Welcome to the 17th season of “Dancing with the Stars“! The temperatures may be dropping, but the ballroom dance floor still sizzles. It’s not the same show you watched before, though – some cosmetic and structural changes have taken place since May.
First and foremost: “DWTS” is on just one night a week, Mondays. Instead of revealing fates in a results show 24 hours later, host Tom Bergeron and co-host Brooke Burke Charvet will make the weakest link wait until the end of the following Monday’s two-hour show to know its destiny. That’s right: You have to dance twice, but a good dance in Week 2 may not be enough to overcome a bad dance in Week 1. It’s still a combination of viewer votes and judges’ scores that send people home.
The skybox/Celebriquarium has floated away, and the judges’ table has moved “to the Australian and British side of the set,” Tom explains. (Please, please let this be the end of using the judges’ table as a time-wasting prop.) Instead, Tom and Brooke will talk to the dancing darlings on the floor or in newly created makeup and rehearsal rooms. The couples will sit in a pit on the floor near the relocated judges’ table.
The Troupe will continue to appear, albeit in a formation of four rather than six. Two members of the Troupe, Sasha Farber and Emma Slater, moved to the pro roster, and two of last season’s pros, Gleb Savchenko and Lindsay Arnold, are with the Troupe. This pro-to-Troupe move hasn’t happened before. Henry Byalikov and Witney Carson are status quo with the Troupe.
The musical shilling isn’t going away after all; somehow, album-plugging performances will make their way into the very crammed episodes.
(Deep breath.) Now, are you ready for some dancing?
We start the show with a massive dance party set first on a red carpet before it moves to the ballroom. Snippets of the couples, the pros, the Troupe … and even the judges and hosts get in on the fun. Val Chmerkovskiy, no longer dancing with an underage contestant as he was last season, is back to revealing large amounts of his chest.
A man with a likely powerful fan base leads off the night, as “Pretty Little Liars” actor Brant Daugherty – he’s also been on “Army Wives” and “Days of our Lives” – will do a cha-cha with Peta Murgatroyd. With the gray suit, Brant resembles James Marsden when he was Corny Collins in “Hairspray.” And yep, Brant and Peta are playing up the showmance. She’s ogling him, and gee, how convenient – they’re both single. What is cute: geeky-looking Brant as a child and the story of his “DWTS”-loving mother. It took the show no time at all to break out “Blurred Lines,” and it’s using the actual recording rather than a band rendition. Brant Peta emphasize the club aspects of the song, which the audience loves, although sometimes the actual cha-cha disappears in favor of the hip grinding. Len calls it fabulous. Bruno thinks they’re easy on the eyes but warns Brant not to lose timing. Carrie Ann echoes Bruno’s comments. Both are more subdued than usual. Score: 22 (Carrie Ann 7, Len 8, Bruno 7). Wow, this IS a new show when Len gives an 8 to the first dance of the year!
Leah Remini probably has more links to pop culture than anyone else in this season’s cast. She has been a part of the ABC family since 1988, with her first three television credits all coming from the network’s sitcoms. (Remember when she and Halle Berry were models on the brief “Who’s the Boss?” spinoff?) She co-starred on “Saved by the Bell” with fellow “DWTS” contestant Elizabeth Berkley in the early 1990s and had a nine-year run on “The King of Queens.” She co-hosted “The Talk” for a season with Sharon Osbourne – and hey, we’ll see Sharon’s son Jack dance in about 15 minutes! She has arguably the most famous friend in the ballroom, Jennifer Lopez. These days, Leah is in the news for leaving Scientology, the same church to which two-time “DWTS” contestant Kirstie Alley belongs. For now, though, Leah’s partner, Tony Dovolani, wants to concentrate on the foxtrot. Leah says she can’t dance and, despite being known for having a big mouth, acts insecure and neurotic. For the performance, she’s in a long gray dress, and his suit is really, really shiny. As for the dance itself? It has Leah’s sassy facial expressions, which don’t quite fit this foxtrot, although Carrie Ann likes them. Len thinks it was a bit careful; indeed, the speed of the song didn’t match Leah and Tony’s foxtrot moves, which seemed too dainty in moments (walking instead of gliding). Bruno brings up Miley Cyrus and twerking (???), and he doesn’t believe Leah when she claims she’s never danced. Score: 21 (7s from all).
