Somehow, in Week 2 of the competition, no one was terrible and a few stars turned in absolutely breathtaking and incredibly difficult performances.
It's hard to believe it's only the second week of competition on "Dancing with the Stars" because the caliber of performance and technique we're getting is way beyond what we normally see at this stage.
The amazing thing was that virtually everyone stepped up their game considerably from last week and no one turned in a performance that was downright bad. And with a dozen stars still in the running, that may be unprecedented.
Last week's front-runners, Tinashe and DeMarcus Ware, continue to come on strong, but they were joined by no less than four more stars who pushed themselves to that same level of excellence. We got complicated lifts from both male and female stars, and even the dreaded quickstep proved no real threat.
It's getting to where everyone is wondering what's wrong with head judge Len Goodman, because even he's finding little to complain about, and that includes "Grocery Store Joe." The "Bachelor" franchise star was an absolute disaster last week, bringing in the lowest score and skating by on viewer votes alone. But this week, he actually looked like a proper dancer out there.
And fun fact, the season's rookie pro dancer, Brandon Armstrong, is really making a run for that Mirrorball Trophy in his inaugural season. Spoiler alert: Yes it's early, but he's got a real shot at it with the brilliantly charismatic and talented Tinashe on his arm.
Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. 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. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I've spent the last sixteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.
First off, what a fun piece. DeMarcus was working hard but you could see that he was having fun bringing this sweet story to life. The choreography was pretty rudimentary for a foxtrot, but it kept things simple for DeMarcus as he tried to show a softer side after last week's high marks. He didn't quite nail this as smoothly as that one, as he wasn't quite able to match Lindsay's energy or commitment levels, but he nailed every step and had proper form throughout. If that's him not completely comfortable yet, he's going to be exciting to watch.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8
My Score: 8
Danelle Umstead & Artem Chigvintsev
Artem kept this one slow and steady for Danelle, who was clearly struggling with remembering the routine. After a misstep once they hit the main floor, she got her feet squared away, but that was about the only part of her that was committed to the dance. Maybe a week isn't long enough for Danelle to master these dances with her physical limitation (blindness), but she did get out there and give it her all. It looked a lot like you might see kids doing it who are just learning -- with no hip action whatsoever -- but it was recognizable as a cha cha. If she sticks around long enough to create some muscle memory on these techniques and basic steps, she might be able to grow into a dancer that blows us away.
Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6
My Score: 5
John Schneider & Emma Slater
He didn't quite nail the classic Charleston footwork, and slipped up during the tandem kicks, but John is a natural showman and it's a shame he didn't learn dance earlier in his career. He'd have been a real Broadway threat then. His charisma and grace onstage almost overcomes the technical difficulties he had here and there throughout this piece. He also kept his carriage a little too upright during some of the elements that wanted more of a lean forward. But the important thing is he gave us the charm of the dance, the spirit of it and he's absolutely fun to watch.
This was a much more confident cha cha than last week's quickstep. Nancy looked like she actually enjoyed performing this one and brought a lot of personality to the stage, as well as some sensuality in her movements. There was a liquid quality to her hips that really fed well into the style, even as her feet fumbled ever so slightly here and there. This week, though, you can see that Nancy could really grow into someone special to watch on this show.
Judges Scores: 7, 7, 7
My Score: 7
Alexis Ren & Alan Bersten
Alan's attack with this choreography was just breathtaking, and Alexis did a great job of giving it her all. The ballet opening wasn't quite as successful, and the transition into the Argentine tango didn't completely work, but once we got into it, Alexis committed fully to all that legwork during those lifts and spins. She was a little too calculated, lacking the sizzle and flare she needed to really sell those moments, but it's impressive she went for it so fully in Week 2 and says a lot about where she is as a performer. Her dance background, no matter how long ago it was, is certainly helping her now.
