The finalists left almost all of it on the floor tonight.
For Monday's penultimate episode of Dancing With the Stars' seventh season, Lance Bass, Brooke Burke and Warren Sapp were each called upon to perform twice—an all-inclusive Samba Smackdown and an anything-goes freestyle—to really prove their mettle before the phones, Internet and mobile phones were thrown open for our voting pleasure.
Find out who benefited from this new samba experiment, whose lifts were the mightiest and who's got the best shot at the disco ball trophy tomorrow night.
After a half hour dedicated to replays of each contestant's two favorite past dances, the show got on the road. Here's how they did tonight, according to the judges and your viewing professionals, aka us:
• Samba Smackdown: Brooke and Derek Hough got the party started with a sassed-up solo that, despite its glossy exterior, somehow lacked heat for us. Brooke was pretty to watch, but Derek has been bringing on so much pizzazz this season, he stands in danger of out-dancing his partner every time they hit the floor. Being the only contestant eligible to wear a slinky samba costume helps, but the hot mom has got to find a way to get her heart in sync with her feet. Judges: 28, including a 10 from Bruno Tonioli. "You were the one to beat week one and I think you're still the one to beat in week 10," Len Goodman said.
• Freestyle: After Brooke and Derek channeled Dirty Dancing to rehearse their lifts for their Grease-inspired freestyle, we were both misty-eyed and expecting a lot. Going with a jitterbug was the right idea, both to exorcise the demons from last week's jive, and because there are so many opportunities for wild lifts—and Brooke and Derek took advantage! We were going to say that her prissy, shapeless costume was too distracting, but oops! Off it went to reveal a spangled crop top and pants. Judges: 30. "You ended up in positions I've only seen in the Kama Sutra!" offered the always illuminating Bruno.
• Samba Smackdown: After Brooke and Derek, in came Lance and Lacey Schwimmer for the middle portion and they couldn't help but be exciting, considering all the momentum they held coming into tonight's dance-off. Lance doesn't exactly smolder, but he still managed to look awfully good while the ever-spunky Lacey brought enough emotion for both of them. Judges: 26. "You've got to work a bit on the finesse of every dance," Len pointed out.
• Freestyle: Just as we suspected, Lance and Lacey went the hip-hop route. But what we didn't expect was for them to forgo all lifts to maintain the integrity of the genre, or whatever. It was pretty fun—minus the most disturbing version of the worm we've ever seen—but Lance's hip-hop prowess didn't equal Mario Lopez's, nor did his wow factor equal Joey Fatone's. Or, more importantly, Brooke's. Judges: 27. "You always manage to put [in] creativity and wit. Very good," Bruno said.
• Samba Smackdown: Warren and Kym Johnson came bouncing in for the final third—and watching Warren swing his hips remains one of the more fascinating sights of 2008. Not exactly "samba la vista," but still fun. Judges: 25. Len's really cracking down, giving only a 7 while his cohorts offered up 9s. "You're definitely the most improved," said the Sapp-loving Carrie Ann Inaba.
• Freestyle: Lance was one thing, but it would have been a damn shame if Warren had eschewed lifts. Luckily, he and Kym did no such thing. Their freestyle was a series of over-the-shoulder swoops, daredevil catches—and bounce! If Warren doesn't win, he can always join Tina Turner on tour. Judges: 28, including a 10 from Len. "In all honesty, out of all the routines, that one was my favorite," Carrie Ann said, while Len said, "As an entertainer, you have no one that touches you."
Also happening in-studio tonight: Two-time 2008 American Music Award-winner Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus were on hand to tape their performances for tomorrow's two-hour live finale. (Soak it up, but don't let ABC pull the glitz over your eyes!)
Tuesday night the finalists will be scored on a third dance, a judges'-pick repeat of one of their previous numbers, but this was it as far as wooing the viewers is concerned. Brooke headed off into the good night with a 58, while Lance and Warren tied not far behind at 53, but it's still anybody's game, considering the disparate qualities each brings to the floor.
Which brings us to tonight's big question: Who got your vote?