It was only five short months ago that we bid farewell to Dancing with the Stars. Yet here we are again, bidding you welcome to the … I don’t even know what season of Dancing with the Stars. [Editor's note—It's No. 14.]
With the new season comes a new crop of C-, D- and international-list stars vying for a chance to pry the coveted mirror-ball trophy out of the hands of last season’s champ, J.R. Martinez. (All together now: Who?) The hopefully light-footed luminaries include The View co-host Sherri Shepherd, Melissa “Half Pint” Gilbert, tennis pro Martina Navratilova, Gladys Knight (sans Pips) and Jaleel White, whom I will continue to call Urkel until he pays me our prearranged annual fee. Joining them to judge them are Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba.
Let’s get this party started. Again:
Quickest Way to Get Drunk on a Monday Night: The producers must expect Extra! talk-show host Maria Menounos to succeed in the competition, because they paired her with three-time champion Derek Hough. Her cha-cha was passable, her belly-button ring less so, but it was her Fran Drescher–esque laugh that really won the day. Tom Bergeron suggested a drinking game in which you drink whenever she laughs. Len thought it was a great start to the show, and it earned her a solid 21.
Best Grading on a Curve: Jack Wagner’s status as soap-opera and rock star and Heather Locklear’s leading man has led him to this point: dancing a fox-trot on national television in a yellow bow tie and light-blue jacket with Anna Trebunskaya. The judges offered the clunky performance a senior-citizen discount, giving Jack a 23 on his first spin around the ballroom.
Best Athlete’s Foot: The Green Bay Packers’ Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd (who was danced with Ron Artest a.k.a. Metta World Peace into an early dismissal last season) delivered a cha-cha so vibrant that it got Carrie Ann to say hump on the very first day of competition. The duo earned a solid 21 for being sloppy but with pizzazz.
Most Honest Self-Appraisal: If you think musicians have an edge in this competition, Gavin DeGraw is here to prove you wrong, if he does say so himself. The producers must think he has something going for him, though, because he was partnered with reigning champion Karina Smirnoff. Their fox-trot was lethargic and earned only a 6 from Len, so perhaps Gavin was on to something.
Best Coming-of-Age Moment: If you are over the age of 16, you probably don’t recognize Roshon Fegan of the tween-targeted show Shake It Up. The 20-year-old Disney star shook his bonbon in a high-energy cha-cha performance. While Roshon’s age should have given him an edge, he tied Jack Wagner (his elder by over 40 years!) with a score of 23. I, for one, feel bad for poor Chelsie Hightower, who has to hang out with a teenage boy for the duration of the competition. Maybe we should vote them off to put her out of her misery.
Most Egocentric Song Choice: Comedian and co-host of The View Sherri Shepherd opted to perform her first fox-trot of the season with partner Val Chmerkovskiy to the Four Seasons’ “Sherry.” Her attitude was so infectious that the judges were willing to overlook her literal missteps. Even Len thought she was “fun, fun, fun.” She earned a 23 and more than a few laughs by panting and saying she left a boob on the floor during the dance. Maybe she should dance to her theme song every week.
Riskiest Move: Laura Gilbert assumed that Maksim Chmerkovskiy had never seen Little House on the Prairie as a child in Russia, so she reminded him, “There’s no cha-cha on the prairie, dude.” While I’m willing to forgive Laura most things, calling Maks “dude” is pushing it. Her shaky performance scored a humble 20, but since Maks’ shirt was unbuttoned all the way and had see-through cutouts, they will definitely last another week.
Hottest Ticket in Town: William Levy, a.k.a. the Mexican Brad Pitt, who is actually from Cuba, is to telenovelas what Fabio is to Harlequin romance novels. The moment Tom Bergeron mentioned his name, the crowd went wild and didn’t stop. Much to the audience’s delight, William obviously shops at the same store as Maks; he was decked out in a sleeveless black sparkly shirt unbuttoned to his waist. Bruno declared that William was overdressed, while Carrie Ann thanked ABC for her job. Len gave positive remarks, but probably out of fear of inciting an angry mob.
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Double Match Point: Martina Navratilova may be the most decorated tennis player of all time, but she doesn’t have a mirror-ball trophy, so she stepped out of retirement and spun around the dance floor with Tony Dovolani. The 55-year-old athlete was stiff in her steps, and her attempted sexiness would be a crime in a lot of states. But when a woman who hasn’t worn a dress in 20 years steps onto a dance floor in sequins, heels and extensions and earns a 21, you know she has the drive to succeed.
Most Wasted Talent: Katherine Jenkins is a 31-year-old Welsh opera star who has sold 6 million albums in Europe and starred on the British version of The Celebrity Apprentice, but most Americans would recognize her from a three-minute performance on DWTS a few seasons ago. Her dance with pro Mark Ballas was a judge pleaser, earning the highest first-night score ever, but it’s hard to imagine the American audience giving a hoot.
Making like a Pi(m)p: Motown legend Gladys Knight brought the house down with her energetic performance. The audience gave her a standing ovation, and Carrie Ann almost crawled across the judges’ table to congratulate Gladys on her outstanding routine. As for partner Tristan MacManus, he’s undoubtedly just thrilled to no longer be dancing with Nancy Grace.
Biggest Star: Somehow Jaleel “Steve Urkel” White, the kid who defined nerdiness for an entire generation, has become the big get for Dancing with the Stars, which is strange because the demographic of this show is more likely to be in their 90s than to be into TV of the ’90s. Kym Johnson and Urkel sailed across the dance floor and ended up tying Katherine Jenkins’ short-lived high-score record. Unfortunately for Jenkins, Urkel has a lot more pull with American audiences, giving him a distinct edge.
Come back next Monday for more dancing, more stars and more glitter.