Photo Credit: ABC/Adam Taylor
Dancing with the Stars set out to tug our heartstrings Monday night, as each star relayed a personal story from the most memorable year of his or her life. The celebrities opened up about all kinds of struggles, from a difficult diagnosis (Jack Osbourne's multiple sclerosis), to a loved one's death (Brant Daugherty's father, to lymphoma) to a hurtful divorce (Christina Milian's short-lived relationship with her daughter's dad). And there were celebrations, too: Bill Engvall paid tribute to the year he married his wife, and Amber Riley recalled the year she rebounded from an American Idol rejection, right into a life-changing role on Glee.
In another season, this "most memorable year" theme could (and has) come off as forced. But this is such a genuinely likable roster of celebrities that the pre-performance, "get to know you" clips are as pleasurable as the dancing itself. Tonight's eliminated contestant was, surprisingly, one of the more polished dancers. But with so many appealing personalities in the mix, many of whom are bravely facing personal challenges, this contest has turned out to be about much more than dancing.
Most adorable performance: Teeny Snooki (Nicole Polizzi) and her diminutive partner Sasha Farber (so cute together!) were perfectly in sync during a high-energy jazz routine to Britney Spears' "Work Bitch." Snooki was commemorating last year, when she became a working mom to her son, Lorenzo. If you're among the legions who've seen MTV's Jersey Shore -- and that number is freakin' huge -- then chances are, you've experienced Snooki's turn on DWTS as quite a revelation. She's not inebriated. She's not making out with beefy, greasy-haired guys. She's just dancing… really well. She has transformed into "an exhilarating bundle of fun," as Bruno Tonioli told her before the entire table of judges gave her a whole plate of 9s.
Best comment from a judge: "The grace of your being always manages to slip into the grace of your dancing," Carrie Ann Inaba told Osbourne, after his waltz with partner Cheryl Burke. The comment perfectly encapsulates the unexpected appeal of this tattooed prince of rock royalty. Osbourne's eyes teared up during the pre-performance footage as he described his potential helplessness to care for his daughter once his disease worsens. "I don't know how I would have dealt with this if I didn't have Lisa," he said of his wife. That the waltz was exquisitely danced was just another aspect of Osbourne's lovely segment. Another was the kiss he gave Lisa when it was over.
Funniest moment: Elizabeth Berkley's re-creation of the iconic/corny scene in Saved By the Bell when her character, Jessie Spano, insisted she needed her caffeine pills, launching into a spastic version of The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited." Nearly word for word, Berkley gamely replayed the embarrassing lines before turning the scene into an 80's-style jive. The blast from the past delighted both the judges and the studio audience (which included her SBTB castmate Mario Lopez). "Thank you so much for taking me back into a time warp!" cried Inaba, who was less impressed with her kicks, and the dancing in general.
Who got voted off/Most surprising moment: Though Milian, an accomplished dancer, has consistently landed at or near the top of the leader board, she's continually found herself in jeopardy of going home. Monday night was no exception. Still, as Brooke Burke and Tom Bergeron announced the results, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani: "Mark [Ballas] and Christina, you are our top scorer," Burke announced. "Leah and Tony, you are our lowest scorer." And then… Christina's name was announced as the next contestant to go. Boos rose up from the ballroom, and the camera panned across a few gasping audience members.
What happened? Earlier in the show, several of the pro dancers were asked whether stars with prior dance experience are at an advantage. "People at home want to get behind the person who is the underdog," said Peta Murgatroyd. "The public votes for somebody who has had the most fun, and who captures peoples' hearts." Maybe this is where Milian fell short.
"It's a cruel, cruel reality to see somebody better lose to somebody worse because of that psychology," said Val Chmerkovskiy. "But, you know, that's why you gotta win your audience over."
Yes, Milian met a cruel fate. But if we're being honest, we're glad to have that sassy spirit Remini around for another week.
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+.