What happened? Solid performances on Monday night set the stage for a surprising elimination, since no one was bad, exactly. The first two celebrities to find that they were being left “in jeopardy” were Joanna Krupa, who stumbled on Monday, and Aaron Carter, who has been struggling for weeks. They were joined by Natalie Coughlin, making a not-unexpected trip to the near-bottom after a rare low score on Monday, as well as Melissa Joan Hart, meaning that every performer in jeopardy of going home was one who had strongly impressed the judges at least once.
The bottom two were then narrowed to Aaron and Natalie. The judges expressed their sadness at the bottom two (Len Goodman called himself “heartbroken” and lashed out at the viewers for failing to dispense “justice,” presumably to a dancer like Michael Irvin or Louie Vito), and then it was time. Ultimately, it was Natalie Coughlin going home with partner Alec Mazo — a very surprising result based on the early weeks of competition.
The new leader: Donny Osmond got to do the encore dance — unsurprisingly, since he’d gotten the highest score of the season on Monday night for his Argentine tango. It’s not clear whether Donny has the flash to go all the way quite yet, but for the moment, his showmanship is winning over the judges in a big way.
With a song: The musical guest was Norah Jones, who brought out her new, less crooner-like sound for her first number, and was accompanied by some very strange-looking dancers who didn’t seem to know quite what they were trying to get across in their kind of “zombie prom” performance. She returned for a rendition (rearranged for a couple of guitars rather than piano, but in the same fashion) of her old favorite “Come Away With Me,” which lent itself to a much more traditional romantic dance from pros (and real-life married couple) Jonathan Roberts and Anna Trebunskaya.
Was it a thriller? The show’s most hyped filler segment was a tribute to Michael Jackson — who was, in fairness, certainly a highly influential dancer. First, there was a look back at some of the dances that have been done on the show to Jackson songs over the years, which offered a fresh peek at some dancers you haven’t seen in a while, like season 3’s Monique Coleman.
After a discussion of how Jackson’s work changed choreography even in the ballroom arena, it was time for the performance, introduced by La Toya Jackson. Unfortunately, the pros who performed the tribute aren’t people who dance like Michael Jackson, so it turned out to involve a lot of dances to covers of Jackson songs by the house band, during which the men dressed in familiar Jackson outfits. It was well-intentioned, and the “Thriller” bit (which blended with some “Beat It” moves) was a lot of fun, but the whole thing was still a bit of a square peg in a round hole.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.