With one dance under their belts, the couples on Dancing with the Stars get another week to prove to fans why they deserve to stick around. At least one couple has good reason to be very nervous before next week’s vote.
All of the principal players returned for this season: hosts Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris; judges Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Bruno Tonioli; and band leader Harold Wheeler.
(A quick note: I wish there was a way to convey just how great Tom Bergeron is at his job, but his greatness lies in the spontaneous asides that you simply have to see to appreciate. He’s the funniest host on television, and Dancing with the Stars wouldn’t be the same without him.)
To kick off the new season, all of the professional dancers performed what I believe was a Samba to Sweet’s "Ballroom Blitz." Maksim Chmerkovskiy, sporting a dashing short haircut, looked as delightfully smarmy as ever, as he danced with Karina Smirnoff and Cheryl Burke at the same time. New castmember Julianne Hough was tossed in the air like a cheerleader before ending the routine balanced high atop Tony Dovolani’s right arm.
The celebrities were introduced individually, and it was announced that all of the women would be dancing the Fox Trot, and the men the Cha Cha Cha. Then it was time for the first performance of the night.
Ian Ziering & Cheryl Burke — Cha Cha Cha
Song: Tommy James & The Shondells, "Mony Mony"
The dancers and celebrites have no idea who they’ll be working with, until they meet for the first time in their practice space. Upon seeing the two-time champ waiting for him, Ian shouted, "We’re gonna win! This is great!" During their practice sessions, Ian & Cheryl had plenty of fun, but he needs to let go of his perfectionist tendencies.
When they took the dance floor, Ian looked perfectly relaxed and happy. He didn’t appear to be at all self-conscious, which allowed him to look far more natural than many of the male celebs ever do. He displayed none of the stiffness in his arm movements that plagued Joey Lawrence last season even in his best performances.
With a few more weeks of practice, Ian will have no problem getting his hips moving. I don’t have much to say about Cheryl’s performance, because she did exactly what she does best: allow her partner to be the star. Ian looked elated after they finished their dance.
The judges were pleased with the night’s first performance. Len told Cheryl, "You’re a lucky little devil. You keep getting really good partners." Bruno commended Cheryl for her choreography and suggested a way they might teach Ian how to move his hips: "Go and see the Chippendales show or something." Early in the routine, Carrie Ann had feared Ian might psych himself out, but she said, "You proved me wrong. The musicality kicked in."
Backstage with Samantha, Ian expressed some concerns about his outfit: ”It’s the first time I’ve had to step through my shirt since I was wearing onesies."
Scores: Carrie Ann…7, Len…7, Bruno…7 = 21/30
Paulina Porizkova & Alec Mazo — Fox Trot
Song: Cole Porter, "It’s too Darn Hot"
During their introductory video, Paulina revealed that, despite her modeling background, she’s actually a klutz. Her family called her "as graceful as a 2×4." Alec and Paulina bonded over their shared geographic background as they trained…
Alec: "Do not question the system."
Paulina: "That’s what they said in the Communist countries."
Alec: "Well, that’s where I’m from."
Paulina: "Yeah, that’s why we both left."
On the dance floor, Paulina looked classy, and dancing to a Cole Porter tune, the couple had an old Hollywood kind of glamour. She looked very confident, and, as she becomes more polished, Paulina will be a real threat. Alec did a wonderful job letting her shine, continuing to play the straight man to her comedian on the floor, just as he did off the floor.
Len commended Paulina for her "musical arms," but warned her about posture and hold problems. Carrie said, "You have great potential. Your lines are gorgeous. But you were a little awkward with each other in the beginning." Bruno said his cohorts were just in a bad mood. He told Paulina, "You’ve got class oozing from every pore. You look like you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Tiffany’s."
When asked how it feels to receive criticism from the judges, Paulina fake-cried and said, "It hurts when it’s you."
Scores: Carrie Ann…6, Len…6, Bruno…7 = 19/30
Billy Ray Cyrus & Karina Smirnoff — Cha Cha Cha
Song: Billy Ray Cyrus, "I Want My Mullet Back"
Billy Ray’s insecurity has been the couples’ biggest obstacle. When Karina asked what his strengths are, he replied, "My strength is you. And other than that, everything else is a weakness."
What happened on the dance floor was a mess. Billy Ray missed his holds, forgot the routine, and just looked lost. To be fair, he looked like what many of us amateurs would after only four weeks of training, except that he did it on national TV.
In honor of the song they were dancing too, Karina wore a mullet wig. At the end of the routine, with Karina kneeling at his feet, Billy Ray was supposed to pull off the wig (reclaiming his mullet). But the wig got stuck, and Billy Ray had to rip it off of Karina’s head, in what looked like a very painful maneuver.
