Monday, May 25, 2015

DWTS Season 20 Champs: Valentin and Rumer!

Rumer Willis and Valentin Chmerkovskiy win the 20th Season Mirror Ball. Courtesy of ABC.
After years of finishing anywhere from 2nd to 4th place, Valentin Chmerkovskiy finally nabbed his first Mirror Ball, for the 20th season of Dancing with the Stars. It was a sweet victory, that was foreshadowed by a perfect opening dance on the first episode of this season that they recreated during Finals week.

But my favorite moment of the Finals, which was a big, splashy hooha thing, was when Val turned to the camera, after winning, and mouthed, "Thank you" to all the fans who got him there, FINALLY. That was really nice. And you're welcome. ;-)

But it was a two-night extravaganza. Let's take a look back at the first night.

Each team performed a dance from earlier in the season that they wanted to perfect. Noah and Sharna chose their Argentine tango, which yes, was better, but not perfect.

It was a beautiful dance, and the choreography was stunning.

Certainly none of the dances this season was as spectacular as Riker and Allison doing a paso doble to Pirates of the Caribbean. It was fantastic the first time around. This time around, it received a standing ovation from Len (which he doesn't ever do).

Just FANTASTIC. "Packed full of content," as the judges said. Holker has obviously learned what not to do from her experience last season.

Of course, they received all 10s for this.

And then, there was Rumer and Val. When they performed their foxtrot in the first episode of this season, it made me sit up and take notice. I felt then that it was the best dance of the night, and that they could win this season. Throughout the season, they have presented stunning dances.

And on this finals night, when they recreated this first dance, there was a confidence and a fluidity that showed how hard she had worked all season, and how this season has transformed her. Val, too, was confident and playful, at ease with these steps. It was just beautiful to watch.

Perfect scores, once again.

And then, the freestyle round.

When I think spectacular freestyle round, I think of Mark Ballas' incredible Super Mario freestyle from last season. That, to me, is a freestyle. We had nothing like that this time. But here's what we did have: three dances which were true to the people dancing them. Two of them extremely vulnerable and personal, and one a toe-tapping showstopper. All fantastic.

First, Noah and Sharna. All season long, Sharna has portrayed Noah's ordeal in various forms. She has done incredible things with choreography to tell his story. This freestyle was probably the showstopper of all of those. Really incredible and vulnerable.

It was amazing, ending with a moment of him alone in a spotlight. Stunning.

Very powerful image. Very moving. Perfect scores.

Riker and Allison's freestyle couldn't be more different. It was flashy and dancy and fun. Tap shoes and top hats. Wonderful.

It was an homage to where DWTS has been, and a hint of where it could be. Great choreography, interesting music, fun stuff.

Both of the first freestyles had lots of other dancers and movement. Rumer and Val's didn't. In fact, they didn't have any flashy props or sets or anything. Just straight-up dance, from the heart.

"There's pressure with the freestyle, cause it's all about bigger, and better and larger than life productions," said Val in his package. "That's not me. Every time I've tried to do that, I've failed, because it wasn't honest. I realized the best thing possible is to just strip it down."

And yes, it's true. Makism Chmerkovskiy is a presence who looms large on DWTS, even when he's not there. And perhaps Val has always lived in his shadow. But for this viewer, Val has always been his own man, his own dancer. I have always enjoyed and looked forward to his choreography, which is different than what Maks presented to us.

But I do also think there is something to the fact that Val has given us more of his emotion (his soft, vulnerable side) than Maks ever did. Even taking this risk in this freestyle, to turn down the tried and true of the splashy and big for a softer, more vulnerable, more honest freestyle. Would it work?

Would this team be the one to win the Mirror Ball, after all the great teams that Val has been part of which came so close, and went home empty-handed?

The answer, of course, is YES. Because it was just stunning dancing. Incredible choreography.

For this viewer, it was always between Allison and Val during this season. But Val has been so close and so deserving so many times, I'm glad that he was the one to take home the Mirror Ball this time. Allison will have plenty of times to do so.

