Down to four couples, "Dancing With The Stars" finds itself with two natural dancers in Joanna Krupa and Mya, one sentimental favorite in Donny Osmond, and one Cinderella story in Kelly Osbourne. Monday night, those four competed for the three spots available in the finals. And, because episodes are still two full hours long with only four couples, each couple would do three individual dances — something that's never happened in the show's history.
Donny Osmond's Adam-Ant-inspired paso doble last week went badly. This week, Gilles Marini advised Donny, during the tango, to make everyone “uncomfortable” with the sexiness of it all. Unfortunately, the discomfort arose when the dance went dramatically awry, from footwork mishaps to Kym Johnson's shoe getting caught in, and ultimately shredding, the hem of her dress. Len Goodman called it "a catastrophe,” and Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba were not much kinder.
Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough performed a Viennese waltz that took Joanna back to the graceful style that has served her well on a few occasions, and the dance was lovely and simple. The choice of Leonard Cohen's very sad "Hallelujah" for this particular context was odd, but the dance survived. Bruno found a few little flaws, but the judges’ reception was enthusiastic.
Kelly Osbourne and Louis van Amstel have been up, down, and all over the place, but her foxtrot and jive last week both scored well. This week, Kelly faced down the rumba, a dance that looks easy but often trips up the unwary. Kelly is surprisingly graceful, though, and while she and Louis have chemistry that’s more friendly than sexy, the rumba suited her. Bruno noticed that it lacked “eroticism,” but Carrie Ann stressed Kelly’s presentation and impact, and her scores weren’t bad.
Mya has been the season’s most consistent dancer. She also landed the first perfect score of the season last week. Their waltz was not their flashiest dance, but it looked effortless and beautiful. Len, often her harshest critic, had no complaints, and neither did the other judges — Bruno even offered up another 10, putting Mya and Dmitry in the lead after the first round.
The second round led off with Donny and Kym's samba, where they tried to recover from their rather tragic tango. The samba is a very goofball-friendly dance, and Donny found himself back in his sweet spot, sparkly purple outfit and all. It was a solid recovery, and the judges’ scores put him back in the fight, though Carrie Ann still thought it looked a bit “sloppy.”
Joanna and Derek’s cha-cha-cha incorporated her reliable slink factor, and while the silly fringe pants that have plagued her returned, she did well. Derek badly — very badly — needs to get past the ugly move with which he’s suddenly enamored, where he bends her back and pulses her up and down by the back of her neck, which does nothing for her and places all the focus on himself. Still, it was a good routine, and the judges were impressed, giving Joanna the same 27 points she had received for her Viennese waltz.
Next up was Kelly with the quickstep. Kelly always furrows her brow about the fast dances, and it was easy to spot worry and tension on her face and a stumble or two on the footwork. Nevertheless, her efforts in the faster dances are improving, and the judges poured praise on her, with Len calling it “totally beyond [his] expectations.” Kelly's endearing vulnerability swelled as she expressed her relief at being praised for a fast, fleet-footed dance.
Mya and Dmitry's salsa was full of energy, and her solo was the only notable one of the four that the celebrities performed in the Latin round. “Tutti frutti, what a booty,” Len declared, before declaring himself “mesmerized by [her] buttocks.” This, please note, is what happens when the judges don’t know what to say other than that they very much enjoyed something. Predictably — mesmerizing booty or not — Mya and Dmitry walked away with 30 points, getting a perfect score for the second week in a row.
The final round took each couple through its short “knockout dance.” These were the dances prepared in the event of a “dance-off,” and the couples were granted, within reason, “creative control” in constructing them. Donny and Kym led off with a jitterbug designed to play up Donny's natural ham qualities — which are, of course, considerable. It wasn’t his most challenging dance, but Donny got to flaunt his showman side (which is really the only one he has), and the judges concluded that he was fully recovered from the tango train wreck.
Joanna and Derek did a salsa, as you might expect, capitalizing on their hot-and-sweaty vibe — and Derek went back to that same neck-grabbing move we talked about earlier, earning a tight-lipped, unamused mention from Carrie Ann. Joanna always looks good on the party dances, and here she received the same 27 points as Donny and Kym.
Kelly and Louis chose the cha-cha-cha, in part because Kelly was dissatisfied with her last go-round with it. Once again, the dance was designed to showcase strengths and hide weaknesses over only a brief twirl around the floor, and once again, it was a strong performance — scoring exactly the same as the first two couples.
The final couple with the opportunity to actually affect its position with the knockout dance was the couple most likely to do so — the surging Mya and Dmitry. Their cha-cha-cha, upbeat and trick-filled, wasn’t anything they haven’t done before, but once again, they had the edge with the judges — 29 points (10s from both Len and Bruno), inching them two more points ahead of the pack.
Heading for Tuesday night, Donny is trailing in scores, but his fan support has seemed powerful up until now. He’s only behind Kelly Osbourne by four points in total over three dances — a very small lead. Kelly then is three points behind Joanna, who is six points behind Mya. Mya looks invulnerable and Joanna seems unlikely — meaning that the question may be whether Donny’s popularity can boost him past Kelly and put an end to her underdog run.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com