'Dancing With the Stars' recap: And they're off
Ballroom fans, after the long, cold winter, what we all deserve is dancing. And so it begins, again, live from Hollywood, the 12th season of “Dancing With the Stars.” Despite the dimmer star wattage that adorned the marquee this season, I thought this first episode was a pretty entertaining show, no? The two-hour season premiere had its share of tears and laughter, pleasure and pain, and what host Tom Bergeron called “the widest ranging collection of stars we’ve ever assembled.”
Let’s take it to the British announcer to see how the dancers fared their first night out.
Stepping out as an early Mirrorball favorite was the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio. The baby-faced actor said he lost his shiny disco ball in the '70s and is on the hunt to replace it. Turned out Daniel-san’s got some fight in him yet. After complaining that the 49-year-old’s working parts are a lot older than his face would betray, he and partner Karina “overanalysis creates paralysis” Smirnoff stepped out with a stellar fox trot that swept the legs on the rest of the competition. “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?”? Extra points for doing all that side-by-side dancing the first week out. “Great showmanship, fantastic routine, plenty of content,” said Bruno, though he warned Macchio to fix the weird, creepy hand that popped out in the routine and to point his feet when he kicked. “Wow, Ralph, that was an amazing surprise,” said Carrie Ann. “That was truly gorgeous. You have such elegance in your hold.” “Best fox trot tonight, well done,” proclaimed Len. They received a total of 24, which sent Karina into hysterics. This guy’s got the whole package: He’s the star of a beloved classic film with imminently quotable lines, still got that baby face, works hard and has got that baby face. Wax on!
Daniel “with an L” will surely face stiff competition from fellow ’80s star Kirstie Alley, who surprised the sequins off of everyone (myself included) when she delivered a cha cha that was heavy on charm and choreography opposite a bare-chested Maksim Chmerkovskiy (preferred in seven out of 10 households). During the practice segments, Kirstie was armed with a heavy self-deprecating wit (“If someone told me to haul ass, it would take two trips”), but on the dance floor the 60-year-old was all goodness and light. And what’s more, she looked like she was having — to take a phrase familiar to Season 11 champ (and studio audience attendee) Jennifer Grey — the time of her life. Set to Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You,” Kirstie and Maks' routine was completely and thoroughly infectious. “Look who’s dancing!” exclaimed Bruno. “I think we are just scratching at the surface at what you can do.” “It was fun, it was cheeky, it was entertaining,” lauded Len. “It made me feel good, you looked as though you felt good doing it. Well done.” Loved the glittery curtain of sequins on the stage. Loved the song. Love Kirstie and Maks together. Loved that they got a score of 23. Hope they go all the way.
Chelsea Kane took the Disney star spot over from Kyle Massey, and she and partner Mark Ballas started the show off with a blast of youthful energy. The homeschooled girl who made out with 1/3 of the Jonas Brothers was able to have her first dance experience in front of a national audience. And their resulting fox trot came out pressed and clean and as fresh as a daisy. Gerber daisies, in fact. “You’re a young, fresh couple, and I thought that routine had a young, fresh feel,” commended Len, though he liked the more age-appropriate Peter, Paul and Mary parts a lot better than the “cranky” Black Eyed Peas breakdown in the middle. Bruno wasted no time in trotting out his double entendres, stating that Chelsea started on her back, ended on her back, and had “one and a half minutes of pure afterglow” in the middle, but she needed to extend her lines. Carrie Ann agreed that Chelsea had buckets of potential, but cautioned to watch her shoulder and make sure to “just connect it all.” Total: 21.
You could tell Hines Ward has the hallmarks of a champion. He’s already won Super Bowl MVP, so naturally the Pittsburgh Steeler is looking to complete his awards collection with a Mirrorball trophy. And I can see the wide receiver going far. He’s got the drive, the moves, the swagger and a megawatt smile. And his cha cha with Kym Johnson brought the crowd to its feet. “That was the sparkliest cha cha ever!” Carrie Ann proclaimed. “You are exuberant, and your smile lights up the whole stage.” “It was clean, it was crisp, you were confident,” Len said. And then the head judge complimented the wide receiver’s behind: “Your bottom’s the top.” Bruno told Hines his timing was excellent, but felt compelled to get up and demonstrate how Ward’s hip action needed to hit more “like a piston.” Still, the judges seemed intent on keeping the scores relatively low, with a total of 21.
Romeo came on the show to redeem his father Master P’s dismal dialed-in performance from Season 2. The recording artist and erstwhile “Lil” seemed a little buttoned up and unwilling to let himself go, despite partner Chelsie Hightower’s efforts to bring down his guard. And those tightly wound hips didn’t lie during their cha cha, though Chelsie did her best to mask it with her dazzling moves and that skimpy, strategically outfitted oil slick of fringe. Still, Carrie Ann gave Romeo major brownie points for what she termed “sex-tosterone” (though was it reductive when she called him Lil’?). Sexual energy: nailed. Posture: not so much. Bruno quoted “Romeo and Juliet,” called Romeo out for his flat-footedness, but said he had “everything to do well in the competition.” Len liked Romeo’s energy and attack, but took another line from the Bard: “You can’t dance as you like it; there’s technique and rules that you have to obey.” Total: 19.
