Dancing With the Stars, Season 21, Week 9, High Drama Night!

This is a live show, Tom reminds us, just after an opening montage plays for a week without an opening number.  When the stars march out, we learn why he’s saying that: Tamar is in the hospital, having gone there from the dress rehearsal, and right now they don’t know if she’ll be able to get to the ballroom in time to dance(we never learn exactly what went wrong; though she appears to be ill).  An unfortunate week for it, since they’re reviving what three seasons ago was known as the “Celebrity Dance Duel,” now calling it the “Showstopping Teamup Challenge,” with two couples teaming up and the two celebrities having to dance by themselves for a spell.  This time the emphasis is on them doing numbers from stage shows.  The first round has no particular theme.

Alek Skarlatos & Lindsay Arnold: Salsa; “Back It Up” Prince Royce feat. Jennifer Lopeaz & Pitbull.  Poor Alek; the fluff starts with Lindsay saying outright he’s not the best dancer left and ends with him getting his chest waxed!  So he’s got a bared chest and is trying to dance sexy, and he’s in character and not entirely without sex appeal in this number, but quite frankly he’s hopelessly outsexied by Lindsay even when the three background girls aren’t also on the floor.  It doesn’t help matters his hips aren’t doing what they need to for this number, something the judges are forced to criticize him for, and probably what keeps their scores down to straight Eights for 24.

Alexa PenaVega & Mark Ballas: Contemporary; “Make it Rain” Ed Sheeran.  This dance is about Alexa’s struggle with bulimia, which she’s finally ready to talk about publically; she reveals it to the world in the fluff.  Mark comes up with a number where he shrouds himself and becomes the eating disorder trapping her and ravaging her; this is a dark, harsh routine, even when she breaks free at the end, and a truly powerful one.  By the end, the ballroom’s on their feet, including the judges, who rave about both the choreography and her performance, until when it’s time for the scores the raising of the paddles is a formality: of course it’s straight Tens.

Carlos PenaVega & Witney Carson: Argentine Tango; “What Do You Mean?” Justin Bieber.  Not nice to make Witney come up with an Argentine Tango to this artist; may that’s why she spends the fluff stressing out.  However, she manages to come up with a creative routine involving a door, and Carlos performs it with perfect movement and natural sex appeal.  But it doesn’t quite manage to kind of frisson an Argentine Tango’s supposed to have, and Carrie-Ann and Julianne both say so, with the former saying it lacked impact.  Bruno disagrees with that, but he saw problems with Carlos’ feet.  So all three give Nines for 27.

Bindi Irwin & Derek Hough: Viennese Waltz; “Roses and Violets” Alexander Jean.  Derek too is stressing in the fluff, having the crisis of confidence he sometimes gets at this point in the season.  Bindi assures him it’ll be good.  And she’s right; Derek comes up with a routine that is relatively simple despite the use of a blindfold, that nonetheless contours itself to the music wonderfully.  Or maybe it’s Bindi who does that; she nails this thing hard and really shines.  Either way, she’s shaking at the end, and so is Julianne, while Bruno sums it up: “A thing of pure beauty.”  Out come the straight Tens again.

Tamar Braxton & Val Chmerkovskiy: Contemporary; “Wicked Game” James Vincent McMorrow.  And she is not back from the hospital, so we get to be sad watching the fluff where she and Val are optimistic, even with her hectic schedule.  Thankfully before her run to the hospital she and Val did complete their run-through, so the judges have a recorded routine to score in accordance with the show rules.  And Tamar did bring the emotion to the rehearsal of this very dramatic routine, if perhaps not as much as she might have to the live show.  But she made multiple mistakes, and Julianne and Bruno both heavily lament she didn’t get to do a proper competitive performance as they break out the Sevens, but Carrie-Ann calls it a “good” rehearsal performance and breaks out an Eight, so she gets 22.

