4. Ian Ziering & Cheryl Burke
Based on some of what I’ve heard (including some of the comments left in the Results Show recap), it seems a lot of the votes cast for Ian were more a vote against Billy Ray than proof of Ian’s popularity. It was unlikely that Billy Ray could get enough votes to defeat Joey, Laila, or Apolo, so all the anti-BRC contingent had to do was make sure that Ian survived.
Ian’s been a good sport, and he’s improved immensely. But he’s just not one of the top three dancers. Cheryl’s shown that she can take any student close to the top, if not all the way. Even if they leave without a trophy, their season should hardly be considered a failure.
3. Joey Fatone & Kym Johnson
Joey’s exhibited showmanship and top-notch dance skills. But, after seeing former boy banders and child stars with previous dance training last to the end in previous seasons, fans enjoy seeing a true novice win (like Emmitt did last season).
With two highly talented, novice dancers like Laila and Apolo left in the competition, there may be no room for Joey in the final dance-off.
2. Laila Ali & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Laila has a good shot at winning, but everything depends on what she and Maks do this week. The lengthy intro and outro portions of their most recent performances were a bad idea, and they couldn’t have come at a worse time. She and Maks need to get on the same page and create two routines that show who Laila is and why she’s the best dancer — and they need to do so every second that they’re on the floor. Resting her head on a pillow for one-third of a routine won’t get it done.
Laila’s got one other hurdle to overcome: a show audience comprising mostly women. Taking into consideration that the two best celebrity dancers are pretty close in terms of talent level, I suspect the inner teenagers in many casual viewers — though not our discerning MOIB readers, of course — will nudge them to vote for a cute boy over another woman, unless the woman is clearly superior.
(In Season 2, I was almost relieved when Drew Lachey’s Freestyle was so much better than the horrible routine Tony choreographed for Stacy Keibler, because, even had Stacy matched Drew, I think she still would have come in third — which would not have been good for the show.)
I hope I’m wrong about all this, but it’s hard to ignore that last season’s three finalists were all men, and four of the first five contestants voted out this season were women. Luckily for Laila, she does have a cute guy — with some rabid fans — as a partner (though fat lot of good that did Paulina this season). Also in Laila’s favor, she has a great attitude and a good sense of humor off the dance floor.
For every dance from here on out, Laila and Maks need to make sure that everyone watching knows that she deserves the trophy more than anyone else. They need routines that makes viewers think, "I like the guys, but I can’t in good conscience vote for anything but that!"
1. Apolo Anton Ohno & Julianne Hough
They’re so solid, there’s not much to say. Apolo & Julianne have seemed unstoppable for weeks. Apolo’s been a quick learner, and (even as a rookie) Julianne’s been this season’s best choreographer. She should be able to create a great Freestyle routine, and if she does, Apolo will probably have to clear some space in his trophy case.