Rah rah, cha cha, sis boom bah! The much anticipated 18th season of “Dancing with the Stars” premiered March 17 on ABC with debut performances from the reality franchise’s most ringer-stuffed cast to date (because seriously, you guys, that’s totally what it is). While some predictably predictables came to pass (ahem, Billy Dee, I’m looking in your direction), the two-hour spring season launching pad did offer up a few surprising morsels, including the return of the sky box (yay!) and a slightly surprising week one leader board topper (but only slightly).
The show opened with a steamy number featuring the season 18 pros. Oh, and Jason Derulo. Since they booted poor, poor Harold Wheeler and his talented band, they had to call in replacements. Ten points to Derulo for bringing it. Negative 100 points to the lameoid back-up band. Well, wait, maybe I spoke too soon. I’m taking Jason’s 10 points back for standing there awkwardly while the pros danced around him. He can have five back for the break dancing, but otherwise… no.
And I have to admit it: I’m pumped to see Maks back on stage. I’ve never been a big Maks girl (though the Sex on a Stick thing was one of the funniest oopsie remarks ever) but I felt a little pulse when I saw him on stage. Boo yah.
And then, oh hi Erin! I like Erin Andrews. She’s a smart girl and a good reporter. But she needs to tone it down a little. No tackles in the ballroom. (No peepholes, either.) And no one’s going to yell at you in awkward fashion. And the red dress? A wee bit much.
Anyway, then Tom Bergeron took over and welcomed the new couples with an assist from Erin. Danica McKellar looked way excited. So did Candace Cameron Bure. But I guess I’m not surprised by that since it took her what, seven years to get on the show? I’d be going nuts too. All on stage. All ready to go. I can hardly take the drama.
And then, the first dance! Wooohoooo! “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani. NeNe told Tony she wanted to “have fun” and Tony said she has enough “personality for both of us”. She wasn’t sure who were her biggest threats but said she had an eye on Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Well, duh. She’s kind of a hoot. She’ll be entertaining (until it gets annoying).
Ooh, very ballsy of her to start her ‘Give it 2 U” cha cha cha with a solo. You go girl (even if she probably drew her inspiration from her exotic dancer days). Her lacy white outfit is kind of distracting. I keep staring at the fringe on her skirt. But she looked happy. And pleased with herself. And is that a tear in her eye? And she had fun, so good start for them.
Lenny G: “that’s the way to get the party started… it was like an all you can eat buffet of fun and entertainment” but wanted more hip action. “Great start, well done.”
Bruno: “sister sassy, that’s my kind of girl… you’re just scratching the surface”. He told her to work on her footwork.
Carrie Ann: “You have this incredibly larger than life personality and it shows in your dancing.” “Your’e a big, large, beautiful… woman… I want you to dance bigger.” Tony was excited and loved dancing with her. Scores: 7, 7, 7 = 21
Up next: James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd. James was one of a whopping two cast members I had to look up when the celebs were announced. Not a clue. He’s like Brant Daugherty v. 2.0. Maybe that’s what I’ll call him. Anyway, their initial meeting was awkward with a capital A. They went on a date. Then he went on tour with “Big Time Rush” and didn’t call her. Peta looked horrified in a good way (“I wanted to eat you and you didn’t call me, you bastard.” James: “Let’s stay professional here.”) I laughed. A lot.
While I was mulling their meeting they danced a foxtrot to “Story of My Life” while bathed in golden light. It was romantic, I guess. In that awkward, he-didn’t-call-me-and-now-I’m-dancing-with-him way.
Bruno: “James is on a mission… I like the fact that you put a lot of effort in this dance” but told him to make it look more effortless. “The footwork has to be slightly more precise.”
Carrie Ann: “I’m making little hearts like a 12 year old… you are just so darn cute.” Oh good grief, cougar alert. She liked his “natural elegance”. Yeah, that’s what drew her attention. His “natural elegance.”
Len: “we’re here for a bit of eye candy for the ladies… I thought you did a good job.” “You need to keep your frame in one piece… but you came out, you sold it, and I’m pleased with you.”
Scores: 7, 7, 7 = 21
And then a very excited Winnie Cooper! Although I guess she’s Danica McKellar now that she’s in her late 30s. (Can I just say how incredibly old I now feel after writing that? I need to go drown my age-related sorrows in a pint of cookie dough ice cream). She was super pumped to meet Val Chmerkovskiy, who she called “way cooler than I am.” And I mean super pumped. She kept jumping on him like an over-catnipped kitten. She said she “gets way too excited about things to be cool.” She’s cute but whoa there. Val was happy because he thinks they make a good couple. She said she’d like to “find [her] womanliness” while on the show. Mmm-kay… didn’t you pose for Maxim?
So now the dance. Well, girlfriend is hot, so she looked smokin’ in her red dress. The “Walk Away” foxtrot was a little stiff. She looked nervous, but excited. Really, really gut-bustingly excited. Maybe next week a quick pre-show mile on the treadmill would help to settle her down. But really, if she can get the nerves under control, she could be a contender down the line. (And people will vote for her because she’s Winnie Cooper, duh.)
