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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Super Sized

September 19, 2011 | 11:07 pm

ChazbonodancingStory
It’s the 13th season of “Dancing With the Stars” and the ballroom has been completely made over for the occasion. Everything is bigger, it seems. There’s a “raised and precarious new dance floor” in the “mega-sized ballroom.” What was just a quaint soundstage has transformed into a gigantic three-tiered arena that host Tom Bergeron said was “crawling with Kardashians.” The main staircase has gotten even grander, and splits to reveal the Harold Wheeler band in its underbelly. And the celebraquarium made like the Jeffersons and been moved on up, upgraded from mere terrace to a deluxe (walk-up) apartment in the sky. Co-host Brooke Burke even supersized her name and added a “Charvet” at the end. Sure, everything’s bigger, but does that make the show better? Here’s how the contestants stacked up:

Iraqi war vet and “All My Children” actor J.R. Martinez may not have the high celebrity quotient of some of his competitors, but he no doubt earned some new fans for his inspirational back story and his sure-footed and stirring Viennese waltz with Karina Smirnoff. Then again, after you’ve served in Iraq and recovered from a land mine injury that resulted in burns over 40% of his body and 33 surgeries (“I’m proud of these scars, I’m proud of my journey”), perhaps a ballroom dance in front of millions of people is a walk in the park. “It’s beautiful to see that confidence,” praised Carrie Ann. “I was absolutely touched by the performance.” Bruno said, “You’ve got courage, you’ve got the inspiration, and you’ve got the hips,” but cautioned J.R. to “be careful of the shoulders.” Len remarked that J.R. “stands for ‘Just Right.’” Total: 22 out of 30.

Looks like Tony Dovolani’s got a contender in Chynna Phillips! The Albanian Stallion’s been more like a beast of burden during “DWTS’s” last couple of seasons, but he’s been positively transformed by the championship potential of his latest celebrity pairing. The Wilson Phillips singer brought her A-game to the Viennese waltz Monday night. After a challenging rehearsal period which had her exclaiming dancing was “a lot harder than you think” and left Tony’s privates bruised and battered, Chynna put on some rhinestones in the part of her hair, worked out her kinks and delivered a beautifully fluid waltz to Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” that had Tony kissing her cheek in triumph and husband Billy Baldwin whistling his approval at routine’s end. “That does not feel like a Week 1 dance,” said Tom. Len donned his “big smiling Len face” and said, “It wasn’t the best first dance I’ve ever seen…but it was close.” “You looked like you were stepping out of a dream and into my heart,” swooned Bruno. “That was magical, I can’t wait to see you next week,” piped Carrie Ann. Total: 22.

Soccer star Hope Solo has traded her goalie gloves and cleats for a pair of heels and sparkles on the dance floor. Clearly, this woman is a world-class athlete. But will that brute force translate into sweeping movement in the ballroom? Turned out, Hope floats in the Viennese waltz with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Maks’ command to “squeeze this ginormous muscle” in his arm paid off, as the judges all commended the gold-medal winning Olympian on her connection with her partner. “What was really impressive was the body contact and the hold,” said Carrie Ann. Though the judge also pointed out that Hope attacked each move with the intense drive of a linebacker. “Just be aware of muscling,” Carrie Ann cautioned. “Good hold, good posture, lovely movement,” said Len. “Just gotta get a little more fluidity, a little more softness, and a little more femininity.” "What’s life without Hope?”  Bruno asked, commending her “drive” and “attack.” “Now you have to learn control,” he said. Total: 21.

Ricki Lake revealed she was inspired to do the show by the slimming journey of Season 12 finalist Kirstie Alley. Little did the now-42-year old “Hairspray” star and talk show host know that in addition to combating back fat and getting her “slammin’ body back” that she would get some sort of emotional payoff as well. Her Viennese waltz with just-returned Derek Hough (who ingratiated himself with a very Houghian “Who’s got 3 Mirrorballs and two thumbs? This guy!”) was eminently watchable, and the song, David Gray’s “This Year’s Love,” added a personal touch. Bruno likened Ricki to “the cat that got the cream;” she looked so pleased. Carrie Ann said she looked like “a little princess” and admired the way Ricki and Derek “finished each other’s moves.” Len nitpicked on her footwork, but said the routine was “elegant” with “lovely movement” and “fluidity.” Total: 20. 

