Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Donna Kauffman Dishes on Dancing With the Stars: It's Disney Night

(from usatoday.com
by Donna Kauffman)

Last week we experienced the overly hyped Big Switch-Up with varying degrees of success. This week, we're going to Disneyland! We've been warned that dancers will doing the Paula Abdul Opposites Attract thing, only with Tinker Bell instead of MC Skat Kat. I'm thinking the folks who need the warning are the ones in production, along with our new band leader. After last week's continual production snafus with music starting early, starting late, going too fast, not fast enough, skipping the intro ... I shudder to think how wrong this might go when they have to take an animated character into account.

We'll find out soon enough! Now it's time for our fabulous pro and celeb opening intro number where we can be happily distracted by glitter, sequins, and a significant amount of smooth, sculpted and, most important, exposed skin — all of it expertly spray-tanned, of course. (Where can I get one of those, anyway? No, not the spray tanners ... the smooth, sculpted skin? It doesn't even have to be mine. I'm not picky. Maks' works just fine.) I have a flashback moment when the show opens with the traditional Walt Disney film sequence, complete with Tinker Bell magic. Every Sunday night, I got to watch the latest Walt Disney movie and that opening, with Cinderella's castle, the theme song, signaled I was in for a lovely evening of wish fulfillment and wonder.

I'm not so sure this evening holds the same promise, but I'm lulled into wanting to believe, all the same.

We open with our pros in a dashing waltz, followed by a surprisingly alpha Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah and an exuberant Step in Time. The level of manic in that song is the unfortunate foundation for our celebs to make their slipping, sliding, and tripping entrance. I thought maybe Co-host Erin, who is in monochromatic blue, only a bit more formal, and coiffed in a lovely Disney princess up-do that, well ... sort of looks like she ran the hundred-yard dash before pulling the dress on, was going to get to jump into her regular sideline role, interviewing the injured players as they're carried off the field. Fortunately, everyone eventually lands upright and on their feet.

So, maybe a little of the lull is wearing off. Who knew Disney could be fraught with so much danger?

We're introduced to our guest judge this evening, former Glitter Ball Trophy winner himself, Donny Osmond, who apparently has spent a significant amount of time in Never Land as he never seems to age. Although I suspect Peter Pan and the Lost Boys had a little assist from their local nip n' tuck guy this time, if you know what I mean. We find out that Donny has some Disney street cred. Walt himself discovered the Brothers Osmond, and Donny voiced the character of Captain Li Shang in Mulan and played Gaston in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Who knew?

But our trip down memory lane is abruptly halted as Host Tom drags out the Leader Board, showing the score totals from the past two weeks. Uh, yup ... someone is getting kicked out of Disneyland tonight. Seems wrong, somehow. But we can't keep 'em all ... though we've certainly been trying!

As a refresher, Meryl Davis is at the top of the board with 78, followed by James Maslow with a chart-dropping 71, then we trip down the chart in twos and threes all the way to a surprising Candace Cameron-Bure in last place with only 60. NeNe Leakes and Drew Carey are tied with 63, to round out the Bottom Three. But we haven't factored in the home votes yet. So ... who goes? Who stays? I think we're about to find out.

Charlie & Sharna? Are safe! Drew & Cheryl ... are also safe! So our judges' Bottom Three, once again, are not going to be America's Bottom Three. Who will it be? As Tom announces that Drew & Cheryl will dance first this evening, I'm distracted by Maks. OK, so that's not surprising, but it took me a moment to figure out why ... then I realized. No, it's not all the smooth, bare skin given he's shirtless this evening, though that gets a yay vote from shameless and superficial me. He has a sporty fringe of hair on his forehead making him look all boyish and almost, but not quite, innocent. And I kind of like it!

OK, now we dance!

1. Cheryl & Drew: Quickstep/Aladdin. The first thing I notice about their dance is we're getting the original soundtrack (no one does Robin Williams like Robin Williams). The second thing I notice is that it's a fast song, which should be appropriate since quickstep is a fast dance, only it's not a consistently rhythmic song. So the footwork really doesn't match the beat because it can't, and it's a challenge, even for Cheryl, to try to make what they have to do in this particular dance match the song. So while they're doing an admirable job and Drew continues to show he's improving and working hard, it all comes off looking rather tortured to make it fit rather than flowing and fun. I blame the song, but I'm betting the judges won't. Then we get the awkward animated character insertion which helps not at all ... but after that bit, the music is much kinder to them, and they finish really strong. Well, except for that part where I think the genie was supposed to show up again at the very end, but, um ... whatevs. It's Disney night. And it might just be a long one. Judges: They agree that it was a little frantic. Again, so was the music, which they couldn't adjust to a different pace, so ... Scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 = 28. Fair.