Carrie Ann: “You are so adorable…” but warned her about her shoulders. She told her to watch being “a little overexpressive with the mouth.”
Len: He told her to not hold Val’s shoulder too tightly. “Terrific.”
Bruno: “You’re so exuberant.” “You played off him so well. You sold it so well…” but “lovely.”
Scores: 8, 8, 8. (And yes, Danica was bouncing.)
Up next was former NHL bad boy Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff, who is pretty much Danica’s polar opposite. He called getting contemporary as his first dance “ironic”. Uh, yeah. Karina tried very hard to get America to love him. She called him “very funny.” Right. Keep trying, Karina. Keep trying.
So, their “Somewhere Only We Know” dance basically went like this: Sean picks up Karina and throws her dramatically into the air. Karina does a string of chane turns. Sean runs after her dramatically. Rinse, repeat. Rinse again, repeat again. Good lifts, but where’s the rest of the content?
Len: “The ice man cometh, oh yes… I thought the lifts were terrific…” but “it needed a little bit more finesse here and there.” Still, “well done.”
Bruno: “you’re powerful, you’re focused, you’re connected.” He liked how he worked with the music, but told him to work on his links and transitions.
Carrie Ann: “I think you’re fascinating to watch.” but “You have to learn how to point your toes.”
Then Erin talked to Sean and Karina about watching “Footloose,” which is allegedly his favorite movie. Wow, I’d hate to be his least favorite movie. Or his least favorite anything. There’s sarcasm. And then, apparently, there’s Sean Avery. I’ve been schooled, hockey style.
Scores: 7, 6, 7 = 20.
And then… the legendary Billy Dee Williams. Emma Slater was so pumped. He called it a challenge. Emma insisted it would “be so much fun.” Ugh, poor guy. Arthritis in his back and two hip operations. Emma loved his dedication.
And of course, their cha cha was set to the “Star Wars” theme with Emma dressed as Leia. And R2D2! Yay! Points for nostalgia! But for the actual dancing, well, we won’t dwell. Next time Billy should just try to avoid looking quite so lost. But the in-house Ewoks loved it.
Bruno: “May the force be with you…” “I think you got the wrong character… I want Darth Vader… bigger, more powerful.”
Carrie Ann: “You’re definitely the most relaxed dancer we’ve ever seen… we need a little more.”
Len: “You were on time, you didn’t forget your routine, it was entertaining… two hip replacements, you’re 77, you did a good job, well done.”
Scores: 5, 5, 5 = 15.
Ouch. But, well, fair. Sorry Billy Dee.
Ooh, ooh, and then Meryl Davis! I love her. I need to fangirl for a moment. Okay, done. She said she was “absolutely thrilled” to see that Maks was her partner. Maks was “like great, this is somebody that I just saw win the Olympics. This is awesome.” Maks looked so excited that I thought he might throw up. He promised to give her all he’s got. She agreed to take it. Game on, chillins. Game on.
The music: “All Night.” The extensions: fabulous. The spins: fabulous. The expression: fabulous. The speed: breakneck. The footwork: a wee bit tentative.
Carrie Ann: “You lit up this ballroom.” (Oh, and the crowd was still screaming.)
Len: “You’re nice on ice, but I’m telling you this: you’re good on wood.”
Bruno: “You’ve got to be the queen of spins” but “watch the back of your legs.” “So good, what a debut. Fantastic.”
Charlie White called it “awesome” and praised her for being “a great partner.” He thought Maks “handled her well” and said “he’s lucky to have Meryl.” Awww.
Scores: 8, 8, 8 = 24.
Wut? Holy lowballs, man. Come on! Boooooo. Danica was not on her level. Sorry Winnie Cooper.
And then right away, D.J. Tanner, a.k.a. Candace Cameron Bure. She was way excited to meet Mark Ballas, who she met at home with her family around. She said outright “I’m not going to be your sexy girl” and said she wanted to “stay on the modest end.” Candace said she’s “sweet… but competitive” and cited Danica as big competition.
They opened season 18 with a “Burn” inspired contemporary number. I generally think of Mark as strong with contemporary, and it was a strong routine. Good lifts. Good energy. Clean. Nice. And the wriggled around on the floor quite effectively, too.
Len: “Candace, you can dance. Well done.”
Bruno: “Enigmatic and dramatic… I felt every minute of it.”
Carrie Ann: “Where did that come from? You are such an incredible dancer… I want to work with you… I want to see it again.”
Scores: 9, 8, 8 = 25.
I like D.J. Tanner but wow. Those are some good scores.
Ah, up next: the Aussie singing sensation Cody Simpson. And newbie Witney Carson. She immediately asked if he had a girlfriend. It was awkward when he said yes. Witney recovered though and asked how she’d deal with the show. Very awkward. Cringeworthy. Cody called how she moves “kind of distracting sometimes.” And he said he has lots of energy and is “hungry to do well.”
And then it was cha cha time. Cody pulled a NeNe and opened with a solo. A very teen pop star solo but it’s all good. There was a lot of neon and lots of strobing lights involved. I hope my grandma didn’t have a stroke watching it during eastern time. I should call her and find out. But anyway, very energetic. Boo yah.
