In last night's first results show of the season, magician Penn Jillette and tennis pro Monica Seles were the first booted off. While Seles's fate was not a surprise -- her second week's Mambo performance was not much better than last week's Foxtrot, making clear she's just not a talented dancer and would have difficulty making much improvement -- many expected syndicated talk show host Adam Carolla to be the first of the men to go. I thought Carolla's first-week performance was fairly average -- he didn't exhibit the natural ability to move or the dance training of some of the other male contestants, but he also gave it a good, solid try and he looked as good as any beginner. The problem was not with his dancing, but with the fact that many people dislike his outspoken personality, and his badmouthing judge Carrie Ann Inaba for giving him low marks showed him to be a disrespectful poor sport. But Monday night, he seemed to intent on "making up" for that earlier behavior, joking lightly with partner Julianne Hough and playfully taunting fellow contestant Steve Guttenberg. Perhaps audiences saw this as his version of an apology and decided to give him another chance, or perhaps they were actually voting for the popular Hough, whom many seemed to take pity on. We'll see in future weeks how much Carolla can refrain from what seems to be his natural inclination toward the crude and rude, and /or how much sympathy sweet Julianne will garner.
Anyway, on to this week's performances.
Steve Guttenberg is such a little cutie; his Mambo was charming. He was adorable when he became so excited for himself for correctly performing his trick (quickly alternating bent-knee lunges), he gave himself a little clap. I agree with the judges that he excels at standard ballroom rather than Latin, but pro partner Anna Trebunskaya knows his strengths, that he's a performer who'll be most successful with a routine with an actable story-line, and I think if she keeps giving him those, with his charismatic personality, he'll go far.
Cristian de la Fuente proved himself very good at standard ballroom. He was the quintessential dapper "Quickstepper," with great energy, good upper body posture, sharp, clean, swift footwork, and nice, elegant lines. I felt Cheryl Burke was a little too Latin-y, though, with so much shaking and wiggling. The partnership was a bit unbalanced because he looked ballroom and she Latin. I think he wants so badly to do well and please his Latin folk, you just want to root for him.
Next on was Monica Seles. She gave it a good try. And she managed to give her Mambo more attitude than her Foxtrot. But it still wasn't enough. It was clear she was profoundly uncomfortable out there, and audiences sense that and don't want to put the contestant through any more misery than they've already been through.
The Quickstep worked pretty well for Penn Jillette. His feet are so large, though, he was bound to lack sharp, swift footwork and agility, and I kept worrying he would trip himself or partner Kym Johnson. Still, part of the fun of these shows is watching someone lacking the traditional dancer body-type struggle and overcome. I'm sorry to see him go so early.
Priscilla Presley was lovely. Her lines weren't perfect -- she had some of the pigeon-toed problems I've mentioned before, and she looked a bit wobbly on the repeated spins, but there was a lot of fun and sassiness to those steps. As judge Len Goodman said, Mambo is about having fun, not precision. Of course a good deal of her looking so wonderful is due to Louis Van Amstel, who appears to be an excellent teacher and choreographer (not to mention dancer). He's giving her lots of classics. Two seasons ago he was reprimanded by the judges for Lisa Rinna's too disco-y samba, so I think he's learned his lesson -- at least with these judges. They want classic. And Presley has classic written all over her anyway.
I knew the moment Shannon Elizabeth took to the floor she wasn't going home this week. I couldn't believe how much better her Quickstep was than last week's Cha Cha. She looked like a real dancer out there, not the spidery model lacking center strength that we've seen before on this show. Her routine was pretty hard, with fast, intricate footwork that could easily have tripped her up, and a difficult jump at the end. And very good backward kicks -- it's not as easy to get good height on those as it looks. Either she's far better at standard ballroom, or last week was simply beginner jitters.
I was overjoyed that Jason Taylor had turned-out feet, no pigeon-toes whatsoever, which I'd complained ad nauseam about last week. Thank you Edyta! His Mambo was a lot of fun, classic and perfect, and he has such a charming smile. I was a bit worried the judges were going to chastise Sliwinska for that ending drop-swing, since I think both of her feet came off the ground ever so briefly at one point, a strict no-no, the judges have repeatedly made clear in seasons past. But I think they've got so much slack from audiences who don't understand or appreciate the technicalities of "lifts," they said nothing this time. Or maybe I'm wrong and her feet didn't leave the ground...
Marissa Jaret Winokur's Quickstep was a huge improvement over last week's Cha Cha, which I found interesting since I'd think she'd be better at Latin than ballroom. But Quickstep in particular is fast and fun and "bubbly", as Len said, and that's all very her. You can tell why she's a Broadway star. She has such an endearing personality, with contagious buoyancy. I felt badly for her when videotaped clips showed her crying about not being able to do high leg extensions and certain athletic tricks with her body-type. The weeping seemed genuine. And who can't relate to that?
Next was Carolla. Hough looked a bit uncomfortable with him, particularly in a short tango-esque promenade. Carolla is pretty funny, and he's showing a good sense of humor in his dancing. He was bouncing too much, though, which, as I've said before, is a problem many beginning Latin dancers have. Cute choreography from Julianne though, and I love how she bopped him in the face with her pelvis.
Another very impressive performance from Marlee Matlin. Fabian Sanchez, a Mambo dancer, gave her a very Mambo-y Quickstep, which didn't go down tremendously well with the judges. But that's not her fault and they knew that. Their ballroom connection at times was less than perfect (ideally the partnership should remain connected at the right pelvic bones, making a martini-glass shape where waist down is the stem, waist up is the cup), but that's the hardest thing for beginning dancers to get about standard ballroom. Though it seems politically incorrect, it's near impossible not to focus on her deafness; I just can't believe how well she's doing when she can't hear the beat and is going almost solely by Sanchez's lead. It's simply amazing.
Kristi Yamaguchi was just as good this week as last. Which is perfect. She's a natural at all forms of ballroom. She has this competition in the bag. I hate to make predictions, because part of the competition of course is about who has the most winning personality, who has the most fans, but I do think she is by far the best dancer. I remember when she was skating, she couldn't seem to mess up if she tried. Everything she touches turns to gold. Only thing off was the costume -- too much going on. Those patterned gloves took it over the top.
And finally, Mario -- another near flawless dancer. He's such a delight, with the charming, boyish amazement at the world about him -- from the beach to the dance floor -- that he always seems to emanate. What I really loved about him Monday night was how his Quickstep was not only sleek but sexy, and the latter adjective is not often used to describe ballroom. The ripped-sleeve costume showed off his muscly arms, making him at first seem the antithesis of the typical gentlemanly, tuxedoed ballroom dancer. Yet, the way he just flew across the floor, his strong lead, the precision of his footwork, the grace of the repeated pivots, the nimbleness of those jumps, and the couple's overall togetherness -- it was all quintessential ballroom. Karina Smirnoff seems comfortable with him; she seems excited about where she can take him, albeit a bit defensive about his, however slight, dance background.