After the judges made sure Karina was okay, they got down the business of critiquing the performance. Carrie stammered, "That was…that was rock ‘n roll, but it wasn’t a Cha Cha." Bruno told Billy Ray, "You were like a crazy bear lost in a swamp. I can’t give a critique because there wasn’t anything to criticize." Len said, "It was more like a hoedown than a Cha Cha Cha."
Scores: Carrie Ann…5, Len…4, Bruno…4 = 13/30
Leeza Gibbons & Tony Dovolani — Fox Trot
Song: Frank Sinatra, "Strangers in the night"
Leeza, the oldest woman in the competition, said the show "didn’t kill Jerry Springer. I can do it, too." As a successful businesswoman, normally in charge of her affairs, Leeza admitted to having some trouble relinquishing control and submitting to Tony’s "tough love" training.
Their performance was nice and romantic, although a bit on the slow side. Leeza’s neck and shoulders were tense, but with confidence, her carriage will relax. She’s not an actress, so she needs to work a little harder to get into character.
Bruno said Leeza was so tense and tentative, it was like she was dancing "at the edge of the Grand Canyon." Len said, "Technically it was very good. Relax and enjoy it." Carrie Ann told Leeza, "Let the confidence shine. You brought the character of the dance to life."
When asked by Samantha how she was dealing with Tony’s tough training style, Leeze replied. "I’ve talked to his wife. I know how to handle him. Tony’s a teddy bear."
Scores: Carrie Ann…5, Len…5, Bruno…5 = 15/30
Joey Fatone & Kym Johnson — Cha Cha Cha
Song: Bee Gees, "You Should Be Dancing"
When not dealing with Joey’s goofball antics, Kym had to act as Joey’s fitness instructor as well. "Joey ‘Fat One’ won’t be his nickname for long," said Kym.
They danced a disco-influenced Cha Cha Cha; Joey’s white vest even said "Fatone" in rhinestones on the back. Seconds into the routine, Joey’s microphone pack came loose and began whipping about behind him. But his style was so relaxed and easy, he acted as if it hadn’t even happened. The couples’ fun attitude came through in their performance.
Carrie offered high praise: "I think the competition just began, right now." Len said simply, "That was really, really good." Bruno explained, "It’s about performing. It’s about selling. It’s about being on it, with your music and with your partner. You did all of that in spite of the little accident."
Scores: Carrie Ann…8, Len…8, Bruno…8 = 24/30
Laila Ali & Maksim Chmerkovskiy — Fox Trot
Song: Marvin Gaye, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)"
Laila and Maks appear to be a match made in heaven. She’s thrilled to have the opportunity to be a girly-girl for a change, and he’s happy to have found someone who appreciates his teaching philosophy: "Just do what I say, and I guarantee the result." But Maks definitely knows his limits: "I’d be absolutely crazy to get into a boxing ring with Laila. I like this face a little too much."
Laila looked lovely in her orange gown, but the rusty-brown shirt wore was not as flattering on Maks. Thanks to her boxing training, Laila is in incredible shape and has fast feet that glide across the floor. She’s already got all of the basics down, so from now on it’s all detail work. And, as far as conditioning, the dance training shouldn’t be any harder than her normal routine. Laila could be most dangerous woman in the field.
Bruno said the routine was "oozing sex appeal and allure. I cannot believe you never danced before." Carrie told Laila, "You’re seemless. You’re effortless." And Len adapted Laila’s father’s famous maxim: "Float like a butterfly… glide like a swan."
Scores: Carrie Ann…7, Len…8, Bruno…8 = 23/30
John Ratzenberger & Edyta Sliwinska — Cha Cha Cha
Song: Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools"
After Vincent Pastore dropped out of the competition, John was brought in as a replacement. With only two weeks to train her partner, Edyta said, "This is the first time I’m more nervous than my celebrity."
Edyta returned for her fourth season in a typically skimpy Edyta outfit. If you looked like Edyta, you’d probably wear next-to-nothing, too.
Their performance didn’t look like something thrown together in just two weeks. John did a pretty credible job covering the floor, and Edyta wisely choreographed the routine to take some of the focus off of John and on herself.
Carrie Ann said, "That was surprisingly good! You’re very charismatic." Len warned John about heel leads, which are forbidden in the Latin dances, but said, "It was a good job." Bruno echoed Len’s sentiments.
When Samantha asked John about being the oldest person in the competition, John joked, "I’ll be 72 next week."
Scores: Carrie Ann…6, Len…5, Bruno…6 = 17/30
Shandi Finnessey & Brian Fortuna — Fox Trot
Song: Huey Lewis & The News, "Power of Love"
When they met, Shandi and Brian said they were impressed with each other’s mutual hotness. Brian even designed a move where Shandi would grab his tush. While his intentions were surely playful, it came off as somewhat lecherous.
