It's a magical night on "Dancing With the Stars" as the theme is the Wonderful World of ABC's parent company, with Disney Through the Ages. The troupe looked like they were having fun in that opening number, but I found it kind of repetitive and boring. I was really hoping it would end sooner than later. Perhaps part of the problem was that it was to that earworm song "It's a Small World" and now I'll have that in my head for the next year or so. Gotta shake that off and get ready for business!
As we did last season, and we do for various competition shows, I will be acting as your fifth judge, analyzing, critiquing and breaking down what worked and what didn't work about each performance. A quick reminder about me: I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer, all for this moment: armchair judging a dance competition. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Carrie-Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tolioni. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. Yes, there are only three judges on the panel this season, but let's face it, you're the fourth judge. Your votes mean just as much if not more than the judges, so I'll gladly sit fifth behind all of you watching at home.
This couple starts right at the beginning with the first Disney short, "Steamboat Willie." While their tribute piece captured the fun of the black-and-white classic, I felt Victoria really wasn't into the fun and varied choreography, like she couldn't connect to it. Her energy levels didn't match his, even though she did perform all the steps. Her kicks were lower energy, her steps more hesitant, as if she was suddenly less confident in herself than she has been in recent weeks. It's hard to reconcile that lackluster performance with someone who has been a favorite to win this season.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9
My Score: 8
Vanessa Lachey & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Disney's first feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," served as inspiration for this lovely waltz. Maks' Charming awakened Vanessa and carried her through some lovely gliding motions across the floor. She was a little unsteady on a couple of the turns, but had a lovely carriage and her partnering was confident throughout. It was a beautifully choreographed piece performed with confidence and effortless grace.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8
My Score: 8
Lindsey Stirling & Mark Ballas
This foxtrot was choreographed to Disney's signature piece, "When You Wish Upon a Star." It was sheer perfection. I mean, wow, Lindsey came out like a professional really upstaging the previous two dances in a major way. She is absolutely a force to be reckoned with. Her arms were mesmerizing, her confidence in this piece was just amazing to watch. This partnership has grown into one of the strongest in the competition, and Lindsey finds herself right at the top of the pack. Is there anything she can't do?
Nick had to try and not trip during a "Jungle Book"-inspired quickstep. The good news is he got through it without any major mishaps, and with the quickstep that can be a feat itself. He had moments where he was absolutely on top of the fast footwork, but at other times he stumbled or dropped onto his heels losing the lightness of it. Overall, though, I was impressed with how capably he handled it. It took a bit, but Nick is finally starting to grow in both technique and confidence. It was nice to see him finally having some fun.
Judges Scores: 7, 8, 7
My Score: 7
Drew Scott & Emma Slater
Into the 1970s, it was all about "The Muppet Movie" and Kermit's "Rainbow Connection." First of all, who is this guy? This was the most confident and polished Drew has been all season, and he had a pretty solid outing last week. This Viennese waltz fit him like a glove, beautifully choreographed and performed with such grace and confidence that he looked like a proper dancer throughout most of it. For once, his height and long limbs didn't look like a problem in this dance, as if he was finally comfortable using all of his body in the dance. Again, just wow.
Judges Scores: 9, 8, 8
My Score: 9
Sasha Pieterse & Gleb Savchenko
Sasha's goal this week was to be a "Little Mermaid," in tribute to the film that revived Disney animation for a new generation. I thought this rumba was performed with so much joy it was infectious. I found myself smiling along with Sasha, who clearly was enjoying immersing herself in the character of Ariel with her own Prince Gleb. There was tremendous quality of movement from her throughout the dance, and confidence and grace in her partnering. Sasha is another dancer who is growing leaps and bounds and really starting to show that she deserves to be counted among the better dancers of this season.
I'm worried that T.O. doesn't have what it takes to be "The Lion King" of this quickstep. He lacks in the looseness required to succeed in this tough style. While Cheryl kept the amount of actual quickstep to a minimum, I was still impressed with how well Terrell performed in those moments. There were sequences that didn't really work, but just as many where he was light and quick with his foot movements. I thought his hold was nice throughout most of this. Honestly, I thought this dance would do him in, but through some smart choreography and solid commitment, he wrangled it pretty well, after all. Maybe he can be king … someday.
Judges Scores: 9, 8, 8
My Score: 7
Frankie Muniz & Witney Carson
I don't know if it was the costume or Witney, but Frankie was absolutely the dashing, sexy pirate lead in this "Pirates of the Caribbean" piece. The Argentine tango is passionate and intense, and Frankie brought every bit of that to the piece. He was a commanding leader not just in presence but in movement as well. It was a beautifully choreographed piece, with plenty of quality tango and lots of dramatic lifts and partnering moments, and they nailed every single one of them. His posture was impeccable, his footwork commanding, and I found myself thinking of former winner Alfonso Ribeiro in how much he took control of that stage. Despite being the "Star" in this pair, he was absolutely the pro in taking the lead.
Judges Scores: 10, 9, 10
My Score: 10
Jordan Fisher & Lindsay Arnold
Jordan says "You're Welcome" to Lindsey and his fans with this "Moana"-inspired foxtrot. While the dance itself was a little less than exciting, it was well performed. But we know what Jordan is capable of as a performer, and I found myself really wishing Lindsay would have pushed him more. There was plenty of foxtrot throughout, and it was impeccably performed. He's easily one of the best in the competition, and so really I'm nitpicking at this point, but I wanted to see him push himself to go even further. I know a foxtrot can be more intricate and mesmerizing to watch than that.
Artem brought in genuine traditional Mexican dancers to incorporate some true Mexican style into this jazz piece from the upcoming "Coco." I was so happy to see the softer side of Nikki, as she oozed femininity, gentleness and sexuality in this piece, which are not things she's used to exuding. It was a confident routine, though not as complex as she could handle based on what we've seen before. There were a few places I felt she wasn't matching Artem's energy or the quickness and elevation of his feet, but Nikki is really growing into partnering in a way that's wonderful to see. She's another favorite, giving her highest quality performance to date.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9
My Score: 9
Last week saw six dancers tied in the middle of the leader board, meaning America's votes meant more than ever. This week, they put Sasha Pieterse and Frankie Muniz, which is truly a bunch of bull based on what we saw tonight. At this point, Frankie has made a stronger case to continue in the competition, but Sasha has a more current fanbase, so it was really anyone's game.
After a painfully dramatic pause, it was Sasha Pieterse and Gleb Savchenko who said goodbye, which is unfortunate for the show. The middle performers are starting to get eliminated while the weakest dancers -- at this point that's Nick Lachey and Terrell Owens -- keep eking by. This seems to happen every year, so we might expect it to continue for another couple of weeks at least.
Come back and be frustrated with us as "Dancing With the Stars" continues Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.