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Posted at 12:06 AM ET, 11/16/2010

'Dancing With the Stars' semi-finals performances: We watch so you don't have to

By Lisa de Moraes

Semi-finals night on "Dancing with the Stars" is also Solo Night and Back Story Night. So settle in for a long-ish story. Once upon a time ...

Brandy kicks things off with a super aggressive paso doble. Her dance partner Maks Chmerkovskiy channels his inner Maks with lots of aggressive moves. Brandy meets the requirement to dance a solo by pulling two and a half spins at the end with Maks off-camera. Brandy, who's wearing a modified Heidi/cocktail-waitress-in-a-gentlemen's-club outfit, says, "we dedicate our paso doble to anybody who's ever been bullied in their life." The judges don't totally buy it and give her 27 points out of a possible 30.

Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas, shown last week, made it to the semifinals.(ABC/Adam Larkey) | PHOTOS

Producers drop the storyline of Jennifer Grey in pain for the time being and we see her talking about how "the best is yet to come," so that's a relief. Though, since this is Back Story Night, they may be just setting us up for a sucker punch. But her cha cha cha is really fun and uninhibited and Jennifer fulfills her solo requirement by massaging judges Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli from behind their chairs -- for which she receives a perfect score: 30 points.

Bristol Palin is "back again through the power of your votes," says show host Tom Bergeron -- and, my goodness, how frightened the producers seem to be of all this talk there's been since last week about the politicization of the show! Queue up Bristol's dance partner, Mark Ballas, telling Bristol in a taped bit that he's hearing a lot about people saying she's gotten this far in the competition because of who her mom is "and the tea party."

"I think I'm definitely relatable to the audience out there -- and untouched, and raw. And vulnerable," Bristol says back at him.

The taped bit of her rehearsing emphasizes how risky this dance is going to be as the producers work like little beavers to make it perfectly clear: It's not that she's got powerful people behind her -- she's vulnerable.

Bristol is dramatically dressed in black for her paso doble, and Mark has come up with a brilliant way to get her through her solo: She keeps waving her long black skirt around her legs so we can't really see/don't focus what's going on down there. But props to Bristol, too: It's her best performance to date and she hits her marks. She scores 27 points, her best score ever.

Samba-ing Disney star Kyle Massey starts off his solo with an attempted moonwalk but it's loaded down with gravity. He ends by bounding across the stage to the judges' desk to give a friendly little wave. The rest of his performance is his usual high-energy fun stuff. And, of course, he wears the Disney Cloak of Likability and nothing can harm him. He snares 29 out of a possible 30 points.

Round 2: Beat My Back Story:

Brandy's back story segment didn't go so well. (ABC/Adam Larkey) | PHOTOS

Brandy's back story: She had two flop records and then was behind the wheel of a vehicle that set off a chain-reaction car accident on a Los Angeles freeway, leaving a 38-year-old mother of two dead from her injuries. Maybe the producers left nicer stuff on the cutting room floor, but what we get to see is all about Brandy's suffering, how she stayed at home for months and, she says, people calling her a killer and, "I felt like the world was against me" even though "it was proven it was not my fault."

Actually, what happened, according to press reports, is that the city attorney's office decided not to file misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against Brandy because they felt they did not have enough to convince a jury "beyond a reasonable doubt."

And here's a bit of advice for future "Dancing with the Stars" competitors who plan to use the car accident they survived as their back story on the show: If the accident leaves you emotionally scarred but the other person, you know, dead -- and unless you have absolute control over the editing of that segment -- don't ever, under any circumstances, say to the camera that being on "Dancing with the Stars" has been a "rebirth" for you, because the other person is, to re-iterate, dead.

Contemplate that for a minute while Brandy and Maks do their competent if dull-ish tango in which Brandy mostly gets swept along by Maks and for which she nabs 30 more points.

Jennifer Grey has been a favorite of the judges this season. (ABC/Adam Larkey) | PHOTOS
Jennifer's back story: Did she actually decide to get pins, plates, and cadaver grafts in her car-accident-damaged neck because she hoped to be on "DWTS"? Can we use that line with our insurance company, too? Unlike Brandy, Jennifer notes, respectfully, that "a mother and daughter were killed in the other car" in that accident, and that "it was very traumatic," adding, "then 'Dirty Dancing' opened" and "it was so surreal to go to my big premiere and all of a sudden I was like America's sweetheart, and all of this stuff you think you've been wanting your whole life, and it just doesn't feel very good."

