzan over the years, he notes (correctly): "They are all wearing loincloths." Yup. That's pretty much Tarzan. So what is he wearing onstage? A cowboy outfit, with some kind of weird loincloth thing over it. :-/

Same with super-conservative Sadie. Her and Mark are doing the Adam and Eve story from the Bible (more on that in a minute). She mentions in the package that she'd be "uncomfortable" with Mark doing body paint, and going shirtless. So they have these costumes... sigh...

Sadie and Mark doing Adam and Eve. 
I mean, LOOK AT THAT. *EYEROLL* Is no one going to point out to them that in the moments BEFORE taking a bite of that apple, Adam and Eve are blissfully naked, ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE? It is once they take that bite that shame and modesty comes about.

But we will ignore all that, since she is a young conservative kid, and don't want her to feel uncomfortable even though (for me) it detracted from the dance.

However, the dance, as with all of Mark Ballas' creations this season, was blissful.

Sadie and Mark as Adam and Eve.
I just love watching his dances so much. And BC Jean's wonderful, beautiful singing just added to the magic of this dance.

But enough with the serious and contemplative. How about some FUN?

Bethany and Derek chose Lucy and Ricky, and their dance was just wondrous.

Bethany and Derek do Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Courtesy of ABC.
Bethany is just great to watch. This salsa was a lot of fun.

Tommy and Peta were Johnny and June Carter Cash, also a lot of fun, but expect him to go home next.


MICHE'S FAVORITES FROM WEEK 8: DUOS WEEK
1. Derek and Bethany (Ricky and Lucy)
2. Mark and Sadie (Adam and Eve)
3. Val and Janel (Romeo and Juliet)
4. Alfonso and Witney (Batman and Robin)
5. Lea and Artem (Bonnie and Clyde)

THE CONTENDERS
1. Bethany and Derek
2. Mark and Sadie
3. Val and Janel
4. Alfonso and Witney

COULD GO EITHER WAY
Lea and Artem

GOING HOME SOON
Tommy and Peta

NEXT WEEK: Trios Week!

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

DWTS Season 19 Week 7: Judges Disappoint. Guess who wins the Team Dance? AGAIN?

Team Creepy dances to "Time Warp." Courtesy of ABC.
It all comes down to this, ultimately: Entertainment or proper technique?

Which is more important is the fundamental question of Dancing with the Stars these days. This reality show began 19 seasons ago, with a focus on ballroom competition technique, and evolved from there. In the evolution, you've had changes (as one would expect). Much more (too much, for my taste) hip hop stuff was added; other, not strictly ballroom, dances ("jazz," "Bollywood") were added to the overall repertoire; and most strikingly, those who shepherded this project all along kind of outgrew their masters.

The judges were once the guiding force. Now many of the longtime pros have far surpassed the judges in skill and creativity and passion. The pros have really become the stars of this show. So it becomes, sometimes, a question of: are we doing this to hit our marks and pack in every piece of content requested? Or are we doing this for "entertainment"? To keep those millions of fans happy and tuning in each week?

The answer, of course, is kind of both. My answer, actually, would be that I look for enough content to see that it's recognizably the dance it's supposed to be, but within that, I love to see creativity stretched as far as it can be. I love to see the dancers having fun (the pros, I mean) and challenging themselves, and on those really lucky days, creating magic. Sometimes they just create straight-up fun. Is that a bad thing? The judges seem to still be saying Yes, but to that, I say NO! Give us fun, dammit!

This week, for example, we had the Team Dances. The remaining cast is divided into two teams. They compete as a team. Fun stuff. Only problem? Derek's team ALWAYS wins. And I mean, ALWAYS. (He has never lost.) How fun is that? What is the point?

Granted, most times, Derek's Team Dance creation stands far and above the other team. Derek Hough is arguably the best dancer on this show. And his magical Team Dances usually include solos for each cast member which seamlessly blend into the whole of the dance. That bit usually causes him to win (IMHO).