Former WWE champ Chris Jericho's attempt to transfer his wrestling performance skills onto the dance floor had mixed results. There didn’t seem to be a lot of dancing on Chris’ part, but at least he was fully present in his performance. But it’s OK; Cheryl Burke made up for it with her moves and all her chains. “It was kind of like a Chippendales cha cha,” remarked Carrie Ann. “It was really, really good, but I think you need to put a little more content in your dances.” Dr. Len diagnosed Chris’ hips “allergic to music, because they didn’t seem to work.” Cherico’s leather and PVC sent Bruno back to the Village People days. “At times messy,” he said. “But always entertaining.” Surprising that Cherico received a 7 from Carrie Ann, but it was tempered by two 6s from the other judges, for a total of 19.
Petra Nemcova seems like such a positive spirit, doesn’t she? The supermodel was all smiles, and was determined not to let her pelvis, which was broken in four places by the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, impede her while she prepared her fox trot with bare-chested impresario Dmitry Chaplin. So she understandably took it hard when the news broke about the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. But she stuck it out, and in a nice gesture, dedicated her first routine to the people of Japan. And the fox trot, set to Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why,” was as nice and flowy and sweet as the lilac dress that she wore. Len said she thought the whole routine had a charm about it, but Petra needed to work more on posture, especially in hold. Bruno praised the moments of “extreme beauty and sophistication,” but said she needed to sustain her movements better. Carrie Ann Inaba appreciated Petra’s dedication, and the natural grace so much that she didn’t dock them for that little lift. Total: 18.
Fact: Former “Girl Next Door” Kendra Wilkinson was a Playboy bunny who spent much of her time rocking it out in clubs before she got married and became a mom. And she promised her cha cha with Louis Van Amstel (who showed off his own Playmate moment in a bunny ears and a tail) would be “Hot: Not club hot, but classy hot.” I, for one, appreciated the more difficult choreography. Len said Kendra “held my interest from start to finish, not always for the right reasons” and told her to straighten her legs. Bruno appreciated how she strutted her stuff with “a full-frontal attack” (Hef, that was for you), but said the dance was “not clean … you bend your legs all the time.” Carrie Ann loved Kendra’s spunk, but “you’ve gotta work on your spots a little.” Kendra and Louis got a trio of 6s for their routine, which seemed a little low given the high level of choreography, for a total of 18.
Sugar Ray Leonard is in the house! And while he may be a boxing legend and the first boxer to win world titles in five different weight classes, he is also hard on himself and was nearly in tears when the gloves came off and the fox trot moves didn’t come as easily as he would have liked. Though all that uncertainty was nowhere to be found when he and Anna Trebunskaya went “Back to the Future” and performed the fox trot to Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love”; it’s amazing the difference between that tepid rehearsal segment and the smooth operator that stepped out onto the dance floor. Sure, his shoulders were up to his ears (prompting Bruno to call him a ninja turtle), but he more than made up for it with his charm. “You’re obviously going to be a fan favorite,” predicted Carrie Ann, “but posture, posture, posture!” “The fox trot is fine wine and caviar,” Len began. “This was beer and a pizza. … Energy level was high, dancing level was low.” Bruno was pleased as punch when he got permission to call him Sugar, but said “the part in hold didn’t quite have it.” Total: 17.
Mother, wife, tawk show host and awtha Wendy Williams came out like a whilring dervish during her introductory segment, declaring herself “too much, too loud, too fast.” But those expecting a brash personality and performance saw a very different side in her rehearsal package, as she suffered a crisis of confidence, got emotional, and hid behind her braids during practice. Williams’ cha cha with Tony Dovolani suffered the same fate: It was too timid, too introverted, and too clunky to earn a paddle over a 6, despite the assist of what Len called “your dumplings boiling over.” “You are a sultrous, luscious, gorgeous woman,” Bruno said. “Why are you marking?” Carrie Ann saw real fear in her eyes. “You need to go way more. You are a bigger than life spirit. You need to unleash the beast,” the judge said. Total: 14.
Leading the race for induction into the Loser’s Club was Mike Catherwood, a.k.a. Psycho Mike, cohost of the radio talk show "Loveline," for his unfortunate combination of not being that well-known and his obvious education from the Frankenstein's Creature School of Dance. If only all his moves could be ironically masked with a fluorescent-colored headband. But his fox trot with Lacey Schwimmer, despite being swathed with sunglasses at night, was, sadly, a herky-jerky display more akin to a spasm than a dance routine. “Dancing is movement to music — you did move and there was music,” said Len. “But there was very little dance quality about it.” Bruno called him “ungainly” and “uncoordinated.” Carrie Ann made fun of the jerky pictures that he hit, but tried to sugarcoat it by throwing him a conciliatory “good effort.” And I feel bad for the guy; he really does seem to care about this competition and want to do well in it. But with a dismal 13 score his first night out, one wonders if those humorous digs will be enough to keep him on voters’ radars and keep those “cinnamon genetics” from being sent home.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Were you as pleasantly surprised as I was to see the swath of talent on display during this 12th season premiere? Who do you think will leave first? Who do you want to win it all? How do you feel about a Hough-less season? Anyone else distracted by Brooke Burke’s ginormous side bustle? Who suffered the greater indignity: Hines Ward, for sorely being reminded by Brooke that he lost the Super Bowl this year, or Mike Catherwood for his cinnamon shakedown?
— Allyssa Lee
Photo: Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Credit: Bob D’Amico / ABC