Time to start separating the best from the rest on "Dancing With the Stars."
Sure, this is a so-called all-star season, but the voters got it right last week by booting Pamela Anderson, and we're betting the longtime fans will continue to not be fooled by shock value masquerading as substance.
The judges were still being rather tight-fisted with the scoring paddles tonight, but a few celebs made sure to distance themselves from the rest of the pack, even if they were still only separated by mere halves on the leaderboard. Here's what went down in the ballroom tonight:
Melissa Rycroft opened the show with an underwhelming jive that the judges...loved! (We're thinking they're not supposed to diss the music, which, as usual, didn't quite fit.) Although we felt that the onetime Bachelor dumpee could have handled tougher choreography, Len Goodman thought she was fantastic and told Bruno Tonioli to shut up when the outspoken Italian spotted a few missteps.
Moving on, a trip to the shooting range may have had Bristol Palin fired up on the inside, but the Life's a Tripp star can still only get so loose on the dance floor. She kept up with Mark Ballas' on the country western-themed, rule-breaking quickstep he crafted (you can't break hold in the middle, Mark!), but we're betting her last-place score will ensure her second straight appearance in the bottom three.
The camera let Bruno finish his tough critique (hold wasn't good, Charleston was messed up) before cutting to a still proud-looking Sarah Palin in the audience.
"I liked the hoedown, but the technique was a bit low-down," Len offered.
On the flip side, Hlio Castoneves' jive had major bounce, and there was way more content than there was in Melissa's dance. And yet, he ended up lower on the leaderboard. Baffling.
There was no confusion, however, when it came to Apolo Anton Ohno's quickstep: Aces all around!
"Gold medal," Len pointed at the fleet-footed speed skater, a week after calling his performance merely bronze-caliber. "Somebody put his competition pants on tonight," added Carrie Ann Inaba.
Sabrina Bryan's quickstep kept the energy level in the ballroom high, the former Cheetah Girl not shying away from taskmaster Louis Van Amstel's tough routine despite cutting her arm during rehearsal.
Although she knows from experience that the judges' scores can end up meaning nada, Sabrina found herself in a familiar place--first--after notching the first 9 of the season.
"I want dinner first," Tom Bergeron later joked after Kirstie Alley's routine, referring to the massive kiss she spontaneously planted on the host last week as a congratulations for his Emmy win. Len and Bruno, charmed by the bewigged courtesan, er, actress' saucy jive, seemed content with skipping supper and Kirstie and Maks Chmerkovksiy's score enjoyed a nice bump for their French-accented efforts.
It wasn't always easy to distinguish Emmitt Smith's smooth moves from beneath his flaming tomato-red suit, but they were there. His quickstep wasn't as fab as last week's cha-cha was, but we bet all will be forgiven after the season-three champ's next Latin round.
Then it was on to another great jive from a fella, this time Drew Lachey, who had to dance under the weight of last week's bottom-three showing despite finishing squarely in the middle of the pack. Better luck this week, especially since he tied frontrunner turned middle-of-the-roader Emmitt in the 22.5 scoring department.
Joining them in that department--rather surprisingly, considering Len's "if you can't dance, entertain" comment--was Joey Fatone, whose Little Tramp quickstep was full of fun if not technique.
Shawn Johnson, with a big boost from the gold medal-caliber Derek Hough, was hot on Sabrina's trail after the best jive of the night.
Less excitingly, Maks' little bro, Val, quickstepped first-ever Dancing With the Stars champ Kelly Monaco to exactly the same spot she was in last week--squarely in the middle of the pack, albeit a half-point lower.
Well, Shawn's jive was the best of the night till resident heartthrob Gilles Marini closed the show with a killer routine.
"You've got the coiff, you've got the cleavage--let the good times roll!" raved Bruno, handing off cleavage credit to defending pro champ Peta Murgatroyd.
Here's how tonight's leaderboard stacked up:
Sabrina Bryan & Louis Van Amstel: 26; Gilles Marini & Peta Murgatroyd: 25.5; Shawn Johnson & Derek Hough: 25; Apolo Anton Ohno & Karina Smirnoff: 24.5; Melissa Rycroft & Tony Dovolani: 23.5; Hlio Castroneves & Chelsie Hightower: 23; Drew Lachey & Anna Trebunskaya: 22.5; Emmitt Smith & Cheryl Burke: 22.5; Joey Fatone & Kym Johnson: 22.5; Kelly Monaco & Val Chmerkovskiy: 22; Kirstie Alley & Maks Chmerkovskiy: 21; Bristol Palin & Mark Ballas: 18