And that, Brandy, is the way to handle it. Chew on that while Jennifer and Derek Hough dance their simple, elegant waltz, which judge Carrie Ann Inaba calls, "one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen" and for which the judges award Jennifer another perfect score.

Bristol's back story: Growing up, for Bristol, was a Garden of Eden experience. "I never had a problems or challenges until I started dating Levi," she says.

Not just dating, mind you -- dating Levi.

"Our little world kinda stopped spinning the day that Bristol came to us and told us she was pregnant," mama Sarah Palin adds. "Naïve us thought it couldn't happen to our family, you know."

Cue sad cello music.

"It wasn't long after that that I was tapped to be the vice presidential nominee," Sarah continues. "Here Bristol was, her little baby bump growing on national stage for all the world to see." We're skipping right along, aren't we? Right past the Levi-marriage bits.

And here's Bristol, sounding like a very unorthodox abstinence advocate: "For people to jump to assumptions, to think that I was some trashy, disgusting girl that was knocked up: 'Oh look she's 17 and pregnant!' No, I've slept with one guy in my life. I've had an on-and-off boyfriend for years on end. It was definitely a challenge to go through that."

Back to Sarah reminiscing about talking to Bristol about whether she should compete on "Dancing with the Stars":

"She told me, 'Mom, I'm going to get criticized anyway.' They may say mean things. They may try to bring ya down but -- doggone it -- you might as well dance!"

Have we all got the story line straight now? Plucky, plucky, plucky.

After that emotional build up, Bristol's dance is a bit of a throwback to her earlier outings, with the blank I'm-along-for-the-ride look. But she's certainly more limber and on-beat than her early days and the judges grant her an additional 26 points for a nightly total of 53.

Kyle Massey's Disney charm has served him well on "Dancing With the Stars." (ABC/Adam Larkey) | PHOTOS

Kyle's back story: Why is it always so hard to feel sympathetic for stage mothers who pull their kids out of school and move to Hollywood in the hopes of cashing in, even if they do take all the money out of their 401(k)s? Anyway, if you can get past that point, then Kyle suffered. Or suffered up to the point of driving to the airport when they got the call from his agent that he had landed a job on a Disney comedy. OK, so Kyle didn't really suffer but he's a likable kid so why do they keep trying to give him another back story? Why can't what you see be what you get with Kyle?

Kyle and dance partner Lacey Schwimmer do the Argentine tango. Most notable: He lifts her up successfully, and that can't be easy. Lacey looks like a lot of solid muscle. Lacey also gets to deliver the best back story line, in spite of all those produced taped bits, backstage: "He was like the little brother I never asked for and I got." Darn it, she's likeable, too! Kyle gets 29 more points for a total of 58.

By Lisa de Moraes  | November 16, 2010; 12:06 AM ET
Categories:  Dancing With the Stars  
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I was very offended in how Brandy addressed the car accident issue, particularly since my mother was killed in a car accident by someone playing around in his car. He went to jail for years and was court ordered to pay a hefty settlement. Brandy, meanwhile, sees the situation as "poor me". So very, very sick. I hope she gets voted off.

Posted by: 2426 | November 16, 2010 1:20 AM | Report abuse

I love Brandy and I hope she wins!! :)

Posted by: smilenow1 | November 16, 2010 4:22 AM | Report abuse

It is obvious as to whom you're pulling for. How long does Brandy have to be punished for an ACCIDENT. There was no evidence that she was negligible when the accident occured. She does not owe you or anyone one else that is not a part of that family an apology. I've had loved ones killed in accidents I haven't dragged those involved throught the mud. The thing is to forgive and move on. We don't know what conversations she's had with that family. It's none of our business! I have had close calls on the road many times. I've been hit from behind and it was only by the grace of God that injuries weren't more severe or that death didn't come. You never know what can happen. Yes someone died. But Brandy is alive and she should not allow people like you to continue to make her feel guilty because she's alive and not in jail. Life does go on even after death and life has to be lived. I hope you're never involved in an accident and people trash you. If Brandy had been drinking and driving, texting, or playing around in the car then I can see holding her more accountable. But none of those things were found to be the case with her. Tragic accidents happen everyday.