And Val, after he won, after wanting it so many times, asked what he was going to do now. I sincerely hope that he DOESN'T do what his brother did after winning his Mirror Ball. That he comes back to us, his fans, again next season to vie for another Mirror Ball.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

DWTS Season 20 Semifinals: The most emotional DWTS ep ever

Dancer extraordinaire Len Goodman gave us a bit of magic for the Semifinals. With Nastia.
I have long believed this about reality shows. You can manufacture "moments," but nothing is as powerful as reality. That very first moment when Sue told off Richard at the very first Survivor tribal council, which kicked off the reality craze. You can't write that stuff. Well, you can try, but it's never as powerful as the unvarnished truth.

Case in point on Dancing with the Stars. A couple weeks ago, they had a big hooha with their 10th anniversary celebration. And it was nice and all (to see, well, most of the former competitors back again). But it wasn't one iota as powerful as the DWTS semifinal this week.

Why? Truth and reality.

The producers must've wet their pants when Noah Galloway came to them and said, Hey, I want to propose to my girlfriend on the show, is that OK? (And mind you, that was a key factor in the nonstop waterworks that came from my eyes during that whole show.) But for me, the most sentimental moment (which, frankly, I wish the producers had done more with) was the moment with Len.

Len, you see, way back in the last century, was a dance champion himself. The short version of the story goes like this. Len was a champion, then he started judging dance competitions himself. Then a 12-year-old named Derek Hough and his 9-year-old sister Julianne started competing in front of this judge (and Mark Ballas too!). Cut to: Julianne is now a judge next to Len, after winning more than one Mirror Ball herself, and Derek is one of the four remaining semifinals.

THAT, my friends, is the actual history. That is something you can honestly look at, and go: Wow, they've known each other all their lives! So when Derek and Nastia did their Judge's Choice (which I'll get to explaining a bit later), it was truly poignant to have a dance where Derek starts the dance with Nastia and Dance Champion Len Goodman finishes it.

Not a dry eye in the house, or across the country, with that one. It was really one of the most special moments of DWTS ever.

And if Len Goodman steps down after this season of DWTS (which has been rumored), this dance will have been a very fitting goodbye to him.

But, oh, let's not go there yet... I'm tearing up again... whew...

Let's look at the evening from the beginning. First in this semifinal, we had each of the four couples do an individual dance. Rumer and Val kicked it off with a seriously steamy 50 Shades homage.

Then the producers set up this trope (which they've never done before in this season or others) of having a significant other backstage to comment on their sister/lover/daughter/whatever's dance. After Rumer's dance with Val, for example, there was Demi Moore (mom to Rumer) commenting on how proud she was of her. Yeah, OK.

Next up? Sharna and Noah. They, like Rumer and Val before them, did a Viennese waltz. It was beautiful and lyrical and Sharna's movements matched Noah's and that was all incredible.

Then, backstage, as Erin is inocuously asking questions of Noah's girlfriend, we have the proposal (above) which makes her his new fiancee.

Pretty much from that moment until the end, I was sobbing. (Even after that, actually.)

The producers, wisely, kept the announcement of this little event happening from pretty much everyone, so the jubilation around was natural.

Kinda hard to keep the show going after all that happened, though.

Riker and Allison did an amazing contemporary (all of their dances are amazing, really).

And then, we had Nastia (and Sasha).

Let me just say this about that. As I mentioned last week, this competition is not only won on technical merits. You must also win the hearts of America. That's just the facts of how this works.

To my eyes, Nastia (who was eliminated this week) lost this competition when, in her package, she basically said: "I don't have to answer that." Well, yes, yes you do. America isn't judging on the finer points of how you dance. That's what the judges are for (and really those are the only types of judges Nastia has known). America is judging on what kind of PERSON you are, and whether or not they like you, and whether or not you deserve to walk away with a Mirror Ball trophy.

Whatever the circumstances, whatever mood she was in, whatever... she answered that question how she answered it. Basically saying: I don't give a crap about what the fans want to know, I wanna go home.

And go home she did.

