Dancing With the Stars: Week 9 Semi-finals
Antonio made it through the quarter-finals by the skin of his teeth, thanks to a good performance and a spectacular group performance in which choreographer Carrie Ann Inaba highlighted the athleticism of Brown and fellow contestant Paige.
But last week’s level of competition wasn’t going to be enough to send Antonio to the finals.
As always we’ll begin with Hines. He had made the semi-finals, naturally, as he was at the top of the leaderboard for most of the season. This being reality television, they work very hard to manufacture drama, but this week’s dramatic event didn’t need any help.
The previous week had featured a segment called “Dance Center,” in which previous NFL Dancing With the Stars alumnae Jerry Rice and Kenny Mayne critiqued Hines Ward. It was pretty funny, actually. But one of the things they talked about which proved to be eerily prophetic was a montage the “hits’ Hines put on partner Kym Johnson. The videos showed him dropping or throwing Kym as he attempted to learn new moves.
During the week’s rehearsals Kym was adding a number of risky moves. The pre-dance video showed Hines trying to do a flip off a small stage and crashing to the ground, various lifts where Kym would get stuck on Hines’ shoulder, making it look like he was bringing home a haunch of venison, and so forth. She said that she wanted to add elements that she had never done before, and never seen done on Dancing With the Stars.
Hines: “I’m not feeling good about this. Why are you doing stuff you’ve never done before with me? Cause you know that I’ve never done this stuff before.. So if I’ve never done and you’ve never done it, guess what? It might not get done.”
Kym: “It will get done – you know, I’ve got to take risks. I’ve got to step it up.”
And then came the fall. Hines was trying to pull her up and under his legs, but she didn’t get any rotation and instead fell on the top of her spine with her head bent towards her chest. Hines slipped and came down with his full weight on her head. To make sure we didn’t miss all the details, there was a slow-motion replay that showed just how sickening it was. The doctors told her she was lucky to not be paralyzed – from the look of things she’s lucky to be alive. She told Hines she couldn’t feel her arms.
As she was being loaded into the ambulance, she said “I can’t believe this is happening. There’s so much to do. You know, it’s like a wasted day we can’t afford…”
Hines: “Don’t worry about that. Make sure you’re healthy first.”
She was sent home a day later in a neck brace, and on the day of the show the doctors cleared her to dance.
That was enough drama for anyone. They danced the Argentine Tango as millions of people held their breath. It was beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that you should watch it. Here’s the video:
If you want to watch the whole thing, lead-up video, gruesome injury and all, you can find it here. It isn’t just football players who play through injury. The video still makes me cry…
This week everyone danced two dances, and their second dance was a samba.Before the dance they played a montage of scenes from Hines’ childhood, comments from important figures, and so on. Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, and Art Rooney II were among those who spoke about his competitiveness, his work ethic, and his ability to overcome the odds. As Rooney said, “He’s very determined to win this thing, so I wouldn’t count him out.”
As you can see by the scores both dances were well received:
Scores: Argentine Tango: 10/10/100 Samba: 10/10/10
There was also a “winner takes all” Cha Cha challenge, which was won to one of the other couples, so they weren’t in first place anymore. Nonetheless, their place in the finals was secure. Let’s see if Antonio managed as much:
On to Antonio:
He and partner Sharna danced an Argentinian tango in the week’s latest wrinkle—a trio performance. They were joined by Haley, one of the troupe dancers, who Sharna said she chose because she was “fierce” on the dance floor.
I thought the dance itself was pretty spectacular, especially a couple of the lifts, which would turn out to be a theme of the evening for him. What did the judges think?
- Bruno: Antonio! You came out of the cage with the confidence of a lion tamer, taking on two wild cats, beautiful but deadly. They could strike at any time! But you handled them very very well. In command—you got the air, you got there. A lot of side-by-side, not too close, just enough to make it work. Beautifully handled.
- Carrie Ann: Out of all the semi-finalists I think you’ve made the longest journey from where you started. And what I really loved was all the intensity of the movement. You really were in the Argentine tango mode, and I could really feel you trying to get all the right nuances. I think you did amazingly well, but what I would have loved to see would have been a little bit more of what you did last week in the Viennese waltz—I mean, you’ve still got one more dance tonight, you’ve got a contemporary, so I’m still giving corrections—I would love to see those elongated lines like you showed us last week. Bring that back in. It was still fantastic!
- Len: Antonio, you came into this competition with no dance background, and it is just amazing how you’ve developed as a dancer and a performer. I can’t agree with Carrie Ann. It’s a compact dance, not a big wide-open one. [Carrie Ann interrupts him as he starts explaining stuff, making a growl and saying “Oh Len, you just like to argue with me.” Len came back with “I can’t help it. I can’t argue with my wife so I have to argue with you.”] I tell you, a great job!