Reality TV star Kristin Cavallari was just getting over a broken-off engagement and was itching to (hip) shake off a rough year with some ballroom dancing and prove to the world that she is “not a bitch.” Pro partner Mark Ballas seemed excited to have lucked into partnering yet another young and attractive blond with natural dance talent. Though, like Len, I thought Kristin’s rehearsal package promised more than what was delivered on the dance floor. While he called their cha cha “bright” and “lively,” “you’ve gotta get that same attitude you’ve had while practicing out in the ballroom,” the head judge said. Carrie Ann was excited by Kristin’s obsidian fringe. “You have great movement,” she said. “You shine, you sparkle.” Bad-girl loving Bruno was convinced she’s got “the full package,” but needs to work on the “cleanliness and the precision.” Total: 19.

David Arquette is on the upswing. Sober for eight months, the actor and onetime pro wrestler is now all about being present, and being connected. And what better way than through ballroom dancing, and a lovely partner in two-time champ Kym Johnson? And their resulting Viennese waltz, set to Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” was a little like David himself: goofy, a bit antic, a little all over the place, and ultimately endearing. Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens and Courteney Cox loved it. Though the most adorable moment of the night went to the shot of daughter’s Coco’s surprise and excitement to hear her father spouting her praises. “I was very very impressed,” said Len of the routine, though all the judges cautioned David not to let that mess up color his dance. “You did look the part: the romantic leading man, and the goddess,” Bruno began. “And then you got entangled in the goddess.” Carrie Ann pointed out his “beautiful vulnerability…all you need to do is relax a little.” Total: 18.

In the beginning, the “DWTS” gods created the ballroom heavens and the dance floor on the earth. Then the gods said, let there be a Mirrorball trophy, and let it separate the talented stars from those with two left feet, and they saw that it was good. And on the 13th season, the gods said, let there be Carson Kressley from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and let him be paired up with Russian dance goddess Anna Trebunskaya, and they saw that it was good. Very,very good. Carson brought his trademark energy and tons and tons of glitter and sparkle to his cha cha, which was just a shot of pure, unadulterated joy. Loved his “sale over there!” moves like Jagger. His shimmy and his shake. Her fierce hairography. Ay, papi. Sure hope Carson sticks around in the competition, because the style guru seemed as well fitted for “Dancing With the Stars” as those Tom Ford beauties on Gabriel Macht in “Suits.” And bonus for the costume department: He’ll provide his own wardrobe! “This isn’t even a costume,” Carson told Brooke of his bedazzled jacket. “I just found this in my closet.” “That was my favorite dance of the night by far,” said Carrie Ann. “I cannot get over all the sparkle that’s happening right now.” “There were elements of Jagger, swagger and stagger,” said Len. “You’re redefining camp as an art form,” said Bruno. Total: 17. Quick, we need more glitter over here!

Also earning 17 were Chaz Bono and Lacey Schwimmer. Media and Internet sites were set ablaze when it was announced that the author and activist and child of Sonny Bono and Cher was going to compete on the show. He was the first transgender contestant in the history of the series, and after all the hubbub, Chaz worried that his dance skills wouldn’t live up to the hype. And to be sure, his rehearsals looked a bit hairy. All he wanted to do in his cha cha was “not suck.” “I think people have been waiting all night to see you…and you do not disappoint,” remarked Carrie Ann. “You have great footwork, it was sharp, it was precise. I wanna see mo and mo and mo.” Len called Bono “Razzamatazz Chaz.” “You came out to enjoy yourself,” the head judge said. “That’s what I felt you did.” Bruno called Chaz “cheeky — so cute and cuddly. And your timing is so lovely.” Total: 17. 

