Welcome, gem hunters, to Week 9 of Dancing With the Stars: It's Magic, You Know.
Last week, strange toy soldier Michael Waltrip and his elegant sugarplum Emma Slater zoomed out of the ballroom in a race car headed anywhere but ballroom heaven. Tonight, the six remaining couples dance twice -- first in an "America's Choice" number brainstormed in part by viewers like you (or viewers who really like to use Twitter, at least) and then again in one of my favorite rounds of each season: DANCE TRIOS!
Which threesome will tug on your heartstrings and nudge you privately? It's exciting, right?
If you can't watch liiiive on TV tonight, try the DWTS All-Access live streams to see the dances and hear from the couples throughout the show.
Discuss it here! I'll try to float back in with comments overnight.
Oh no! The mighty Artem has gone shirtless (in the presence of a layperson partner, at least) for the last time. At least he went out wearing a "man thong" -- suspenders suggestive of a backpack, except there's nothing on their backs! -- during a thrillingly meaty paso doble trio featuring pec-flexin' Henry.
Lea Thompson and Artem Chigvintsev have been eliminated on Week 9.
Lea started out so confident, but her dancing the past few weeks has seemed strained, too careful, and overall more mental. Sure, she probably deserved to sail on through to the semifinals over Tommy Chong, dance-wise. But this is a popularity contest, and everybody must get stoned. It's America's Choice.
Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhh-ber!
Janel Parrish and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 77/80 Val admitted he messed up, during their quickstep. But clearly the judges didn't notice/didn't care. I actually believed that Janel and Val were a quickstepping duo straight out of the '20s tonight. They're also just a damn good-looking couple. Janel's a hard worker, she doesn't clash with Val in terms of personality (like at all!), and she's tiny. She's his dream come true, partner-wise. Could they win? I wonder.
And HELLO, Keo! Val thinks their threesome recruit Keo "has an energy unlike anybody else on the show." It's nice to know that Val understands just how hot this new guy is. Bravo. Tom called Janel "the human wishbone" in this "tribal salsa" with "Cirque du Soleil-type lifts." It honestly sounds like one of my worst nightmares when put into words. But when executed on the sweaty dance floor, sans shirts, plus elaborate makeup on the guys... yeah. It worked. Big time. If only Carrie Ann hadn't buzzkilled the blissful afterglow of the dance by comparing Janel Parrish to Beyoncé.
Alfonso Ribeiro and Witney Carson: 77/80 This couple boldly traipsed on over to The Grove (the gorgeous outdoor shopping center right next to the DWTS set) to hear from "the people" directly that perhaps Alfonso should wear a hat in the foxtrot. Well done, America. We're all so brave, tonight more than ever. Fons looked smooth and elegant here -- Julianne went so far as to call him "tall," which was a stretch. Head judge Len Goodman, who is scared of ladies underwear shops and Carrie Ann Inaba, thought the foxtrot was full of "razz-uh-matazz." He always throws that extra syllable into "razzmatazz"! Apparently either form is correct (because what the heck is that word anyway? WE make up the words! America's Choice!), but "Razamatazz" veers British and magic.
I'm not sure how Witney and Lindsay so effectively managed to take "Turn Down For What" and convert it into a pleasurable paso doble experience that ALSO looked straight out of The Matrix, but wild applause for them. "The ride of the night!" Bruno cried. "Two syllables: DAY-UM," Carrie Ann gushed before smacking herself five times. Was she begging Alfonso to slap her in the face? With his...dancing?
Hey, this'll slap you in the face: Lil Len is street as hell. Plus, hidden gem: "DANCING WITH THE STARS FOREVER" is practically my life motto. It'd have to be at this point; otherwise what am I doing with my life right now?!?!?!?
