Welcome to Season 18 of Dancing with the Stars — and to the realization that Dancing and The Bachelor, which also just celebrated (by sipping champagne in a hot tub in a snow storm) its 18th season, are now fully grown, mature and able to sign contracts, buy pornography and cigarettes and vote for any candidate spouting a pro-reality television platform. They just grow up so darn fast!
While The Bachelor has more or less stayed true to form over its many rose-petal strewn seasons, Dancing with the Stars is always shaking things up, as a show based on the cha cha should. Last year the show cut down to a once-a-week action-packed formula requiring us to fulfill our RDA of sequins in one glittery shot — and this year the show has thrown out the baby, the bathwater and remodeled the bathroom while they were at it. Not only does the set have some new shine and some new voting (elimination will be based on both the judges’ scores and viewer votes from the current week), but they got rid of long-time band leader Harold Wheeler and his merry band and replaced him with Ray Chew and an all new live band. Plus, for the first time ever, the competition is giving voters the chance to switch up the pairs and, say, force Drew Carey to dance with Maks Chmerkoviskiy. Well, probably not that, but that’s just due to lack of vision on your part. In addition, longtime co-host Brooke Burke Charvat has been replaced by sportscaster and former DWTS champion Erin Andrews, who we can only assume has been tasked with proving once and for all that ballroom should be an Olympic event.
To help prove that point, three Olympians — gold winning ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White as well as Amy Purdy, a U.S. Paralympic snowboarder who took bronze at Sochi — are competing alongside other athletes like NHL player Sean Avery and English Channel swimmer Diana Nyad. How will they fare compared to the assortment of D-list celebrities like Price is Right host and comedian Carey (D might actually stand for Drew!), Star Wars legend Lando Calrissian… er, Billy Dee Williams, and the ’80s Teen Beat faceoff between Wonder Years star Danica McKellar and Full House‘s Candace Cameron Burr? The only way to find out is to watch.
Here’s what happened on Dancing with the Stars:
Best Audition Reel: Musicians who perform on this show tend to fall into two camps: those who refuse to dance because of the heightened potential for embarrassing themselves and those who view the performance as a chance to show off their mad skills. Jason Derulo definitely falls into the latter camp, doing backflips on stage while singing “Talk Dirty.”
Best Premature Gauntlet Throwing: Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes, who declared: “Look ice skaters: Hell no.”
NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani: The season started with a fast-paced cha cha with NeNe making her ballroom debut bedecked in white fringe, fuchsia lips and tears streaming down her face to stop the judges from assessing her too harshly. The toughest critique came from Carrie-Ann Inaba telling her: “You are a beautiful, large voluptuous, sensual woman and I want you to dance bigger.” 21/30.
Most Awkward Matchup: The producers apparently have some sort of grudge against pro Peta Murgatroyd, because in a very strange move, they thought it would be hilarious to force her to dance with a guy who she went on a date with — and who never called. Her jaw dropped when Big Time Rush performer James Maslow walked in and she realized she would be stuck dancing with him all season.
James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: Peta served up some cold-hearted revenge by choreographing a routine so that the big bad boy bander had to foxtrot to a One Direction song. Aw, snap! The duo dance well together, and definitely have potential, but only earned 21/30.
Most Pointless Interview: Erin Andrews was determined to get to the bottom of their ill-fated date, but neither of them would admit to anything but pure professionalism. Come on, DWTS, leave the drama on the dance floor.
Danica McKellar and Val Chmerkovskiy: The former child star and current math book author seems thrilled to be foxtrotting on TV and her enthusiasm is infectious, but hopefully her germs aren’t — as she brazenly planted one on judge Bruno Tonioli. Len Goodman told her, “You don’t get a second chance at a first impression and my first impression is ‘terrific’!” 24/30.
Best Bergeronism of the Night: “When Val starts translating for people, it’s got to be one of the signs of the apocalypse,” quips Tom when Val has to tell Danica what “geeked up” means.
Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff: The first hockey player in DWTS history is self-professed bad boy Sean Avery, who seems to be relying on Karina to increase his likability because she keeps pointing out how funny he is while he stands there stone faced. Their contemporary routine almost impresses Len, who liked the “integrity” while Carrie Ann deemed him “interesting,” a trait that does not carry into the mandatory interview with Erin. However he does announce that he’s watched Footloose over a hundred times over the last two weeks to prepare for the show. 20/30.
Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater: The 77-year old Billy Dee has arthritis and two hip replacements, but is still willing to get on the dance floor and show off his (very stilted) moves on the dance floor. Luckily he has Emma on his side, who helped usher 56-year old comedian Bill Engvall to the finals last season. In a cha cha for the ages (yet sure to horrify Star Wars geeks around the world), Billy Dee hit the stage in Lando Calrissian costume as the Mos Eisley cantina song blared. Emma joined him in a beadazzled Princess Leia ensemble, while storm troopers rushed the stage and the audience included two Ewoks.
