“The fact that I’ve been eliminated is false,” insisted philosopher to the stars Gary Busey, because he gets it: The whole point of Most Memorable Year night on Dancing With the Stars is that the ones we love the most never truly exit the atmosphere — especially not one as hazy and magical as Planet Mirrorballus. Their spirits shimmy on, in and out of the show-zone layer, ready to be honored at a theme week’s notice.
To be clear, the cinema’s Buddy Holly and his professional partner Anna Tre-BUN-skaya will not compete in the rest of the season. They will, however, be running the show from the control room in Gary’s mind (or Russia, depending on his mood) with nothing but love and the occasional dismissal of Alfonso Ribeiro. But mostly love.
That’s right: Fresh off his guest-judging stint from last Monday, the Fons stood in for Tom Bergeron, who skipped Week 4 to be at his sick father’s bedside. I can only imagine what a gem Tom’s dad must be. Much love to Our Host and his family.
Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhh-ber!
Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough: 28/30 Even if you’d been really brave and stoic until the end of the show (what are you, a monster?), the sparkle-tears were unavoidable during The Crocodile Hunter’s daughter’s opening package. The contrast between the 2006 footage of 8-year-old Bindi cheerfully reading a speech at Steve Irwin’s memorial service and her real-time emotional processing of his death in 2015 was both chilling and heartwarming — actually, a lot like the song “Every Breath You Take” if you think about it. With its seamless blending of tender embraces and desperate, searching solo moments, their contemporary routine perfectly captured Bindi’s perspective on losing her dad so young: “For the rest of my life, I’ll kind of feel like he’s gonna come home.”
In Tom’s absence, Bruno graciously swept into dad mode after awarding Bindi and Derek the first 10 of the season.
Tamar Braxton and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 27/30 Finally, a dance story Tamar can actually get behind. Set to her own single, “King,” the couple’s rumba honored the two amazing miracles in Tamar’s life: her husband and her son. (Appreciation for Val is still on hold.) In a surprise twist or what Carrie Ann called “a beautiful happy ending,” the piano player Tamar sauntered towards at the end of the dance was her hubby Vince himself. I wasn’t as gaga about the connection between Tamar and Val as the judges were, but I did really love the technical dance, “a proper rumba from beginning to end” according to Bruno. In fact, all the rumbas this season have spoken to me, seemingly out of nowhere. Chalk it up to the sexy spirits wafting around the ballroom? Miracles, I tell you! They’ve gone viral!
Seriously, they’re everywhere.
Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess: 27/30 If that boy band group hug got you fired up, then hearing about Nick’s dysfunctional childhood from every single one of the Backstreet Boys might have boiled you over. And if you stopped swooning long enough to focus during the pair’s “jazz” tribute, which was basically a full-on BSB concert, you may have lost your damn mind.
Who’s jealous of Sharna? Sing it with me: “EVERYBODY!” And who couldn’t take her eyes off of Sharna? Me, not that I’d ever want to. The way this routine played directly into fans’ wish-fulfillment fantasies was a genius move. Carrie Ann, who’d just reminisced about touring in the ‘90s with her idol, Madonna (see boob blackout, below), could definitely relate.
Hayes Grier and Emma Slater: 27/30 I’ll be honest: “Vine Star” has always made me cringe. Always, as in the maybe six or so months it’s been available as even a joke title for someone. But tonight, after six or so seconds of Hayes explaining he’s actually just a shy guy with a really extroverted brother, I started to love him. Because you know what happens to young Stars who’ve spent their short little lives burrowed in cocoons? When the time is right (puberty), they can reinvent themselves in the ballroom and dance explosive, life-affirming contemporary routines in bare feet! So forget “social media sensation.” I am all in on Hayes’ new career as a butterfly. Kid should have no trouble climbing the show business ladder from here.
Spoiler alert: The ladder transforms into a pole.
Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson: 25/30 In 2012, Carlos found himself in a very dark place: Los Angeles. In the aftermath of a Big Time Rush tour, he isolated himself and started smoking weed every day. “I hit rock bottom,” he explained as Tommy Chong (one of the chief spirits in the mirrorball world) went, “Pffffffffffffft.” Within one holy week, Carlos dragged himself out of bed and found both Jesus and his wife, Alexa, at Bible study. In all its truth and absurdity, this was by far my favorite backstory of the night. Its message really hit home at the beginning of Carlos’ “Amazing Grace” waltz, when Witney pulled him out of the pot smoke and into the light.
Carrie Ann commended the heavenly bodies for dancing from the soul, but “cray-cray” Bruno and Julianne wanted Carlos throw back his shoulders and open up that chest.
Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold: 24/30 If not for this summer’s terrorist train stop in Paris, which naturally led to his DWTS gig, Alek would have been attending classes at Umpqua Community College, where 10 people died Thursday after a gunman opened fire on an English class. I can barely wrap around my head around all that — and now you want this poor kid to dance the paso doble? On television? I’m reeling. “Even the train made more sense than this,” Alek said re: definitely the shootings and probably the paso. Lindsay encouraged her partner to incorporate “honestly the strangest emotions he’s ever felt” into their dance, but overall this was way too much authentic drama for one person — even a hero — to handle in just a few days.
But I suspect this season’s strong, silent type will power through. After all, overcoming adversity is the name of the game on DWTS. Much like Bruno Tonioli in Elton John’s 1983 music video, Alek’s still standing. (Yeah, yeah, yeah.)
That elegant blur is tonight’s MVP, Sasha Farber, casually drifting by to one-up Alfonso in the art of the stand-in. Figured we could use a little pick-me-up.
Andy Grammer and Allison Holker: 23/30 Speaking of powering through: Andy had only two days to say goodbye to his mom once doctors detected her late-stage breast cancer in 2009, but his subsequent soul-searching ended up inspiring the song that started his career. When your world gets blown to pieces, do you crumble? No! You summon the ever-present spirits in the sky (Chong, Jesus, Goodman, now Busey, etc.) and you get on with it. “You can turn everything around in life,” said Bruno, still sitting at that point, but the message was loud and clear. Andy did look a bit awkward in their cha cha to his own single, “Good To Be Alive,” but overall I thought it worked. Plus, did you know there were three of them out there? Allison is four months pregnant!
Alexa PenaVega and Mark Ballas: 21/30 I agreed with Carrie Ann — I liked Alexa’s theatricality in their foxtrot tribute to her hardworking mom almost as much as I enjoyed the magnanimity of the line, “I didn’t book Spy Kids alone.” The nerd glasses were subtle, her up-do was perfect… is it weird that I was pretending she was Jenna from the troupe? Whatever works, right? Alexa did lose her footing in a “blackout moment” near the end of the dance, but I thought the ballroom style really suited her otherwise.
Paula Deen and Louis Van Amstel: 18/30 Their cha cha set to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” threw back to 1989, when Paula finally got out of a marriage she knew she couldn’t fix and started her own business. “Success, even in small measures, made me proud,” she said. It’s an attitude she could apply to the dance floor, though by next week it may be too late. Louis and the judges can tell Paula she’s sensual and fierce all they want, but it’ll never matter unless she remembers the steps to the real dances (read: not the la-di-da hair whip she performed upstairs) and buys into that jargon herself.
The power of self-belief! It all feeds into our…
Lingering Quandary of the Week: “AM I SEXUAL?”
Only you can decide.
Next Monday is the Switch Up. What madness shall occur? My ideal vision:
Bindi and Mark
Alexa and Val
Andy and Sharna
Nick and Lindsay
Alek and Emma
Hayes and Witney
Tamar and Louis
Carlos and Allison
Derek and Paula
Sasha fills in for Bruno for real
Julianne and Kym Johnson switch seats
Madonna swoops in to re-shave Carrie Ann’s head
Anything can happen in an alternate universe.
Dancing With the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.