'Dancing With the Stars': Nicole Scherzinger, Erin Andrews tied for top; Freestyle troubles all

erin-andrews-dwts0524.jpgThe most crucial "Dancing With the Stars" dance is the Finals Freestyle and everyone knows it. It's a shame it didn't go as planned for all the couples.

Hosts Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke run down how the first-ever four-dance Finals will work. Tonight is the Redemption Dance, where the judges assign a do-over of something the celebtestant should've nailed the first time, and the always crucial Freestyle.

1. Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Dance: Samba/"Mi Swing es Tropical" a la Quantic & Nicodemus
Bruno was Erin's visiting judge, and he gave her tips for both better hip action and to loosen up overall. It's definitely an improvement, more notably for the confidence than the technique (although that was better too). She did a really, really good job -- lots of personality, good energy throughout, and she really committed to the moves (hair tossing and booty popping requires commitment). Great choreography from Maks, especially them dancing next to Carrie and Bruno, then both kissing Len on the cheek at the end.
Judges: Len thought it was "full-on" and noted the "fantastic" improvement. Bruno said she delivered on the fun and hip action. Carrie Ann said she moved herself up three notches from the last time.
Score: 29 (10-10-9) - There was some booing at Bruno for that one point.

2. Evan Lysacek and Anna Trebunskaya
Dance/Song: Viennese Waltz/"Piano Man" a la Billy Joel
Evan got tutored by Len in rehearsal week and worked on chemistry and connecting to Anna. The main thing he was shown was taking every opportunity to look at her in between moves. He did connect way more and of course there was improvement, since this was the first dance he ever did. The technique was high quality as usual, but I'm most impressed by how natural he looked. It didn't seem like he had any difficulty executing anything. Anna's choreography was once again great. She does a good job of subtlely including moves that connect to Evan's ice skating, whether a direct move or just something reminiscent.
Judges: Bruno lauded the fluidity, lyricism, and chemistry. Carrie Ann said Evan remedied all the previous problems and called it a "emotional, enchanting dream." Len said it had grace, elegance, and movement but occasionally he had a slight form break.
Score: 28 (10-9-9)

3. Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough
Dance/Song: Rumba/"Lady in Red" a la Chris De Burgh
Of course this means Carrie Ann gets to help Nicole out. I found what little they showed of their interaction very interesting for some reason I can't define. Essentially, C to the A wants her to let go and live in the moment. Nicole definitely seems more relaxed this time around, and her flexibility is ridiculous. Excellent job overall.
Judges: Carrie Ann said the only way that Nicole could grow was to become vulnerable and soft, and she did that. Too bad there was a lift at the end (and there was -- the music didn't quite finish, unfortunately). Len loved the subtlety of the choreography and, despite feeling she lacked confidence at times, thought it was great. Bruno called it "superlative" among other things.
Score: 28 (9-9-10) - Derek apologized for not counting out the lift correctly in the backstage interview.

4. Erin and Maks
Dance/Song: Freestyle/"Alone" a la Heart
In order to really separate themselves and make a statement, they're doing a more contemporary/lyrical number. Hmm. To help make sure they're on the right page, they enlisted the help of fantastical "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Mandy Moore ( Boardroom Dance anyone?). This is where Erin's childhood dance training actually helps her. They made great use of their couch and bed props. The choreography was interesting, they told a great story, and she performed very well. I just don't know if it'll be enough for her to win.
Judges: Len said they took an enormous risk and he liked it but didn't love it. Bruno said she put her heart and soul into it and pulled off some incredible moves. Carrie Ann loved the choice, especially since Maks risked a genre he's not comfortable with to make Erin look good.
Score: 26 (9-8-9) - Eesh...

5. Evan and Anna
Dance/Song: Freestyle/"Footloose" a la Kenny Loggins
Rehearsing and choreographing this dance was extremely stressful for them -- to the point where Anna had to have a bit of a cry. So she decided to bring in choreographer Bobby Newberry to help polish their routine and find a middle ground between her and Evan's visions. It did kind of remind me of movie in some ways but was still unique. Their lifts were crazy. It wasn't the cleanest routine, but I don't think I've seen him give so much personality before.
Judges: Bruno thought he lost some precision but appreciates that he went for it. Carrie Ann said it looked like they were dancing two different dances but loved the energy and the last lift. Len doesn't think it was what either wanted to do and it wasn't what he wanted to see.
Score: 24 (8-8-8) - Ouch...

6. Nicole and Derek
Dance/Song: Freestyle/"A Little Less Conversation" a la Elvis Presley & Junkie XL
Derek is really pushing himself as well as Nicole, even putting in lifts he's never done before. Nothing really went wrong in the number (except a slight entry issue in the last lift) but I'm a little disappointed. It was well performed, but if there was ever a time to really let Nicole loose, this is it. It was the cleanest of all three and I enjoyed it, but I guess I was expecting something else. Kudos on going full out through such a hard/high-energy routine though.
Judges: Carrie Ann said it was the "Freestyle we've all been waiting for." Len saw a myriad of styles and thought it was fantastic. Bruno thought it had "dazzling creativity" and was "technically superb" with the exception of the little bobble.
Score: 27 (9-9-9)

Overall Thoughts: I'm surprised at how much trouble all the couples had with the Freestyle. There's no telling how the audience is going to vote, because I can see how someone could like or dislike every single one of the routines. My votes are going to Erin and Maks if for no other reason than they went so outside the box.

The Winner is...: It's going to be Erin or Nicole, I think. I'm leaning more toward Erin because she's had more room to grow and voting viewers love that whole journey thing. But Nicole has been stellar since day one and I'd hate for her to be punished for that. Also? I kind of just want Maks to finally win a title.

So what did you think? Were the Freestyles what you expected? Which was your favorite? Think you know who'll win?

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Photo credit: ABC