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'Dancing With the Stars': Kick-off!

March 23, 2010 |  7:10 am

119779_9593_pre Welcome to Season 10 of “Dancing With the Stars,” ballroom fans! And if this action-packed premiere was any indication of how this season is going to unfold, we’re in for a treat. I’ll admit I was a little dubious when first getting wind of who was going to be competing for the Mirrorball trophy this cycle. It seemed like a cast picked out from the odds-and-ends bin. But I have to say that this episode was one of the more enjoyable “DWTS” premieres I’ve seen in a while. No doubt some of it had to do with the fact that there were only 11 contestants this season, eliminating the need to split the women and the men into two separate nights and allowing the evening to progress at a nice, well-paced clip without dillydallying.

But a lot of it had to do with the cast itself. This evening of Viennese waltzes and cha-chas was packed with enough pleasant surprises, off-the-cuff moments and opening-night jitters to make us forget we'd already seen 27 pro dancers, 104 celebrities and 818 competitive routines before this night. And truly, I was entertained throughout. 

Plus, Monday night marked the debut of new co-host Brooke Burke! Who, as devotees already know, was the “DWTS” champ back in Season 7. As if to remind us of that, Brooke had her own, um, Mirrorballs displayed front and center on her sparkly dress. I like Brooke. She asked clear, concise questions and had a very pleasant demeanor, though she seemed to lack Samantha Harris’ shoulder-shimmying enthusiasm and impeccable posture. But perhaps that will come in time.

Of course, this is not to say this two-hour season kickoff didn’t have its shortcomings. First of all, my feelings are a little mixed about the new star holding tank. As lovely as it is for the stars to be there to witness and support their fellow contestants out on the dance floor, and as much as I love the term “celebraquarium,” it all seems a little “American Idol” rafter-esque to me. And don’t the contestants want to sit down after their performances?

Nor did I like what I considered to be a premature introduction of the sparkly 9 paddle. Already? We've only just begun! As graceful and impressive as Nicole Scherzinger was during her Viennese waltz with partner Derek Hough, where’s the incentive to get any better when Carrie Ann and Bruno are already giving away 9s like dime-store candy? This, despite Len’s claim that the Pussycat Doll's dance was lacking in footwork. A whopping 25 out of 30 for their first week doesn’t do anyone any favors: There’s just no room to grow.

119779_0747_pre But Nicole was undoubtedly polished and elegant in her dance and deserved to be at the top of the leader board. Coming in in second place, however, was Olympic gold medalist figure skater Evan Lysacek and his partner, Anna Trebunskaya. This was not a surprise. Given the resounding success of Olympians on this show, there was no doubt that Evan would have the discipline and athleticism to earn high marks his first time out. Particularly as someone whose Olympic triumph just happened. And Evan’s Viennese waltz didn’t disappoint. Of course, he had great extensions and showed off his ballroom version of a triple lutz at the end (did he get an extra point because he did it during the second half of his routine?). And although the judges commended him on his elegance and artistry, they found him to be a little cold in the connection – both with his partner and the audience. Total: 23.

Just two points behind that was Pamela Anderson, Guinness world record holder as the most downloaded person on the Internet. And judging by last night’s performance, she really has nothing to worry about in terms of keeping that record. Pammy was in delightfully punchy form last night: Starting with her descent down the Rectagon steps, she looked like she was ready to pounce on the camera, thunder on her newbie partner from Down Under, Damian Whitewood, and devour anyone else who took a gander her way — just because she could. And because her hair told her so. And as shocking as it was, it also sure was entertaining. You’ve got to admire her moxie and the way that this well-rounded star went for the gusto during this program. Plus, she’s doing it for her Auntie Vie! And while her cha-cha no doubt had some flaws, I was too wrapped up in the spectacle that was Pamela Anderson (The hair! The tan! The fringe! That mane!) to focus on much else. She acted the part of a feral lioness out on the floor, and she sold it. Len said the routine was a mess, and I guess I’ll just have to take his word for it. But as Bruno said, “The sex was good.” She got a total of 21 for her efforts, though had there been a separate category for hairography, no doubt that score would have been off the charts.

Also receiving a 21 was ESPN’s Erin Andrews, who appeared to have taken a page from the Joanna Krupa School of Costuming with her fluorescent-yellow highlighter of a fringe dress. Even though she said she initially wanted to be paired with Tony Dovolani, Erin’s partnership with Maksim Chmerkovskiy crackled with fun energy and verve. The resident “DWTS” bad boy needs a strong woman to thrive (like he said, he only works on one level: Maks). And it seemed he’d found a good match in the perfectionist sports reporter, even though her cha-cha was a bit gangly and, at times, leaned more toward frisky colt than feisty Cubana.

Scoring a bit on the high side was "The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love" pilot Jake Pavelka with a total of 20. Did he get extra points for synergy because his fiancée’s name is Vienna and he did the Viennese waltz? Because although he displayed good hold in his ballroom routine with partner Chelsie Hightower, methinks his dance didn’t really stand out among the rest of the pack. And if I were handing out sparkly paddles, Jake and Chelsie would definitely have been docked for all that cheesy rose overkill. From giving a stem to Chelsie when they first met to the rose petals showered down during their performance to waltzing to Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” — it's all a bit much, isn't it? Really, it’s enough to make one swear off FTD forever. 