…And Let The Star Wars Jokes Roll: Bruno can never forgive Billy Dee for freezing Han Solo, so he’s not unbiased when he tells him that he wanted less C3PO and more Darth Vader, causing Tom to note, “This is not the judge you’re looking for.” Carrie Ann calls Billy Dee “the most relaxed dancer” she’s seen on the show, which isn’t exactly a compliment, and the nicest thing Len can say is that he was “on time.” The audience does not approve of this criticism, which leads Tom to add, “It’s like Jar Jar Binks walked in here, the way they turned.” 15/30.
Meryl Davis and Maks Chmerkovskiy: Maks bluntly tells Meryl, “I love you and I would love to marry you, but I need to know if you and Charlie are dating.” She laughs that they aren’t and they set to work, but as an ice dancer, they have a head start on some of the other performers. The judges can barely find anything to critique in their seemingly effortless cha cha set to Icona Pop’s “All Night,” and they earn 24/30.
Best Out-of-Context Comment: “You’re nice on ice, but you’re good on wood.” Okay, Len.
Best Olympics Factoid: Derek Hough apparently helped Charlie and Meryl choreograph their ice dancing routines for the Olympics.
Candace Cameron Burr and Mark Ballas: Candace sets the tone for their interaction up front: “I will not be your ‘sexy girl,/” declares Candace after saying the most important things in her life are her family and her faith. That said, she then announces, “Excuses are for losers!” and hits the dance floor hard in a contemporary dance routine set to Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” and ends up with a 25/30.
Best ’80s Factoid: Apparently Jeremy Miller (who played Ben Seaver on Growing Pains) dumped Candace to date Danika.
Cody Simpson and Witney Carson: A self-professed “superstar singer-songwriter from Australia” is paired with recently promoted Witney (the letter “H” is so old school!) who is very concerned that he has a girlfriend. Despite this obstacle to story arc, the hit the floor with a high energy cha cha set to Pitbull and Ke$ha’s “Timber.” Carrie Ann deems him to have “great upper body excitement,” but his lower half needs to focus on technique (not on Witney). They earn 22/30.
Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke: Is there any doubt that Tom Bergeron has been waiting ages to tell The Price is Right host to “come on down!” to the ballroom? No, there is not. Drew and Cheryl performed a Monopoly-themed foxtrot that revealed that Drew is more Bill Engvall, less D. L. Hughley when it comes to dancing comedians. Carrie Ann thinks they have found this season’s crowdpleaser and Len deems the routine “very watchable” while Bruno wants him to not let his natural comedy override his not-too-shabby dancing. 21/30 (which did not please the audience).
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: If anyone is up for the challenge of teaching a double amputee how to foxtrot, it’s five-time champion Derek — and if any double amputee is up for that challenge, it’s Amy Purdy, a newly-minted bronze medalist at the Paralympics in snowboarding. (The athlete lost her kidneys and both her legs after contracting bacterial meningitis.) She is dancing on two prosthetics and isn’t sure what she is capable of yet. She and Derek trained for their cha-cha in hotel lobbies in Sochi, Russia, between Paralympic runs and the effort paid off when they hit the dance floor. While the choreography was simple, the feat was mind-boggling. (Seriously, Google it.) Obviously Carrie Ann was in tears, while Len somberly intoned that they couldn’t judge her differently than any of the other dancers, but didn’t have to. 24/30.
Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov: Diana is the first person to swim the shark-infested waters from Cuba to Florida without a shark tank. Her swimming mantra is “find a way” and she’s applying that same spirit to the foxtrot. Paired with newly-promoted pro Henry, she manages a pretty if overly cautious dance that the judges hope will loosen up next week. Diana gamely accepts her criticism and has a very winning attitude if not moves. As Tom says, “She has a dry wit and the judges are all wet.” 18/30.
Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: After watching Meryl’s moves with Maks, there’s no doubt that her ice dancing partner Charlie will have serious skills — and he does not disappoint. Sharna set out a contemporary routine that played to his strengths (lifts! more lifts! spins!) and while Len dubbed it “ice dancing without the ice” there was no denying the skill involved. After Carrie Ann rambled about yin and yang and Charlie’s yang and Sharna’s yin, the scores came in, hopefully assuring a Charlie-Meryl finale match up. 27/30
Best Reason To Come Back Next Week: The producers polled the stars and asked them what kind of dance they want to learn and now the pros have one week to teach them the routines. Tangos, ahoy!