Judges Scores: 8, 9, 8
My Score: 8
Joe Amabile & Jenna Johnson
Jenna did what she could to protect Joe in her foxtrot choreography, but he may not have needed her to. Joe showed up this week in a way we didn't see at all in the premiere. He had nice up-down motion through about half of the dance, and he was there as a partner for her. There was one sequence where he looked like he was walking across the stage rather than dancing, and Jenna used him as a standing prop a few times, but all his extra work paid off. He got a little over-excited with that lift, but it turned out nice. Maybe Joe can prove himself worthy to stay after all.
Brandon was really just trying to show off how talente of a dancer he already had as a partner in Week 2. They incorporated four lifts throughout this Argentine tango, and the first two were absolutely stunning. The latter two looked as if they may have been slightly under-rehearsed but still ultimately successful. Even better was the footwork, the sizzle and the grind throughout the rest of the routine. Tinashe is a firecracker on the stage. Her footwork and body placement was just about flawless. This was fine dancing for any week of the competition, but for Week 2 it is utterly insane.
Judges Scores: 9, 8, 9
My Score: 9
Milo Manheim & Witney Carson
Look at Milo, learning how to do some lifts throughout this Charleston. On top of that, his footwork was mostly where it needed to be, and with those giant white sneakers there was no hiding. This was a high-energy piece with Witney really pushing him creatively throughout. There was story and pictures and some really fun moments, but Milo was right about one thing. That was exhausting just to watch, much less what they went through bringing such an infectious and joyous piece to life.
Judges Scores: 9, 8, 9
My Score: 8
Mary Lou Retton & Sasha Farber
That was an absolutely stunning waltz from beginning to end, accompanied by Sarah Bockel ("Beautiful: The Carole King Musical") singing "Natural Woman." Mary Lou's arms and even her hands were exquisite throughout, and there was such a lovely grace in her movements. Again, it's crazy this is only Week 2 and these competitors are coming out with such confidence. That final lift-spin move was mesmerizing and flawlessly executed, but so much of the dance was. Her waltz content was beautiful, her carriage, poise, control. It was everything.
Did Juan Pablo slip some Charleston into this quickstep just 'cause? That was a very confident performance of a very challenging style of dance that demands discipline and careful placement of feet at all times or it can get dangerously off rhythm and quickly out of control. Juan Pablo tackled every bit of it and doing so on Week 2 -- broken record time -- with such confidence and command is absolutely stunning. On top, his hold was a little wobbly at times, but his posture was where it needed to be and it was such a minor part of a potentially overwhelming style. Juan Pablo gave performance on top of everything technical.
Judges Scores: 9, 8. 9
My Score: 9
Evanna Lynch & Keo Motsepe
Evanna definitely went for it with more gusto and panache than last week, bringing a little bit of sexuality to this samba. She really got some hip action going, though you could still see that this wasn't exactly comfortable for her. But her footwork was nice, and while she couldn't match Keo's energy or commitment to hitting those steps with the right flick, she was there with him every step of the way, showing continued growth and a willingness to go for it, and this show loves dancers who grow and learn along the way.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8
My Score: 8
Bobby Bones & Sharna Burgess
Once again, Bobby was a bursting bubble of barely-contained energy, only it didn't suit the foxtrot well at all. He was a little too big and too broad and too stutter-stepping throughout that routine as if he was waiting to break out. Maybe he was thinking of his impromptu closing with The Floss (made famous by Katy Perry's "Backpack Kid"). We're not sure if Sharna is going to be able to channel his energy properly, but if she can, he has the potential to be a solid dancer and performer. He just can't perform every style with his wide-eyed, jaw agape approach like he's about to challenge Len to a breakdance competition.
Judges Scores: 7, 6, 7
My Score: 6
"Dancing With the Stars" runs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET for its first two weeks, before sliding back to its usual Monday dominance Then, it'll be joined by Sunday episodes of "Dancing With the Stars: Juniors" for back-to-back fun all fall starting Oct. 7 at 8 p.m .ET on ABC.