On the Scene: Dancing With the Stars' Final Three
May 22, 2007, 10:46 AM | by Shirley Halperin
Let's get ready to rumba! Reporting to you live from Dancing With the Stars (well, a few hours later — call it a West Coast tape delay), PopWatch was there at the final showdown between celebrity contestants Laila Ali, Joey Fatone and Apolo Anton Ohno. Along with their respective dance partners — Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Kym Johnson and Julianne Hough — the three hoofers duked it out in two final dances: their best of the season and a freestyle routine of their choice. As we all know, eight Dancing hopefuls have already seen their trophy dreams shattered; now, who will take the coveted prize? That was the question on everyone's minds and no one had a clear answer.
The sidelines of Dancing with the Stars are very different from American Idol, which tapes next door at CBS Television City. We journos are not seated in the audience for the show, but rather right outside the stage doors in a greenroom-like enclosure where, along with the contestants' various publicists, stylists, managers, and other professional hand-holders, we watch along on multiple monitors connected to the live feed. No one really holds back their opinions here. If Len says something stodgy or mean, we all boo. If Joey flips over, we all cheer — it's like a parallel universe to the very same thing happening some 20 feet away.
Not surprisingly, tonight the room was especially crowded and extra rowdy. Seated in the front row? Two-time winner and recently ousted dance partner of one Ian Ziering, Miss Cheryl Burke. She was on hand to do interviews for Extra, just as several former Dancing participants have also added to their onscreen résumés (Karina Smirnoff, Mario Lopez). Foregoing Cheryl's usual tanorexic bronzer and glitter overload for a pair of leopard-print stilettos and a little black dress, the look was working, a welcome change.
As everyone gets settled, the show kicks off with Maks and Laila. It looks to be a nailbiter as people lock eyes on the TV screen directly in front of them as if they were watching Psycho. So much so that the first commercial becomes a colossal cigarette break for a good third of the room (Cheryl included). Meanwhile, Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris tape a tour promo in between dances. This, my friends, is how the networks save time and money — squeeze it into the commercial break! So if you're going to be attending the Dancing with the Stars tour this summer, look forward to this little bit of Bergeron telling you to "enjoy the show like never before!"
And since Samantha Harris (pictured) came up, let's discuss her reading and hosting issues. I haven't railed on the girl yet this season because it is live TV and, yes, sometimes judges press the wrong buttons and sometimes hosts can't add, but her many on-air snafus could be a drinking game at this point. Tonight's slip (which did not go unnoticed in the press room, naturally): "no hold barred" [sic]. She says this while looking down at an index card, so perhaps it was someone else's mistake, but somehow I doubt it. Still, the girl's got great hair.
Moving on to Joey Fatone, whom I followed around for an entire week two issues ago. The guy's been working his butt off, I can attest to that, and I know he was thrilled to have his wife Kelly, daughter Brianna and old pal Lance Bass in the crowd. The only 'N Syncer who hasn't caught a show is Justin Timberlake, which is too bad for all of us. If nothing else, Joey did pull out the 'N Sync moves in both his dances, so perhaps they were all there in spirit.
And speaking of spirit, Laila had plenty of it during her freestyle, where she rocked a pair of silver shorts with matching bedazzled sneakers. If she were the captain of her high school cheerleading squad, it would be the perfect outfit. But her booty-shaking routine, which featured a shirtless (and recently waxed) Maks, didn't wow the judges or the backstage crowd. Even Karina Smirnoff, who came by shortly after her onscreen cameo, remarked "What the hell were they doing?" Something different, insisted Laila later on, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Apolo and Julianne are up next in the freestyle. They channel The Karate Kid in their hip-hop flavored routine to the tune of Young MC's "Bust A Move" (the real-life Young MC was in the audience for the show, but couldn't perform because it might be "an unfair advantage"). Who knew Apolo could breakdance? Wait, what am I saying, who knew Apolo could dance at all? The speed-skater impresses once again as he and his 18-year-old partner turn the competition up a notch, and the audience responds in kind. We were starting to think that they had it in the bag until Joey came along and pulled out all the stops.
Joey and Kym's final dance (appropriately aligned with their song choice, Donna Summer's "Last Dance") was an abridged version of the ballroom dancing textbook, incorporating several styles that Joey had only recently learned, along with disco grooves that would make a young John Travolta proud. It was a smart, calculated move to win the favor of the judges, but will the rest of America appreciate it?
We'll find out Tuesday when the judges have their final say and, combined with the viewer vote, we'll have our next Dancing with the Stars winner. But until then, some last words from our contestants and a couple of audience members.
Laila Ali: "The judges were saying, 'We'd like to see you be more elegant next time,' and I was, like, 'Well, this was the last time! I've been elegant and sophisticated the whole competition, that was the point of me doing that freestyle.' I never in my wildest dreams thought they'd say something like that. I wasn't bummed at the time, but I got more irritated after the fact. I was, like, 'Wait a minute, with the freestyle you're supposed to be free and have fun!'"
Joey Fatone: "I think it was a strategy. We wanted to impress everyone with the lifts and showing everything I've incorporated dancing-wise. It was fun to do. We did a little breakbeat kind of thing, added a little 'N Sync-isms, a bit in the cha cha and the freestyle. Apparently, the judges didn't like it so much in the cha cha, but what can you do? I have my razzle-dazzle and they can razzle-dazzle their asses!"
Apolo Anton Ohno: "We both want to win it. No matter what happens, I feel like we've won already. We've won with the fans, with the audience who've supported us so much, the whole experience has been like winning for me. So I'm happy either way. I thought everybody danced unbelievably tonight and I'm just happy to be in their company."
Young MC: "Apolo called me and asked if I wanted to be a guest, and I was so flattered and honored. I've watched the show, and I think Apolo and Julianne are incredible."
Lisa Loeb: "I came here rooting for Joey because I think he has so much charisma, but after seeing Apolo dance up close, I thought he did a great job. He dances so well with his partner!"