Rather than casting someone currently on a Disney Channel show as it often does, “DWTS” has given us a Disney alum this season, Corbin Bleu from “High School Musical.” (The other “HSM” player on “DWTS,” Monique Coleman, made it to fourth place way back in Season 3.) Karina Smirnoff has said Corbin is a dream partner for her, and now she has him. What kind of a contemporary number can she craft, especially considering it’s her first attempt at it? Will Corbin’s dance background – he knows ballet and tap and has been on Broadway – be a help in learning choreography or come across as “ringer” to the audience? (Corbin tells Brooke next week’s jive could be more of a problem because of the frame.) Corbin and Karina are breaking out the crazy lifts already, and he isn’t talking her out of the crazy. Corbin’s ballet background shines in this contemporary number. Bruno praises the jetes as well as the athleticism; Corbin’s moves look a little like capoeira. The lifts flow rather than distract. Karina is shaking afterward. “(Contemporary) is like my other hip-hop!” she exclaims, harkening back to a disastrous night with Apolo Anton Ohno in Season 15. No disaster here – Carrie Ann and Len praise the choreography. In the audience, Brant is wowed. Score: 24 (8s across the board).
Kelly Osbourne made an unexpected run to the finals in Season 9 and has capitalized on her post-“DWTS” fame better than almost any contestant. (But how did she become a fashion “expert?”) Can brother Jack can top her run? He and partner Cheryl Burke will give it a try with a foxtrot. Jack, who is 27 years old, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year but won’t let that stop him. (Distraction: Dad Ozzy, in the audience, looks really awful!) Cheryl is impressed with Jack, complimenting his frame and ability to pick up steps. He practically skips on to the floor, and he is in fact light on his feet as Cheryl promised he would be. It’s a playful, fun number that makes Mama Sharon weepy. “You can dance!” Len cries out. In another sign the “DWTS” world as we know it has changed, it’s Bruno who provokes the first boos of the season when he claims Jack loses spots on turns. Carrie Ann is charmed. Score: 23 (Carrie Ann 8, Len 8, Bruno 7 – and yes, more audience booing).
Another celebrity probably coming in with a sizable fan base takes to the floor next. Amber Riley, best known as Mercedes on “Glee,” also has the good fortune to be paired with four-time and reigning “DWTS” champion Derek Hough. Furthermore, they have the fun cha-cha to rev up the audience. Amber has lots of “Glee” cast members in the audience to root her on. She tells Derek dancing was a dream deferred, as she couldn’t afford singing as well as dancing lessons. (Derek, please, no, you did not just compare yourself and Amber to a virgin couple on your wedding night. Just stop.) Amber says she wants to be an inspiration to fellow women of size and substance. This may be the crowd pleaser of the night, with Amber keeping up right away with Derek’s lickety-split choreography. The dancing slows a bit at about the two-thirds mark, but then a saucy and spot-on finger pointing/kicking session brings the energy back. It’s midseason-level dancing, and Len can’t believe it’s only Week 1. Karina is screaming. Bruno calls Amber the “tigress of Season 17.” Carrie Ann is speechless and worshipping. Score: 27 (the first three 9s of the season).
“Saved by the Bell,” Take 2. Elizabeth – labeled as Elizabeth Berkley Lauren – and Val hope to top Leah and Tony’s score of 21 with their contemporary number. Elizabeth has some previous dance experience – and not just of the pole-dancing (“Showgirls”) or spazzed-out (“Saved by the Bell”) variety. Tom says he pitched “DWTS” to Elizabeth back in Season 3. Val says he learned English watching “Saved by the Bell.” (He says he liked “the other one” better, meaning the character of Kelly.) Dancing was Elizabeth’s first love, although it’s been years since she engaged in it. She says she closed the door on it when “Showgirls” came out, but as a new mom and wife, she wants to reconnect. This contemporary number is more traditional than what we saw from Corbin and Karina. It has the push and pull of emotion, the proper light and shading, and it plays to Elizabeth’s elegant strength. Bruno praises the challenging choreography and wants Elizabeth to extend her arms even more. Carrie Ann thinks the number was sweet, and Len finds it to be lovely. Score: 24 (three times eight).
Bill Nye the Science Guy wants to be known as Bill Nye the Dancing Guy – and as it turns out, he already likes to groove a little. He says he can swing dance. Let’s see what he and new pro Tyne Stecklein can bring to the ballroom in the cha-cha. Bill has coined them “Hot Knowledge” and makes jokes about chemistry and sexual tension. He tries to teach her the difference between a beaker and a flask. The beauty meets the geek in the lab, a not-that-original concept. This doesn’t have a lot of cha-cha, and the moves are herky-jerky, especially at the beginning. Bruno thinks the movements were backward and all over the place. The audience chants Bill’s name. Len won’t, though. “It was like being waxed – it was painful when it happened and pleasant when it was over.” Carrie Ann gives that faint praise to contestants who try hard but aren’t very good. Score: 14 (Carrie Ann 5, Len 4, Bruno 5).