2. Sharna & Charlie: Jazz/Mary Poppins. With a phalanx of backup dancers, it looks like we're getting a Big Production Number this go, to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It scares me that my spell check actually recognizes that I spelled that right, but boots back Poppins.) Hard to believe it's the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins! Charlie is motivated to work extra hard after the judges robbed him last week. I'm just happy to see him back with Sharna. I think his blondness plays well against her brunetteness. (I'm just messing with spell check now. Forgive me.) The dance is fast-paced again, but they keep up just fine. Charlie is a born performer and rises to this superhighcaliberfragilistic occasion with panache and style. So well done, he makes it look easy. The existence of the backup dancers apparently saves us from another animated insertion, and I'm OK with that, too. Unfortunately, they opted to use umbrella and cane props during the dance, which is a very jazzy thing to do and all, but in a song that fast, also really risky. For the most part the risk paid off. Charlie did lose his cane once, but years of performing on the ice in high-pressure situations have long since trained him to recover quickly from wobbles and resume the performance, which he does smoothly here. I know they'll mark him down again, which is a shame. But, overall, we still have enough contestants left that even if he's not at the top, he's in no danger of being at the bottom. Judges: They are gushy gushy love love over the difficulty of the routine, and Donny, Bruno and Hall Monitor Carrie Ann have to mention the cane drop like it was a national tragedy in an otherwise awesome routine. Shockingly, it's Uncle Len who's all, "Who cares about the cane? Did you see that dance?" I love it when Len is all kind and human like that. The show, of course, is neither of those things, so they have to do an instant cane drop replay. Oh, Show. Scores: 9, 9, 9 and a Dreams Come True 10 from Len! = 37. Len's first 10 of the season — someone put magic fairy dust in his hot cocoa! I like it! I like Charlie even more when he gives all the credit to Sharna for her challenging routine and thanks the judges for recognizing that. Whadda guy.

More results!

Amy & Derek are safe! Danica & Val are also safe! NeNe & Tony ... are in jeopardy. Cody & Witney? Are also in jeopardy! So ... that leaves Candace, Meryl and James. Who else is in the Bottom Three? Odds are, it's Candace, given her low scores, but ... ya never know!

More dancing!

3. Val & Danica: Quickstep/Beauty and the Beast. And I'm already all awwww, how perfect is this that she gets to play Belle? Seriously with these two. It's almost adorable overload. They have Be My Guest, and Danica is bubbly bubbly over getting to do the dance, so you just know they're going to kill it. And to up the awww factor to a sugar high level of cuteness, our animated portion is Lumiere, introducing the two of them by name as they enter the dance floor. Seriously, I'm thisclose to renting the movie all over again now. And I'm not even a Disney Princess kinda girl. I think the assorted dinnerware, as Tom calls the backup dancers, were extraneous and the pair would have shone even more brightly if they could have just owned that dance floor by themselves, but I get it's Big Production Night, so I forgive. Mostly because that? Was excellent! Danica was by far her best ever. It was tight, fast, challenging, and they were clearly enjoying every second. (Who knew Disney songs were so freaking fast when it came to ballroom dancing? It's like the whole evening is on a sugar-buzzed, overcaffeinated high.) But this was a really good sugar buzz. Judges: Just to give you an idea, Carrie Ann came around the desk and hugged Danica, saying, "I feel like your mom, I'm so proud of you right now!" I know! But it was totally like that. Scores: 10, 9, 10, 10 = 39. (Len ran out of cocoa, I guess.)