Posted by: katspur1 | November 16, 2010 4:41 AM | Report abuse

Love Brandy and Maks. Great dances tonight!!1

Posted by: katspur1 | November 16, 2010 4:43 AM | Report abuse

Since Brandy was never charged in the accident, and she apparently had no alcohol or drug influence, why castigate this woman endlessly after all this time.

I have a friend who has never gotten over the death of a boy she hit while driving many years ago. Each anniversary of that date puts her in a depression for days. The boy ran out between cars chasing a ball. She was not speeding or doing anything wrong - but she has been forever changed by that event, because it is something she can't change.

I am sure that Brandy relives that moment in her life as well and does not need to be judged by others. Any of us could be in the same situation one day. The roadways are full of fatalities daily. A distraction - someone slams on their brakes in front of you and you are a little to close to stop in time. Have some compassion for the guilt she probably still carries that may come out as self pity.

Posted by: charmian | November 16, 2010 5:08 AM | Report abuse

I'll be soooooo glad when the media 'reporters' find themselves another freak family to obsess over 24/7.
The Palin family is soooooo 2008! (Their time is OVER!!!!)

Posted by: momof20yo | November 16, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

I can't wait until "DTWS" and "Sarah Palin's Alaska" is over so we don't have to keep reading about how much you hate Sarah and Bristol Palin. I find your bias ridiculous, especially since you're just writing about TV shows. It shows liberals can't even be objective about TV. How shocking.

Posted by: tfisher1 | November 16, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I confess...I voted.

First time since Jewel's cute-dude rodeo-champion husband was in the show. Gosh he was just "likable". Others were better dancers, but I just liked him and enjoyed his journey on the show. Others were going to go eventually anyway, so why not keep around one whom I enjoyed watching? For him, I used the limit of my votes for each option available to me--land and cell phones, and computer.

Yesterday, though--sorry Kyle (and Lacey), much as I have enjoyed watching you perform, I'm hoping it's an all-girls finale...I voted for Bristol. All five of the permitted votes by each phone method.

A poster on a previous day mentioned Master P. That goes back a few years. As I recall, his nephew L' Romeo had backed out and Master P stepped in to meet the contract. The last couple of times Master P was on the show, Len was asking,then begging the people-who-vote to please stop voting for Master P, that it was not in Master P's best interest to do so. I'm thinking Master P was in pain but not a complainer. Low (low) judges scores were unsuccessful; voters kept Master P on the show.

For the nitpickers among us, why do the judges not comment on how Jennifer's shoulders are up? Ah, well, we are into the feel-good last few segments of the series. For the foot-watching nitpickers among us, Mark Ballas is doing a masterful job in working on the mechanics of Bristol's technique. The improvement on what is hard to learn is discernable. But then Mark's mother, Shirley, was deemed by peers at one time to have the best, fastest, most perfect feet among the world-class competitors.

Well, off to "get a life" and carpe diem!

Posted by: zerodefect01 | November 16, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Bristol is the ONLY one left that started with zero dancing skills. She also had zero stage experience that the others all had. So Bristol started from the bottom and has worked her way up because each week she actually did get better. I think she has done a terrific job of improving which I thought was the point of this show. I think she will have enough support to make it through to next week. She just needs to stay focused and continue to work very hard and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by: jkachmar | November 16, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Ok, I know our country is very much into politics right now. I know it is a touchy subject.

That being said, DWTS has one tiny connection to this touchy subject, and that is (obviously) Bristol.

It is fascinating to read the comments that hurl nasty thoughts directed at Lisa, Bristol, and DWTS for asking her on the show. Why? Much like grade school students, people are managing to manipulate Bristol's presence into an argument that suits the needs of political tension.

Lisa is not saying anything horrible towards Bristol! In fact, she has given her props for an obvious improvement.

Regarding the "back story/personal story" clips: There was not a single person holding a weapon to Brandi's head and forcing her to talk about her accident.

(Truth be told, I didn't even know she was in an accident and hearing about it only made me as frustrated as when the Idol contestants try to gain votes by sharing the "emotional" story of having a neighbor who's third cousin went through an illness).

Correct me if I am wrong, didn't Tom introduce the clips as a way to get to know the final 4 a little better? (Paraphrased-I know this is not an exact quote)

Brandi has not been a favorite of mine this season, I feel like she has hinted at the "boo-hoos" of her life a little bit too much in comparison with her Melinda Doolittle "You are so sweet/You really, REALLY like me" type face.

