PureDWTS Season 29, Week 2 – Power Rankings

Welcome to “Dancing with Tyra Banks! And 15 Other Famous People But Mainly TYRA BANKS!!! Did We Mention TYRA BANKS??? WE ARE CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED TO SAY HER NAME AT LEAST 50 TIMES PER SHOW, SEND HELP!”

For anyone still able to hold onto the notion that Tyra “is doing better than we thought she would”, I admire your optimism, but I’m completely over her after only 2 weeks. Every time she asks an awkward (and usually frivolous) question after a couple gets their judges’ critiques (which are cut woefully short), or we have to hear her make every interaction about herself in some way, or we’re forced to witness her awkward attempt at humor in the “smizing” cold open, I just think to myself “Tom Bergeron would have never stooped to this level, and he could have gracefully hosted this show with a blindfold on and his hands tied behind his back…and it would still be better than this drivel!” Erin would have been worlds better than this as well…and Samantha Harris…and even one-and-done host Lisa Canning. About the only previous host Tyra has beat is Brooke Burke-Charvet, owing to the fact that Brooke wasn’t much more than a barely-sentient (but very pretty) potato. At least Tyra has a certain trainwreck appeal that makes her somewhat entertaining to watch…

…so with the new(ish) voting format, as Heidi mentioned, we’ve kind of discovered that it may actually be more beneficial for a couple to dance in the first hour of the show (as opposed to the second); I don’t think it was a coincidence that they seemed to front-load the show this week with most of the good dancers (Nev, Skai, Johnny, Justina, AJ) and left more of the weaker dancers in the back half (Charles, Carol, Chrishell, Vernon, Anne). And I don’t think the order in which the couples were called “safe” from elimination was a coincidence, either, despite Tyra insisting that the couples were “in no particular order”; the earliest ones called safe (Kaitlyn, Justina, AJ, Johnny) are the ones I think the majority of us assumed would be the safest, and the last three standing (Chrishell, Carol, and Charles) were the three most of us had in the danger zone.  I find the fact that Skai was one of the last four standing to possibly be a bit of a warning shot – I’m wondering if she’s dealing with Disney Kid Syndrome(TM) and is struggling with votes.

Other noteworthy stuff? On the negative end, I’m not sure the cameras panning to the couples sitting in their socially-distanced balconies after watching another couple dance is a good thing – more often than not, the couples were either making strange (potentially shady?) faces, or were messing with their phones; at least once, the camera panned to an empty balcony for a few beats. On the positive end, we are getting to experience the saucy troll side of Derek – the passive aggressive “Good job! That’s all I have time to say!” to Jesse after being rushed along from giving a critique by Tyrant (I’ve decided it’s her new name, y’all, since she’s the airtime hoarder) was SENDING me, as was this Carrie-Ann trolling TiK ToK he posted the other day that has inspired me to resurrect my long-marinating “lift policing” post for later this week 😉 Seriously, I cannot wait to see what other sassy comedic GOLD this arrangement sends our way – this is what happens when you hire the most decorated former pro in DWTS history to judge, after he’s had a successful run judging another more high-profile show on a rival network and he has absolutely NOTHING to lose by being a bit of a little shit 😉

@derekhoughShe’s a stickler for lifts @dancingabc♬ original sound – Tucky

So we lost Charles & Emma, which wasn’t terribly surprising – I think most of us had Carole and Charles as our bottom two; really and truly, as much as everyone seems to want Carole gone, I do think the right decision was made – I thought Carole was slightly better than Charles both weeks. Charles, bless him, I just don’t think he was going to improve much more this season. Sweet man, sweet partnership with Emma…but just not meant to go the distance.

1.) Justina & Sasha – As if she heard my speculation last week if she would be as dazzling at the ballroom dances as she was with the Latin ones, Justina delivered yet again – just a lovely foxtrot, with beautiful extensions and musicality. And once again, she looked like she was having the time of her life out there. I think that’s what setting Justina apart from most of the other contestants for me: she’s the full package – she’s able to deliver on both technique and showmanship, and she genuinely seems to be enjoying herself.  There’s some contestants that are good at technique, but not so much the showmanship; and there are couples that are great at the showmanship, and not so much the technique.  And there are yet other contestants that just don’t look like they’re having much fun. So for Justina to easily check all three boxes – that makes her the one to beat for me.  Although I’m curious to see if she manages to get the votes as the season wears on – like Nev, Chrishell, Monica, Carole, and Skai, she seems to have one of those names that aren’t immediately familiar to a good chunk of the audience.