Mark Ballas and Sadie dancing as part of Team Creepy. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
But this time, it was Derek's team against (also arguably the best dancer on the show) Mark Ballas' team. And Mark Ballas used that same technique: poignant solos by each member, showcasing their ability, really (as the judges did note) highlighting each person's personality. And in this Team Dance, he beat Derek in this point. Also note how in HIS solo with Sadie, he is still mindful of Sadie. (By all rights of this Time Warp, he should be dressed as Frank N. Furter--Speedo, fishnets, etc.-- here. Instead, he chose to dress as a jester, all covered up. I really respected that choice.)

Usually, Derek's Team Dances win because they are also dancing to the best, catchiest number. In this particular case, Mark's team had the edge because they were dancing to "Time Warp"
(from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), always a crowd-pleaser. (So Mark wins as far as music.)

I don't know if it's that the judges are just Derek Hough-blind (and don't see anyone else's talent) or what, but to my eyes, I LOVED what Mark Ballas did with his team. Their Time Warp was fantastic! And he had Cheryl and Witney (who has never seen Rocky Horror... WHAT? Someone take her, for God's sake...) and Peta (all fantastic dancers).

Peta Murgatroyd and Tommy Chong dancing as part of Team Creepy. Courtesy of ABC.
And still Derek's team won. :-(

Mind you, Derek's Team's dance was also incredible. Great costumes, great dancing. I just thought Time Warp was WAY more entertaining. WAY MORE.

Team Itsy Bitsy, the winning team. Derek's team, no surprise. Courtesy of ABC.
So that score bummed me out.

Then, both Mark & Sadie and Derek & Bethany do a paso doble. Mark's was scored a 30. Derek's was scored a 39. Seriously, judges, WTF is up with this scoring? Mind you, I did love Derek and Bethany's paso. But it wasn't in the earth-shaking realms of many pasos past. (So, a near-perfect score?)

Leah Remini (guest host last week) was hitting Derek with her microphone (inappropriately, I thought) as she was saying: "Do you know what it's like to get a 6? or a 7?" She should've been hitting the judges with it.

Bethany and Derek. Courtesy of ABC.
I don't know what the judges are smoking, but to my eyes, Bethany and Derek shot their wad on "Singin' in the Rain," and haven't been up to that level since, even though the scores since then don't reflect that viewpoint.

Whereas, Mark Ballas' paso...WOW! Fantastic music. Great dancing, great choreography, great concept. I really like the pieces that showcase a story, from beginning to end, and Mark Ballas consistently does that. So, too, this week.

In kind of a metaphor for what is actually going on on the show, young innocent girl (Sadie) gets attacked by the jaded zombies, of which Mark is the lead. Some of the judges complained about this storyline, but I thought it was just brilliant and beautiful. And Sadie played the young, innocent girl well.

Sadie and Mark do a paso doble that was extremely entertaining. Courtesy of ABC.
Also, HELLO JUDGES?, it was entertaining!!!! It's the Halloween show. Are zombies not appropriate?

The crowd was on their feet (in the studio) after this number. They were applauding so hard, that Carrie Anne had to wait a minute until she started to give her comment. It was a phenomenal, and audience-stirring, creation of a number. Other people who scored higher didn't get that kind of reaction in studio. (Just sayin...)

Mark Ballas' genius on so many levels just doesn't get the appreciation he really deserves, and it's really starting to piss me off.

We had another story dance, which the judges also didn't like: Val and Janel's Viennese waltz.

Val and Janel do a Viennese waltz. Courtesy of ABC.
The judges really don't get the concept of social media, or the idea of promoting another show, or even that the other show may have a fan base. But Janel is certainly hip to it, and she came up with the idea of pulling in her character from (her successful show) Pretty Little Liars to play off of in this Viennese waltz. I loved it. Loved the costumes, loved the dance. The judges? Not so much (scored a 31, just one point higher than Mark Ballas' score).

Val and Janel. Courtesy of ABC.
Sad, so sad. The costumes were great. The dance was great. Val's choreography, always fantastic.

I'm still rooting for Lea to pull this out. She really could do an Amber Riley if she's able to shine over Artem somehow. Her moments of taking back her own power are truly amazing, but there aren't enough of them.

Lea Thompson and Artem during Team Itsy Bitsy. Courtesy of ABC.
This team has become one of the ones I really look forward to, week after week. Their Argentine tango was awesome.