And so we have as our three finalists three people who very much deserve to be there, and who know how to be real for the folks back home: Rumer and Val, Noah and Sharna, and Riker and Allison. I can't wait for the finals.

But before all that, we had four more dances from everyone. This is something I wish they'd incorporated a long time ago, but shockingly, it's the first time ever. Each judge was slated to work with one of the remaining semifinalists, to create whatever dance they thought would best showcase that person.

They danced this round in the order they had danced the first.

Bruno worked with Rumer and Val, and (of course, with Bruno being as over the top as he is), they did Swan Lake (for heaven's sake!). And it was tremendous. Let's just cut to the chase and say that all judges scored all of these with 10s. (I mean, they should just leave the scoring out of this part next time, cause how is a judge going to vote against a fellow judge's work? Won't happen.)

Seriously, Swan Frikking Lake. And it was just unbelievable. And beautiful. Even if Val didn't wear his rumored tights (only).

Noah and Sharna worked with Carrie Ann, who did this amazing Valkyrian paso doble number with male backup dancers working behind Noah. It was stunning.

At this point, you're thinking this must be the finals or something, cause these numbers are just so spectacular and amazing.

Then we had Riker and Allison. If I had one complaint about this team, it's that the movement tends to be harsh and angular. There haven't been a lot (or even any) really sexy moments between them all season. Certainly not compared to what the other dancers are putting out.

Then Julianne gives us this (she decided to join in the dance, too).

It was an Argentine tango that was a threesome, and it was hot.

Then lastly, the Derek-Nastia-Len number, which was just so fitting as a last number for these two.

The votes for the eventual winner have, by now, been cast, from this particular show. But who will win? All of these performances were incredible, many of them even scoring perfectly from the judges.

It is harder now, after seeing these amazing dances from all to pick who will win, but I'm still going with my pick from last week: Rumer and Val.

The only difficulty these dancers are going to have is (as Tom Bergeron noted during the semifinal show): How are the finals going to top THIS?

Well, we shall see. Good luck to them all.

Dancing's finals are Monday and Tuesday, sandwiched in between the battling Bachelorettes, who are also Monday and Tuesday nights.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

DWTS Week 8: Perhaps the Best Go Forward After All

Sasha, Nastia and Derek in the Trio round of Week 8. Courtesy of ABC.
This week on Dancing with the Stars was both the big, heavily hyped "Double Elimination" night and Trio night. What was not a shocker was who got eliminated (Chris from The Bachelor and Robert). What WAS a shocker was why Mark Ballas and Willow Shields got bumped a week before them... but I'll move on.

First, we had the individual, supposedly "America's Choice" dances. Now, if you remember, Tom Bergeron mentioned very quickly and briefly that America could call in/text in/Skype in to choose everything about these dances: the dance, the costume style, the song, etc. For each of the remaining couples. These have always baffled me immensely. This time, I actually did hear the announcement, but by the time I called in, everything was already closed. So I'm not sure who this "America" is, or how they get those votes in, and/or all this discussion, but that's what they said, and you know I believe them.

Mostly, it was pretty predictable. I must say, America is, by and large, pretty predictable. They wanted Kym and Robert to do more kissing, and they wanted Noah and Sharna to do some military themed thing. Noah opted out of that because of, you know, flag and country, and rules when you wear our colors or whatever. He instead opted for America's second choice, a nice white tux.

And let me also say this. Because of the way it's been set up from the beginning, DWTS has always been about not only getting good scores from the judges, but also winning the hearts of America each week. And I do believe that ever since I've been watching it (halfway through their 10 years), the couple who wins are the ones who most captured America's hearts (not necessarily the best dancers). Sometimes those things coincide, sometimes they don't. But you ignore America at your own peril.

It has seemed that everyone, at this stage of the competition, is getting more about being vulnerable and being able to express emotions through the characters they are portraying (some doing this better than others). Riker, for example, expressing in his package: "It's weird to be vulnerable on purpose." But he was, at least, attempting to express emotion which came from his heart.

