Brown in lead heading into 'Dancing' finale


Melanie Brown emerged from Monday's "Dancing With the Stars" ballroom battle with the highest score, positioning herself to claim the mirror-ball trophy during Tuesday's season finale.

Brown and her professional partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, earned 55 out of a possible 60 points for their cha cha and freestyle dances.

After the show, Chmerkovskiy said Brown has improved "100%" during their 10 weeks together.

"She went from somebody who just had rhythm ... to having the guts to come out and do this," he said. "She was one of my prize students."

Coming in close second was race-car driver Helio Castroneves and his partner, Julianne Hough, with 54 points.

Castroneves was visibly thrilled when the couple, dressed in matching gold lame bodysuits, completed their stunt-filled freestyle dance, which judge Len Goodman called "the best freestyle of the night by miles."

But Castroneves said after the show that he was disappointed with the judges' scores.

"I wish we got that one point. But I feel we did it all, all that we could do, and hopefully the fans are behind us," he said, calling himself "a trophy man."

"I still want that mirrorball trophy," he said.

Marie Osmond, who collected 46 points for her two dances with partner Jonathan Roberts, is also hoping for the trophy.

"I don't keep awards in my house -- and I've won some wonderful awards -- because my home is for my children," she said after the show. "If I win this baby, it's going in my living room, with a spotlight, twirling."

Osmond, who proudly touted her status as "one of the top doll designers in the world," played a rag-doll character for the couple's freestyle dance.

Judge Bruno Tonioli said the dance "defies criticism."

"It's like 'Baby Jane' and the 'Bride of Chucky,"' he said. "It's unique."

Still, the dance was the lowest-scored of the night, with 22 points.

Judges' scores are combined with viewer votes to determine couples' scores. The show's third-place pair will be eliminated at the start of Tuesday's show. The remaining duos will perform one last dance -- their favorite of the season -- which will help determine the winner.

The ABC show averaged around 20 million weekly viewers for each of its twice-weekly episodes in the 2006-07 season, eclipsed only by Fox powerhouse "American Idol." "Dancing" is still on its toes, with nearly 22 million viewers making it last week's No. 1 show.

The season began with a dozen dancers. Model-actress Josie Maran was the first to be eliminated. Other nixed contestants were actresses Sabrina Bryan, Jennie Garth and Jane Seymour, entrepreneur Mark Cuban, entertainer Wayne Newton, boxer Floyd Mayweather, actor Cameron Mathison and model Albert Reed.