4. Derek & Amy: Waltz/Cinderella. This is her first ballroom dance, and the flow of the dance, the footwork provide a very special kind of challenge given she's on two prosthetics, and they simply don't do what she needs them to do. So the frustration shows, and I think we all feel for her, because it's the first time on the show that she's truly missed her legs, truly wishes she had them back, so she could waltz like she knows she could waltz, if only she was on her own two feet. Everyone gets emotional during this show, it's so demanding on everyone, but my heart truly goes out to her in this instance. Everything she's doing is already so miraculous, it's difficult to watch her be hard on herself, to have this bring her down like that, because she's unable to make the performance be what it has to be, and more important, what she really wishes it could be, for her own pleasure. If anyone deserves a little magic fairy dust this week, it's Amy. I really want this to go well for her. Leave it to Derek to work his choreography magic so she gets to feel like a princess in her ballroom moment, even if the traditional waltz moments are few. It's really lovely, and I hope the judges are kind, despite lack of specific content. Judges: We start with the Hall Monitor, who immediately calls them on the lift they did, and I'm about to hit the mute button from frustration with her, only she shocks me by saying that, in this instance, given the challenges Amy faced, and how they did their best to create the illusion of rise and fall in absence of moves she simply cannot do, that the lift worked and technicalities be damned. Well, there's the magic dust, because that's a series first! Scores: 9, 9, 10, 9 = 37. Everyone is surprised, but no one more so than Amy. When Erin asks her how it feels to get those scores after the week she had, she can't answer as tears well in her eyes. And now I have to stop typing and find a tissue for the same reason.

5. Witney & Cody: Samba/Lion King. Tom calls it their Simba Samba. Heh. Then Witney keeps the yucks coming as we get a side-by-side of Cody and Simba on the screen, saying, "They have a lot in common. They're both young, they're energetic, a little wild, and they have great hair." Then she's harder on him after Sharna was tough on him last week, and he's all, "You're Strictney now," which makes me laugh. Yeah, OK. So, it's good to be Disney Night. After that last dance, and the smiles with these two, I'm all in. The dance starts well, they have chemistry, these two young blondes, and even his droopy crotch pants look like they might fit in with the theme, even if it's not Aladdin, but whatevs. I'm feeling all generous like Carrie Ann right now. It's a tough song to put in the true pelvic-thrusting samba moves, but they do a pretty good job of the whole thing. Cute more than sexy, but after the last one, a nice, fun, light routine. Judges: Len loves it, Donny turns to the critical dark side and says Cody wasn't having fun, Bruno says don't worry, he'll be the good fairy, the crowd loses it, Carrie Ann drools and let's just get to the scores, shall we? Erin reveals that Cody was out the day before with a pretty nasty stomach flu, and Cody says he really tries to step up and give his all every performance. I have to say, you wouldn't have guessed he was sick, so kudos to him, because he had to be feeling pretty wiped out, not to mention losing a critical day of practice. Donny.Scores: 9, 8, 8, 9 = 34.

6. Tony & NeNe: Fox Trot/101 Dalmatians. So ... wow. Last week NeNe had Derek, and she comes back to Tony all, "Derek was this and Derek was that, and we did all these amazing things!" and Tony is all, "You had a dance with no rules" (contemporary) "but this week we have a dance with strict rules." NeNe immediately reads this as Tony won't let her gush about Derek and bring all the amazing things she learned to their new dance, and Tony even admits to some jealousy. But what NeNe isn't hearing is that they have the fox trot, which is very specific in technique and demands, and the more Tony tries to teach her the dance, the more she gets all, "I want to be Cruella deVille, and you're not letting me" and essentially goes, well, all Cruella on him. To the point where she very calmly tells him to go back to his partner from last week, that she's too fabulous for this and he needs to change his attitude if he wants her to work with him any longer. And she leaves. No yelling or screaming or tears, but enough attitude to jerk a knot in my hair and I'm sitting at home. Just ... wow. Now, I'll admit I love Tony and they always give him the challenging difficult ones. (After Kate Gosselin, he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.) And I've yet to be swayed to want to join the NeNe Fan Club, so the knot I want to jerk is in her hair, not his. The dance, apparently, will go on ... and I find myself hoping that she rounds out the Bottom Three and lands as the Bottom One this week. I feel bad for Tony being done for the season, but I'm thinking blessing. (Remember Opening Night when I said we need to make Free Tony T-shirts up right now? Was I wrong?)

