ABC's 'Dancing with the Stars' waltzes into sixth-season finale
By Christopher Rocchio, 05/19/2008
Dancing with the Stars judge Len Goodman thinks Kristi Yamaguchi, Jason Taylor and Cristian de la Fuente are all deserving of the mirror ball trophy as the ABC reality series begins its sixth-season finale tonight.
"I think this final coming up is unique that we've got the best three. Each one of the three has been top of the leaderboard during the course of the show. So they've all been number one at one stage or another," said Goodman as a guest on Friday night's broadcast of CNN's Larry King Live that also included the Top 3 couples. "I think they're all in with a chance. They're all in with a good chance."
Dancing with the Stars' two-night sixth-season finale will kick-off tonight with a live performance episode beginning at 8PM ET/PT, which will see the three remaining couples -- Yamaguchi and Mark Ballas, Taylor and Edyta Sliwinska, and de la Fuente and Cheryl Burke -- each perform two routines as well as a group number.
Even before the broadcast begins Burke and de la Fuente find themselves at a disadvantage due to a torn muscle in his bicep that he suffered three weeks ago.
"It's different working with someone with only one arm," said Burke, a two-time Dancing with the Stars professional champ. "It's been the most challenging, for me, in my career. But he really has done a great job. Lots of work. Nothing came natural to this Latino man here. But he's come such a long way. And I think having him injured actually made him improve even more."
De la Fuente plans to have surgery to repair the damage done to his bicep on Friday and said he thinks the injury won't have too great of an impact on his final performances.
"I'm very lucky to be dancing with Cheryl, who is a great choreographer," said de la Fuente. "And she's been able to choreograph all of the routines out of the right arm only."
Working in Taylor's favor is the fact that NFL players who have previously appeared on the show have done well -- with Jerry Rice finishing third during the show's second season and Emmitt Smith winning the third-season mirror ball trophy with Burke.
"I think the athleticism kind of translates to the ballroom a little bit," said Taylor. "It is [athletic], more so than I thought. Coming in, I thought it was kind of -- it's ballroom dancing, that's kind of for girls. But it actually is a lot more athletic than I thought. And it takes a lot of determination and discipline and hard work. And I'm completely surprised."
Sliwinska will be participating in her first Dancing with the Stars finale, an opportunity she said she's "very happy" about. While Sliwinska said Taylor has "great discipline and work ethic," she said it was "very difficult" in the beginning of the competition due to his height.
"I didn't have any expectations because I don't really know any dancers that would be as [tall] as Jason," she explained. "So basically, I came in thinking that he's going to be very awkward, very unnatural. And I was wrong. He came out to be obviously athletic, but very coordinated. And, you know, he got into the finals and there are some other very good couples that, you know, were eliminated along the way."
While both de la Fuente, Taylor and their professional partners may be hopeful -- the finale is Yamaguchi and Ballas' to lose, as they have been atop the judges leaderboard throughout most of the competition and never found themselves in the bottom two.
"Working with Kristi from start to finish has been one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had," said Ballas. "It's just been an honor. From the second I walked up, I remember our first meeting. I was a big Olympic fans. I had seen her skate before. I had actually been to one of her ice shows last year and I was just excited about the whole thing. Like Edyta said with Jason, she knows how to take direction, not afraid to try anything. And we had a lot of fun working together."
Since Yamaguchi is an Olympic gold medalist figure skater, Dancing with the Stars should seemingly be a piece of cake. However she said her "experience is on the ice" -- not in the ballroom.
"I think a lot of us bring different elements of athleticism and entertainment to the show. So I think it evens out," she said when asked if her prior experience gives her an edge. "I've spent as many hours in the studio practicing as everyone else. But it's been a fun experience. I think I'm lucky that the skating fans have been so loyal and have kept me in the competition this long."
Yamaguchie described herself as a "huge" Dancing with the Stars fan and said she used to watch it with her two young daughters.
"I thought it would just be fun. Everyone who's ever been on it looked like they had a blast. And I was excited to try that experience and learn how to dance," she said before adding it was more than she bargained for. "I think just the toughness of the scheduling. You don't realize watching it once a week that, 'Hey, we do have to learn a new dance.'" There's a lot of hours in the studio that it takes up to learn that dance and make it worthy of a performance on live television."
In addition, Yamaguchi said she initially had a hard time "just staying on the beat to the music."
"Mark is always reminding me to count, because I tend to just go with the flow of the music and not stay on every beat," she explained. "So I think counting the music and moving my feet on every beat and the quickness of it all has been the biggest challenge."
Ballas added it was also difficult for him at the onset of the sixth season's because "you have to learn how to work with somebody you've never met before."
"The first couple of weeks are always kind of rough and tumble," he said. "We've had moments where we struggled, and we've had moments where we had lots of fun."
Although one of the three remaining couples has to win, none of them really seemed eager to do so and instead expressed pleasure in simply making it as far as they did.
"It's been great. It's been a crazy experience. And I'm very happy to be in the finals with them," said de la Fuente. "I didn't think I was going to be able to make it, especially after I got injured. But, you know, their support and, you know, they're being really supportive and I'm happy that we are all friend and we are all in the finals."
De la Fuente added all three remaining couples will be pleased no matter what the end result is.
"I can speak for the three of us -- anybody who wins, we're all going to be happy. Of course, the one that wins is going to be happier, but we're all going to be very happy," he said. "It's for the competition. It's for the challenge. You want to set a challenge in life and then be able to overcome it. And that gives you the satisfaction that you can achieve things in life. So that's priceless."
Dancing with the Stars judge Bruno Tonioli agreed with Goodman that "the three worthy of the final are there."
"It's so exciting and unpredictable," said Tonioli. "It's very difficult to assess this year because each and every one of them has strengths. They all have the wild card and God knows what's going to happen."