The pressure was on as the four “Dancing With the Stars” semifinalists each sought a spot in the final three and their shot at the coveted mirror ball trophy, and with three dances to perform — two individual routines and a cha-cha relay — tonight was their toughest challenge yet.
Soccer World Cup player Hope Solo, former TV talk show host Ricki Lake, reality TV personality Rob Kardashian and actor and Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez had to dance to convince the judges and the voting audience that they deserved that top three spot, so dance they did.
The fact that Solo had to perform with an injured shoulder, and Martinez with pain from a twisted ankle, only added to the pressure the competitors felt. In a stunning reversal of fortune, Martinez, a consistent top-scorer and crowd favorite, ended in third place tonight, with Kardashian in second.
Solo’s first dance, an energetic paso doble, failed to impress the judges. Judge Bruno Tonioli told her that she was channeling the anger of the character so much that she lost the artistry.
“Control is as important as energy,” he told her. She earned 21 out of a possible 30 points.
Martinez’s first dance, his Zorro-themed paso doble, brought the audience to its feet but fell flat with the judges.
“It was more zero than Zorro,” head judge Len Goodman said, noting that the dance lacked the proper posture.
Judge Carrie Ann Inaba and Tonioli agreed that Martinez’s performance suffered as a result of his injured ankle. The actor earned 23 points, and told show co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet in a backstage interview following the performance that the injury prevented him from doing the hard stomps required of the dance. He promised to redeem himself with his other dances tonight.
Kardashian’s bubbly samba also brought the ballroom audience to its feet, and this time the judges were in enthusiastic agreement.
“Rob, it was amazing!” said Inaba, commending him for shaking his hips.
Tonioli and Goodman have previously told Kardashian he needed to tuck in his bottom, but tonight Tonioli said: “That’s how you turn a handicap into an asset!”
They awarded Kardashian 28 points. He seemed pleased, and in the audience, his mother, Kris Jenner, appeared to be overwhelmed and fighting back tears.
Lake’s samba was another audience-pleaser. Judges felt the same way. Goodman and Inaba both called the routine “fabulous,” while Tonioli found it “brilliant.” She earned a perfect score of 30.
The second round of dances started with an Argentine tango from Solo. Judges told her the performance was better than her earlier paso doble, although Inaba told her the lifts lacked grace. At that comment, Solo’s partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, smiled, and Inaba commented on the smile.
Her pro partner caught flak for an outburst a few weeks ago that was deemed disrespectful to Goodman, and tonight Solo, mentioning Inaba specifically, said that her partner had every reason to smile because the pair had beaten the odds and made it so far in the competition. Solo earned 24 points.
Martinez’s moody Argentine tango earned him 27 points.
Judges commended him for executing the routine — particularly lifting partner Karina Smirnoff — so well on an injured ankle.
“You were in Latin lover mode, strong, fearless … it was incredible,” Tonioli said.
Kardashians’ Argentine tango also got the judges approval. Tonioli told him he “looked like a leading man,” while Goodman told him: “On ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, and you’re finishing strong.”
He earned 27 points.
Judges thought Lake’s Argentine tango was near-perfect, and gave her 29 points.
“Mood, spot on. Dancing, peerless,” Tonioli said.
In the cha-cha relay, the pairs each had to dance a portion of one single dance. The winner of the dance earned 10 points, with 8 points for second place, 6 for third and 4 for fourth.
Kardashian won, Lake took second place, Martinez was third and Solo finished in fourth place.
Elimination tomorrow will result from a combination of judges’ scores and audience votes. The celebrity with the lowest combined scores is sent home.
TV legal analyst Nancy Grace was voted off last week, after getting the lowest combined score for her week 9 tango and instant jive.
The celebrities who preceded here were actor David Arquette, activist Chaz Bono, fashion guru Carson Kressley, singer Chynna Phillips, reality TV star Kristin Cavallari, Italian model Elisabetta Canalis and NBA star Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest).
Ricki Lake and Derek Hough: 30; 29, 8. Total: 67
J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff: 23; 27, 5. Total: 56
Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke: 28; 27 , 10: 65
Hope Solo and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 21; 24, 4. Total: 49