The judges have been effusive in their praise of NeNe's showmanship, and I've been critical that she's all showman and not paying attention to the specifics of the dance. I keep waiting, in vain, for the judges to comment on same. Tonight might provide an interesting moment for them to do that, given comments made to previous performances tonight despite their very high caliber. Did she bother to learn the fox trot? Or is she just going to Cruella vamp her way through it? Well, we start straight into the vamp ... and though they finally get into hold, and she proves she's spent some time learning the dance, albeit a very simplified version of it, she keeps the smug face (and, yes, it is in character, but it sure comes easily, doesn't it?) and is shutting Tony down the entire dance, while reveling in every little Cruella character moment she has, clearly rubbing his face in it. Of course, I could be biased. A little. The crowd loves it, and I'm already in dread that the judges are going to indulge her little smug dance tantrum. But then, what else is new? Judges? Gushy gushy love love. Of course they do. Carrie Ann even comments that it was a good thing that they switched up for a week, that NeNe benefitted from it. Gee, thanks. She does tell Tony it was his best choreo yet, but honestly, I think he just did what he had to so they survived it and she's being rewarded for bad behavior while Tony gets a kind of backhanded "See? She made you do better choreo this week! Good job!" I hate everything about this. Sorry. I give up. Poor Tony. Then we get upstairs and NeNe is so emotional she can't even talk to Erin, and we find out that Tony is pretty much ticked off by the rehearsal package that made them both look horrible, when apparently they ended up having a lot of fun with it, and now NeNe feels awful because she's embarrassed him and shamed him on national television, and this? Is everything I needed to see and didn't before. So, thank you, live television. Boo, hiss, producer monkeys! And Erin? Stop piling on Tony. It's been a rough week, m'kay? Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 = 36. Her best scores of the season. I ... don't even know how I feel about that now. Not good, but not as awful? Just me?

7. Peta & James: Contemporary/Frozen. OK, so down is up, up is down, dogs and cats are now living together ... That's this week for me. I think he's a good performer and I've enjoyed their performances, but I haven't been James' biggest fan personally, either. Then this week he goes and brings a young girl with special needs, who made an awesome video inviting him to her prom, which he couldn't attend due to being on the show, to the show, along with her mom and friend, spent time with her, brought her on the dance floor and she's in the audience tonight. Peta and Charlie were so robbed by Len last week on their sexy rumba, I hope this dance goes really well, for her, for James, and his new friend. And the dance is lovely, very heartfelt and honest. The choreography is beautiful and challenging, their chemistry is undeniable and the whole of it plays to his leading-man strengths, both aesthetically and literally, with some tender moments and some truly amazing lifts for an amateur to handle. The special effects of soaring ice towers actually work well with the music and the dance, and having the recent Oscar-winning song from the most popular Disney movie ever doesn't hurt matters either. Judges: Gushy gushy love love, this time so well earned. Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 = 40. The first perfect score of the season. I don't know if I'd have gone that high, but I can't really quibble either. It was good.

8. Maks & Meryl: Samba/Jungle Book. It's strange, as Maks says, to be doing a sexy dance to Jungle Book, half-naked as Mowgli, who ... is a kid. Yeah, a lot of weird there. However, he's hot, she's stunning, and while I might wish they had a more appropriate tune, you know the dance will be awesome. I'm glad they're back together, and very clearly, so are they. So ... are they or aren't they? is the popular question. Well, you let me know what you think. I vote: Are you kidding me? The dance is playful, sexy, adorable, clever, stunning ... and they are clearly so joyously happy to be dancing with one another again, it's infectious. Impossible not to grin like a loon through the entire thing. Should have been the show closer. Judges: Much gushing and love, because there isn't anything bad they could possibly say to that. Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 = 36. For making a samba work to Disney and work so beautifully as both dance and entertainment? 10's. Instead, she's tied with NeNe. Really, judges?

9. Mark & Candace: Samba/Little Mermaid. I think her scores last week were unfair (more poor Tony!) and I'm hoping America voted to keep her in. But given NeNe's fan base, I'm concerned. Of course, we don't know that she's in the Bottom Three yet, but I'm guessing it's not Meryl, though it could possibly be James. (Who just got a perfect score, so, boy, wouldn't that be a kick in the boot?) This samba is very cutesy and, well, Disney. Cameron is camping it up as Ariel, and Mark was born camping it up, and they're both clearly having a blast, but I don't know that that is necessarily going to make it work in the bigger picture. It plays almost too simplistic, though they're doing it well. Partly it's the music, which is not samba music, and partly it's Candace's reticence to do anything overtly sexy, so ... if she makes it through this week, I have a feeling, after the performances tonight, she might be in jeopardy again next week. At least on the scoreboard, though possibly with viewers this time, too. (It also showcases just how amazing Maks' choreo was just prior to this. More comedic, and yet sexier all around. Possibly because of the chemistry, but still ...) Judges: Decent comments, fair and honest. Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 = 35. Very (very) generous, but it means so much to her and she's working so hard, you kind of can't be all that upset about it. But, boy, will it stink if Tom is about to send her packing.

