It's all work tonight, as the final four couples are dancing their tootsies off to make the top three in tomorrow's grand finale of Season 17, the second half of the "two-night finale event," as host Tom Bergeron put it. Fittingly, reigning DWTS champion Kellie Pickler performed the opening number as members of the DWTS Troupe danced.
Each couple danced a judges' choice, a style they had done but could be improved. Then there was a samba relay as all couples danced, one after another, to "No Scrubs" performed by the surviving members of TLC plus Little Mama. And at last, each pair danced the long-awaited freestyle where everything -- lifts, tricks, extra dancers, fancy moves -- goes.
Tuesday, it's all fun and games with a last dance -- a fusion dance selected by another couple -- with scores given by the judges. To no one's surprise and barring a disastrous fall, the scores are usually perfect 10s for every couple to finish things off. The entire Season 17 cast will be making a return to the ballroom during the two-hour show and finally, Tom will announce the winner of the unique Mirrorball Trophy amid a storm of confetti.
Unfortunately, someone had to go home tonight to narrow the field to only three couples by Tuesday night, and the magic that had been an incredible wave of viewer popularity ran out for Bill Engvall and Emma Slater. In previous shows, Bill and Emma hugged in disbelief as they were saved, week after week, but tonight, their reactions were more relief after an exhausting trio of performances. "So close," said co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet, who must have purchased a new push-up bra for her sparkly green, figure-hugging gown. "How darn proud are you (for doing this)?"
"Well, it just goes to prove to me that there is a God because I couldn't make one more dance," said Bill, with a grin. "I can't tell you how proud I am of Emma. She's like my second daughter now -- we just had a blast." He thanked the judges and then made a special point of thanking his wife, Gail, who was in the audience every week. "I will never forget this -- and thanks to the fans who voted this long."
As he hugged Emma and laughed at the finish of his unbelievable run, Tom said, "You may not have won the trophy, but you won everyone's hearts."
The show started with an interview with Kellie, and then the rehearsal packages when one of the judges paid a visit to each of the couples to point out why their dance was chosen and where it could be improved. With the first dance, the energy in the ballroom steadily increased until the freestyle performances. Interestingly, the couples danced in order from the lowest scorers to the highest.
Bill and Emma -- Viennese waltz
The judges tried to be kind but critical. Head judge Len Goodman thought Bill's fluidity in his arms had improved but that he still lost his timing and his frame. Bruno Tonioli said Bill was "so genuine," but that his timing was "not a Swiss watch." Carrie Ann Inaba said she never thought she would see Bill in the finals but that the people have spoken.
Score: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 8; Bruno, 8 = 24
Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff -- quickstep
The judges had previously said their quickstep was fast and furious and Corbin lost his technique. Len said he calmed it down, which was an improvement, Bruno told the couple that "if you did that on the highway, you'd get a speeding ticket," but that Corbin was out of sync. Carrie Ann flatly stated that she didn't see any improvement, but that it wasn't worse as she gave them a 9.
Score: 9, 9, 9 = 27
Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke -- jive
One of Jack's problems previously with the jive was that his kicks and flicks were not crisp and well-done, but tonight there were other problems. Bruno said his kicks and flicks tonight were good, but that his timing went out the window. Carrie Ann asked, "Why didn't we leave it alone?" and Len tried to cheer up Jack by telling him there were two more dances.
Score: 8, 8, 8 = 24
Amber Riley and Derek Hough -- Charleston
Some of the earlier criticisms were not being in sync and Amber needed to work on the small details that the judges were looking for in the finals. After the dance, which was incredible, Carrie Ann stepped away from the judges' table to give Amber a big hug. "I'm so proud of you. You outdid yourself and you were totally in sync," she told Amber. Len told her that of the four couples, this dance was the "most improved by far," and Bruno said it was so high-voltage that there must have been a power surge across the nation. "Your footwork was as sharp as a razor blade," he said.
