- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bristol Palin had the bloggers and the buzz, but Jennifer Grey had the moves.

The 50-year-old actress and professional dance partner Derek Hough earned a rash of perfect scores in their two dances Tuesday to win ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” overcoming a much-maligned conservative grassroots campaign for Miss Palin that saw her pull upsets over more experienced dancers.

That support couldn’t keep Miss Palin in the competition Tuesday after her performances left her trailing Miss Grey and actor Kyle Massey. The Alaskan single mother was the first of the three celebrity contestants to be eliminated, despite positive reviews from the judges for her footwork and “clean” dancing.

While Miss Grey had regularly led the competition throughout the season, it was Miss Palin who grabbed the headlines as debate raged over whether she deserved to make it to the final round. Critics of Miss Palin cried conspiracy, upset that the pro-Bristol vote may have been swayed by supporters of her mother, 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

At the start of Tuesday’s show, Miss Palin said that she wanted to win because, “It would feel like a big middle finger to all the people out there who hate my mom and hate me.”

Win, lose or draw, Miss Palin has showed she’s her mother’s daughter during her controversial run on the popular dancing competition.

By her own acknowledgment, the 20-year-old Miss Palin isn’t the greatest dancer in the world. For this, she’s been lambasted, harangued and subjected to death threats after advancing to the dancing competition’s final round.

But Miss Palin wasn’t apologizing for her success, her dancing or anything else. During Monday’s episode, she hung tough in the face of criticism, insisting that she and her professional ballroom dance partner, Mark Ballas, deserve to win because “we’ve been working our butts off.”

“There’s a lot of haters out there that are waiting for me to fail,” she added.

“America deserves a chance to punch the left in the face … and considering how much they hate the Palins, winning this competition for her would send them into spiraling, apoplectic fits some of them might not ever recover from,” Kevin DuJan said Tuesday on his blog Hillbuzz.org before the live finale aired.

This is not fair, critics say, because Miss Palin can’t dance as well as, say, Miss Grey, the “Dirty Dancing” movie star.

Or Brandy, the R&B singer who was voted off the show last week even though she received higher scores from the judges than Miss Palin.

TMZ reported Tuesday that Miss Palin and Mr. Ballas received death threats prior to Tuesday night’s finale, and that ABC-TV responded by increasing security. The Los Angeles studio was evacuated Friday after receiving a threatening letter containing white powder, which turned out to be harmless.

Miss Palin routinely scored lower than her competitors throughout the season. An ABC-TV/Washington Post poll on the subject showed that 54 percent of respondents thought that Miss Palin has ridden her mother’s coattails to the finals, while 14 percent think she owes it to her dancing ability.

It may not be fair, but as former President Jimmy Carter famously said, life isn’t fair. Neither are television talent shows that rely on viewers to determine the winner, as anyone who’s ever watched “American Idol” can attest.

On such shows, less-talented contestants routinely develop rabid fan bases that vote them in week after week. Remember Sanjaya Malakar, who made it into the top seven during American Idol’s sixth season despite scathing reviews from the judges? His success also was attributed to his devoted following, which seemed more impressed with his awesome smile and fabulous hair than his crooning.

Viewers also tend to reward contestants who put in maximum effort and show improvement from week to week, which by all accounts Miss Palin has done.

“If she ends up winning the show, she ends up winning the show because more people decided to make the effort to vote for her — for whatever reason they’re passionate about her — than they did for other people, and that is a valid part of the show,” “Dancing With the Stars” executive producer Conrad Green told the Associated Press.

Indeed, the flap over Miss Palin’s dancing has resulted in a bonanza for the show’s ratings. In the past three weeks, the audience has grown steadily from 20 million to 23.3 million viewers.

Host Tom Bergeron addressed the controversy during Monday’s show, during which the three finalists performed two dances each.

“Here’s the deal: We tell you every week you have to vote for your favorites to win,” said Mr. Bergeron. “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”

He also had a word of advice for viewers who may be tempted to follow in the footsteps of the Wisconsin man who reportedly shot his television set after watching Miss Palin dance.

“And please — don’t shoot your television,” quipped Mr. Bergeron.

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