However, I was irritated to see Bristol and Jennifer's back-story clips as well. What was the point?!

Sweet Kyle seemed (just as Lisa seemed to sense) like he was trying to actually share a back story (cute little guy that he was), but others offered enough to make it seem like he had nothing but struggle in the past.

My point? None of the interviews made me appreciate or hate a candidate any more or less.

Back to the political issues: Bristol is not her mom. She is Bristol. She works HARD, she misses her son. She cried real tears that she was exhausted and wanted to go home.

Don't hold her responsible for what is going on with our struggling government. The point of this show is to give us a moment of escape from all the things that give us heartburn, stress, and smaller retirement savings.

Katspur1, I am sad you had to endure loss (especially multiple accidents). The (sad) truth is that we all endure loss. That does not make any of us a qualified expert to judge the way the loss is dealt with, OR percieved.

Stop manipulating the words Lisa has written, she has not crossed any political boundaries. She did not sit in front of a camera in a Brandi costume and remind people of a fatal car crash. She watched so we don't have to.

Posted by: mommysalami | November 16, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

If thinking that Bristol Palin can't dance and that Sarah Palin needs to shut her mouth once in a while makes me a liberal, so be it. Bristol Palin can't dance and her mother needs to shut her mouth once in a while.

Posted by: mbrumble | November 16, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I found it interesting that the judges posted such high scores for each of the remaining four contestants. Perhaps they genuinely saw merit in each of the performances. However, I can't help but wonder... I'm not a conspiracy theorist suggesting that the Tea Party fix is in for Palinita. But with "reality" television I could believe a scenario where the producers say to the judges let's not judge to harshly because:
1) This is what we have left; let's make the best of it so that viewers still have a positive impression of the show, its judges (and their judgement/critiquing), contestants and the "integrity" of the voting. and you can do the look how far we've come with the bottom of the barrel and the look how consistent or how you've bounced storylines for the more capable dancers.
2) Let's let the viewers' votes count more, so everyone gets inflated scores.

Posted by: MyPostEgo | November 16, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

mbrumble-see, that's just what I'm trying to say. I DON'T think you're a liberal because you said just what a viewer (with an appropriate opinion) should say in your last sentence. Your opinion is that Bristol can't dance and her MOTHER should shut her mouth. That last statement made Bristol just another contestant instead of Sarah Palin's daughter.

Posted by: mommysalami | November 16, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Screw you Lisa deMorales, I bet you had no problem getting over former First Lady Laura Bush's car accident that caused a death. But you rather remain bitter against Brandy and unforgiven as if it directly affected your life. This article you written only shows how low class you clearly are.

Posted by: clsmithj | November 16, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

This is ludicrous and scandalous. Bristol should have been eliminated the first two weeks of the show. She cannot dance, she has no grace and no technic. The finals should include Jennifer, Kyle and Brandy. Like the judges said, I was bored to death and she wasn't believable. Bristol really shouldn't be on the show, she's not a star and she can't dance. I am very disppointed in the voters

Posted by: joyce322 | November 16, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Shame on Dancing with the Stars show and Judges. What a shame...We are not going to watch DWTS anymore. I lost my trust and this is a shame to keep Bristol who dance like a robot just because of her MOMMY DEAREST. The Judges should be ashame of themselves...Specially Carry Ann Inaba who kissing Sarah Palin's behind and argue with Maks who is a very gentelman, Talented professional dancer. I thought this is a talent show not a political show. Sarah Palin is so selfish and sure of herself to push her dumb daughter to win the competition with the fake vots!!! Shame on her...Beside Bristol is not a talented girl nor a celebrity. I am done with this show and not going to watch final or other future seasons...I am so angry. This is so ridiculous to let Brandy go and keep Palin's daughter. I Don't trust ABC, Dancing with the Star show, Judges, they are fake... Bye DWTS for ever...Go to hell.

Posted by: shalab | November 17, 2010 4:35 AM | Report abuse

This is a dance show. It is fun and entertaining. This is the American dream. You start as a receptionist and end up a star. Bristol was not an entertainer. She doe not have dancing experience. But each week from day one she progressed. She blossomed in her last performance. THIS, is what DWTS should be. Depsite all of the negative remarks mentioned since her start, she has risen above. Many, many people have been rooting for her. May her star shine bright.

Posted by: sanjosedh | November 17, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

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