CLEVELAND - What a bittersweet night on "Dancing with the Stars." We may have seen the return of delightful professional dancer Julianne Hough, but we lost a beloved actress.
Host Tom Bergeron warmly welcomes Julianne back as a judge, filling in for Len Goodman. Tom tells her to take the judge seat and move over Len's hemorrhoid pillow. Priceless.
First up are TV reality star Jack Osbourne and Cheryl with a quickstep. Yikes - in rehearsal, these two are scary, and not just because Cheryl blames her attitude on PMS. Their routine looks agile and once again Jack is light on his feet for such a nonstop dance. Jack has good kicks and footwork, smiling the whole time. Julianne says he improved since last week. Judge Bruno Tonioli calls his footwork incredible. Judge Carrie Ann Inaba says he's more animated this week. Score: 24 out of 30.
Actress Elizabeth Berkley and Val are next with the Argentine tango. I've noticed how Elizabeth has the unblinking Joan Crawford look of eternal surprise, but in rehearsal, she gets downright creepy, staring Val down with an acting drill. There's also no mention of the fire at Val's home that he tweeted about, so I guess it wasn't a big deal. In the routine, Elizabeth is some sort of vampire puppet master and she looks mesmerizing. It's like she's channeling Lauren Hutton in "Once Bitten." (Seriously dating myself there). The shapes her legs make and her control over them are amazing. Elizabeth gives herself into this performance. Bruno calls her a bewitching fantasy creature. Carrie Ann calls her dance a breakthrough. Julianne says she got chills. Score: 27.
Elizabeth twweted, "Thank u guys for your incredible support!!xoxo."
Actor Brant Daugherty and Peta have a salsa. Years ago, Brant severed the joint that holds his collarbone to his shoulder, so he can't do lifts, to Peta's frustration. But she choreographs a fun and sexy salsa routine for Brant. He's trying hard but looks a bit stiff at times, as if he's not comfortable dancing shirtless. It may be a Pitbull song playing, but Brant looks like he's auditioning to be a Ricky Martin backup dancer. This feels like a step back for him. Carrie Ann thought their modified lifts were great, but Brant's salsa technique was not. Julianne likes that Brant was shirtless and mentions she's single – so Brant pantomimes a "call me" gesture. Can't blame him. But she says his dance was loose and sloppy. Bruno felt Brant lost technique. Score: 21.
Brant tweeted, "Thanks so much for all your support for us. We live to dance another week! I love you all #DWTS ."
TV icon Valerie Harper and Tristan have a Viennese waltz. They dance to Fun.'s "Carry On," which she says matches the message she wants to bring to the show, having a brave battle with terminal brain cancer. Again, Valerie looks like she's just having fun. She seems to miss a step here and there, but still brings a certain grace to her performance. Julianne says Valerie had some stunning lines. Bruno says she painted pretty moments. Carrie Ann says some moments were beautiful, which only made the mistakes stand out more. Score: 18.
Actress Leah Remini and Tony are up with a cha cha. Host Brooke Burke points out Leah is performing in a gold catsuit. Speaking of cats, watching Leah in rehearsals is like watching Tony trying to train a house cat. I don't envy him. At the start of the dance, they dance separately around each other decently, but their sensual moves look a little awkward. They are much better in hold on the dance floor. Bruno says Leah nailed the character, but needs better footwork. Carrie Ann loved the character, but says Leah needs her movements to match it. Julianne liked the footwork. Score: 24.
Disney star Corbin Bleu and Karina have the paso doble. He projects power in his performance and control with his moves. The tension in their attitudes is perfectly matched by the demanding dance. Corbin gave into the paso and really took himself to higher levels this week. The crowd loves it. So does Carrie Ann, who says their intensity was smoldering, but Corbin's hip hop creeped in slightly. Julianne also loves it, but notes his hip placement was wrong. Bruno calls it the pure essence of paso. Score: 27.
Corbin tweeted, "Now THAT'S what we're talking about 9-9-9! Thank you Judges! Now YOU can do your part by dialing 800-868-3496!... http://fb.me/1rH6tdg3j ."
Reality TV star castmate Nicole "Hot Mess" Polizzi and Sasha have the jive. The routine has a cheerleading theme, so she describes the horrors of being anorexic as a high school cheerleader. Their jive routine is to "Hey Mickey" – of course. This tune is just as fun as it was in the 80's (and again, I'm dating myself). Hot Mess kicks off the fast
routine with a flip. This looks like her most fun on the show so far. She even throws in a backflip. Sasha wisely let Hot Mess control where his routine goes - she leads the moves and he follows her. Julianne says, "That was so you." Bruno does a cheer – of course – and says her performance level has grown. Carrie Ann calls her powerful. Score: 24.
Singer Christina Milian and Mark are up with a foxtrot. With its jazzy prison theme from the 1920's, she looks like a sultry, dangerous chanteuse in a number from "Chicago." She does a great job being his sultry muse in the dance. Their synch is good when they are separate, and she looks smoldering in hold with him. Bruno calls it a spunky, sultry foxtrot. Carrie Ann liked the transitions. Julianne wants to see a different side of sultry Christina. Score: 24.
Actress Amber Riley and Derek (also judge Julianne's brother) have a tango. Amber is nursing a knee injury, but she comes out looking strong. Derek choreographed it wisely to keep her moving without being too demanding on her knees. Their focus and intensity suit the tango mood well. Their precision on the sharp moves is superb. Carrie Ann says Amber was in fine form. Julianne calls it wonderful. Bruno says it was pure tango. Score: 27.
Comedian Bill Engvall and Emma are last with a samba. Bill works his nonexistent Latin blood as much as possible. I'll give it to him, he throws himself into these things. Bill hits the moves with gusto and has fun doing it. Again, he proves to be a charming old fox, and not at all creepy dancing with much younger eye candy Emma. Julianne calls him the heart of the show. Bruno says the dance had everything you could wish for in a samba. "Except rhythm and timing." Ha! Carrie Ann calls it so fun to watch. Score: 21.
At that moment – and per the producers in his earpiece – Tom says Bill and Emma are safe to make it to next week.
Bill tweeted, "Hey tweeters thank you so much for all your support and votes. I am having the time of my life. Let's see how far we can go. Love y'all."
Tom and Brooke then reveal the rest of the results. We learn the safe contestants are Elizabeth, Leah, Corbin, Amber, Jack, and Christina. The final three are Brant, Valerie and Hot Mess – before we learn Hot Mess is safe.
So it's between Brant and Valerie, and the star shining last is… Valerie.
The TV icon who is battling terminal brain cancer says being on the show was like nothing else in the world and an opportunity to carry a positive message about fighting cancer.
Her partner Tristan says, "Maybe my life's a little bit better since I met Valerie Harper." Having met Valerie myself at a TV station several years ago, I'm inclined to agree.
It's bittersweet that the star of TV's golden age is stepping down, but fair. She has gotten lower scores and forgotten a few steps, so while we all wanted to see her return triumphantly every week with that big smile, it would have been unfair to lose a higher-scoring competitor.
Ever smiling, Valerie says, "It's a great thing to get out and dance!"
Next week, each star will do a routine based on the most memorable year of their lives. I can only imagine how touching Valerie's segment would have been. Sigh.
As for who might get eliminated, I wonder if Bill, Brant, or Jack might wind up in the bottom. The competition continues Monday night at 8 Eastern on ABC.
More information can be found at: http://abc.go.com/primetime/dancingwiththestars/index .