Kelsey McNeal/ABC
People Staff
April 07, 2009 12:00 AM

Monday’s Dancing showcased some of the season’s most promising improvements … – and disappointing setbacks. The Olympian recovered from last week’s gimmicky Lindy hop and the rap star got the crowd on its feet. The Bachelor’s ex-fiancee cracked under pressure and the once graceful cowboy turned into a robot. But what remained the same: the French heartthrob’s still the competitor to beat.

Chuck Wicks finally (although not completely) let loose during his performance of the Viennese waltz with partner and girlfriend Julianne Hogh. “You’ve come out of hibernation!” an enthusiastic Len Goodman told the country crooner. While fellow judge Bruno Tonioli agreed Wicks was “in command and you were really performing,” Carrie Ann Inaba found it irritating that he didn’t have confidence throughout the entire dance.

Super Bowl champ Lawrence Taylor couldn’t quite put his finger on the paso doble. “It’s like watching TV with the sound off,” he said. Even though he brought a high level of intensity (“Prince of darkness!” exclaimed Tonioli) to the dancefloor, he failed in one major area — “The dance quality is not really there,” said Goodman. Shawn Johnson climbed her way back up the leader board with an elegant Viennese waltz that proved sometimes simplicity is one of the best ways for success, according to Inaba. She executed the ever so tricky spin and lift (while still managing to keep her foot on the floor, of course) and also got some compliments from Tonioli who raved about her “great musicality.”

For the first time this season, The Bachelor‘s Melissa Rycroft showed some signs of weakness during her paso doble. The usually bubbly reality TV star struggled to maintain a serious demeanor throughout the dramatic dance and made two mistakes during the show. She told host Samantha Harris backstage that she lost her concentration because she focused too much on her facial expressions.

David Alan Grier‘s Viennese waltz started on a high note but fell flat towards the end. “You looked like a dog on a lamp post … it’s not necessary!” Tonioli told the comedian, referring to some of his unconventional twists to the traditional dance. “Tricks are not necessary.” Goodman, however, had some kinder words for the funny man and said he “very pleased” with his “very good performance.”

A bare-chested Gilles Marini once again made it hard for the judges to tell if he was the star or the pro. “First of all, that was just breathtaking,” said Inaba, who praised the SATC actor and partner Cheryl Burke for a “phenomenal” performance that showed the essence of the paso doble. “I liked the passion. I liked the fire,” agreed Goodman. “You came out very strong.” He received one of the night’s few standing ovations from an audience that erupted in applause before, during and after his performance.

A healthier and injury-free Steve-O brought “a really beautiful emotional quality…a sweet innocence,” according to Inaba, to his Viennese waltz and finally got more than 5s from all three judges. But they slammed Ty Murray … whose drastic transformation from cowboy to ballroom leading man in the past three weeks had the judges wanting more … for his robotic paso doble. Tonioli even went so far as to compare the rodeo star to a Transformer.

Lil’ Kim secured a spot as one of this week’s leaders with a polished Viennese waltz that had everyone, including Bob Saget and Heather Mills who were in the audience, on their feet. “You brought everything to life…you were perfectly matched,” said Inaba. “Total harmony with your partner,” Tonilio added. But the judges’ table wasn’t unanimous in their positive feedback. Goodman, with the crowd booing in the background, told the rapper and partner Derek Hough that he wasn’t happy with content of their dance. –Eunice Oh

Here’s how the remaining nine contestants stacked up after Monday’s dance: Chuck & Julianne: 23 out of 30 for their Viennese waltz Lawrence & Edyta: 20 out of 30 for their paso doble Shawn & Mark: 26 out of 30 for their Viennese waltz Melissa & Tony: 25 out of 30 for their paso doble David & Kym: 22 out of 30 for their Viennese waltz Gilles & Cheryl: 29 out of 30 for their paso doble Steve-O & Lacey: 18 out of 30 for their Viennese waltz Ty & Chelsie: 21 out of 30 for their paso doble Lil’ Kim & Derek: 26 out of 30 for their Viennese waltz

Tell us: Who do you think should be in tonight’s dance-off? Are you surprised Melissa got a lower score than Shawn and Lil’ Kim?

MORE: POLL: Which Dancing Judge Was Off the Mark?Kelsey McNeal/ABC

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