2.) Kaitlyn & Artem – After Tyrant’s dramatic declaration that Kaitlyn was injured, I wondered to myself “oh crap, did I jinx this happy partnership last week???” Luckily, Kaitlyn danced, and I’m left wondering if the whole thing was done for drama at Tyrant’s behest – I wouldn’t put it past her, being the puppetmaster that she is. And it was a very nice dance – Kaitlyn stayed on time, had nice musicality, and definitely improved in her extension and lines from last week. Dare I say she maybe even overdid it a bit? There were a few extensions she did where I felt myself thinking “Ok, maybe a tad exaggerated”, but apparently it pleased Derek, as he whipped out the first “8” paddle of the season. Kaitlyn can move, for sure – I’m just not sure I’m sold on her star quality.  But I think the injury and the rehearsal package about her failed dance career likely gained her some fans this week, so she’s likely not leaving anytime soon.

3.) Nev & Jenna – I said that Nev would need to make a big splash right out of the gate in order to stick around, and he succeeded – two very strong dances in the first two weeks, so I think he’s winning enough people over to keep him safe. His cha-cha was nice – great musicality, good showmanship.  I found it to be a tad too flow-y at times – while that suited his foxtrot well, he needs more impact for the Latin dances; I wonder if its his contemporary dance background that’s contributing to the “flowy” quality to his movement. Something to work on in the coming weeks, and I’m sure we’ll see him improve.

4.) AJ & Cheryl – This week, we saw the AJ most of us were predicting in the pre-season: one who could potentially win this season. While I don’t think his jive last week was bad, per se, I do think the boon of not having to go first (and maybe not having a green lighting and camera crew) this week resulted in a much more confident, cohesive performance. You could tell he really liked the song and was having fun, and I think being able to play a bit of a character helped him to really focus on presentation. Good musicality, decent posture and footwork. Some of the cute little choreographic quirks in this foxtrot screamed “Alan Salazar ghost choreo” to me.

5.) Johnny & Britt – I realize we’re only in week 2, but so far I’m feeling a skosh let down by Johnny. Granted, I think like many of us, I just have really high expectations, after having him on my “wish list” for so many seasons; but while he is delivering on the showmanship (and definitely on the costuming!), I just feel like his dances are a tad soft. I wish I could pick Derek’s brain on this one, because I think he’s the type that can quickly and easily diagnose dance “problems” just by watching a couple dance a few bars; as I recall from my own competition days, Shirley also had a knack for this, so he probably gets it from her. But to my only semi-trained eye, it almost looks like Johnny isn’t planting his feet enough on each step and it’s resulting in some rather muddled steps. And it kinda sucks that he’s gotten two dances so far that require pretty sharp, impactful steps – I’m willing to bet that flowy, continuous movement quality will be a boon in the foxtrot and waltz, but they might be hindering him with the Latin dances and more staccato dances like the tango. But I’m loving Britt’s choreo so far, and I’m eager for them to get a slower dance so Johnny can really shine.

6.) Jesse & Sharna – If we’re going to get a dark horse/growth arc story this season, I think Jesse might be the most likely candidate. I did notice an improvement over his dance last week, and his confidence out on the floor seems to be growing; he also has a sort of intense, leading-man quality that makes him interesting to watch as he’s dancing. Posture continues to be an issue, but it’s getting there; now I’m just really interested to see him do a Latin dance, since he’s gotten saddled with ballroom for two weeks in a row now. I wish they’d go back to alternating styles a bit more in the first few weeks, otherwise we end up with back-to-back dances that look about the same (see Jeannie). We’re also seeing very “Sharna” choreographic flourishes in their dances, and she seems to be regaining her footing as one of the better choreographers this season. I’m just really intrigued by them as a couple, and think he may end up surging to the front of the pack over time.