Lea Thompson and Artem. Courtesy of ABC.
I guess I wasn't kidding when I wrote earlier that I thought Val and Janel's rumba would be the sexiest all season. So far, that's held true. Alfonso and Witney gave it their shot this week, but there was no apparent sexiness in it at all. (Guess if Sadie and Mark can pull off the "nice" rumba...)

Alfonso and Witney do a rumba. Courtesy of ABC.
Peta and Tommy gave us a quickstep, which was kinda not so quick. Still, I'm enjoying watching Tommy and Peta's creations. Tommy is endlessly fun to watch.

Peta Murgatroyd and Tommy Chong. Courtesy of ABC.
The couple voted out this week was Cheryl and Antonio. It made me sad. Not because I was sorry to see Antonio go, but because Cheryl has talked in the press about this likely having been her last season of DWTS. "I started when I was 20, now I'm 30," said she.

That makes me incredibly sad. There are a few people that I really like to watch, no matter what they do (Mark, Derek, Val, Peta, Sharna, Karina and Cheryl; and Tristan MacManus, but he wasn't as much a part of the real DWTS). They are the ones I really watch this show for, so it will be really sad to not have her around anymore. I can't even really imagine it. (Although I said that when Anna Trebunskaya left, and the show has muddled along without her too, I guess.)

Cheryl Burke has always been stunning, usually dancing with a dolt of a partner, and I always ended up watching her magic, and not him so much. (Also true this season.) She will be missed so much.

Cheryl Burke (and Antonio Sabato Jr.) earlier in Season 19, possibly her last season with DWTS.
And, as we have watched her evolve as a dancer, she has only gotten more beautiful.

One more couple (or two) going home, and this is going to finally be a real competition. I can't wait. I just wish they'd start giving Mark Ballas the scores he deserves. He's really been stellar and on point this season, even if the judges can't see it. We, the audience at home, appreciate it.

MICHE'S PICKS FOR WEEK 7

TEAM DANCES
1. Team Creepy (Time Warp)
2. Team Itsy Bitsy

REGULAR DANCES
1. Mark and Sadie (paso doble)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2. Derek and Bethany (paso doble)
3. Val and Janel (Viennese waltz)
4. Lea and Artem (Argentine tango)
5. Witney and Alfonso (rumba)
6. Peta and Tommy (quickstep)

SERIOUSLY, GO HOME ALREADY
1. Michael (ugh)

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DWTS Week 6: Pitbull steams up the ballroom


To show how much Switch Up week affects people, this week (back with partners week) was crazy and mixed up. Two of the worst dancers (Jonathan and Michael) had their best dances ever. Two of the best dancers (Derek and Alfonso) had their worst dances ever. Crazy nuttiness.

The special guest performer/judge was Pitbull, so you know ABC was all about pumping up the hotness/sexiness quotient. We had all kinds of rumbas, salsas, sambas, all over the place. This, for example, was the opening number.

Sharna, Pitbull, Witney. Courtesy of ABC7.
However (I just found this pic), this was the action LAST WEEK. I say Jessie J has Pitbull beat.

Getting all steamy up in here... Artem with Jessie J and Val.
Ahem... now where was I?

Oh yes. Week 6. It started banging out of the gate with Allison and Jonathan, who later in the show were voted off :-( (so sad). Their number on this night was stunning to watch, took my breath away. I really hope she's back again next season.

Sadly, theirs was the only number I really LOVED this week.

Then we had a whole lotta missteps, for various reasons. Derek and Bethany (whom I love normally) had to fly to Australia, and didn't have a lot of practice time (to my eyes, it showed, though the slavering judges still gave Derek huge scores). Derek said in his package: "It was the least practice time I've ever had." Enough said about that.

Alfonso and Witney, so good to be back together again, also (to my eyes) seemed to fall down. (Witney literally falling down and hurting herself in rehearsal.) Alfonso noted that doing the Carleton had hurt his groin. So both were injured. Ugh. Perhaps it's cause I just don't like hip hop music, but man, did I dislike their dance this week, overall.

Antonio is also bugging me (although that may have to do with the Jesus-filled Instagram he posted earlier in the day, which caused me to unfollow him immediately. Ugh. People, INSTAGRAM IS FOR PICTURES. Not long sermon treatises. Sheesh.) So I was not thrilled with their dance either. Also, Cheryl just works her heart out covering the fact that Antonio really can't dance. Big hat notwithstanding.

