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Spoilers ahead for the Villains Night of Dancing with the Stars Season 29.
Dancing with the Stars was down to ten final celebrity dancers when Villains Night rolled around, just in time for Halloween. With homages to everything from Silence of the Lambs to Psycho to Black Swan, Villains Night was definitely the spookiest installment of the season so far. For me, it was also the episode that finally fully won me over in Season 29.
Now, that's not to say that I hadn't been enjoying Season 29 prior to Villains Night. Dancing with the Stars recruited a solid slate of celebs to hit the stage this season, and I'm already ready to bring Derek Hough on as a full-time judge moving forward. But Dancing with the Stars, like many other major talent competition series this year, had to make some big changes for pandemic protocols, and that included leaving out a studio audience.
The absence of a studio audience didn't actually bother me, but Dancing with the Stars went overboard on the sound effects to give the impression that fans were packed into the building to watch the celebrities put on their dancing shoes and try to come out on top. Not only were the effects loud enough to sometimes drown out new host Tyra Banks, the judges, and the dancing couples, but they made me more rather than less aware of the missing audience.
Then came Villains Night, and I think Dancing with the Stars took full advantage of the opportunities afforded the show by the lack of an audience, rather than just dealing with disadvantages. The show always goes above and beyond with its theme nights, and I was all-in on Disney Night not that long ago.
But Villains Night truly created a creepy atmosphere for the celebrity couples, and it seemed like they were able to stay in-character more than most in theme nights without throngs of people cheering from the sidelines. These dances felt like they belonged on a Broadway stage, with audiences watching rather than distracting.
Dancing with the Stars also used more lighting effects on and around the stage, giving the sense of more space and grandeur. I could focus on the dancing and really get into the characters and stories that the pairs were creating on stage. This was an immersive Villains Night, not just a bunch of celebrities hitting the stage in villain costumes.
That's not to say that celebrities of past seasons haven't nailed their theme nights and gotten in-character for their numbers, but Dancing with the Stars made the most of its limitations with this episode, and I would argue that this was one of the most successful nights of the show in a long time, including pre-pandemic. I wouldn't be upset if DWTS decided to forego an audience every once in a while even once it's safe to pack fans in again, if this is how it goes.
Was the cheering, booing, and laughing still a little too loud and over-the-top for my taste? Sure, but the absence of an audience worked so well for Villains Night that the sound effects didn't pull me out of any moments, and I have officially been won over for Season 29. If Dancing with the Stars keeps this up for the rest of the season, I might even rank it toward the top of the list of competition shows that have had to scramble to replace studio audiences. (I'm looking at you, America's Got Talent and The Masked Singer!)
Take a look at my favorite dance of the night to see how using the space usually filled by the audience worked in the show's favor:
Chrishell Stause was a magnificent Maleficent, if you ask me! That said, she and partner Gleb Savchenko were toward the middle of the pack with their 26 this week. Villains Night saw the first perfect score of the season, with all three judges giving a 10 to Nev Schulman and Jenna Johnson for their Black Swan routine. Villains Night was the end of the Dancing with the Stars road for Monica Aldama and Val Chmerkovskiy, as the judges chose to save Jeannie Mai and Brandon Armstrong from the bottom two.