Certainly the 20 points Jake received shouldn’t have been more than Chad Ochocinco and Cheryl Burke’s performance. Because although this Cincinnati Bengal may talk the talk, he can also walk the walk. And, it turns out, dance the dance. And as someone who was unfamiliar with this football player aside from his well-documented outspokenness, I have to say that I was totally smitten by this guy and his performance. He’s got a fun swagger, and seems committed to learning the dances. He's got moves, and he knows how to use them. What’s not to like? His sure-footed cha-cha sure charmed the votes out of me. The judges, however, couldn’t resist unleashing some dirty talk that surely would have earned them fines by the NFL commissioner out on the field: Bruno remarked he could see Chad’s “huge huge huge … talent,” and Carrie Ann said the Bengal needed to work on “extending things.” Let’s see if he can’t extend his stay on the show. Chad had the unenviable position of performing first on the program, which no doubt accounted for his low-ish 18 score.

Also earning 18: Shannen Doherty. The once and forever Brenda Walsh admirably powered through hive-inducing stage fright and a difficult Viennese waltz with Mark Ballas without ever pausing for an antihistamine fix. She also melted hearts (and mascara) when she revealed she was dancing for her father, an avid “DWTS” fan who had suffered a stroke. And you had to have a heart of stone not to be touched when Shannen emotionally pointed out that he was the first person she saw in the audience. Admittedly, she did a lot better in her dance hold than when she was by herself (Bruno said she was “swinging her arm like a primate” – ouch), but Len maintained that Brenda Shannen displayed a fair amount of “ease and elegance throughout.”

Tied with Shannen and Chad but already a favorite in my book is actress and comedian Niecy Nash. And not just because she took a huge bite of a hamburger right before a commercial break. Loved the infectious energy of the “Clean House” host and “Reno 911!” actress and loved that she loved the junk in her trunk and dedicated her dance to “thick girls everywhere.” “If I lose my jiggly parts, you’re going to get it,” she warned partner Louis Van Amstel, the ivory to her ebony. And for that, Niecy earned a gold star in my book (and she looked like one, too, in her sparkly fringe number). Not everyone was feeling the love, however. Although Carrie Ann said Niecy was “boogying,” Bruno said she was caught between “sassy old mama” and “born-again virgin,” and Len dared to say that her cha-cha was “uneventful” and “flat.” (Actually, that was the plodding version of “Rescue Me” from the house band.)

Just two points behind with 16 was reality TV's Kate Gosselin and Tony Dovolani. Kate has a nice smile, doesn’t she? Too bad we don’t get to see it that often. There were definitely moments during her Viennese waltz when she seemed to let go and be carefree, but the contestant with the least amount of performance experience struggled a bit with her routine, and it came across as a bit rigid. I think Carrie Ann hit it on the head when she said, “You’re very different because you’re not a performer. You’re not an athlete. So every aspect is new to you.” It was interesting to see Kate in a new light – softer and almost unrecognizable with her grown-out hair and that Barbie-pink dress – though the more familiar controlling side quickly became apparent during rehearsals and judging. Bruno likened her to a shopping cart that Tony was pushing around, Len told her to get over the nervousness. Carrie Ann, however, pointed out Kate’s “sweet vulnerability.” Total: 16.

119779_0967_pre Also receiving the short end of the judging stick was Aiden Turner. Sure, he was a bit stiff. And yes, the wolf image on the back of his UPS-brown outfit was howlingly ill-advised. But the “All My Children” soap star appeared to be needlessly shot down for his perfectly serviceable cha-cha. Not even partner Edyta Sliwinska’s barely there outfit, which was a scientific marvel in that it showed how little fringe is actually needed to cover a surface area (as Tom hilariously said, “We are one gust away from an FCC fine over here”) could save Aiden from being torn into shreds by the judges’ pack. Sadly, the hunky Brit was sent scurrying over to the fishbowl with his tail between his legs. Carrie Ann deemed his dance “disjointed,” while Bruno shot him down with a silver bullet, taking him to task for “nothing going in the groin” and calling him out for being “stiff as a plank.” Total: 15.

And no amount of moonwalking could save living legend Buzz Aldrin from plummeting to the bottom of the leader board. The astronaut showed he was spry and thriving during his personal segment (“This is a really cute babe,” he remarked upon meeting his pro partner, Ashly Costa) and performed an admirable strut out on the dance floor. But alas, the 80-year-old astronaut was no match for his younger competitors. Carrie Ann commended him for inspiring a ton of people, and Len commended him for his bravery. Bruno wondered how he could possibly criticize a legend and then finished by saying Buzz plodded about as if he still had his moon boots on. Total: 14.

Which makes Buzz one of the front-runners to be inducted into the Losers’ Club. Though Aiden’s relative obscurity also puts him in danger of becoming Season 10’s first eliminated contestant. Of course, there’s one more round of performances before the first star goes home, so we’ll have to see what happens next week.

What do you think, dance fans? Who are your favorites? Who would be your first to leave? What do you think of the new holding tank? How do you think Brooke Burke fared as the new co-host? So much to discuss!

— Allyssa Lee


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Photos: Adam Larkey / ABC