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'Dancing with the Stars' Season Finale Analysis

In this image released by ABC, contestants Kristi Yamaguchi and her partner Mark Ballas perform on
In this image released by ABC, contestants Kristi Yamaguchi and her partner Mark Ballas perform on "Dancing with the Stars," on Tuesday, May 13, 2008, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/ABC, Kelsey McNeal) (Kelsey Mcneal - AP)

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Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008; 12:00 PM

Kristi Yamaguchi, Jason Taylor and Cristian de la Fuente all sambaed, fox-trotted and cha-chaed their way to Monday's championship round of ABC's " Dancing With the Stars," but only Kristi sashayed off with the coveted mirror-ball trophy on Tuesday night's season finale.

Style section staff writer Jennifer Frey has been analyzing DWTS all season long at Style's TV blog, " Channel This." She was LIIIIIIIVE Wednesday, May 21 taking questions, comments and wicked observations about the "stars," professional dancers, judges, band, costumes and all the other things that make DWTS truly special.

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Jennifer Frey: Hi, all and welcome to the DWTS wrap-up chat. I'm still sleepy from writing the story and blogging after the show last night, but I shall bring on the caffeine! Looking forward to all your questions and thoughts. Should Cristian have finished ahead of Jason? Which of the performances from the eliminated contestants did you like and/or dislike? Did Usher's lip-synching annoy you? Go ahead, have at it!

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Fairfax: I'm glad Kristi won. Nowhere does it say that you have to be a total klutz to compete. Jason was okay - I was never that impressed with his 'elegance'; he was always looking at the partner for guidance, and had a few stock moves. Too many bared chests too - what's that got to do with dancing? Kristi couldn't bare hers, so the only reason for them to do it was for beefcake!

Jennifer Frey: Hey! With all the skin the women expose on this show, I don't think a few bared chests is anything to complain about. Fair is fair!

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Arlington, Va.: OK, I was fascinated by your piece today on reality show judges. Were there any more tidbits about Len, Bruno and Carrie that didn't make it to the final article? Spill!

washingtonpost.com: The Verdict on Reality Shows? The Judges Hold the Appeal. (Washington Post, May 21)

Jennifer Frey: Oh, let's see. Bruno likes to take his shirt off whenever possible. Len has a habit of speaking in limericks and is completely meticulous about his clothing (he always wants to pick out his own ties). The boys gave Carrie Ann some grief when she first came on, but now she adores them. Len was completely confused by the outcry when he used the term "bugaloo" to describe hip-hop moves in Mario's performance earlier this season. Oh, and all the judges were annoyed with Shannon for her attitude.

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Arlington, Va.: Jennifer - have enjoyed your columns and loved what your wrote today about reality-show judging. Couldn't agree more - love the DWTS judges, both individually and as a group.

So, do you think its harder for women contestants on this show, and perhaps that is why they found a "winner" in Kristi? - who btw, I did want to win. She was a complete package PLUS, known to and liked by a large American audience. Mel B. and Sabrina last season were certainly exceptional dancers, BUT... had some liabilities with mass audience.

Jennifer Frey: While I'm not so sure it was in Carrie Ann's best interests to say what she did about the audiences having an affection for the male contestants, it does feel that way, doesn't it? I'm not sure how this would have come out if Kristi hadn't crushed everyone in the judges' scoring, quite frankly.

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Burke, Va.: This is going to sound like it came from Snarkville USA, but here goes. As the couples were doing their freestyle routines Monday, a thought occurred to me. How in the name of all that is holy would Tony have done the lifts with Marissa?

Jennifer Frey: Oooh, yes, a wee bit snarky. But given that Cristian could pull off the freestyle with one arm, I'm going to give Tony the benefit of the doubt.

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Alexandria, Va.: Jennifer, thanks for the two articles in the paper this morning.

I agree that the quality of the judging puts DWTS far above the other competition shows, but I think three other factors also help make the show the best:

1. The concept. Unlike "American Idol" and the other shows, DWTS contestants aren't seeking fame and fortune - they have already accomplished that in other fields. Corny as they sound, Adam Carolla's and Steve Gutenberg's comments were spot on - the show is about trying something totally different and stretching yourself. Seeing people attempt that is irresistible.