It doesn't serve anyone to have moments in your package, and mind you, this is a show in which EVERYONE talks to the camera about how they are feeling..that's part of the deal refuse to answer any questions in the confessional. Sorry, but that only makes you look like a bitch.

I have already not been liking Nastia (perhaps her name is really fitting?). I understand now, with Derek hurt, they are under different constraints and are doing the best they can, but's Nastia who is not forthcoming, and not showing emotions. Even Chris had tears in his eyes at the end of this week's show.

So, Chris and Witney do an emotional contemporary. Sharna and Noah do an emotional tango.

Riker and Allison do a Viennese waltz (wonderfully), where they are both expressing emotion (she's wonderful at it, he's trying very hard). Robert and Kym FINALLY kiss in their dance, and seem very vulnerable and laid bare. Rumer and Val go back to basics and "start with love," as Carrie Ann noted. And do my favorite dance of the individual dances of this night, a stunning rumba to "Perhaps."

And then, there's this.

Nastia and Sasha play gladiators (she kills him) and Derek is Caesar. Ugh.

I understand the paso doble is supposed to be all about anger and stuff, but still... ugh.

1. Val and Rumer (rumba)
2. Allison and Riker (Viennese waltz)
3. Sasha and Nastia (and Derek) (paso doble)

Then, we had the trios. I love the trio dances. So many interesting combinations you can play with. Nothing can really beat Mark Ballas' trio with Emma from last season, but thankfully there were no samba trios as there usually always are.

(Oh, oops. Robert and Kym did one...)

Now, having said all that (HUGE chip on my shoulder about Nastia), we go into the trio round, and Derek pulls out some of his Derek magic, and they walk away with the most amazing incredible trio (seen above). Incredible dance. Wonderful to watch.

Riker and Allison and Britney BLEW MY MIND with their trio, it was so fun and fast-moving. And note: these were flying.

All of what I suspect will be the three finalists got at least one: Val and Rumer got two. Derek/Nastia/Sasha got one and Allison and Riker got one.

Actually, since the season has been pretty predictable so far, let me call it right now. I think Val and Rumer are gonna win this. And that would be both because of technical ability and because they are touching the heartstrings of America. Val has long deserved a Mirror Ball, it would be great for him to win one this season.

I adore Allison and Riker, and personally, they are my favorites for this season (now that Mark and Willow are gone). I look forward to the freestyle dances from both of these couples (and Derek and Nastia now). But I am rooting for Val to win his first Mirror Ball. (And predicting it.)

1. Derek/Nastia/Sasha (jive)
2. Allison/Riker/Britany (jazz)
3. Val/Artem/Rumer (paso doble)

1. Val and Rumer
2. Derek/Nastia/Sasha
3. Allison and Riker
4. Sharna and Noah

We are starting again (apparently only in the final weeks) the Tuesday elimination/wrap up/miscellaneous hooha stuff. So, first, an image from last week's Tuesday 10th Anniversary show.

Truly an incredible moment. So many (not all) of the competitors had returned, some danced, some didn't. But at the end, all of them, and Tom and Erin, got into this mass of people dancing. It was quite fun.

Now THAT's a party!

At this week's Tuesday "Results Show," we did find out who the couples going home were.

Also on Monday, this happened:

It was Erin's birthday on Monday, and Tom's birthday on Wednesday, so there was a lot of birthday cake to be had. Happy Birthday to them both!

Usually during the Results Show, I just tune out to all the frou-frou hooha in between eliminations. However, on this show, they had Carly Rae Jepsen, which was fun; Josh Groban, performing a song off of his amazing new album, "Stages," and most incredible of all, quite unexpected, this DANCE! Travis Wall and Shaping Sound, with Allison and Jenna dancing as well.

Allison Holker and Travis Wall and Shaping Sound.
THIS is what I miss most from the Results Show. Not the lame repeat of a dance from the night before. But this example of what dance could be. This particular dance was this paragon of moving walls and dancers emoting, as the camera circled around them. It was really spectacular. It seemed (to me) to have an undercurrent of spousal abuse and emotional drama, and was really intense.

