‘Dancing with the Stars’: Brooke Burke takes the lead, but Cloris Leachman steals the show
“Dancing with the Stars” likes to tout its superlatives and firsts from one season to the next, and season seven is no different: this time, we’ve got the largest cast (13 people), the oldest star (Cloris Leachman, 82), the youngest star (Cody Linley, 18), the most nights of any season premiere (3), and the most eliminations the first week (2).
The main stories of the first night were as follows: (a) the judges apparently resolved not to start the scoring inflation so early this time around, (b) Cloris Leachman is a hilarious-yet-disruptive force who cannot last but, oh, how I wish she would, and (c) something terrible has happened to judge Bruno’s hair. In less shocking developments, co-host Samantha Harris’ arms remain remarkably toned and pro Edyta Sliwinska’s outfits remain completely outrageous.
Let’s just start with Cloris Leachman, since she’s probably not going to be on the show for too many more weeks -- unless the 80+ set watches “DWTS” and phones, texts or e-mails its votes in. Anyway, after having seen her in action, I think that the reason Cloris Leachman was rejected twice for the show had nothing to do with her age but rather with the fact that there’s simply no way to contain her. She’s a force! Some highlights included her thrusting her leg up on the judges’ table, sitting on judge Carrie Ann’s lap, and telling people to vote for her because she was an orphan, and being an orphan involves a great deal of sadness. Backstage, when Samantha stated their total score, Cloris ripped a cue card with the number 16 written on it from some intern’s hands and exclaimed, “They can’t even add up the numbers here, they’re so stupid!” Meanwhile, the rest of the cast appeared to be urinating beneath their sequins. In the end, however, despite the fact that it is extremely impressive to be 82 and dancing (she’s partnered with Corky Ballas, the father of Mark), 16 isn’t that great of a score, and it’s unlikely she’ll last too long, which is unfortunate. She provides an element of unpredictability that the show sorely needs.
Now that we’ve discussed the highlight of the show, let’s take a look at the other contestants, neatly organized into three buckets that will probably be totally different by tomorrow: the leaders, the losers and the adequate.
First, the leaders.
Toni Braxton has the most interesting and believable reason for appearing on DWTS that I’ve seen so far: diagnosed with microvascular angina, she found she was afraid to do much of anything, so she decided to do the show to get over those fears. And she’s quite good, particularly for week one; the cha cha she and Alec Mazo performed was mostly sharp and even a bit steamy, and the music (“Smooth” by Carlos Santana) actually fit the dance. The judges approved, and Toni and Alec received a 22/30.
The judges loved Brooke Burke and Derek Hough’s cha cha, scoring it a 23/30, the highest total of the night. I wondered that they were a bit distracted by how amazing her body is, particularly when you factor in that she had her fourth child just six months ago. Even if you didn’t factor that in, it would still be remarkable. Still, I thought her smile broadcast nervousness, and you could see her running through the moves in her head as she moved. What I’m saying is that I thought Toni was better. But when they showed the highlight clips at the end of the show, I could see their point. And so, presumably, could Shannon Elizabeth, who was in the audience, perhaps to keep an eye on Derek.
Warren Sapp, despite being a big man to begin with and no longer being in the shape he was once required to be in when he was in the NFL, turned out to be full of personality and, as partner Kym Johnson accurately put it, light on his feet. Their cha cha closed out the evening and was engaging and fun, and I could certainly see Warren being a strong contender this season. Score: 22/30.
Former 'N SYNCer Lance Bass and new pro Lacey Schwimmer proclaimed that they were each other’s biggest fans, and they performed an enjoyable cha cha that in no way resembled a cha cha. Lacey has pink- and white-streaked hair, signifying that she is not your traditional ballroom gal. Longtime viewers of the show will know what the nontraditional means: judge Len disliked it, but judges Bruno and Carrie Ann loved it. Score: 22/30.
Now, let’s move on to the adequate.