Oft-forgotten reality TV brother Robert Kardashian was feeling lost in the shadow of his more famous sisters, so he did what any dwarfed star would do: follow his sisters’ footsteps and join a more popular reality show. It’s been rumored that baby Rob only did this to please his mother, but the young Kardashian dutifully spouted that he joined this season to “boost his confidence.” And nothing boosts confidence more than to be completely emasculated by your taskmaster of a partner, Cheryl Burke. When Rob tried to assert his dominance by saying “You’re my woman right now,” Cheryl scoffed, “No, you’re my woman right now,” and Rob shrank two sizes. But he’d do well to take direction from this two-time champ, as their Viennese waltz displayed some surprising finesse. Bruno refused to see it, however. “My darling, you danced that waltz like you were under strict order to succeed,” the judge pooh-poohed. “I didn’t feel any musicality at all.” Carrie Ann, however, saw potential. “It’s all there: the posture, the lines, the debonair,” she said. “You clean up nice.” Len stayed neutral. “I’m not impressed, but I’m not depressed.” Total for Team Cherbert: 16.

I was primed and ready to write Nancy Grace off with the same kind of tough talk she uses on her legal series, but then the HLN prosecutor and mother of 3-year-old twins lived up to her last name and delivered a cha cha routine with “DWTS” Troupe alum Tristan MacManus that was surprisingly light on its feet. While the hard-hitting TV personality seemed somewhat humorless during moments of her preview clip (“the turd step?” she asked Irish MacManus with a stink face), that smile and eschewing that helmet hair for curls did wonders to soften her image and make her more approachable. Though to be fair, I may just want her to stick around to see and hear more of her adorable pro newbie. “I think you must be the happiest contestant,” said Carrie Ann. “You’ve got spunk and you’ve got sass.” “Nancy, I had no idea you were so lavishly gifted,” Bruno double-entendre’d. “How are the twins, my darling?” Len delivered an unemotional verdict. “It was a little underwhelming,” he declared. “You have neat and precise, but no flair and attack.” Total: 16.

Model and actress Elisabetta Canalis, known heretofore as the woman who dated George Clooney, was paired up with first-time pro, Val Chmerkovskiy, known heretofore as the brother of Maks. And while they make for a handsome international couple (she being Italian, he Ukrainian), I wonder if their worldly presence may end up lost on this very American audience. Certainly, the language barrier left some things lost in translation (“What is the ball of the foot?”), and Elisabetta looked a little deer-in-the-headlights at times during this sparkly spectacle. Len took the pair to task for all that “malarkey” in bed at the beginning of the routine. Bruno, on the other hand, said Elisabetta was “very good in bed…and very good when being handled by a man,” but crumbled a bit during her solo. The judges slapped the couple with a 15 for their first routine. Not fantastico. 

And the first shall be last. The man formerly known as hoops star Ron Artest, Metta World Peace, and his newbie Aussie partner, Peta Murgatroyd, had the tough task of performing first, and also suffered the lowest scores of this premiere. Meeting Ron on the basketball court, Peta learned quickly that the Laker small forward has got a lot of talk and a lot of swagger. But did he have the cha cha dance skillz to match? Erm, kinda sorta maybe not. Don’t know why Ron opted for a wardrobe and hair that made him look like a Dennis Rodman/Sisqo hybrid, but perhaps he hoped the shirtless bow tie-vest look and that design emblazoned on his blond hair would sufficiently distract from his woefully stiff steps. Len was not impressed. “It’s a new season, we’ve got a new set, but it’s the same old shimmying about stuff,” the head judge sniffed, pointing out that the routine “lacked cha cha content” and Ron had “atrocious” footwork. “All sizzle and no sausage.” Bruno admired Ron’s “length of bone” and power and performance. Carrie Ann found the NBA star’s eccentricity “kind of sexy,” but equated his technique to “a puddle on the ground.” Artest received a measly 14 for his cha cha (though truth be told: he looked as though someone handed him the Mirrorball trophy and the Mega Millions jackpot sandwiched between Peta and Brooke in that sky box — flirting will get you everywhere).

Which puts the L.A. Laker in danger of elimination come Tuesday night. Though I doubt he'll make his exit this week; my money’s on Elisabetta Canalis. I’m afraid not even starting the routine off in bed and showing copious amounts of skin helped to distinguish her from the rest of the pack. Plus, her lack of a famous partner doesn’t work in her favor.

What do you think of this premiere episode? Are you pleased with the cast this season? What about the super-sized set?  Did anyone vote for (Metta) World Peace? Will Rob beat his sister Kim and make it past Week 3? Do you have a lot of faith in Chynna? Who do you have pegged to win it all?

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—Allyssa Lee

Photo of Lacey Schwimmer, right, and Chaz Bono: Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC

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