Score: 10, 10, 10 = 30, a perfect score
After a quick interview with Kellie as to which couple she thought would win, it was time for the samba relay. The pairs picked their order of dance, and it was Jack, Amber, Bill and Corbin. After the performance, the judges would give points to the couples in descending order: 5, 4, 3 and 2. The dancing was varied and Len said it was not a samba but a wamba. Bruno added that there was a samba for every taste and Carrie Ann complimented each couple.
Scores: First place -- Corbin and Karina for 5 points and a total of 32; second place -- Amber and Derek for 4 points and a total of 34; third place -- Jack and Cheryl for 3 points and a total of 27; and fourth place -- Bill and Emma for 2 points and a total of 26.
The freestyle was up next, and first was Bill and Emma, who did an Indiana Jones take-off with a "Raiders of the Lost Ark" vibe. Bill, who has added his special touch of humor to his dances, was a bit too focused on the performance and it just didn't have anything particularly special. The best moment was probably unplanned -- at the end of the dance, Bill stripped off his shirt lacked the younger guys and showed, Tom said, his "one-pack." Len said he hadn't lost his ability to entertain, Bruno called it "insanely good fun," and Carrie Ann called him "everyman's man, a dancing hero." But there were few comments about his dancing. In fact, the biggest thrill for Bill was when Len gave them a 9.
Score: 8, 9, 8 = 25 for a total of 51
Corbin and Karina paid homage to Michael Jackson and even went to the late singer's choreographer Travis Payne for tips. Although they said they didn't want extra dancers, they changed their minds after seeing some of the tricks in the Las Vegas tribute show. Frankly, I wish they had focused more on dancing and less on tricks, but the judges certainly appreciated it. Bruno said they "killed it," Carrie Ann said she usually doesn't like copies but they absolutely nailed it and Len simply stood and applauded as his nonverbal opinion.
Score: 10, 10, 10 = a perfect 30 for a total of 62.
The theme of Jack and Cheryl's freestyle was a summary of his season, from nondancer to his steady improvement and progress in the program. They wrapped it all in a Hollywood extravaganza with top hats, tails and a Busby Berkeley flair. It totally made up for his earlier flop in the jive. All three judges gave the couple a standing ovation when they were finished. Carrie Ann called it a show-stopper with the best fairy-tale ending, Len agreed it was a true show-stopper and Bruno declared, "Hooray for Hollywood, hooray for Jack!"
Score: 10, 10, 10 = another perfect score of 30 for a total of 57
Finally, it was Amber and Derek's turn. It was great to see how Derek handed over the reins of choreography a bit to let Amber put in some stepping moves, remembering what he had seen her do in Week 3. It was a huge WOW of a dance, with a slight Western theme and Amber in total control of six male pro dancers. Len pointed out that the whole dance was about Amber and said she was "class, fast and built to last." Bruno called her a leading lady with star power, and Carrie Ann said she was a "diva dancing James Brown."
Score: 10, 10, 10 = one more perfect 30 for the night for a total of 64
As a tease for tomorrow night's single dance, Tom explained that they would be "fusion" dances with two styles mashed, uh, blended together. This can sometimes be exciting, but other times, it can be a mess. The lowest scoring pair picked what dance the highest scoring pair would do, so for tomorrow night:
Bill and Emma picked samba-quickstep for Amber and Derek.
Jack and Cheryl picked cha cha-foxtrot for Corbin and Karina.
Corbin and Karina selected paso doble-salsa for Jack and Cheryl.
But Bill and Emma's jive-quickstep, an exhausting combination, won't be seen -- to Bill's great relief and the appreciation of his tired body -- since they were eliminated.
The audience was packed with celebrities, from many of the cast members of "Glee," to members of the Osbourne family, to Season 15 champ Melissa Rycroft, to singer Wayne Newton, and I'm sure that there will be many more celebs on hand tomorrow night. It's a toss-up who will win -- all three finalists have scored perfect 10s on their dances and all three have had less-than-stellar performances. It all depends on who the voting viewers want to see with the Mirrorball Trophy clutched in their arms. See you tomorrow night -- keep dancing.