Despite the fact that they ended up just below the leaders, I’m putting Misty May-Treanor in this category. At first, I thought Misty, paired with Maksim Chmerkovskiy (that is the only time I will be typing that last name), might end up being another Monica Seles -– after all, they’re both so tall and athletic. And, inherently, I think the tall female athletes don’t looks as graceful as the little dancer types, which is an unfair disadvantage relative to male athletes, for whom muscularity doesn’t matter. But the judges thought that Misty and Maks’ foxtrot contained both intensity and elegance despite Misty’s very buff deltoids, and they received an impressive 21/30. Nevertheless, I thought their performance was a step down from the clear leaders discussed above.
Kim Kardashian is, as she says, best known for being a reality-TV star –- and, really, for being much better-looking than her siblings. You know how sometimes there’s a set of siblings who resemble each other strongly, but one is just a great deal more attractive? That’s what’s going on with the Kardashians. Whether you choose to keep up with them or not is your decision. Anyway, Kim and Mark perform a fairly clean foxtrot, but Len points out that they have no chemistry, which is absolutely accurate. And yet Len gives them a 7, and they get a total of 19/30.
Ted McGinley was paired with a new pro, Inna Brayer. What I liked about Ted is that he acknowledges that going on “DWTS” is a preposterous thing to do in many ways and looks totally confident about his decision to do so. He dedicated his foxtrot to all the men on the couch out there, drinking beers and wishing they were watching something else. And the foxtrot was all right -– at moments, it was quite elegant, and Ted’s tanned skin and gleaming straight teeth make him look the James Bond part he’s dressed for. The judges were quite complimentary, but in the end it was all sixes for a total of 18/30.
Maurice Greene seemed to have potential, though that potential would appear richer in the Latin dances. Tonight, he and Cheryl performed a foxtrot, and the traditional foxtrot passes across the floor seemed slow and stiff, while the nontraditional breaks in the choreography allowed Maurice to show off his personality. You may recall that he once tore off his shoes at the end of a sprint and had them sprayed with a fire extinguisher. So there’s personality there. Score: 18/30.
Cody Linley, the 18-year-old “Hannah Montana” heartthrob, really scored when he was paired with Julianne Hough. They’re the youngest couple ever to compete, and they high-five each other and laugh over this fact, their dewy, collagen-rich faces decrinkling as soon as they unwind their smiles. But their foxtrot strikes the judges as a bit too wild, and they receive an 18/30. I do think Cody has potential, particularly since he has such a good partner. He’s a natural performer, and if he can corral this energy rather than just seeming pleased by it, he could really improve.
Finally, the losers.
I apologize for being so superficial, but if you were to take a look at all of the contestants, you would probably have guessed that Jeffrey Ross would be the worst dancer. And you would have been right. I suppose the fact that he got a scratched cornea during rehearsal didn’t help, but, really, I think he would have been in last place anyway, which is too bad because I like to see Edyta’s moves and her insane outfits. Their cha cha was called “ungainly carnage” by judge Bruno. The only positive for Jeffrey was that he was able to get off a one-liner he’d probably had stored up for weeks: “Speaking of ballroom, these pants are very, very tight.” The judges offered up three fours for a total of 12/30.
Chef Rocco DiSpirito, paired with Karina Smirnoff (who had a recently sprained ankle), danced a foxtrot that had one or two moments but was mostly marred by Rocco’s inability to remain on the correct timing. Bruno referred to it as a “foxtrot on the brink of chaos.” There were moments when Rocco seemed to be enjoying himself, but, overall, I would say his chances are not that great, and he should probably stick to his other 31 reality ventures. Score: 14/30.
Susan Lucci looks good for her age -– a bit too good, if you know what I mean, though she’s no Priscilla Presley. That is, she’s still capable of facial expressions. She and Tony Dovolani performed a cha cha that was totally, completely, fully OK. I thought judge Carrie Ann nailed it when she said that Susan looked a bit too frail out there, and judge Len nailed it when said that the whole thing was too careful. Score: 15/30.
And, sadly, Cloris is probably in this category, too, except that she’s so awesome.
Hey, did you know ABC has declared this “National Stay at Home Week”? You would after watching all the promos aired on “DWTS.” I suppose it’s as good a week as any to stay at home, what with the turmoil in the financial markets. I’m hoping someone will bail me out soon.
So, fans, what are your thoughts on the first night? Someone will be eliminated tomorrow, but we’ll get to see second dances from the remaining 12 contestants.
-- Sarah Rogers
(Photo courtesy ABC)