7.) Skai & Alan – Poor Skai – she got saddled with the most difficult dance this week, and the poor thing just looked petrified after the flubbed trick towards the beginning.  She really did start off strong – she was closing her thighs (which is one of my main complaints about female celebs trying to do the dance – most have their legs wayyyy too far open), she was reasonably on top of the beat (most celebs don’t ever completely nail it, except maybe Alfonso or Jordan), and she seemed to be having fun.  But after the flub, she got a bit of the “deer in the headlights” expression on her face, and I don’t think she really snapped out of it the rest of the dance. While she seems to have a dance skill set like Zendaya’s, I don’t think she’s quite as comfortable on the dance floor as Zendaya was; especially on the batucadas, she looked pretty wobbly, where I remember Zendaya being confident and sharp. And for the record, like the samba roll – I feel like the batucada is another step that’s a tad overrated, and you shouldn’t include it in a routine unless your partner can absolutely SLAY it, otherwise it looks a bit silly.

8.) Nelly & Daniella – So in talking about Justina being the “full package”, while others only check some of the boxes, Nelly is one that seems to have something to work with in the showmanship and technique boxes, but may be lacking in the “are they enjoying themselves?” department. I’m still not convinced that Nelly’s giving himself fully over to the experience – the fact that he had custom-made dance sneakers on is a step in the right direction, but if he was truly embracing the experience, I think he would have just accepted the regular dance shoes from the beginning. And when he’s dancing, I catch glimpses of him having fun moments; but then the mask seems to slide back into place, and he’s pulling weird serious faces again. He may be a Rob Kardashian – someone that it takes several weeks for him to fully let down his guard and just allow himself to have fun. As for his cha-cha this week – not terribly different from his salsa last week, and I’m hoping he gets a ballroom dance next week. He seemed stronger in the non-cha-cha parts of the dance, where he could groove a bit more and put his own flavor on it; but the cha-cha steps were a bit soft and awkward, and I found myself going “Oof, just got back to the grooving by yourself.” Lots of room for improvement here, and potential; the question is, will he go for it?

9.) Jeannie & Brandon – I will say this: of all the contestants this season, I feel like the two that consistently have the most fun out on the floor are Justina & Jeannie 🙂 The caveat is that Jeannie seems to lack Justina’s command of technique, and bless her, I stand by my statement last week that Jeannie seems like a bit of a chaotic mover. Another couple that got saddled with a dance that really wasn’t much different than what they did last week, I saw a lot of the same balance issues in their cha-cha that I saw in their salsa – I think Jeannie moves big, but loses some control in the process and nearly falls over (or collides with Brandon). It’s something she’ll have to reign in, and now I want to see her do a ballroom dance. But I gotta give her credit – she’s awfully fun to watch, and I love her line about being “one dance away from being deported”, courtesy of her Vietnamese mother 😛

10.) Monica & Val – If Justina’s the full package, and Jeannie has the showmanship and fun but lacks the technique, then Monica has the technique but lacks the showmanship (and perhaps a bit of the fun). You could combine Jeannie and Monica and end up with someone at Justina’s level 😉 You can tell Monica’s in fantastic shape, and she can move – I do think the jive suited the choppy, sharp movements that she is used to choreographing in cheer routines. Did the dance need the cheerleading lift? Ehhh…prolly not, but since lifts irritate Carrie Ann and aren’t really a big deal to me in the scheme of things anymore, I’ll accept it. Monica did the choreo she was given well – generally stayed on-time, and seemed to be having some fun (though parts seemed a bit forced to me – I just don’t think Monica’s the type of really outwardly emote). But this routine seemed short on basic jive content and long on time-wasting, Val – so tighten it up a bit, brah. It’s a little early in the season to be getting this lazy with choreo…

11.) Anne & Keo – Kooky as she may be, there is just something about Anne that I love – maybe it’s the fact that she doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks, maybe it’s her profound respect for Keo, maybe it’s something else. But there’s something refreshing about her dances – they aren’t pretentious or lacking in content (props to Keo), and she just seems so genuine in them. Sure, there were some posture issues (owing to the heigh difference), and I think she may have lost time once or twice, but overall, it was a really pleasant dance to watch. I was also impressed at how quickly Derek was able to zero in on what was driving most of their issues – where Len used to make a cranky face and a big production about how the dance pissed him off, Derek sees the issue and says “Hey, I think if you do this, it should fix the problem!” Granted, there’s so little time for judges’ critiques now, that even if Len were still around, he’d get cut off – but wow, is it nice to actually hear constructive feedback, instead of just bitching and moaning.

