We're not even one minute into the show and I'm making sure there's a box of Kleenex nearby. The stars are dancing to the theme of their "most memorable year," and even watching the quick clips they show during the introduction put a little lump in my throat! The celebrities pay tribute to parents, children, music and the military. Tom Bergeron tells us at the start of the show they are all "dancing from the heart." (Warning: Spoiler Alert!)
Here's a recap, from the highest scoring couple, to the lowest scoring couple:
Ricki Lake and Derek Hough - 27 out of 30
Derek Hough choreographed a romantic rumba that Ricki nailed, and both the audience and the judges loved. Her most memorable year is the one we're in right now. Ricki said she had been "stuck" before 2011; she'd gone through a tough divorce, was the single mom of two, and if that wasn't enough to deal with, her house burned down. Then the woman who said she had become closed off to life allowed someone in, and is now happy and in love.
The judges were mesmerized, with Bruno Tonioli saying every dance step was like poetry, and Carrie Ann Inaba telling Ricki she is on fire. Nine's across the board!
J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff - 26 out of 30
The audience loves J.R. and for good reason. He delivers, week in and week out. And not only does he have a great real life back story, he's a good dancer to boot! Of course his most memorable year is when he was a 19-year-old serviceman stationed in Iraq and drove over a land mine. J.R. shared that he did go through dark times after his accident, but he took some advice that his mom gave him to heart; what you have on the inside counts for a lot more than how you look on the outside.
He performed the rumba to Tim McGraw's military inspired song "If You're Reading This," and J.R. dedicated the dance to those who didn't get the second chance he did. The performance brought Carrie Ann Inaba to tears, and Bruno Tonioli called J.R. a source of inspiration for us all.
Chynna Phillips and Tony Dovolani - 26 out of 30
Last week the judges told Chynna she seemed to be holding back; well this week she left it all on the dance floor. Chynna's most memorable year was 1990, the year she co-wrote her first hit single "Hold On." (Shout out to Carnie and Wendy Wilson in the audience!) She told us the lyrics to the song represent her own emergence out of a darkness caused by drugs, alcohol and depression. And she wants the song to continue offering hope to others in the same situation.
The judges were blown away, tossing around words like stunning, elegant, fantastic: both Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli gave Chynna and Tony Dovolani a nine, with an eight from Carrie Ann.
Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke - 24 out of 30
Rob surprises us again with a more than capable foxtrot. His dance is serving as a celebration of his late father's life. Rob was 15 when his father died of cancer, and the younger Kardashian said he's thought about his dad every day since he passed in 2003. The song he's chosen is a favorite of his Dad's, Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon."
The judges are impressed, with Len saying Rob puts the "dash" in Kardashian. Then Rob makes some of us feel very old when Bruno tells him his dance reminded him of Sinatra in "Guys and Dolls." And Rob said "What's Guys and Dolls?" Someone show this kid where Turner Classic Movies is on his cable dial!
Hope Solo and Maksim Chmerkovskiy - 24 out of 30
The judges were harsh on Hope last week and she seems fired up to win them over. Like Ricki Lake, Hope's most memorable year was this past one because of her trip to the World Cup. She said it hurt deeply not to win first place at the tournament, but the experience taught her the lesson that it's all about the journey.
Maksim Chmerkovskiy is trying to hardest to bring out Hope's sexy side for this cha cha cha, but it's not easy. Along with working on her sexy moves and walk, she also needs to pay attention to her facial expressions; for much of the dance it looked like she'd been sucking on a lemon. The judges were happy with the improvement from last week, with Len calling it her best dance so far.
David Arquette and Kym Johnson - 24 out of 30
David's another who redeems himself this week after a disappointing round two. His honesty shines through not just on the dance floor, but also in his taped segments. David's choice for his most memorable year is this last one; he got sober. He said going through that process made him take a hard look at himself and he realized what he really wants in life is to be a great dad for his adorable daughter, Coco.
All three judges had kind words for David's rumba, with Carrie Ann pointing out he shows pure emotion that brings joy to other people.
Kristin Cavallari and Mark Ballas - 24 out of 30
Okay, no tears for this one. Kristin's favorite year was 2005, the year she graduated high school, and chose to pursue to an entertainment career over heading off the college.
She channels her inner Beyonce and shakes all she's got with a samba to "Crazy in Love." I don't have much to say about Kristin; she's fine, but a little forgettable. Yes, she dances better than Carson Kressley, but he's a lot more fun to watch!"
Carson Kressley and Anna Trebunskaya - 23 out of 30
I'm glad Carson called out judge Len Goodman on last week's backhanded compliment that "the bad dancers are the most fun to watch." Carson said it gave him a flashback to middle school gym class.
He chose 2003 as his most memorable year because that's when his show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was a breakout hit. He said the series was the first time he felt like it was okay to finally be himself; it also allowed him to feel proud of the person he had become. The judges were much more positive this week, with Len praising Carson for having the right attitude.
Nancy Grace and Tristan McManus - 21 out of 30
2007 was Nancy's memorable and life changing year. It's the year she gave birth to her twins, John David and Lucy. And they almost didn't make it. They were born early, and both the babies and Nancy's lives were in jeopardy at the time of the birth.
The song she chose to waltz to was "Moon River;" not only was it a song she had at her wedding, it's also the first lullaby she sang to her babies. Bruno called the dance soft and dreamy, and Carrie Ann said she felt Nancy's love for her children come though on the dance floor.
Chaz Bono and Lacey Schwimmer - 18 out of 30
Yes, Chaz is trying, but it looks like the judges are running out of ways to say "atta boy!" It's almost like the ribbon they give the kid on the soccer team for just showing up. His rumba is not really there (Lacey did it, Chaz sort of shuffled around her). His memorable year is also the one we're one, with Chaz saying he's happier than he's ever been in his life.
The judges said things like "impressed by your courage," "you give all," and "endearing quality," but in the end, they all said the dance was not his best.
So who goes home? We'll find out Tuesday night!