None of this lame (from the weeks before on the real show): "Oh, really? Do dancers do characters? I never knew that. I thought they just danced." (paraphrasing) This was in your face, characters and scenes and emotions, and people commiting suicide and being saved by others, and all this STUFF happening. It just took my breath away.

It was really really incredible. Allison Holker, man, is a dancer to watch. She just does such amazing stuff.

Anyway, that happened, and then, when our breath came back, it was back to who goes home this week.

Bring on the semi-finals!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

DWTS Season 20 Week 7: NOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

Willow Shields and Mark Ballas
Excuse me for a moment while I sob into my keyboard... Ugh.

Seriously, I am devastated by this week's Dancing with the Stars results. (Mark Ballas and Willow Shields went home.) Baffled by it, completely don't understand it.

Cause here's what I saw.

Always one of the best competitors, Mark Ballas this season presented week after week after week of stunning dances. He was almost in a universe of his own making. A champion from Day One.

Every single dance they performed was artful, thoughtful, a production spectacle. I sincerely loved them all. It was his dances that I really looked forward to, not only to enjoy, but to feed my soul.

Even this week... I'll go through all the hooha in a moment, but essentially, it was a dance walk through decades (kinda fun idea). Even then, Mark Ballas was set apart. He didn't fall clearly into any of the decades delineated. He stood on his own as a timeless ninja, which, I suppose is really his spirit animal and metaphor for this show.

They did this amazing ninja dance, amid the backdrop of Japan, to the strains of MGMT ("Electric Feel"). It was stunningly beautiful. (I'm tearing up again, dammit...) Another thing we are really going to miss from Mark Ballas is that he always picked the best music of anyone on this show. Dancing to MGMT. I mean, really? How poetic and beautiful and cool it was.

My favorites from this season were the Hunger Games contemporary, this incredible ninja dance and the stunning Argentine tango (below).

I enjoyed and looked at this dance many times before I finally glanced at it on my phone and realized that the silver frame surrounding it was supposed to BE a phone. So much depth in Mark Ballas' dances, nuances that you only get later (if at all).

It really is like this for me, there are certain great things on TV that when they are silenced, it is a loss for humanity: Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, Aaron Sorkin's writings everywhere, and Mark Ballas on DWTS. It's humanity's loss that he is not creating this incredible art for us every week. I am just gobsmacked with sadness. Just can't shake it.

Willow and Mark do a paso doble in Week 3.
My last note on this episode was: "How can this happen?" When "dancers" like Chris and Robert are still there? When Mark has been getting consistent great scores from the judges? Even on this episode, he was one measly point away from winning immunity. I can't comprehend it.

I know there are those who feel the exact opposite that I do, and can't wait for Mark Ballas to be gone. Guess they were the ones voting for other people. Me, I'm sad.

But onward with the rest of the show. Whew... sorry, I need a minute...


So the theme of this week was Eras. They thoughtfully posed them in the order of decade. That meant that Allison and Riker, who did a 20s quickstep went first. Also loved the baseball theme and the tap inclusion.

Love love love love everything Allison and Riker do. Gosh, I hope they stay around!

So, next up... ugh...

As a writer myself, I really appreciated, for example, when Mark Ballas took in every aspect of the music. The lyrics became part of the entire dance. A certain line would punctuate where a step was taken, for example. Mark Ballas does this exceedingly well. Val, too, listens to the words and builds his dance choreography around both the music and the lyrics.

So Witney (who, in my estimation is not anywhere near the choreography master of really anyone left on the show), spends this whole time talking to Chris about how this dance is about "a sailor having one last dance with someone before he goes off to war," the subtext being someone he just met in a train station.

HOWEVER...THE ACTUAL LYRICS describe a guy who's DATING SOMEONE, who's DREAMED ALL WEEK LONG about their Saturday date (not a guy just stumbling over someone in a train station), and there's a joke about "Sunday morning, you can sleep late."

Sorry, for me, that's a dance fail. Mark Ballas would NEVER do that. (*sob*)

Anyway, the dance itself was serviceable, and Chris is getting better as a dancer, but in no way deserves to still be here when Willow was sent home.