“Just Give Me the Damn Ball,” Keyshawn Johnson titled his autobiography. Does the wide-receiver-turned-ESPN-broadcaster think he can just grab the Mirror Ball bauble for himself and Sharna Burgess? Not quite, Keyshawn – first you have to dance a cha-cha. They joke about the Aussie pro’s accent, which Keyshawn attempts but sounds more like Brit Len than Sharna. He has to work on bending the proper leg at the proper time. “There’s a charming level of annoyance between you,” Tom says to them. Keyshawn’s cha-cha is like Jacoby Jones’s last season, also from Week 1, with a lot of being hunched and tight and favoring club moves. In parts, it seems Sharna hasn’t figured out how to compensate for the foot difference in height between herself and Keyshawn. Bruno notes the height problem and says Keyshawn lost timing. Carrie Ann thinks the dance got better as it went along. Len likes the attitude but says Keyshawn needs to refine the technique. Score: 17 (Carrie Ann 6, Len 5, Bruno 6). Has a football player ever scored that low in Week 1? P.S. Sharma’s gold hot pants are amazing.
Christina Milian, whose red hair makes her resemble Rihanna circa three years ago, joins Monday’s contemporary circuit with partner Mark Ballas. Christina says she’s never danced with a partner before, and she hesitantly describes Mark’s choreography as “slightly unusual.” It’s like a mix of what Corbin and Karina did (except Mark is what stands out rather than his partner) and the light and shade/push and pull of Elizabeth and Val. The smoke machine is in full force, making it tough to judge footwork. Christina seems disconnected – does this reflect a lack of confidence, comfort or trust in Mark? In any case, that will be a problem for her because it’s obvious that this season, personality will count for a lot. Carrie Ann pinpoints this and notes Christina looked at the floor for much of the first part. Len likes the mood of the choreography and wants Christina to come out of her shell more. Bruno appreciates the introspection, though. Score: 22 (Carrie Ann 7, Len 7, Bruno 8).
The Battle of the Bills moves from Nye to Engvall. Like the Science Guy, this Bill has a new blond pro, Emma. However, Bill Engvall’s specialty is humor, and he’s known for being part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Andy Dick not withstanding, funny men don’t tend to get very far on “DWTS.” Will Engvall follow in the footsteps of Andy, or will he land in the Cemetery for Comedians with Adam Carolla and Jeffrey Ross? Bill wants to be the redneck’s dancing king. Bill and Emma have a foxtrot to “Hot Stuff,” and while he’s not going to win the Mirror Ball, he shows more ability than probably any comedian before. This foxtrot has hints and teases of sophistication and smoothness, and he can produce a semblance of ease. The foxtrot has more energy than Leah and Tony’s did, and Bill E, definitely did better than Bill Nye. Len is glad he remembered the routine. Carrie Ann admits to being pleasantly surprised and likes his frame. Score: 18 (Carrie Ann 6, Len 6, Bruno 6).
Time for what could be the heartwarming moment of the night, a foxtrot from four-time Emmy-winning sitcom legend Valerie Harper and Brooke’s (and OK, my) crush, Tristan MacManus. The 73-year-old Valerie was fighting for her life a few months ago. Now, though, it’s a strained knee rather than brain cancer that’s plaguing her foxtrot rehearsals. Valerie first danced for money at Radio City Music Hall as a young’un, and now she’s dancing again. Valerie beams through the light and easy foxtrot. She flows. Bruno: “How can you criticize a national treasure?” He warns her not to let her shoulders rise so much. Carrie Ann is crying and speaking of the healing power of dance. Len enjoys Tristan’s choreography. Score: 21 (all 7s).
I would have thought “DWTS” would end the night with Valerie. Instead, it’s Snooki who takes the spotlight with newly promoted Sasha for a cha-cha. Snooki wants to be known as Nicole (Polizzi) now that she has a year-old son, and she doesn’t want America to think she’s a hot mess anymore. Snooki – er, Nicole – worried about who her partner might be, given that she’s only four feet nine inches. Fortunately, she matches well with Sasha, who’s pretty small himself. He thinks they might be the shortest couple in “DWTS” history. The celebrity also likes her pro’s coaching style. She looks nervous before the dance. The cha-cha is a natural dance for her. Sasha has her doing mostly basic steps, and she performs them well. It’s not dynamic like Amber’s cha-cha, though. Carrie Ann and Bruno like the tone of her legs. Len calls Snooki/Nicole a pocket rocket and praises the Cuban breaks Sasha has choreographed. Score: 23 (Carrie Ann 8, though at first she holds up a 7; Len 8; Bruno 7).
Thus, we conclude the first week of the revitalized “DWTS.” Do the changes work? Does the voting plan make sense to you? What couples do you like, and who’s going home? Are Corbin and Amber at an unfair advantage? Leave your thoughts below!
By Lisa Reynolds
Bill Engvall/Emma: 18
Bill Nye/Tyne: 14