It took over half a show, but we finally had the first weird song selection of the season: a Fox Trot to Huey Lewis. Shandi’s beauty pageant training served her well, as she smiled through the entire routine. Technically it wasn’t bad, but their performance needs to feel more natural.
In regard to their unfailing smiles, Bruno joked, "It’s Barbie and Ken, live in your living room." Carrie told Shandi, "Your upper body is fantastic. Your lower half needs a lot of work." Len said, "I’ll give her lower half a lot of work! Hey-o!" Okay, he didn’t really. He just asked for "a little more expression, a little less aggression."
Scores: Carrie Ann…6, Len…6, Bruno…7 = 19/30
Clyde Drexler & Elena Grinenko — Cha Cha Cha
Song: Stevie Wonder, "I Was Made To Love Her"
Clyde was afraid of losing his nickname, "The Glide," on the dance floor. But he was impressed with the skills of his diminutive partner: "It’s like playing basketball with Hakeem Olajuwon." (Yeah, if Hakeem were as tall as Earl Boykins.)
It’s next to impossible to look smooth when you’re 6’7" and you live in a world designed for much smaller people. Clyde had no problem gliding across the floor, but his upper body was hunched over. He’s certainly not the worst dancer of the bunch, and Elena looked wonderful. The closed hold of next week’s Quickstep may make Clyde feel more like Elena’s partner, instead of just the guy dancing next to her.
Carrie Ann emphasized, "You do glide. It’s not a disadvantage if you start to use it. I’d love to see you just expand and fill the whole dance floor when you’re dancing." Len said, "It was such a charming performance." Bruno told Clyde, "You’ve got such a lovely warmth exuding from you. You have the talent there. Big is beautiful — sell it."
Scores: Carrie Ann…6, Len…5, Bruno…5 = 16/30
Heather Mills & Jonathan Roberts — Fox Trot
Song: Irving Berlin, "Dancing Cheek to Cheek"
Only upon meeting did Jonathan learn about Heather’s prosthesis. But once the couple learned how to compensate for the fact that she’s balancing on one leg, they were able to joke about it. "Why can you do spin-kick," Jonathan teased, "but we can’t do three steps forward?"
For all of the attention surrounding Heather, you wouldn’t have known this was a woman with one leg. Jonathan choreographed a pleasing routine that took advantage of all of the things that Heather can do, and minimized any complications from her prosthesis. The performance was well executed, and they looked like they had fun doing it.
Tom asked Len if they’d be judging Heather by different standards, and Len said they absolutely would not. To Heather and Jonathan, he said, "There was far more right about that routine than there was wrong." Bruno told Heather, "The thing to pick on was the top half," and he then demonstrated how Heather should properly hold her hands. Carrie said, "When you’re worried about your leg and the weight on your leg… your shoulders get very tense. You’ve got to have a little more faith in your partner, that he’s there for you."
Backstage, Heather told Samantha, "I’m just glad I didn’t fall over."
Scores: Carrie Ann…6, Len…6, Bruno…6 = 18/30
Apolo Anton Ohno & Julianne Hough
Song: Denise Williams, "Let’s Hear It For the Boy"
Julianne was starstruck by Apolo when they met, and she accompanied him to Milan for a competition last week. There, one of his enthusiastic fans told her, "I’d do anything to be in Apolo’s arms."
I usually try to ignore Apolo’s unappealing patch of chin spinach, but the giant red bandana he wore as a headband somehow drew even more attention to it. When I was able to focus on the dancing, I was impressed. He moves comfortably enough that he’ll be fine once he and Julianne have had more time to train together — assuming he gives himself enough time to do so.
Bruno said, "It’s like watching Happy Feet all over again. You have probably the highest potential of all of the people I’ve seen tonight. More rehearsals; clean it up." Carrie told Apolo, "Your hip action’s pretty amazing," but warned him to stop turning his hips in when he walks. Len was already worrying about next week’s Quickstep: "Your posture isn’t great. You’ve got this stooped-over look. But well done for your Cha Cha Cha."
Scores: Carrie Ann…7, Len…7, Bruno…7 = 21/30
24 – Joey & Kym
23 – Laila & Maks
21 – Ian & Cheryl, Apolo & Julianne
19 – Paulina & Alec, Shandi & Brian
18 – Heather & Jonathan
17 – John & Edyta
16 – Clyde & Elena
15 – Leeza & Tony
13 – Billy Ray & Karina
Overall, it was an entertaining night of performances, although the two hours really seemed to drag at the end. Limiting the time couples had to prepare for the season was a positive move, as it left lots of room for improvement in the weeks to come.
There is no Results Show tomorrow night; no one will be eliminated until next Tuesday. On next week’s Performance Show, the men will dance the Quickstep and the women the Mambo.
My vote tonight goes to Heather & Jonathan, and not because I found it so inspirational or anything like that. They simply danced the routine that I would most like to try dancing myself.