2. The professionalism of Tom Bergeron. He keeps things moving, is witty without being too snarky, and, pardon the pun given the show, can think on his feet. (Remembering his reactions to Marie Osmond's fainting and Cristian's tendon tear.) I was especially impressed when Marlee Matlin was voted off and he revealed only at the end of that results show that he and Matlin were longtime personal friends -- there was absolutely no hint of that anytime during the competition.

3. Harold Wheeler and the band. New York may have the City Center Encores orchestra, which has to perform operetta one month and "Hair" the next, but they are matched in versatility by the musicians on DWTS. It's interesting to read Wheeler's Broadway credits - his specialty seems to be shows with a heavy emphasis on dance ("The Wiz," "Swing," "Never Gonna Dance," "Hairspray").

Jennifer Frey: Great post. And I agree wholeheartedly on Tom Bergeron. He seems to be quick on his feet, great with pacing and--as you pointed out--able to respond to the unexpected (Cristian's injury, etc.) He's a pro.

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202: Kristi is a phenomenal ice skater and the standout winner of the competition! She deserved all of the perfect marks in all of the weeks, but the producers wanted to add some excitement, so the judges marked her down a bit, for the sake of stirring it up. Of course she was perfect perfect again at the end. I think that men always win the competition because the women they dance with wear very little clothing and are extremely sexy, in addition to doing the extremely complicated legwork. Men only need to look reasonably graceful and do relatively simple steps to look polished, while the woman, like Kristi has to take the plunge into sexier outfits and shine as bright as the professional women with her footwork. How amazing!

Jennifer Frey: Carrie Ann pointed out the other day that the hardest dance of the season is the one done by the first dancer the first night, because at that point the judges don't know what kind of level of talent they'll be seeing and, thus, how the marks will fall. It reminds me of figure skating--which I used to cover, by the way. There's always concern by the first competitors that judges will hold back a little to still have room to upmark any possible upcoming brilliance. I think Kristi's level of performance did play into the marks overall this season.

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Too sexy?: I'm no prude and LOVE the fringey and spangly costumes... but I have long felt that Edyta is just a little TOO sexy. What do you think of Edyta?

Jennifer Frey: Slap me down if you don't agree, but I'm not an Edyta fan. But my problem with Edyta is more about the choreography than the outfits. I think she has a few too many urges to design moves that showcase her rather than play to her partner's strengths.

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Maryland: I'm glad Kristi won, although Cristian should have been ranked second ahead of Jason. I'm even GLADDER this snoozefest of a season is over.

In your opinion, was this one of the weaker seasons? I think it was definitely worse than season 5. Hopefully the fall season will be better. And Maks will be back!

Jennifer Frey: When I talked to Carrie Ann a few weeks ago, her opinion was that the overall level of improvement for the dancers this season was stronger because Kristi was pushing everyone from the beginning. But obviously the lack of 30s from anyone but Kristi--until last night, of course--says a lot, too.

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Washington, D.C.: Who is your all-time favorite championship team? Mine is Julianne and Apolo.

Jennifer Frey: I agree. And I think that season was excellent because of the level of competition. All those 30s, remember, from Apolo, Laila Ali and Joey Fatone.

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Re: Mario: I was rather unhappy that Mario was booted off before Marissa. At some level these shows are serious popularity contests - Marie Osmond last year, Marissa this year - not so talented, yet keep going and going and going on the show! Do you think Mario was good or did he deserve to get booted the week he got booted?

Jennifer Frey: I think the judges were holding Mario and Marissa to a higher standard early on because of their backgrounds (and Kristi, too, but she wowed them anyway). But later on, I felt like Marissa was getting a few breaks. And, yes, it seemed like she had the big fan following. Then again, haven't we seen that a lot for male competitors as well? I think Mario's problem is that he didn't have as strong a fan base as say....a professional athlete, perhaps?

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Great Falls, Va: Am I the only one who thought Kristi had an advantage going in? She was an Olympic figure skater! That's very much like dancing. it was a little disingenuous of her last night to say she never before had to think of where her feet were going. What did she do while twirling, jumping and spinning?

Jennifer Frey: No, you're not by far. I've been hearing all season (including several emails this morning) from people upset about the impact Kristi's skating training has in terms of experience. She skated pairs as a junior, that must have helped. She has experience in lifts because of that, certainly. And she's done the choreography, the spins, etc. But I still don't think that disqualifies her as an amateur dancer. And I'd hate to see there start being a bunch or arbitrary rules as to who can be on and who can't because of what they do for a living. That would cross over into all sorts of murky areas.