12.) Vernon & Peta – Nice to see Peta pulling the paso doble spin move from Donald’s season out again 🙂 But alas, the comparisons to Donald Driver that I made last week seem to end there. If Nelly has some natural talent but not the drive, then I think Vernon has the drive but not the natural talent – I can tell he really, REALLY wants to do well, but dancing is just not something that comes naturally to him. I found him to be a bit stompy, which seems to be a rookie paso doble mistake – fun fact about the “appel” (the stomping move you see in paso a lot): proper technique is using your core to control the action, and you’re not actually stomping down with a flat foot, so much as following through on a kicking motion. If you’re doing it correctly, only your heel should audibly strike the floor. And boy, was that caboose sticking out – the posturing seemed more like he was about to line up at the line of scrimmage, rather than about to dance. Lotta work to be done here, and I feel like he’s going to need to start improving fast in order to stand out in this sea of contestants.  He’s got a fantastic smile, though 🙂

13.) Chrishell & Gleb – This is my “cringe” couple of the season: every time I watch them interact or dance, I just find myself cringing. I just found the story she told in her rehearsal package to be a bit strange – I know it was meant to show that she had not grown up privileged, but the way it was edited, I felt like the takeaway point was that Chrishell was self-conscious about smelling bad as a kid. And as for her dance – if we’re being honest, this was really more of a “contumba” than a rumba, and Gleb seemed to be leaning into more of the flaily contemporary moves to cover the fact that Chrishell’s an awkward mover. I mean, I saw flexed feet, bad posture, unfinished lines, “lifts”…the whole nine yards, and yet Gleb somehow was exempt from lift policing because of “artistic license” or whatever. I do not understand why the judges seem to coddle him and his mediocre choreo…but I’m hoping I don’t have to see it much longer, since they were curiously one of the last three couples standing.

14.) Carole & Pasha – Unpopular opinion time: I don’t think Carole has necessarily gotten a fair shake coming off of all the Tiger King publicity. Granted, I think she should have known coming into the competition that she would have to deal with some flak – after all, she’s really only notable for being Joe Exotic’s nemesis; but I think some people forget that she’s still a human being, so to see her tears with Pasha made me feel bad for her. And really, there were some parts of the story about her MIA husband that sent up red flags for me – they met when he basically tried to solicit her as she was walking around one night after leaving her abusive first husband? And he was 43 while she was 19? And he left his wife and children to be with her? And he had multiple affairs in the years to come? And some of his business dealings may not have been 100% legal? Now I’m by no means justifying murder (if he even was murdered), but I think Don has gotten painted in a pretty flattering light in all of this, when there were some suspicious power dynamics in play with his marriage to Carole. Part of me wonders if there might have been spousal abuse involved. And I still take some umbrage at the fact that Joe Exotic got cast as some sort of folk hero for bringing the story Carole’s missing husband to light, when his own sins were legion (animal cruelty, fraud, misappropriation of funds, illicit drug use, murder for hire…I could go on).  Bottom line: Tiger King is one of the worst things to come out of 2020, and I resent the fact that I even have to give commentary on it when I’m supposed to be talking about DWTS. But alas, here I am. And honestly, I thought her Viennese waltz was pleasant – it was very basic, to be sure, but I didn’t find it painful to watch; I give credit to Pasha for making the most out of this season’s “dud” partner. Compared to last season’s “dud” partner, I’d pick Carole 10/10 times. Alas, I think she’s likely headed home next week, as I don’t see her clawing her way out of the bottom and I doubt there’s anyone left that the judges would send home to save Carole.

Week two thoughts: who has solidified their place as a front-runner? Who will likely be gone by the midpoint of the season? How many more times will Derek troll Carrie-Ann or Tyrant? 😉