Bethany Mota and Derek Hough: 74/80 Apparently Twitter was dying for Derek to take this opportunity to turn a typical DWTS Viennese Waltz into an emotionally ripe So You Think You Can Portray A Couple Going Through a Difficult Time? masterpiece. Either that, or Derek made up the contents of social media as he scrolled through it, which is pretty much the point of social media anyway, so no harm no foul, right? Sure! The whole dance seemed more like a gut-wrenching contemporary piece than a VW. Len would've liked the standing spin to be a fleckle. I would've liked the 10-second stationary hug at the end to be... more dancing. But I know that's a lot to ask.
Their jungle-themed Argentine Tango with Tony (excuse me while I fan myself at the mere concept) impressed me in terms of its intense triple-threat vibe as well as its Mad Max/steampunk Game of Thrones costuming. My only quibble is that I couldn't get a great sense of Bethany's footwork (crucial to the AT) due to her somewhat clunky boots. And yet, they looked great with the rest of her costume. Oh well. America's Choice. Len and Julianne completely waved Carrie Ann's opinion away and looked disgusted by the mere thought of her after she said she wanted more of a connection among the trio. "That's why there's four judges and not one," said the DANCMSTR. Ooh! Sizzle!
Hey, why were there dozens of chairs piled up in the "jungle" for this dance trio? I liked commenter Amy in KC's explanation the best: "It's all the chairs Derek has used as props through the seasons."
Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas: 73/80 "America says 'Be confident!'" Sadie glumly read from her iPhone. I wish America had said "No heels for the jive" instead. She's gotten away with flats for so many other dances -- why put her on stilts for the one that basically demands sneakers (unless you have a death wish)? It's hard enough for a tall girl doing the jive!
Julianne called out Mark for the "competition style" difficulty of the choreography. It was meant to be a compliment, sort of, but of course the crowd detected a twang of negativity in a judge's voice and started booing relentlessly. I cannot believe, looking back, that Tom Bergeron has kept himself for 19 whole seasons from yelling the following up into the rafters: "CAN I ASK THE AUDIENCE? WERE YOU NOT CRITIQUED AS CHILDREN?" Yes! Yes! Yes! Truly some remarkable restraint shown from Tom. Until tonight. Love it.
And Papa Bergeron's MVP status only intensified as Our Host attempted to assure a shaken Sadie that the judges "might not have noticed" her forgotten steps at the end of Sadie and Mark's lovely foxtrot trio with Emma. Tom knew best, yet again: The judges had no clue! Tens all around for the first female to dance alongside a female pro during a trio. Sadie was so genuine throughout this segment, and sometimes that's the best way to win over fans.
Tommy Chong and Peta Murgatroyd: 67/80 First of all, I enjoy how because Chong refuses to stop making the "smoking pot" hand gesture instead of waving or making a duck face like all the other contestants, the editors on five-second delay have to keep flashing the "Dancing With the Stars" logo while he's on camera. It beautifully reiterates how Tommy Chong captures the spirit of the show. The 76-year-old overcame a cyst behind his knee (how do you overcome that, especially at 76?) to pull off a proper Viennese Waltz in round one. Both partners -- announced SAFE at the top of the show -- admitted they'd expected to be eliminated tonight. Hell, Peta thought she'd be out Week 1 or Week 2. Chong even thanked his wife Shelby in what seemed like a prelude to a farewell speech. Alas! America loves him too much.
Later on, in a samba trio with flight attendants Peta and Sharna, Tommy catapulted into the stratosphere as the often-seated filling of an Aussie sandwich. Oh my God. Tommy Chong is Vegemite. [MIND BLOWN / UP IN SMOKE.]
Kudos to the set designers for bringing Chong Air (slogan: "Flying High") to life in such a limited space. I'm just receiving confirmation from air traffic control that yes, getting a lap dance technically qualifies as a performance on Week 9 of Dancing With the Stars. "He definitely came into a happy landing," quipped Tom. "It was very, very hard," Chong recalled fondly.
Something about fondling, and.... we're clear. See you next week!