Nick Carter & Sharna Burgess: Quickstep; “A Cool Cat in Town” Tape Five.  More medical issues: he’s got a bad pain in his hip.  Not that we would’ve guessed it just watching him dance tonight.  The routine is content heavy and requires old-school glamour as well, and he brings it to both, whether he’s dancing with Sharna or with a pair of backup men.  But there’s a dispute as to whether he fully nailed it or not.  Carrie-Ann though he was out of sync at the end with the guys, while Julianne thought he wasn’t as good when he was in hold with Sharna.  Bruno, on the other hand, saw nothing wrong at all and breaks out the Ten; Nines from the other two leave them with 28.

And now it’s time for these showstopper quartets, with updates from Tom throughout on Tamar now being en route.  Luckily her team is last to perform, and she arrives just in time.

Carlos PenaVega, Witney Carson, Alek Skarlatos, & Lindsay Arnold: Paso Doble; “We Will Rock You” We Will Rock You.  This was originally a West End show, but they base it off the show done on the Anthem of the Seas cruise liner, and they visit the ship, see the show, and get tips from the cast. The flashiness of the production is reflected in the number, which makes it loads of fun to watch, and there’s a good deal of aggressiveness from the men.  Except there’s not quite enough, especially when they’re circling each other for the thirty-second solo, and also Carrie-Ann thought them out of sync.  So they get straight Eights, and their 24 takes Carlos & Witney up to 51 and Alek & Lindsay up to 48.

Bindi Irwin, Derek Hough, Alexa PenaVega, & Mark Ballas:  Charleston; “All That Jazz” & “Hot Honey Rag” Chicago.  This requires going to see the show on Broadway, of course, and meeting with the two leads, which strains everyone’s schedule further, until we see everyone stress and Mark & Derek arguing in the fluff.  Perfect prelude to a wonderful routine, where the choreographing skills of both men combine to a number that has it all-including a pair of leading ladies who truly do kill it dead, both with their men and with each other.  Carrie-Ann even calls them a perfect team and the number “reinvention at its finest,” and the other two similarly rave.  Naturally the scores are straight Tens again, and both couples finish the night with perfect 60s.

Tamar Braxton, Val Chmerkovskiy, Nick Carter, & Sharna Burgess: Rumba; “Hey Jude” LOVE by Cirque du Soleil.  There’s the fluff where they got to Vegas and talk about incorporating the umbrellas and confetti and aerialist from the show, of course, but perhaps more effective is the clips of an obviously exhausted Tamar arriving and Val leading her into the studio.  Then she’s in her costume and the performance is on, with all the fancy trappings and the dancers carrying on through them, and the smiles and joy not being a performance at all; if Tamar doesn’t quite have the oomph and energy of the previous two numbers, absolutely nobody cares.  They sit for the comments, which is mostly the judges praising them simply for pulling this off, and then receive straight Nines, taking Tamar & Val up to 49 and Nick & Sharna to 55.

We learn after they dance that had Tamar not made it to the studio, she & Val would’ve been withdrawn; it seems they didn’t do that one in the dress rehearsal.  But since she did, instead the six couples are lined up.  Bindi & Derek, Nick & Sharna, and Alek & Lindsay are all called safe before Tamar & Val also are, to more relief.  Wouldn’t want the irony of them getting sent home anyway after that crazy run to the studio from her.

Although now we get another possible irony: one of the PenaVegas is going home, and it may be one who might have gotten a perfect score tonight after her fate had already been sealed, especially since last week she ended up two points behind her husband.  Husband and wife hold hands as they wait for one that could nonetheless go either way…

And it goes the ironic one: Alexa & Mark are out.  Carlos promptly starts crying and saying he wished it had been him, while she tells him he’s going to be good.  She and Tom also talk about the comfort of going out on a high note, but the final image one has of the night really is of her and Carlos, holding each other for her final moments on the dance floor.  This was one genuinely emotional night.

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