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LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Ballroom contest "Dancing With the Stars" ended the season's performance round on Monday with the top three celebrity contestants finding redemption from past missteps but trouble with their freestyle routines.
Singer Nicole Scherzinger and her professional dance partner Derek Hough, are tied for the lead with ESPN sports reporter Erin Andrews and pro Maksim Chmerkovsky.
Each pair earned 55 of 60 points for Monday's two dances, and will compete again in Tuesday's finale when a winner of the widely-watched television dance contest will be named and its coveted mirror ball trophy handed out.
Close behind with 52 points were Olympic ice skating champion Evan Lysacek and his partner Anna Trebunskaya.
The three couples each performed a "redemption" routine on Monday's show, repeating a dance on which they'd performed poorly earlier in the season. Then, they took a freestyle trip around the ballroom floor.
Andrews and Chmerkovsky got off to a rousing start with a Samba that had Andrews' hips shaking and the show's judges quaking. "I couldn't believe the results, my head is still shaking," said judge Bruno Tonioli.
But the pair stumbled with a freestyle meant to be a passionate expression of love as they danced around a bed. Judge Len Goodman called it "a mix of emotion and commotion. I liked it but to be honest, I didn't love it."
Similarly, Scherzinger and Hough came back from a poor Rumba earlier this season, but were graded down by judge Carrie Ann Inaba who said she spotted an illegal lift.
In the freestyle, the pair's routine seemed to be flawless until near the very end when they stumbled. Still, the high-energy dance was lauded by the judges for its bold choreography and their scores barely reflected the misstep.
Like the others, Lysacek and Trebunskaya corrected past problems and, for the most part, thrilled the judges with Monday's performance of a Viennese Waltz. But a frenetic freestyle led to the night's lowest score of 24.
The trio of couples now square off in Tuesday's finale, and regardless of which celebrity wins, one thing is certain, the show comes out on top.
"Dancing With the Stars," which airs on the ABC television network, has had one of its most memorable seasons yet with stars like Pamela Anderson and Kate Gosselin luring viewers. It has enjoyed an average 21.6 million viewers, and its performance programs are having their best season ever.
Editing by Dean Goodman