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Are Nicole and Derek the Ones to Beat on Dancing?

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Adam Larkey/ABC

The ones to beat on Dancing with the Stars? Judging by Monday night’s performance show, it’s singer Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough. At times her own worst critic, Nicole put aside all of her inhibitions and performed a near flawless foxtrot, which received 29 out of 30 points. Later, the pair performed a perfect 1950s-style paso doble. Len Goodman reached for his No. 10 paddle after they left the studio audience literally screaming for a perfect score — which they got! The judge, who’s often been tough on the duo, admitted that it’s not in his nature to dole out praise for two dances in the same night. But Nicole and Derek left him with nothing to criticize.

Indeed, as season ten gets down to the wire, there’s very little to complain about. While Nicole and Derek were head and shoulders above the field, Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy came back (following controversy last week) fighting for a spot in the finals. The pair, who landed in the bottom two during last week’s results show, performed an aggressive Argentine tango that included a flying leap by the leggy Andrews off the stage and onto Maksim’s shoulders. “Hot!” Carrie Ann Inaba declared. “Loved it!” Len added. “You were on fire!” Bruno Tonioli yelled. They earned a solid 28. Later, during their 1980s-style rumba, the pair received a solid 25. Len felt the dance of love was “a bit jerky” while Bruno thought the two made great music together.

Hot on their heels were last week’s perfect pair, Evan Lysacek and Anna Trebunskaya. The pair’s waltz fell slightly — very slightly — below the judges’ expectations. Carrie Ann felt Evan’s lines were impeccable and she encouraged him to lose himself in the moment when he dances. Meanwhile, Len felt ambivalent about the routine, acknowledging that Evan’s posture was great and his movement was good. They earned 27 points. Later in the telecast, their futuristic-themed cha cha garnered a solid 26 points. Carrie Ann felt Evan really committed to his robotic character, while Bruno thought it was very creative.

Chad Ochocinco and Cheryl Burke had their second great performance show in a row. Despite landing in third place overall after the judges’ scores, the duo proved that they are committed to each other — at least on the dance floor. They opened the show with a decent tango in which Carrie Ann remarked she sees “great potential.” Len felt the dance needed a bit more polish, and Bruno concurred that the routine needs to be slicker. The Cincinnati Bengals star followed up with a high energy 60s-style jive that Len said was “entertaining” while Carrie Ann called it “one of your better dances.” They received 24 points fro their work.

Landing at the bottom of the leader board is actress/comedienne Niecy Nash, whose Viennese waltz was a crowd pleaser, though the judges felt otherwise, giving it a measly 23 points. Later on, the duo performed a 90s-themed paso doble, which still didn’t endear them to the judges. Bruno said Niecy threw herself into the dance “like and avalanche.” Carrie Ann felt the couple’s balance was out of whack, while Len felt the paso doble wasn’t Niecy’s cup of tea. –Monica Rizzo

Here are the standings following Monday night’s performance show: NICOLE/DEREK 59/60 EVAN/ANNA 53/60 ERIN/MAKS 53/60 CHERYL/CHAD 45/60 NIECY/LOUIS 43/60

Tell us: Whose turn is it to go home? Who will make the finals? And who do you want to win?Adam Larkey/ABC