And that's where we are, folks. The stinking part of the show. We've been in Disneyland for the past two hours, but now it's time to return to the cold, harsh world of reality. Someone who just gave their sparkly, sequined showtuned best is heading home. Who joins NeNe and Cody in the Bottom Three? Yep, Buzz Kill Tom announces it's Candace. Ruh roh.

So ... who is heading home this week? Not NeNe & Tony! They're safe! Tony is so pleased by this, after all that happened, I can't be anything but happy for him. Erin reveals that Cody and Candace aren't necessarily the bottom two vote-getters, but that one of them was definitely the lowest vote-getter. I can't think it's Cody given his tween fans, so ... poo. It's going to be Candace. Am I right? Gasp! No, I am not! It's Cody and Witney! I guess the power of the tween vote was hampered by the lack of the fan base for new pro Witney. Yikes! (But secretly? Yay! I'm glad Candace is still there. She so wants to continue.)

What say you, home viewers? Surprised? Eh, not so much? And what did you think of our Disney Night? My final verdict is that it was a 180 on last week's uneven, swaptastic hype. Feel how you want about the treacly aspect of the Disney theme, but every single pair upped their personal game this week, and the competition definitely benefited from that. It was a good night in the Magic Kingdom.

Here's our Leader Board as we head home, tiaras in one hand, the remains of our cotton candy cone in the other ...


40: James

39: Danica

37: Charlie, Amy

36: NeNe, Meryl

35: Candace

28: Drew

I can't say I agree with the final tote, though I do think the bottom three are right if you up Meryl up near the top where she belongs. Who do you think is in danger? Will Drew's fans keep him in?

Next week? Party Anthem week. Which is kind of ... broad. But I think that's a good thing, given we might have a better chance of matching song to dance style than we did this week.

So, another week done, another celebrity dancer down. But we don't have to be down! Not when there's a giveaway prize to be announced! Last week I put an advance copy of my April 29 release, Half Moon Harbor, up for grabs and, boy, did you all get grabby! I'm so impressed! Of course, one of you grabbed a little better than the others, because you came up with the prize. And you are? Denise Scheett!! Congratulations!! E-mail me at donna@donnakauffman.com with your address, and I'll get your prize right out in the mail to ya!

Now, don't despair all you empty-handed grabbers. Psst, don't tell Denise, but this week's prize? Even better than last week's! I know! Sometimes it pays to lose! With the Half Moon Harbor release date just around the corner, I thought a special giveaway was in order. So, this week, not only does our grabbiest winning winner get a signed advance copy ... the advance copy will be sent to you tucked into a fabulous canvas Half Moon Harbor tote bag! I know!

How to enter: drop me an e-mail to donna@donnakauffman.com with "I want a book tote! And, you know, a book to go in it!" I'll draw a name from the stash and announce the winner next week. But here is the tricky part! Next week is the return of ABC's Castle (with a fabulous '70s-theme episode you won't want to miss!) and thus I will have to leave the ballroom to return to the precinct and all that delicious Castle-Beckett Banter. So the winner will be announced in my Castle recap, right here in the USA TODAY Happy Ever After column. Don't miss it! (And don't worry, my fellow Spray Tan & Sequin Lovers! I'll be back in the Glitterdome for the big finale night!)

You also won't want to miss a one-on-one interview with moi this Thursday, also right here in Happy Ever After land. I'll be talking about the new book, announce some Big News, splash a few cover reveals your way AND give more stuff away. Because I'm splashy and givey like that. So stop by, check it out, enter, and win more stuff!

*Blogger's note: Okay it was a long way around to go for a book giveaway. But I know a lot of people like this show so why not?! And Disney does have books out! The only season I watched was when my Pittsburgh Steeler was there and won. If you do not know who I am talking about - find out who I am talking about lol! (HUGE Steeler fan since the age of 8). So I hope you enjoyed this and I am entering for the book. You can check the site but I will post the winner's name here also.

Happy Reading and Dancing!