Bruno: “I feel rejuvenated just by watching you… fresh, cool, spunky” but said to “watch your basics.” “You’ve got charisma by the truckload.”
Carrie Ann: She said he made her feel old. Then she noted his “very big feet” and told him to work on his lower half. (Could that commentary have been more borderline albeit unintentionally obscene?!)
Len: He liked the attack but wanted him to work on technique.
Then Erin made them feel awkward by talking about Cody’s girlfriend and how weird it must’ve been for her to watch him dancing with the very hot Witney. I kind of cringed. But mostly rolled my eyes and said “Oh, Erin.”
Scores: 7, 7, 8 = 22.
From hottie Witney to… Drew Carey. The funnyman said he was “really happy” to have Cheryl Burke as his partner because she won a few seasons (several years ago). Cheryl told him to use his core on an every day basis and he laughed. He called being on “DWTS” “so out of my comfort zone.” And he quipped “I know how a dog feels now when it wears the cone.” Haha, good line. At least he’s actually funny. He can have the points I took away from Jason Derulo.
Drew looked dapper in his suit and top hat for his “Money” foxtrot with Cheryl, who looked money in a sparkling green dress. And I just noticed that Cheryl has vintage season two hair. Maybe she’s channeling her past success with Drew Lachey. Hoping for a Drew-peat. (Ba-dum bum.)
Carrie Ann: She called him a “crowd pleaser.”
Len: “That was very watchable, I enjoyed it from the first beat of music right through.”
Bruno: “You’ve got the style, you’ve got the content.” “There’s a few creases that need to be ironed, but… so entertaining.”
Scores: 7, 7, 7 = 21.
The season’s most intriguing contestant followed. Amy Purdy lost her kidneys and both of her legs below the knee at age 19 after battling bacterial meningitis that from a statistical perspective, should have killed her. After meeting Derek Hough, she called doing “DWTS” an “intense departure” from her usual routine. She told Derek she “has no idea what she’s capable of” with respect to dancing. Derek said he was “kind of holding his breath” initially. While she competed in Sochi (where she won a bronze medal in snowboarding!), they trained.
That. Girl. Is. Remarkable. “DWTS” has featured stars with TWO legs who don’t dance as well as she danced her cha cha cha. Tears. To quote my daughter when she was a toddler many years ago, I have tears. That’s a fighting spirit y’all.
Len: “It’s all about the dancing… You’ve got a bronze medal at the Olympics, you’ve got a gold medal in the cha cha cha.”
Bruno: “We have Wonder Woman in his room, let me tell you… I’m gobsmacked.”
Carrie Ann: She laughed. “I’m in shock. I’ve never seen anything like that… you are a beacon of light in this world.”
Scores: 8, 8, 8 = 24.
Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov followed. I had to look up Diana to figure out who she was. It’s remarkable that she swam as far as she did. But she may be toast with voters. She called herself a big fan of “DWTS” and Henry said he was excited to have her as his first-ever show partner. She struggled with her high heels, but vowed to “never, ever give up.”
So they foxtrotted to “Beyond the Sea,” which was a little cornball even for me, but they were charming.
Bruno: “You actually are a performer, your’e selling it” but told her to “smooth it all out, and a bit lighter.”
Carrie Ann: “You are like a slowly opening flower” and noted she’d gotten more comfortable throughout the dance.
Len: “If determination the will to get through have anything to do with it, you’re going to make it.” “I wasn’t expecting it as good as that” so good job.
Scores: 6, 6, 6 = 18.
Well, that was fast! Eleven down, one to go as Meryl’s partner in ice dancing gold medal-winningness Charlie White hit the floor with Sharna Burgess. But I’m ahead of myself here. Sharna was way excited to get Charlie. In fact, she called herself “the luckiest girl on the planet.” He called the transition between the ice and the floor “awkward” and realized that he had some seriously high expectations to live up to on the show.
They kicked off the season with a “Let Her Go” contemporary routine. It was buttery and smooth and pretty. But Charlie had some pancake hands going on at time. And the lifts looked like they were skating but standing still. But pretty! Very pretty. And they will benefit from the pimp spot.
Carrie Ann: She giggled like a fool and called them “a perfect match.” She babbled on about yin and yang and called them “poetry in motion.”
Len: “This is like ice dancing without the ice” and said he was interested in seeing how he’ll do in the weeks to come.
Bruno: “The attention to detail in week one is incredible” and he loved the story arc. “I really hope you continue [to excel] because that was astonishing.”
Scores: 9, 9, 9 = 27.
Charlie copped to having an advantage with the performance aspect of the show, but claimed that the moves are all new to him. Sharna predicted that we’ll see “an incredible journey” from Charlie. (But hopefully not the same kind of journey that Danica hopes to have.)
And then, the season’s first big surprise! Erin and Tom revealed the week two dance styles, which were chosen by the celebs themselves. (Though they didn’t know they were choosing anything. Sneaky producers.)
Next week’s styles:
Diana: Cha Cha
Billy Dee: Tango
“Dancing with the Stars” 2014 returns March 24 with more from the celebs. Oh, and the first elimination.