Thursday, December 5, 2013

DWTS Season 17 Finals: The Case for Amber Riley

*DWTS has still not posted pics from the finals. So... we do the best we can...

Amber Riley and Derek Hough, Season 17 champions. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor

When I first heard the announcement about the cast for Season 17 of Dancing with the Stars, the one I most wanted to win was Amber Riley (and Derek Hough). And now, I am most glad that indeed Amber Riley (and Derek Hough) have won the Season 17 Mirror Ball.

But I have such reservations, and I relate to them very personally. That’s what I feel compelled to talk about. Cause this season turned out VERY different than I thought it would.

I don’t know eiher Amber or Derek personally, but I would like to comment on their personalities that they revealed on the show, or at least my interpretation of what I saw.

Here is where I most relate to Amber Riley. I'm a big girl (what Hollywood would call a big girl, anyway). Massive breasts and boobs. I could never dance on DWTS. And maybe some part of her was thinking that too, had severe doubts about herself.

But here’s what I witnessed from the clips. Mostly that she’s a diva in training, who wants the glory and the fame, but not the work so much. And maybe deep down, doesn’t believe that she deserves it all. (I know this because I am like this too.)

Because here’s what I saw over the course of the season.

Someone who, right from the beginning, came out, all decked in crystals, stepping through a crystal curtain, and doing a dance which CLEARLY said, “Amber Riley HAS ARRIVED!” and then, for most of the season after that, stepping back, and going, “Um, no, no she hasn’t.” The judges even commented on it, Carrie Ann at one point saying, “I know there’s more there.” She was right.

The greatest thing holding Amber Riley back in this whole competition was herself. Sure, there were the persistent knee problems (but aren’t physical ailments often a manifestation of our spiritual selves? Interesting too, that Derek had mentioned his back hurting... probably from carrying Amber so much... emotionally, not physically).

What we didn’t see, which we normally do see, is a whole lot of crying and carrying on, that I know happened with this particular girl. It was clear that this whole process was not easy for her emotionally. And it was also clear that when she first walked on that stage, she was the star of this season, all she had to do was own it, and she spent all season shrinking from it.

Instead, we had the People’s Champion (Bill Engvall) sharing his pain up there, and nearly making it to the end, certainly making it MUCH further than he would have in any other season, because the people LOVED him, loved his struggle, loved that he was “old” and “not a dancer.” Just wanted to buoy him up.

And Amber? When she put her mind to it, she blew us away. When it looked, for a hot minute, like Bill Engvall was going to walk away with the championship that was so clearly hers, Amber stepped up (literally) and started doing the dancing she should have been doing all along.

And dudes, let me tell you. When Amber TRIES, get out of the damn way. There is no other. That step dancing freestyle she did with Derek and Mark Ballas and some other guys just completely knocked it out of the park. People will be talking about that one for decades. WOW! Unbelievable stuff.

What then, was all this other angst?

Let’s compare, for example, Miss Amber to last season’s winner (also with Derek), Kellie Pickler. Now I love Miss Amber Riley. She is awesome. Mostly I couldn’t stand looking at Kellie Pickler. But because I love seeing Derek dance, and seeing his choreography, I was glad they won.

But their partnership (Kellie and Derek) was really a partnership. Dancers (as I understand it, anyway) are supposed to be like couples. Two parts of one whole. Derek, after doing this so many seasons, and winning so many Mirror Balls, knows what's going to work. He saw very quickly that the way to the top with this one was to let Miss Amber shine. You could see it even in their early (Week 9) trio with Mark Ballas, where Derek said at one point in rehearsal, “It’s like we are her backup dancers.” Indeed so.

As a strictly literal ballroom show, I don’t think I like that. But Miss Amber Riley is a force of nature. Watch out for her star power. If only she can get out of her own way along the way, she’ll be fine.

And mostly, I am supremely glad that Corbin and Karina didn’t win. If you read the fan comments all around the web, it’s clear. Many felt like I did about Bill Engvall. Many people wanted the guy who couldn’t dance to win MUCH more than the guy who’s been dancing on Broadway already.

Cause this is supposed to be DRAMATIC. There has to be a hurdle to climb. Getting a dancer to win a dance show? Not so much drama there, folks.

A few more notes about Season 17.

I REALLY love the concept of the opening dance with all the pro dancers. It’s been consistently spectacular, and I look forward to it every time.

I also love the segues with the troupe and pros dancing. Fabulous stuff.

I also really love Maksim C. as a judge, and hope he becomes a permanent fixture at that table, if he isn’t one of the regular dancers.

I really love that it’s one night instead of two, and there isn’t so much filler and folderol. No extraneous singers clogging up the place, no running up a flight of stairs. No stupid extra-drawn-out nonsense about who’s going home.

And I really really loved the finale, with the whole red carpet thing. It just seemed like there was a real producer orchestrating this season, with an emphasis on dance, and whoever you are, I thank you for it. Please give us more.

Now if we could just get those costumers to keep those dresses just a BIT shorter (only one noted “tripping over a dress” moment this season, so that is an improvement over last season).

All in all, I liked Season 17, even if it was very different than any season previous.

Pros from Season 17. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor


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