Dancing With the Stars, Season 17, Week 10, Semifinals/Plugged-Unplugged Night

Also known as Maksim Chmerkovskiy night, since while Len is actually able to attend, they invite the former bad boy of the ballroom to make it a four-judge panel.  He doesn’t get quite the entrance Julianne Hough and Cher did, though; no appearance in the opening number, just as introduction and a claim from Tom that he’s not wearing any pants.  Anyway, there’s some explaining to do about what they’re going to do that night: all five couples are given a song, they will first do one type of dance to the standard recorded version of it, and then they will do a different type of dance to an unplugged version of it.  This sounds a little worrisome; can they actually make all the alternate versions that interesting?  Well, let’s see.  Standard versions first:

Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani: Paso Doble to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”  After a fluff piece which shows them both practicing and criticizing each other’s sexy faces, then put them on to paso.  In both technique and attitude, Leah manages it to some extent, but maybe not to the full blown extent she could, and a trip on her skirt at the end of the routine doesn’t help.  The judges initially vary on how “rough” the routine was, with Maks warning Leah that Tony looks crazy if his partner doesn’t show enough emotion, but their scores are straight 8s, for 32.

Corbin Blue & Karina Smirnoff: Tango to “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” by Fall-Out Boy.  They talk freely about Karina being Maks’ former fiancée, with Karina thinking he could go either way when judging her.  Then they try to blow his and everyone else’s mind with a tango involving cloaks & glitter and lots and lots of fire imagery, so intense it’s kind of scary, especially with the ending.  They end up with a split panel; Maks loves it fine and Carrie-Ann calls the “fastest, most intense tango” the show has ever seen, but Len thinks it was too intense for the tango.  Bruno likes it, but didn’t like Corbin’s frame as much.  Len lowers his score to 8; 9s from the other three results in a total of 35.

Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Bruke: Jazz to the original Sting version of “Roxanne.” His MS flared up at the beginning of the week, causing them to be careful in rehearsals.  Perhaps this made Cheryl a stronger presence tonight, but Jack holds his own well enough.  Perhaps too much again; Len things this one was too intense for the type of dance too.  Maks gives them a 9 but the other three give 8s, for 33.

Bill Engvall & Emma Slater: Cha Cha to “Sexy And I Know It” by LMFAO.  Tom announces the music choice before the commercial break so we all have time to dread this.  During the fluff piece he talks about wanting to actually deserve to make the final, but then he pulls his groin.  Like with Jack & Cheryl, she grabs a bit more attention during the routine, which involves workout clothes and an old-style stereo, but actually it isn’t cringe-worthy at all, just normal Bill, fun and lacking in technique.  The judges break out the straight 7s for 28.

Amber Riley & Derek Hough: Jazz to “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars.  In contrast to the previous two couples, Amber’s knees are recovering and she can practice more again.  She’s able to focus better and it shows.  The routine is so good Len’s only comment is “Do it again,” and it looks like straight 10s-from the normal three judges, but Maks, despite inviting a compariosn to Fosse, gives them a 9 instead, so they only get 39, which is still the lead

And now come the unplugged version, and here DWTS enlists the help of some guest singers, Estonian electric pop artist Kerli and YouTube bluesy singer Noah Guthrie.  And it turns out these two singers can really transform songs and make good new takes on them, so the plugged/unplugged idea avoids any exhaustion from repeated music, at least this first time out:

Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani: Argentine Tango to an instrumental version of “Bad Romance.” In terms of mood, this one’s actually pretty similar to their last routine, though since the tango and paso do have some similarities there that can be forgiven.  One can perhaps call it a do-over, where they manage to avoid the worst of the mishaps from their first performance, and Maks calls Leah, “A real woman.”  But their scores don’t go up much; Bruno goes up to 9 but the other three stay at 8, so they add 33 for a total of 65.

Corbin Blue & Karina Smirnoff: Rumba to Kerli performing “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.”  They call back to the first routine with glitter and Corbin losing a cloak to go shirtless, and also with the intensity, though it’s a bit more tempered, and when the last routine kind of scared one off, this one just draws you in and blows you away with emotion, beauty, and sheer perfection.  The raves perhaps culminate with Maks noting Corbin is dancing with one of the top five female dancers he knows, which gets him a kiss from the ex.  Or maybe just with the straight 10s, delivering the night’s first perfect 40 on a very deserving routine, giving them a total of 75.

Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Burke: Argentine Tango to El Tango de Roxanne, of course.  The setup for this version of Roxanne is a bit simpler than the previous version was, and this time it feels more like a duet between two dancers under the red lights, straightforward and extremely well done.  Carrie-Ann calls him “in the zone.”  She gives a 10, as does Bruno, but Len and Maks only give 9s, so they add 38 for a total of 71.

Bill Engvall & Emma Slater: Argentine Tango to Noah Guthrie’s performing “Sexy and I Know It,” a cover which he’s known for.  Like with Jack & Cheryl, they do a pretty simple setup and focus on the dancing, which of course is more unusual for them.  But Emma is still doing most of the hard stuff, and as in some of the earlier weeks, she knows exactly what she can give Bill and know he’ll nail, and he’s now developed enough that this proves easily his best performance yet; he hits the steps and the emotions & intensity are no problem.  The judges raise their scores to 8s, so they get a 32 to raise their score to 60.

Amber Riley & Derek Hough: Viennese Waltz to Kerli performing to “Locked Out of Heaven.”  And okay, quite honestly, this was one cover that I really don’t think quite worked.  But Derek being Derek(Maks gets it right when he notes in his commentary Derek is the best of the pros at knowing what it takes to win this contest), he and Amber rise above that problem, floating across a ballroom floor of mist and stars.  It’s dreamily perfect, Carrie-Ann speaks of holding back tears, Bruno calls her an Angel, and they break out the straight 10s again, so they keep the lead with 79.

Corbin & Karina, Amber & Derek, and Jack & Cheryl are all called safe in that order, leaving Bill & Emma once again standing there, this time by Leah & Tony.  But Leah & Tony are only five points ahead, and given how many he survived last week, it suddenly looks doubtful that margin’s going to do anything.  Sure enough, it’s Leah & Tony going home.

Her comments are fairly generic, though he’s notably stronger in his praise of her, saying this is the most he’s ever looked forward to practices.  But ultimately the last comment of the night goes to Maks, who gives credit to “the pros” both in front of and behind the cameras.  Which more or less feels as it should be.

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