Jennifer Grey's night to sparkle on 'Dancing With the Stars'

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 12:32 AM

Winning the competition "would mean a lot to me. It would feel like a big middle finger to all the people out there that hate my mom and hate me!" daughter-of-famous-politician Bristol Palin exclaimed at the start of Tuesday's "Dancing With the Stars" 11th-season finale.

But it was not to be.

Conservatives and those who feel maternal instincts to girls-next-door were thwarted in their effort to vote Sarah Palin's 20-year-old daughter into the winning slot on the ABC competition show. Instead, "Dirty Dancing's" 50-year-old star, Jennifer Grey, was awarded the hideous-yet-coveted Mirror Ball Trophy.

Bristol finished third, behind 19-year-old Disney star Kyle Massey, who generated a wave of good feeling among viewers - and the show's three professional judges - with his exuberance and general likability.

"There have been so many good memories. This has been such a life-changing experience and I had the time of my life," Bristol told host Tom Bergeron when he revealed she'd won the bronze after months of competition.

"If somebody had said to me, in week one, 'Bristol Palin's in the final,' I'd have pickled me walnuts!" the show's senior professional judge, Len Goodman, said in the final minutes of Tuesday's show, speaking for us all.

Jennifer had ruptured a disk in her spine during Monday's performances, further injuring her neck, which was severly injured years ago in a car accident.

But first, a moment to feel bad for all the people who think that voting for Bristol is taking back America for morality who had to sit through Christina Aguilera's "Burlesque" song-and-dance number. Let's just say it was as burlesque as prime-time TV can get without a fine.

Grey won the first round in which the stars re-performed an earlier dance from the season, with a perfect score of 30 points, followed by Kyle with 26 and Bristol at 25.

Meanwhile, in social-media land, fans of Jennifer, Bristol and Kyle sent competing "iwaves" on the "Dancing With the Stars" Facebook page while the three finalists rehearsed their final dance - an Insta-Cha-Cha Challenge for the final Insta-dance round, to a tune that they'd learned only minutes earlier would be Pink's "Raise Your Glass," practicing in what Bergeron called the "Dancing With the Stars" Veal Cages backstage.

Monday's finale had attracted nearly 24 million viewers - the franchise's biggest Monday audience in six seasons - and more than 3 million viewers ahead of last season. Monday's episode was - one night at least - TV's most watched entertainment telecast this season.

Judges got the final say Tuesday night. Viewer voting was closed, but each of the three finalists danced two times more and the judges' scores for those dances were added to their Monday judge tallies.

Jennifer won with the highest combined total of judges' points and viewer votes.

In the end, the voting bloc of Sarah Palin supporters, along with Bristol's appeal as the non-pro outsider/underdog, was not enough to give her the win. Jennifer prevailed with her perfect scores from the judges and her clearly superior dance skills.

"Dancing" producers acknowledged Tuesday that a "record amount of activity" had overloaded both its telephone and its online voting systems Monday night.

"Some viewers reported experiencing difficulties registering their votes for the 'Dancing With the Stars' finale, which affected each finalist equally," show producers said in a statement Tuesday with the easy nonchalance of people who know they're not going to be called upon to prove it.

"The issue was promptly addressed"; voting times were not extended in the wake of the bottleneck, they said.

Jennifer went into Tuesday's finale in first place among the judges based on her two Monday dances; the actress and her partner, Derek Hough, were showered with two perfect scores Monday for a total of 60 points.

Kyle and his partner, Lacey Schwimmer, had scored 56 points from the judges, and Bristol and dance partner Mark Ballas brought up the rear - as they had for the past several weeks - with 52 points.

Bristol had made it to the finals with the help of conservative bloggers and Web sites that turned the retro cheesetastic dance competition into a political referendum.

"Are you planning on hosting a Team Bristol Monday Night Dancing Watch party?" conservative blogger Kevin DuJan asked on his blog Hillbuzz.org before this week's final Monday show.

"You . . . can actually vote together and send Bristol over the top . . . while sending Leftist heads into meltdown."

The other side of the political spectrum fought back:

"Fight back against the Tea Party . . . because they may make our news and elections into a joke but we need to draw a line at our reality competitions!" challenged the nascent liberal Web site Network for Progress, which urged people to get out the vote for actress Jennifer Grey - who is best known for co-starring in the pop-classic "Dirty Dancing" with Patrick Swayze, who died of cancer little more than a year ago.

"Join Network For Progress as we come together to raise awareness about one of the biggest threats America faces today . . . Bristol Palin winning Dancing with the Stars," Network for Progress wrote in an e-mail, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

"Don't even do it for your friends or family.

"Don't even do it because you hate Sarah Palin.

"Do it for Patrick Swayze. Rest his Soul," the organization urged.

Regardless of the outcome, casting Bristol on the show has had an enormous effect on this season and probably on how the show will be cast going forward.

"Bristol grabbed so many votes every week, the margin for error for other participants became smaller," speculated Vegas oddsmaker Johnny Avello, who is Wynn Las Vegas's director of race and sports operations and who had projected Jennifer as the favorite to win the competition because, he told the TV Column, "there has never been a person who has won this competition who wasn't better-than-average."

Jennifer, he forecast, got the votes of people watching the show who believe this competition is based on rewarding the best dancer - "or at least someone that's close to the best dancer. Because the best dancer doesn't always win this competition - sometimes the second or third [wins] based on your popularity," Avello conceded.

"Jennifer is the best the show has to offer," said Avello, adding that "Bristol Palin is at best in the middle of the pack."

People who wanted to see the best person win this competition were going to be "all-in voting" for Grey this week, Avello predicted. "I think they will outweigh anything Bristol has to offer because their feeling is: 'Enough is enough - let's put the person in that should win this.' "

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