The contestants were all wide grins and good vibes during the first night of the two-part finale event of "Dancing With the Stars," despite the evening's high stakes and stiff competition. Their great attitudes have been a big part of what has made this season so watchable -- that, and a totally unprecedented amount of pure talent. The show's fans have their work cut out for them when it comes to choosing among the final three, but last week's surprise elimination of Maria Menounos, who was at the top of the leader board, underscored the importance of picking, and voting for, a champion.
The night saw each couple perform two dances -- one handpicked for them by the judges and then coached by a judge -- and one freestyle dance that was allowed to break all the rules. Our stars were in top form as they scooped up the highest scores of the season (even from the notoriously tightfisted judge Len Goodman). Here are the night's top five dances:
(5) William Levy and Cheryl Burke's Freestyle (29 points)
William was elated to do away with the pesky constraints of traditional ballroom dances, but still played it very safe with a sexy, Latin-flavored performance that kept him right in his comfort zone. He stuck to his strengths (namely, hip thrusting and chest-baring), and the dance sizzled with sexual tension. Although judges Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba both loved the fiery, salsa-inspired freestyle, William's choice to stay in his element backfired big-time with Len, who said it was too predictable. "All you do is shake your butt and get the women screaming," he said, which was met with heated booing from the audience. William and Cheryl were obviously frustrated, but relieved not to get anything lower than a 9 from the disappointed head judge.
(4) Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd's Argentine Tango (29 points)
Donald has been vying for a score of 10 from Len since the beginning of the competition, and this week Carrie Ann was on hand at rehearsals to help him out. His exquisite Argentine tango's subtlety and attention to detail showed off how far the football star has come since the early days of the competition. The dance's sexy intensity was added to by Peta's dress, which was so revealing that even host Tom Bergeron had to point it out. Carrie Ann and Bruno loved the restraint that Donald showed, but Len was again booed when he told them, "It was a tad careful. I would have like you to have gone at it a little bit stronger." Len's 10 eluded Donald once more, and he was awarded a 9 instead.
(3) Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas's Paso Doble – (30 points)
A mishap and mini-meltdown had Katherine at the bottom of the heap last week, but her fans gave her a shot at the finale by boosting her votes. Katherine was assigned a paso doble by the judges, which had her understandably worried -- last time she attempted the intense, aggressive dance, she overcompensated and lost her artistry and musicality. Like Donald, Katherine was also hoping for her first 10 from Len, and listened closely to his guidance during rehearsals. This time around, the couple paired the performance with a classical Spanish feel (no vampire fangs for these two), a choice that let her perfectly executed lines shine. The judges were in awe, and Katherine was awarded her first perfect score of the season.
(2) Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd's Freestyle (30 points)
Donald and Peta took full advantage of being liberated from traditional choreography with their country-esque smorgasbord of tricks, lifts, and yee-haws. The dance was fun, feisty, and full of the good-natured irreverence that we've come to expect from the duo. Once again, Donald's powerful frame allowed for some spectacular lifts, and Peta spent much of the performance airborne. Bruno called it a "country-inspired triumph," and Carrie Ann said it was her favorite finals dance of all 14 seasons. But it was Len who gave Donald what he was really hoping for -- the coveted score of 10. A joyful Donald professed his love for Len and collapsed on the floor -- apparently, there are no hard feelings.
(1) Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas (30 points)
Like Donald, Katherine used the freedom of the freestyle to come up with a truly unique performance that was delightfully different from any dance of the season so far. Sticking with her Roaring '20s theme from last week, she donned a flapper dress and sang the song's intro, showing off her famous voice for the first time this season. The dance was a jaunty, tongue-in-cheek collection of impressive lifts and wacky facial expressions, sprinkled with plenty of razzle-dazzle. It was refreshing to see a performance that didn't need sex to sell -- the couple's charisma and skill were more than enough to snag it a perfect score. Len certainly felt so, and said "If I'm asleep and dreaming, don't wake me up. This is a freestyle." Katherine's fans are onto something, and we're glad they helped pull her up from the brink of elimination last week.