Dancing With the Stars, Season 20, Week 9, Semi-Finals/”Judge’s Choice”

The semi-finals this year also brings a new phenomenon: “Judge’s Choice.”  We’ve had judges show up in the studio to help couples out before, but this season each of the judges will have creative control over a routine.  We have a montage explaining this, and also an opening number that for some reason takes place in a bowling alley, with Mark throwing a strike, which Tom claims he never did in rehearsal.  Tom also informs us that each of the four remaining contestants, when their scores have been combined with votes, has been on the top at least once during the season.  Lots of info tonight, really: the first round of dances tonight(not the Judge’s Choice) has the routines preceded by biographical segments, and there are interviews before the scores with people from the celebrities’ lives, which turns out to be very important in one case…

Rumer Willis & Val Chmerkovskiy: Viennese Waltz; “Earned It” The Weekend.  Unfortunately, they not only use a song from 50 Shades of Grey, but they use that horrible, abuse-glorifying story for the dance.  That’s particularly sad when had they not been doing that, this dance would have been absolutely wonderful; they do it with technical greatness and probably more passion than the source material managed.  When the judges have no objections to the story(Julianne especially turns out to be a fan of it), there is mostly raves, although Len thinks the story cost the routine the character of the Viennese Waltz at point, something Bruno expresses the opposite opinion on.  Len and Julianne break out the Nines, and Bruno and Carrie-Ann the Tens, so they take 38.

Noah Galloway & Sharna Burgess: Viennese Waltz; “Time of My Life” David Cook.  Now this is a romantic routine, a no frills one with nothing to distract from the sweet tone, and even his legs occasionally looking awkward(the missing knee, no doubt) can’t disrupt the mood.  Meanwhile there’s plenty of content in the routine, too, for which Julianne praises, and Len calls it Noah’s best dance.  But when girlfriend Jamie Boyd shows up for the interview before the scores, the most romantic part ends up happening after the judges give out their straight Nines for 36: Noah proposes!  She says yes, going a little crazy in the process, and everyone else is very moved too.  Most DWTS nights that would be the highlight of things…

Riker Lynch & Allison Holker: Contemporary; “Work Song” Hozier.  There’s a bit in the fluff and also in the interview after about Riker being nervous about doing a contemporary routine, especially because knowing his skillset, you *expect* him to kill this one.  But it’s fine, he comes out tonight and does just that, not only nailing everything in a very difficult routine with the intensity he’s had all along, but also showing the emotion and vulnerability he had to work on earlier in the season.  By the time it’s done everyone’s breath is gone, and when Bruno starts talking about how that routine would’ve been incredible for a professional and Julianne says she couldn’t tell which one was the pro, you start to think this one needs straight Tens, and sure enough, that’s exactly what the judges give out.

Nastia Liukin & Sasha Farber: Quickstep; “Feelin’ Good” Christine Grimmie.  Derek still isn’t recovered enough to do a dance this fast, and he actually takes himself out of this one completely; Nastia does have some musicians about as she portrays a singer, but really, this is mostly just her and Sasha quickstepping around, finally given a chance to shine all by themselves.  And they do, being just about perfect in the dance, now in sync with each other.  Carrie-Ann describes it best: a showstopper.  Derek shows up with the interview along with Nastia’s parents, and after the judges deliver the second perfect 40 of the night, he says he will be able to do the Judge’s Choice dance with her.

After we get, as an interval, a sneak peak number from the DWTS live tour this summer, we are introduced into the Judge’s Choice round with another montage, and also a note that each judge will not be involved in the judging of their own routine.  Instead they go up into the skybox, and Bruno ends up taking over the interview and having to be cut off twice by poor Erin after the first routine:

Rumer Willis & Val Chmerkovskiy: Contemporary; “Song of the Black Swan” Swan Lake.  Bruno chose Rumer & Val because he thought they had what his vision required.  They’re not so sure, what with him calling what he’s doing “contemporary fusion,” and having them do ballet, which neither of them has any experience with, and making clear the high expectations he has for this dance making the crowd go wild.  And honestly, I don’t know if this one wasn’t a little too much and a little too strange, though certainly Rumer & Val do what’s asked of them perfectly, even pulling off a hard and stunning lift.  Lucky for them, the judges love what Bruno does, though Carrie-Ann admits it’s a little mad, with Julianne even doing her best Bruno impression, and so Rumer & Val get straight Tens to go up to 68.

Noah Galloway & Sharna Burgess: Paso Doble; “Unstoppable” E.S. Posthumus.  Carrie-Ann choreographs this one, and instead of choosing dancers to fit the routine, she chooses the routine to fit the dancers, creating a routine where Noah fights four mall bulls as a metaphor for his story.  She chose right; the paso doble is a dance Noah can pull off well indeed technically, and performance wise he’s even better at it.  This routine too does seem a little weird, but not as much so as Bruno’s, and once again the judges don’t mind.  They all rave again, and break out the Tens again, and Noah & Sharna go up to 66.

Riker Lynch & Allison Holker: Argentine Tango; “Fur Elise” Ludwig van Beethoven.  Julianne chooses to work with these two, calling them the “epitome of what artistry is about.”  They promptly want her to join into the routine, and she is happy to oblige.  Of course, that means Riker is tasked with trying to hold his own against both of them at once, and perhaps it’s all we can ask of him that he keeps up with them.  It’s only after Julianne leaves the floor that he is able to properly step up and own the place.  But the judges keep that in perspective, with Bruno commenting about the amount of time he spent dancing with both Julianne and Allison: “anyone else would be ripped to shreds” and they find it worthy of straight Tens again, to add up to a perfect 70.

Nastia Liukin & Derek Hough: Viennese Waltz; “Fall for You” Leela James performing live.  Len comes up with the idea of portraying Derek as a younger version of himself, dancing the way Len himself was once able to dance, until he grew too old, and the routine has the two of them as his reminiscence, before he comes out to dance a little with Nastia himself at the end.  Choreography, the live performance, Nastia and Derek’s dancing, and the emotion of seeing this when we know we are soon to lose Len all combine into a potent alchemy, and on one of the most memorable nights ever of Dancing With the Stars, this moment may be the one that has the most impact of all.  Everyone’s in tears at the end, including the judges.  By the time we’re ready for the scores the raising of the paddles feels like a mere formality; of course it’s another set of straight Tens, and another perfect 70.

Once again results must wait until tomorrow.  Maybe it’s just as well; it’ll be painful enough to say goodbye to whoever goes then; best it not mar what happened tonight.

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