Dancing with the Stars Recap: Chaz Bono Shines, Elisabetta Canalis Tanks

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Dancing with the Stars kicked off its 13th run last night, proving that it is capable of crafting a buzz-generating cast (and stretching the definition of the word “star”) even after 12 seasons.

There was the show’s first transgender competitor (Chaz Bono), HLN’s courtroom bulldog Nancy Grace, and NBA star Ron Artest, or “Metta World Peace” as he now prefers to be called. Joining them were a Whitman’s Sampler of “stars” wanting to dance their way out of ’90s-era obscurity (Chynna Phillips), into A-list superstardom (Hope Solo, Elisabetta Canalis), out of their siblings’ shadows (Rob Kardashian), or simply into better physical shape (Ricki Lake, who may be turning the show into a weight loss informercial).

Each “star” was paired with a professional dancer, including a few new faces: Tristan MacManus, Peta Murgatroyd, and Val Chermkovskiy, little brother of fan favorite Maks. The performances were what one would expect from the first episode—rough around the edges, with some notable standouts and some obvious clunkers. Judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman doled out their scores with their well-established attitudes: enthusiastic, stodgy, and crazycakes, in that order. After a dozen seasons, we all know exactly what to expect, which is half the fun.

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Most effective plea to audience: This is a tie between Artest (I’m sorry, I just can’t call the guy “Metta World Peace”), who agreed to compete on the show after his 4-year-old daughter asked him to — while she was in chemotherapy, and Iraq war veteran and land mine survivor J.R. Martinez. While it’s unlikely that Artest will last long in the competition due to a simple lack of basic dancing talent, his story clearly won him a few votes. That and his decision to perform in tight sparkly pants and a vest.

Least effective plea to audience: The Hills and Laguna Beach star Kristin Cavallari declaring, “I am not a bitch!” Right.

Best thing said by a judge: When Bruno Tonioli asked former prosecutor Nancy Grace about “her twins,” it seemed like he was talking about her blazer-free cleavage, but she wisely ignored him and pointed to her adorable 3 year-old twins, one of whom was avidly picking her nose.

Best audience member: Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-wee Herman. When the camera panned from David Arquette’s dance number to his family, the first person we saw was Reubens sitting next to Courtney Cox and Coco Arquette. It was one of those moments where you find yourself scrambling for the remote to rewind the show to confirm what you just saw. Burning question: When is Pee-wee going to compete on this show? And if Pee-wee is such a close family friend, does David Arquette get to hang out with Chairy and Pterri in the Playhouse?

Least interesting dancer: Rob Kardashian. The lesser Kardashian has decided to move out of his sisters’ shadows …by following in Kim’s Dancing with the Stars footsteps. He wore a tux, engaged in light caveman-ish behavior (“I’m the man!” “No, I am.”) with partner Cheryl Burke, and danced like a two-bit mobster who’s already been fitted with cement shoes. While the judges saw potential, it’s unlikely that voters are rushing to their phones to get more Kardashians on their TV screens.

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Most interesting dancer: Chaz Bono. The only child of Sonny and Cher had some big shoes to fill. As the show’s first transgender contestant (and probably only, unless Isis from America’s Next Top Model steps up) he had a lot more pressure on his shoulders than, say, Chynna Phillips. Despite being forty-something and out of shape, Chaz and partner Lacey Schwimmer cha cha cha’d their way into the judges’ (and possibly) America’s hearts. Close runner up: Former Queer Eye for the Straight Guy star Carson Kressley, who promised that “Nobody’s going to be working harder than I am to compensate for my lack of talent.” He did not disappoint and it was clear that no one was having more fun on the dance floor than him and his partner Anna Trebunskaya.

Most cringeworthy performance: Elisabetta Canalis. The only reason America has heard of the Italian presenter and model is because she used to date some guy named George Clooney. She is banking on sex appeal to move forward in the competition, so her routine with Val Chmerkovskiy (Maks’ little brother) began in a bed on stage. She wore a tiny outfit, shook what her mama gave her and mostly bombed. Then she blamed the language barrier, because, you know, we dance with our words.

Best overall dance: Chynna Phillips. The former Wilson Phillips singer pulled off an impressive Viennese Waltz with partner Tony Dovolani. In addition to fluid movements, graceful footwork, and the use of a fog machine straight out of the Dagobah system, she performed a solid solo routine on day one. There’s not much doubt that she will hold on for one more day. (Sorry.)

Couple most likely to succeed: Veteran turned actor J.R. Martinez has the perfect story to tug the heartstrings, the patriotstrings, and the audiencestrings. He’s got an amazing attitude (“I am proud of my scars because they got me where I am today.”) and he can really dance. In his first performance he swept the floor with partner Karina Smirnoff, literally.

Couple most likely to be ousted: Elisabetta Canalis and Val Chmerkovskiy. Their scores weren’t as low as some, but the chances of an American audience voting for George Clooney’s fame-seeking ex seems slim and Maks Chmerkovskiy’s little brother is a long shot, no matter how much the producers try to build up a Battle Between the Brothers.

See you tomorrow morning, after tonight’s recap show.

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