Janel, in the worst costume all season, and Val. Courtesy of ABC.
Janel and Val, whom I normally love, had one of the worst costumes (on Janel) on this show in a long time. WTF was that? Horrible. Could barely watch the dance, that outfit was so bad and distracting. And Val even had his shirt unbuttoned and I couldn't concentrate on it. Ugh.

Lea and Artem, whom I also normally like, suffered a lot from it being Artem's first season as a pro. He forgot (as the judges pointed out) that it's all about the pro focusing on the star, and making THEM look good. Lea looked too much like she was chasing whatever goal Artem had set for her, rather than being her own best self. And their dance, nice enough, suffered as a result.

Madness, I tell you, madness all around.

But then, we had others getting sanity back. Michael Waltrip, a racecar driver, went to race cars. His friends there told him how much they were rooting him on. And he and Emma returned with an amazing Argentine tango. As the judges noted, it was truly his most vulnerable dance.

Emma and Michael do an Argentine tango.
It was really nice to watch. His best dance, for sure. If he'd been doing this all along, he might not be going home soon.

As all the kids were going crazy, flying to Australia for YouTube events... ugh... the oldsters were getting real. Tommy Chong brought Peta to a tribal sweat lodge. It was awesome. I wish I could've been in there with them. I needed a good sweat after watching some of the night's craziness.

Tommy Chong and Peta sweat it out. Courtesy of ABC.
It's kind of sobering to realize that really Tommy Chong might be one deeply spiritual guy. So, of course, I loved his dance. It seemed really centered and flowing. Their sweat lodge sojourn served them well. (I threw all my votes at him at the end.)

Peta and Tommy do a foxtrot. Beautiful. I loved it.
Lastly, certainly not least, let me first say this: MARK BALLAS GOT HIS FIRST 10 THIS SEASON! FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!

OK, it was by guest judge Pitbull, not one of the normal ones, but STILL. He got one. I'm so glad.

Also, as we talk about pros who do this show right, ones who highlight and focus on their celeb, cater to them, make them look good, there are plenty of examples. Derek with Amy Purdy last season, for example.

Mark Ballas, for whatever reason, seems to be perpetually saddled with the crazies, the controversial, the religious, the prudes. Perhaps one of the reasons he is is that he deals with them SO WELL. He doesn't seem to care about what anyone else says. He's there for his partner.

In Season 19, he happens to have an 18-year-old girl from (let's just say) conservative parents. Now that is a difficult thing. (Although Val also danced with a teen when he was partnered with Zendaya, and there were no wardrobe issues there.) In any case, this particular girl named Sadie, is mindful of what kind of wardrobe her parents would accept. OK, fine. We don't quite get the shrouds from the last two seasons, but we don't get the proper costume either. Fine.

But there is a boggle. Some of the dances they have to dance are sexual dances. They just are. The rumba, the most sexual of them all.

And how do you do a stunning rumba when you are partnered with a very conservative 18-year-old girl? Who doesn't seem very enlightened in the ways of sexuality? How do you dance the sexiest dance of them all?

You hope and pray you have Mark Ballas as a partner.

Mark Ballas and Sadie do a rumba.
It was pretty, it was sweet. It was nothing her parents would be ashamed of. And mostly, I was just applauding the care with which he dealt with Sadie.

Sexuality, in any context, should only be displayed when one wants to, and is ready to. I respected Mark's choices, in this dance, and all season. Heck, with all the women he's been partnered with. He is an amazing dancer who puts his partner first.

So glad that Julianne finally saw that, and commented on it. Now if she'd only give him a 10 too!

MICHE'S TOP PICKS FOR WEEK 6
1. Jonathan and Allison (jazz)
2. Mark and Sadie (rumba)
3. Val and Janel (samba)
4. Tommy and Peta (foxtrot)

PLEASE GO HOME SOON
1. Antonio
2. Michael

Next week, we have the Team dances, and there is a chance that Derek's Team MIGHT not actually win this time. Seriously. Look at the teams.

Team Creepy for Week 7.
Team Itsy Bitsy for Week 7. 
Did we mention it's also Halloween Week?

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