Luckily, next up we had 60s jive with Rumer and Val. To see the contrast of what great choreographers do, watch what Val does with the lyrics of this song, specifically around the words "kiss" and "buy me a ring." Does he brush it off, act like he doesn't hear it? No, it's part of the dance. The music AND the lyrics.

How has Val not won a Mirror Ball yet? His choreography is just sublime. This dance was wonderful.

Sometimes Noah and Sharna don't do it for me, but man, when they do... WOW! This week, where they performed 70s jazz was incredible.

Don't know who all was responsible for this dance (from picking the music to choosing the clothes, to doing the whole setup with all the people), but thank you to all of them, cause WOW. Most of the time, I feel like lots of people onstage is to cover up someone really sucking at dance, but man! Noah was a bad-ass pimp here.

All that nonsense about "digging deep," blech. They must have the same script writers as on The Bachelor, cause really? does anyone "dig deep" anymore? Anyway, whatever put those pelvis thrusts into Noah's vocabulary, God bless 'em. Cause this dance was stunning.

They did this thing with slo-mo, with just dancers that was just incredible. Derek did a slo-mo thing later, but it was camera tricks, not as impressive (IMHO).

The thing about Robert and Kym is that I don't really dig their dancing (especially compared to the others), but I really do just want them to go get a room. They may or may not be actually dating, but in the dances when they flirt with sexuality, it's more fun.

This week, they had an 80s Argentine tango. Some moments were pretty steamy.

I just have to put this out there. I'm building up a bit of a resentment against Derek. One in which now I am distinctly rooting against him and his partner this season. First of all, he's won the Mirror Ball five times. Second, he always gets good to great scores (and ok, he is arguably their best dancer). Third, he always wins the Team Dance (his team does). And even with this season's lackluster Team dance, he scores as high as the other team. They have one week where the best couple wins immunity. (This week.) Has Derek ever NOT won that?

This week, he hurt his foot. Literally, had to go to the hospital. Had to drop out of his NY commitment. Does that stop him from dancing on Dancing with the Stars? Well, yes and no. And despite his kinda/sorta not dancing, HE STILL wins the immunity this week. :-(

And, btw, I'm with Len on the "getting sick of the crowd dancing" concept. I just wanna see the two dancers.

And what was this one? "A modern Charleston"? So, it's supposed to be today? And the Charleston? OK.

As Tom Bergeron said at the end of the dance, "And that's how you make lemonade out of lemons." Indeed so.

I'm going to skip the whole Immunity dance off nonsense, because it's a stupid waste of time and energy. Derek won. Yawn.

And Mark Ballas is gone from the competition, and it's a sad sad day indeed.

I am really gonna miss your genius on this show.

Oh, and regarding the 10th Anniversary celebration show, a few thoughts.

Cool to see Tom and Erin standing in the huge 10. Interesting to only see blips of Samantha Harris and Brooke Burke-Charvet, though.

My very favorite moment was when Maks pinched Tom's butt (boy, I miss that!). The second favorite moment was when Maks flung his shirt open. Boy, my heart skipped a beat. Even when his brother Val had been shirtless (and nearly pantless) in his dance in water with Kelly Monaco... Somehow Maks doing it, he just owned his sexuality and his effect on women. Very very hot. Miss Maks too.

Loved seeing the pros and judges talking about how DWTS has changed in 10 years. Also interesting to see which pros weren't there.

Great to see Patti LaBelle singing her signature song, and Amber Riley certainly held her own against her. But Lil Kim? Wow. Um... wow. She looked very different. Quite unrecognizable, in fact.

Next week: Trio dances and "America's Choice."


1. Mark and Willow (futuristic jazz)

2. Allison and Riker (20s quickstep)

3. Sasha and Nastia (and Derek) ("modern Charleston")

4. Sharna and Noah (70s jazz)

5. Val and Rumer (50s jive)

6. Witney and Chris (40s foxtrot)

7. Kym and Robert (80s Argentine tango)


1. Robert

2. Chris


3. Derek/Sasha/Nastia