The next dance was his contemporary. Part of the idea of tonight’s contemporary was that it illustrated each dancer’s personal “story.” Antonio’s was, of course, the one which has been detailed many times—growing up without a father, surrounded by drugs and unsatisfactory people, and getting where he is by hard work and determination. The nice twist was, much of the story was told by his family and friends:
The first person to speak was his father, who said “I was gone a lot. I had to go out and work so I could send money back and make sure everybody was okay. Then there came a point where his mom and I kind of went our separate ways. That’s when things kind of went astray.”
Antonio: “I changed drastically when my mother and my father split apart. I didn’t have that male father figure.”
His dad continued: “He had a lot of bitterness built up towards me, because in his mind I should have been there through all the struggles he had to go through, because he felt like I didn’t care. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I think I would have stayed.”
Antonio: “Just because someone gives up on you, you don’t have to give up on yourself.”
His high school coach, Toriano Brooks, said: “He wasn’t the biggest kid, but he was always really strong. His nickname was Bony Tony. He would always say ‘Look at me, coach. [Flexing his biceps] Look at my muscles,’ things of that nature. We would always say, “Come on, Bony, you’re too small to be doing stuff like that.”
His college coach, Zach Azzani, said “He showed up to Central Michigan with a duffle bag off the Greyhound bus. He was probably about 155 pounds.”
Antonio: “I was an underdog for sure. People told me all the time, ‘You’re not the biggest guy, you’re not the fastest guy.’ I knew I was going to do whatever it takes to make something of myself.
Azzani: “He called me, said I’m going for the NFL. I said ‘Look, you know you’re not going to be drafted in the first or second round. You know that, right?’ He said ‘Oh yes I am!’ I said ‘No you’re not. You’re small, you’re from a smaller school, you’re not.'”
Antonio: “I wasn’t picked until the sixth round. I just wanted an opportunity. I went from underdog to top dog. I started from the bottom, and now I’m here.”
Azzani: “He’s going to catch a million balls in the NFL, and that’s great, but you know what, he’s a really good dad, and that’s what warms your heart as a coach right there.”
His mom said: “I think the choices he’s made about his kids are because he didn’t have a father in his life.”
Antonio: “The greatest gift I can give my kids is my presence. I’m there for them, no matter what.”
After a bit of talk about the competition from Antonio and his family, they cut to Coach Tomlin, who said: “AB, back here on the south side of PA we’re routing for you. Stay in the fight—all the best, and we’re looking for you to get the Mirror Ball trophy for Steeler Nation.”
I’m sure that because of having his father and mother speak, and I suppose because they wanted it to be uplifting, the whole homeless time when his mom remarried and his stepfather didn’t want him in the house was skipped over. I can see that, but I do think it makes his story all the more extraordinary.
The dance itself was certainly uplifting, literally and figuratively. Here’s what the judges said:
- Bruno: Oh, Antonio, you are a magnificent beast. I don’t think even Michaelangelo could have sculpted a more beautifully proportioned torso. [He danced without a shirt, which always drives Bruno to excesses of hyperbole.] Have you got – what – a 12-pack? [At this point the host said, “What about the dance?”] Oh, anyhow, the dancing. I will tell you, your strength tonight, your connection with Sharna was off the charts. You were flying around—for me, it was your best performance.
- Carrie Ann: I’m almost at a loss for words. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you – you’re not necessarily the best dancer left in this competition, but when you dance, there is something so spectacular. And you said it in the introduction about your kids, that the best gift you could give is your presence. And that’s what it is. When you’re here you’re so dedicated, determined, bright. You are truly a bright light. When you dance you may not hit the best or most beautiful lines, but something lights up in this room and it’s magical. I’m blown away by it. So keep at this.
- Len: That dance will go down in the Dancing With the Stars Hall of Fame for the most spectacular lifts I have ever seen on this show. Okay, so maybe Carrie Ann is right about your dancing, but I’ll tell you what you are, you’re a beautiful person.
Scores: He got 9s from Inaba and Goodman (to boos from the audience, probably including from Hines Ward, who was watching. But Bruno gave him his first (and, alas, last) 10.
I’m not going to bother with the other totals. I’m in Wales at the moment and it’s very difficult to get the information I need, except that Antonio was eliminated (along with Wanya.) Frankly, it would have been surprising had there been any other outcome. Nyle’s story is more extraordinary, Paige is amazing, and everybody loved Ginger. Which left Antonio and Wanya as the odd men out. And if one had taken it by cumulative scores from the beginning of the program, and only used the judge’s scoring, Antonio would have been out weeks ago.
So well done, Antonio—you made a tremendous amount of progress, especially once you really knuckled down. It was a fun ride for all of us, and just like the football season, only one team can come away with the prize. Now how about you go and get us that Super Bowl we’ve all been waiting for?