A congratulatory tribute

I suppose there is general commentary to be made on the Finale of the Dancing With the Stars All-Star season, but like many fans, right now I want to focus on one man. A professional dancer born in Kosovo who identifies as Albanian and has a few ballroom world titles in what is known as Professional Rhythm and a chain of dancing studios, but of course he’s known for this glitzed-out reality show where he has a reputation for being one of the nicest pros on the show, which makes one think the producers of ABC want us to believe nice guys do finish last, thanks to the partners they’ve saddled him with over the years. It was bad enough how many of them couldn’t dance, but among them also was even the infamous Kate Gosselin.

Granted, the first one when he joined for the 2nd season, Stacy Kiebler, was actually pretty good, especially when displayed by choreography that got Tony an Emmy nominated:

The two of them made it into the finals, but despite perfect scores on their other two dances they lost it in the freestyle, coming in 3rd, not the last time Tony would struggle choreographing one, and between bad partners and bad luck(the following season his partner withdrew to deal with a nasty divorce where she and her ex husband both would accuse each other of sleeping with various people, including Tony), he wouldn’t make it back for a long time.  However, in season 6, he would make a run to the semifinal, and when he did, it was with a partner who gave him no advantage; at the beginning of the season, Marissa Jaret Winokur might have been one of the more enthusiastic celebrities, but she was one of the weaker dancers.  It was a testament to the hard work of both of them that she got as good as she did:

In the end, though, the semifinals were as far as they could manage.

Two seasons later, Tony finally got a partner again with whom he could go further, not exactly thanks to the producers. They had paired him with a certain Nancy O’Dell, who injured herself and was forced to withdraw bare days before the premiere, when one withdrawal already meant Hugh Hefner’s principle mistress was booked, which might have been a piece of luck, as Tony was instead provided with one Melissa Rycroft, veteran of two reality shows whose engagement & humiliating breakup with that season’s Bachelor had just been aired on ABC earlier that week. The two of them had two days to combine whatever movement training of hers and teaching ability of his they had and pull off a waltz when most of their competitors had been rehearsing for weeks and even first replacement Holly Madison had one week. The two of them spent the two-hour season premiere still rehearsing, before coming out to close the show with one of the season’s best moments:

Tony would later say she was the most talented partner he’d ever gotten, and throughout the season it showed, as once again he made it to the Finale. But once again the freestyle proved a format he couldn’t quite master, and once again it was 3rd place.

After enduring Kate in season 10, it was speculated that the producers tried to make amends to Tony giving him Audrina Partridge in season 11, who showed promise, and the two of them were a delightful team, and even produced one truly magical dance:

But they were in the wrong season: two alleged ringers and the the mad tea party spam vote supporting Bristol Palin made survival contingent on breaking through the top before Audrina could, and they went out in week 6.

It wasn’t the last time bad luck would take Tony & a good partner out before their time. Season 13 the producers probably didn’t mean to give him a good partner in the form of Chynna Philips, but she was better than they anticipated:

But Chynna had an attack at the nerves at a time she couldn’t afford it, and they went disgracefully early.

When it came time for the All-Star season, there was an early rumor Kate might come back, but fortunately Melissa did instead. In the All-Star field, the two of them were no longer automatic frontrunners, but she was used to learning and improving quickly, and he had faced down much more challenging training jobs than that, and by the time the finals approached, if they weren’t the favorites, they were still doing some of the best of some exquisite dances:

And this time, when it came time to do the freestyle, Tony nailed it. So did the other two couples involved, more or less, and they still weren’t the favorites. But then Derek Hough made a miscalculation in his choice of reprise dance, thinking perhaps that even if he and Shawn ended up a couple points back the viewer votes would make up for it. After all, Melissa had a bit of a “famous for being famous” label on her by this time, and his partner, who had beaten her once, would get more votes. I suspect the reason that turned out not to matter, though perhaps helped by the point advantage, was that even if she didn’t get votes, her partner did. Those of us who have watched this show for years all wanted this man to get his due. It says everything about how everyone likes Tony by their reaction when the winner was announced:

Congratulations Tony Dovolani, Dancing With the Stars champion for the All-Stars season. The results of this show never felt sweeter than they did last night.

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