Neither Donny Osmond nor Kelly Osbourne is a poor dancer, but neither of them touches the natural ability that Mya has shown in her performances with Dmitry Chaplin. Moreover, Mya has never had a single dance in which she performed poorly — something that can't be said of either Donny or Kelly.
Each of the three final couples — Mya and Dmitry, Donny and Kym Johnson, and Kelly and Louis van Amstel — performed three dances Monday night, and the combination of their scores from those dances will be combined with viewer votes and a final set of judges' scores for a performance on Tuesday night's finale in order to crown the winner. It looked from the beginning like it was destined to come down to the most skilled dancer versus the most popular one.
Kelly and Louis went first with an Argentine tango. As performed, the dance wasn't perfect, but Kelly's footwork was sharp and her natural flair for acting gave it drama, despite the fact that the Argentine tango tends to look a little small, in that it occurs in a tight space without moving much across the floor. Carrie Ann Inaba said saw the “intimacy” she was hoping for, and the judges awarded Kelly and Louis two 9s and an 8 — not an especially high score for the finals, but a great score for Kelly in a tango.
Mya and Dmitry took on the paso doble. Their performance, to a very oddly speeded-up version of “We Will Rock You,” looked rushed in places, but also featured some very high-energy stomping. The judges fell entirely and predictably in love with it and gave it yet another perfect 30 — Mya and Dmitry's third of the season.
Donny and Kym tripped all over their clothes last week, so they were looking to get back on track with this week's cha-cha-cha. While their performance was sound and Donny sold it, it looked like a lot of it was not taking place at a particularly high level of difficulty. There was one small mistake, which led to Donny's receiving three 9s, putting him a whisker ahead of Kelly — and both of them behind Mya.
The second round was a “Megamix Challenge,” in which all three couples performed the same choreography side by side, the better to compare them directly. The judges were not charged with giving each couple a score, but with putting the three couples in rank order.
The Megamix included segments of Viennese waltz, samba and jive. Aside from the fact that Kelly looked frazzled during the closing jive section, they all danced largely as they often do, with no obvious departures from the pattern. In a repeat of the scores they gave in the first round, the judges scored Mya and Dmitry first, Donny and Kym second, and Kelly and Louis third. That netted Mya 30 points, Donny 28, and Kelly 26, which stretched Mya's lead and spread out Kelly and Donny a little more.
And then there was the freestyle
The third round was the one that tends to be the least predictable: the freestyle. Kelly and Louis chose “I Will Survive.” Louis came up with a bag of tricks, some of which rather terrified Kelly, but she vowed to try whatever he asked her to. Kelly clearly loved the dance, and when they performed it, even after one of the lifts went awry and she fell right on the floor, she continued beaming. For once, she didn't let herself get rattled, and in a way, that was emblematic of what she's accomplished. The judges, however, couldn't ignore the mistakes — what Len Goodman called “worrying incidents” — and Kelly walked away with three 8s, which will make it hard for her to win without a massive infusion of fan support.
Mya told Dmitry she wanted to “take a risk” in her freestyle, and she chafed a little at Dmitry's suggestion of a happy, upbeat number from “Hairspray.” What ultimately emerged was a dance that was a lot of fun to watch, but wasn't quite spectacular enough to fully stress how much more technically proficient she is than the other finalist. In fact, her dance was probably not significantly more difficult than Kelly's, though it was faster and she performed it without making mistakes. The judges responded with rare disappointment, but even that disappointment netted her three 9s and extended her lead over Kelly.
Donny stressed during rehearsals with Kym that he just wants to beat his sister Marie's showing a couple of seasons ago. He and Kym performed a glitzy Broadway number that put Donny in tails, offered 100 percent what Len always calls “razzmatazz,” and played up every showbiz cliché Donny has at his disposal. Len called the routine a “show-stopper,” and all the judges were so thrilled by it (though again, it wasn't high in technical difficulty) that Donny's three 10s were a surprise to no one.
So here is where we stand: Mya is two points ahead of Donny, and Donny is nine points ahead of Kelly. In all likelihood, Kelly is too far behind to catch up, so the race is between Donny and Mya. And in the end, because Mya didn't get any significant distance from him in judges' scoring, it will probably come down to fan voting.
As fine of a dancer as Mya is, none of her dances on Monday night was the kind of exciting, motivating performance that really drives people to pick up the phone. We know, on the other hand, that Donny has been saved by the fervency of his fans. So who's going to win? Bet on Donny Osmond.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.