Dancing With the Stars: Judges All But Crown Nicole

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Nicole Scherzinger poses at the 7th annual Global Green USA pre-Oscar party in Hollywood

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

The judges were plenty polite Monday night, but there was no mistaking the cold hard fact: Nicole Scherzinger is the presumed winner of Dancing With the Stars.

It was the Rumba that launched the praise for Scherzinger, who, working with pro partner Derek Hough, took full control of the stage – and crowd. In contrast, when it came to both the “redemption” performances and freestyle routines by Evan Lysacek and Erin Andrews, the judges seemed pleasant but indifferent.

Scherzinger’s freestyle performance was confident and impressive, right until the very end when the singer stumbled. That deduction, when combined with an illegal lift penalty in the Rumba routine, meant that Nicole ended the evening tied for the lead with Erin, at 55 points.

Three points behind is Evan, who effectively earned shrugs with his frantic freestyle dance.

Yet while the evening’s final scores suggest a very tight race –  meaning that anything can happen tonight when the voters chime in – the tone of the evening suggested something far different. Gushing over the Rumba, it was clear to all that the judges love Nicole, and there’s no disputing that she is who they would pick in a second to take home the top prize.

Regardless of what ultimately happens tonight in the season finale, the year’s biggest winner has been ABC. With the highest ratings ever for performance nights, this year’s Dancing With the Stars has been hitting an average of 21.6 million viewers. No doubt there will be plenty more Rumbas in the future.