The second half of the "Dancing With The Stars" season is starting with nine celebrities still in the running, but they'll vanish in a hurry with two straight double eliminations (meaning that almost half the group will go this week or next). Monday night, the remaining couples danced their individual dances — either the jitterbug or the waltz — and then participated in a group mambo.
First up with the jitterbug were Mya and her partner Dmitry Chaplin. Mya's jitterbug was speedy and light-footed, and most important, it looked effortless. Nevertheless, Judge Len Goodman was predictably disappointed by the gimmicky opening, and Carrie Ann Inaba found it a little restrained. Mya and Dmitry left with a surprisingly so-so total of 24 points.
Melissa Joan Hart has been uneven so far. In the waltz, she struggled with her posture so much that partner Mark Ballas actually brought in his mom, dancer Shirley Ballas, to help. Their waltz was not entirely convincing, but it was pretty. Every season, someone seems to be battling a fundamental lack of natural dance ability to the point where you almost don't notice it, and this season, that may be Melissa. Bruno Tonioli trashed just about everything about the performance, and Carrie Ann agreed, but Len was significantly kinder, and Melissa managed 20 points.
The uneven journey of the capable but sometimes unexciting Mark Dacascos and his partner Lacey Schwimmer continued with their jitterbug, where his physical skills came into play. Their performance was a high-energy concoction, and Lacey effectively flipped a couple of tricks around (so that, on one occasion, for instance, she lifted him). The crowd got going, and the judges bought it, and Mark and Lacey scored 26 points.
Next up was Aaron Carter, who has been flailing for a couple of weeks. The technical aspects of his waltz with Karina Smirnoff were strong, but Aaron continues to be visibly acting. He knows what he's doing and he can hit body positions, but he emotes in a way that is conspicuously inauthentic. The judges were enthusiastic, and not unreasonably so, but there is something missing from Aaron's delivery. He and Karina wound up with 25 points, one fewer than Mark and Lacey.
Michael Irvin has received the harshest criticism from the judges for a couple of weeks now, but he and his partner, Anna Demidova, have stayed in by the grace of the viewers. It was easy to predict that Michael would not be the most graceful of waltzers, and he wasn't, but he moved gamely on his toes for a guy with a football background. While the technical side wasn't perfect, as Carrie Ann pointed out, his performance had significant charm. Len actually called it "really, really good," and Michael and Anna left with a total of 20 points — including an 8 from Len.
Kelly Osbourne was up for the jitterbug, despite hurting her foot last week. The jitterbug offered Kelly the opportunity to show off her grin and her sass, and it was undoubtedly a big serving of cake for the people who have enjoyed her energy. The judges called her out for a couple of bobbles and found it a bit flat-footed, but the performance is likely to please Kelly's fans enough that her 20 points may not be a problem.
Louie Vito has not been a judges' favorite, and he and Chelsie Hightower have hung on by their fingernails to stay out of the bottom two. In the jitterbug, the tricks looked pretty cool as it turned out, but Louie continued to have the same problem he often has, which is that when he's dancing, it looks like he's walking. Carrie Ann pointed out — rather bitingly — that he half-dropped Chelsie twice during the routine. Still, Louie and Chelsie finished with a respectable 21 points, avoiding the 20-point rut that had swallowed Melissa, Michael and Kelly.
Derek Hough returned as Joanna Krupa's partner after his flu episode last week. Joanna has excelled more in Latin dances so far, so Derek seemed a little nervous. Aside from a few awkward moments, though, Joanna's waltz was very pretty, and Derek choreographed it carefully nicely to show off her flexibility and long legs. Bruno's comparisons to a butterfly in a meadow were a bit dramatic, but it was a fine waltz, and Joanna finished with 26 points — tied with Mark Dacascos for the top score of the night.
Last to dance were Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson, whose Argentine tango was the top-scored dance last week. Donny is surprisingly fast on his feet, and given their performance in the Charleston a couple of weeks ago, it wasn't surprising that they also had a successful jitterbug. The judges noticed a couple of flaws, and Donny's energy can't entirely hide the fact that he sometimes struggles to keep up, but Donny and Kym finished with 24 points, tying with Mya, two points off the lead.
The night ended with a group mambo in which couples were "tapped out" one at a time, with the first out earning 2 points, up to the final dancer standing, who would receive 10. Things progressed very predictably: first out was Michael, followed by Louie, Melissa, Kelly, Mark, Donny, Aaron, and Mya, leaving the 10-point prize to Joanna and Derek, who had a very good night overall and finished at the top of the board.
The celebrities in jeopardy on Tuesday night would seem to be Louie, Michael, Melissa, and possibly Kelly — a six-point gap divides that group from the other five teams. The lowest (after counting audience votes) will go home, but the next two will participate in a dance-off that will be at the mercy of the judges only. Could this be the end for the NFL vet when Michael's fans can no longer keep him safe?
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com