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re snarksville: Did you watch the show? There were several times that Marissa's partner picked her up. Maybe not the tossing but she was not very tall so her weight may not be much more than say Shannon's.

Jennifer Frey: And one in defense of Marissa.

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Silver Spring:"Bromance"???? LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE it! I only hope next year's edition of the show will add a single-sex dance couple.

Jennifer Frey: Now, I'd find that interesting. Chatters, any further thoughts?

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Arlington, Va.: There is a lot of variety to contestants, but some seem really from out of left field (Adam drove me NUTS - didn't know him before and wish I didn't now). How do they get selected?

Jennifer Frey: It's gotten to the point that some stars are openly politicking to get on the show. Anyone notice how many times The Fonz showed up this season?

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DWTS - Major Manipulation: Comment.

I stopped watching DWTS a couple of seasons ago because I felt blatantly manipulated by the format, etc... It isn't usually about the best dancer and never has been. It is a popularity contest. Nearing the end, the judges' scores are all inflated which negates their impact. By design. It is then left up to the viewers who vote to determine the winner, i.e. the most popular. That said, Kristi was the best dancer, by far, and very well known and popular before the show started that not even a football player could overcome that winning combination. Good for her. She deserved the disco ball.

Jennifer Frey: Kristi deserved it. And, yes, most seasons the best dancer doesn't actually win. There is a major popularity factor involved. BUT, part of what brings viewers to the show is the participation factor. If they want to vote for the person they want to keep watching, regardless of score, it's hard to argue with that. After all, this isn't a competition that ends with a million dollar prize or anything. Or some big dancing contract. It's entertainment.

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Mario: There were a few weeks that Mario placed DWTS on the back burner while he did other things and it showed in his dancing those weeks. When he realized that the other dancers were going to beat him, he began to try harder but I think by that time he had lost a lot of the younger fans that most likely started to vote for Jason because Jason was trying hard.

Jennifer Frey: You definitely have a point in terms of Mario going on tour (to college campuses!) in the middle of the season. If he had any kind of decent agent, someone who would have told him that being on DWTS was the BEST promotional situation he could possibly have at this stage of his career and he should work it as hard as possible.

Jason did work hard. As did Cristian, who came in without much of a fan base and just really started to make an impression with his enthusiasm and effort.

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Enough with the fat jokes : Tony did lift Marissa this season. Several times in fact. And he made it look effortless. So people need to chill out with the fat talk. It's beyond irritating at this point.

Jennifer Frey: And another one in defense of Marissa. I think this point is covered!

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Columbia: Kristi had no more advantage then some of the boy banders who won or ended up second or third. Can anyone say Drew Lachey or Joey Fatone?

Jennifer Frey: And Mel B, and Sabrina Bryan....this is what I was getting at when it comes to arbitrary rules about past experience. Did Kristi's skating help? Absolutely. But I don't want to be in the business of drawing the lines.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Jennifer,

Was I the only person who felt really bad for Monica Seles? She was the only returning contestant last night who didn't get a rousing standing ovation from the audience. She seemed to try her best and I actually would have wanted to see her progress if she stayed on longer.

Also, while I am glad Kristi won I cannot stand her partner Mark. He definitely choreographs to show himself off. I would have been more pleased if Kristi was paired with Derek or Jonathan.

Any idea which pros will be back next season? If Maks is returning, which male pro is out?

Thanks.

Jennifer Frey: Oh no, you weren't the only one! I have a deep fondness for Monica and felt terrible for her both in the first two weeks and last night. She's just too gawky and uncomfortable and I give her major props for making the effort.

And, sorry, haven't heard yet about male pros for next season.

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Ohio: Speaking of candidates for an upcoming DWTS season... how about a campaign to put former multi-sport star Bo Jackson on?

"Bo knows dancing!"

Jennifer Frey: Ha! Funny! But didn't Bo Jackson have hip replacement surgery or something? Hmmm. That would be interesting.

Speaking of possible DTWS future candidates, Paula Abdul is obviously out there in rumor mill as to wanting to compete. The American Idol soundstage is right next door where DWTS tapes and she was seen around.

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Vienna, Va.: Jennifer - thanks for your write-ups. I just wish WP would more frequently publish them in print edition.

How do you think celebrities and pros get matched up? Clearly, they don't all put their names in a hat or draw straws. Who are the unseen hands in this?

Also, how much influence do you think a celebrity's partner has on voting? It seems to me that Julianne, Derek, and Cheryl have a lot of pull - winning personalities on top of talent.

washingtonpost.com: Jennifer's DWTS recaps on the "Channel This" blog

Jennifer Frey: Thanks, Vienna, for the props!

I found it interesting this season that Julianne got Adam, which was a no-win from the beginning. Certainly felt like the producers wanted to mix it up after her two wins.

And, yes, I think we really saw the popularity of certain partners come into play this season. I suspect many voters were voting for Julianne, not her partner. And others were keeping Shannon on even though she was annoying because of Derek.

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Athletes: I think it's interesting how well athletes do on DWTS... really shows how athletic dancing is - their cardio strength (Shannon!), experience with long hours of physical training, ability to deal with public live performance, and skill at learning choreography (think routines or plays) all give them advantage over TV and movie stars, it seems...

Jennifer Frey: No kidding. Shannon looked like a puddle last night. You'd think she'd have put in some more workouts knowing she'd have to perform again.

And I think all sports do help. The initial reaction might be to see a football player like Jason as not being light on his feet. But the training he has does involve a lot of dexterity. And he's certainly used to being in the limelight.

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Hip replacement might not be a problem: Didn't Mark Cuban have a hip replacement 6 weeks before the rehearsals started? - if Bo's was a couple of years ago, he should be good to go!

Jennifer Frey: excellent point!

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Paula Abdul: Since she was a choreographer as well as a dancer would that not make her ineligible?

Jennifer Frey: I think she'll try to sell the fact that she has no ballroom experience. But there would be blowback, I'm sure, from some fans on that point.

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Mormons?: For some reason last night Nightline did a segment on the many Mormon contestants on reality TV - citing David Archuleta, Marie Osmond, Derek and Julianne Hough, and a few others. It seemed like a stretch, but do you think there is anything there?

Jennifer Frey: Interesting. I didn't see that, but I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the tip.

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Alexandria, Va.: Like it or not, DWTS is about "fame" - none of the competitors are A list celebs. They're all trying to get back in the fame sphere.

And might the vote disparities between men and women at least partially be due to the fact that ballroom dancing is harder for women (the backwards and in heels bit), and having an experienced female partner helps more than an experienced male one?

Jennifer Frey: I think it's a mix. It's hard to argue that Jason Taylor isn't "A" list right now--there are boys all over America with his poster on their walls. But branching out into something new? That's a factor.

Clearly, people like Steve Guttenberg and Priscilla Presley are on to up their visibility on the downside of fame.

As for the disparities, I do believe it's harder for the women to learn the ballroom. And that the women are at a disadvantage when it comes time to put in lifts.

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jmom: As has been pointed out here before, Kristi's 'advantage' was negated by the difficulty of the choreography. I've had it up to my eyeballs with that particular complaint.

I was actually very pleased with the final 2 last night. I really enjoyed Jason's freestyle with Edyta and of course the fact that he's ridiculously hot helped.

Jennifer Frey: Without question, Kristi had the most difficult choreography of anyone in the competition. Mark really pushed her.

And, yes, I've had a lot of women tell me that they watched the show this season for Jason's hotness. Cute and charming. He did come across as the whole package.

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Washington, D.C.: Mormons on reality TV -- There's also an article in last week's Newsweek about this topic.

washingtonpost.com: And here it is: America's Next Top Mormon (Newsweek, May 6, 2008)

Jennifer Frey: Thanks, Washington!

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Lancaster, Pa.: What would you think of an all-stars competition that pits Americans against Europeans? If you read the blogs on shows that aired in Italy it's a hoot -- viewers really got into it and voiced opinions on everything from costumes to dancing ability to body language. Apparently some actor named Antonio Cupo, who's known by female viewers as Mama Mia!!!! had a very tempestuous relationship with his partner that had viewers tuning in just to see the fireworks between them.

Jennifer Frey: It sounds funny to me, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Sadly, American viewers tend to want to watch American competitors. Or at least foreigners who have performed on American television. But I personally love the clips I see from the European versions of some of these reality shows.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey, why not have Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell on as well? LOL. Actually I think Simon would be cool. I don't think Paula will happen because it begins to look like Hollywood incest. Also, am not sure ABC wants to promote Fox.

Seriously Jennifer, it seems like the celebrity definition could be stretched to include some journalists (or perhaps, infotainment types like Leeza Gibbons). Whadya think? Just not Rachael Ray.

washingtonpost.com: Remember Tucker Carlson...

Jennifer Frey: I think you're absolutely right that ABC wouldn't want to promote Fox. Though Paula would make for some good television.

As for being stretched to include journalists, remember the Tucker Carlson fiasco?????

Hey, maybe Katie Couric can start a second career....

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Helena, Mont.: I think athletes in general can take criticism better than ego-driven entertainment stars. That's one reason that Emmitt, Apolo, Jason, and Kristi were able to progress - they didn't take the criticism from the judges personally.

Jennifer Frey: As a former sportswriter, I'll tell you that SOME athletes take criticism extremely well, and others throw bats at you if you write barely a negative word. But I think the ones who have been on the show do fall into the former category--which is probably a factor in their coming on in the first place. Truly egocentric athletes would probably be afraid of taking the risk outside their comfort zone.

Taking the criticism personally certainly hurt Shannon overall--with fans and with her own composure. And it certainly seemed to help Jason.

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Dancing Mormons: It wouldn't affect reality shows in general, but ballroom dancing is huge in Utah. Couldn't tell you why. But that means it's not a surprise to see Mormon pros on DWTS (or Mormon competitors on So You Think You Can Dance).

Jennifer Frey: I don't know much about Mormon culture and dancing, but I'm getting more than a few comments from the gallery on this subject.

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L.A.: okay, someone on another message board suggested Jason Giambi "and his shiny gold thong"...

EEK

Jennifer Frey: Oh. MY. NO.

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Reasons: Each 'star' clearly has his/her own reason for doing the show. I saw a quote in the Express yesterday (there's your WP plug!) from Jason Taylor saying how, when he's 45, he wants to be known more for his film career than football. Or something to that effect.

There's his reason!

Cristian was basically unknown to American viewers. Exposure to a new audience for his own acting career - there's his reason!

Etc. etc.

Jennifer Frey: Yup. I wonder what Kristi wants out of it. She seems to have happily settled into the mom thing with hubby Bret Hedican of the NHL. But he's due for retirement, so....

I can see Jason Taylor in movies.

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Burke, Va.: After bonding with some of the contestants and enjoying their dancing, I'd love to see some become ambassadors for ballroom dancing in the public schools. My family couldn't afford dance lessons, though I was desperately wanted them. Though athletic, I was bored with p.e. classes and just wished dance instruction was available. I finally began lessons in college and kept them up as an adult. I'd love to see children given the opportunity (like that winning documentary and then movie with Antonio Banderas).

It seems this show has ignited some interest. Think there is something to build on here?

washingtonpost.com: That documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom" is a must-see!

Jennifer Frey: I could see a public service campaign featuring some of the stars. And ditto on the endorsement of "Mad Hot Ballroom."

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Imagine this: Okay, realm of fantasy, but how about contestants with conflicts w/each other in same pool? Hillary and Obama?

Britney Spears and KFed anyone? But, I do prefer the classiness this show has managed to have w/o tabloid types.

Jennifer - who would you like to see?

Jennifer Frey: One of the things I like about this show is that it does NOT depend on a bunch of carping among the contestants for entertainment value. I get enough of that from "Big Brother," "Top Chef," etc. I don't think this show needs it, and I actually think it would drag it down a level.

Who would I like to see? Hmmm. Derek Jeter, perhaps? Let me think more on this one...

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Man-tango: Definitely my favourite dance of the season - now that the pink ceiling has been broken, how likely that we'll have a same-sex couple? Is the big resistance maybe from the professional partner that does not want to be tagged as such?

Jennifer Frey: I'm sure they could find a professional partner who would participate, even if they had to go outside the current talent pool. Not sure, though, how ABC, with corporate parent Disney, will feel about being the one to break the ceiling. It would garner at lot of publicity, and I think it would be good, period, but I can just see the corporate suits mulling the pros and cons...

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Jennifer Frey: And that's it, everybody. Thanks for all the great questions, and hopefully I'll be back with the blog for Season 7!

Cheers,

Jennifer

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washingtonpost.com: For more reality TV fun today, join Lisa de Moraes at 1 p.m. ET to talk American Idol.

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