Ah, autumn. Time for crisp, cool weather; beautiful colors in the trees; and lots of reality television. Whether you like dancing, or celebrities, or awkward pseudo-famous people who don’t know the Paso Doble from their elbow … it’s time for Dancing with the Stars!
Tonight is night one of a three-night extravaganza. With a record-setting 16 stars, the dancing will take place over two nights, for a full two hours each night. Tonight it’s the guys, and they drive that fact home hard with an opening number set to “The Boys Are Back in Town.” Our eight professional men are lowered into the audience on a giant lighted rickety-looking elevatorish thing. They then proceed to kick and twirl and flail in synch, and it’s a delightfully ghastly way to open the season.
Let’s meet the stars! The horns blare, the lights flash, and the celebrities come down the stairs. Aaron, Chuck, Mark, Ashley, Donny, Louie, Michael, and Tom are followed by Debi, Melissa, Mya, Kathy, Natalie, Macy, Joanna, and Kelly. We pan down the row of pairs as the trumpet player in the band goes absolutely crazy with a solo. Go, trumpet guy!
Tom and Samantha gab about the super tough opening week: everyone will have to do both a Latin dance and a ballroom dance on their very first night. No wonder it’s taking 70 hours this week. Wednesday will be a double elimination, with the lowest-scoring man and woman going home. Now, on to the dancing!
Aaron Carter & Karina Smirnoff: Aaron had his first pop single when he was 8 years old. He strikes me as a scruffier, not-quite-as-sweet Cody Linley. He does a bunch of big, awkward gymnastics when he and Karina first meet. Then he puts on Cuban heels to learn the Cha-Cha-Cha, and pairs them with some really atrocious clothes. Is that a tank top or the bodice of a dirndl? I really shouldn’t be able to see this kid’s nipples in the neckhole of his shirt. Egads. The dance begins, and it’s all over the place. He stomps, he stumbles, he slides. There are a few good moves hidden in there, and it looks like he may actually have potential. Certainly there’s room for improvement. Karina’s gold-fringed pants are incredibly distracting, and Aaron almost drops her at their final pose. Len agrees that there’s potential. Bruno thinks the energy is all over the place. Carrie Ann makes a vaguely uncomfortable joke about little Aaron Carter all grown up and looking good. The scores come in 7-8-7, which seems a little high to me.
Chuck Liddell & Anna Trebunskaya: Chuck is a mixed martial artist and former Ultimate Fighting Champion. Plus, he’s the most macho man Anna has ever met. Their first dance is the Fox Trot, and in the rehearsals I’m already worried that his massive size will keep him from moving with any speed. Anna frets that if he doesn’t smile, he’ll scare the audience. They start dancing to “That’s Life,” and my worries come to fruition. He’s heavy on his feet, wooden and awkward. His smile is more of a grimace. But the audience seems to really like them. Bruno points out a dozen things that need improvement. Carrie Ann agrees about some of the criticism, yet calls him “smooth.” Len wants Chuck to get more in touch with his feminine side. Not likely, Len. They go backstage, and while Samantha blathers at them, Donny Osmond is staring at them with a fiery intensity. The judges paddle Chuck with 6-5-5.
Mark Decascos & Lacey Schwimmer: I don’t know how many of you really know who Mark is, but not only is he the Chairman of Iron Chef America, he’s also Sensei Ping from the short-lived but most-excellent ABC Family show The Middleman. I like Lacey as well, and have since her time on So You Think You can Dance. I hope like crazy that Mark doesn’t suck. They launch into their Cha-Cha-Cha, and it’s no surprise that they’re dancing to “Kung Fu Fighting.” The dance has weird and wonky spots, mostly issues with timing, but it’s a better Cha than Aaron turned in. Lacey designed the routine to work with Mark’s martial arts strengths. Carrie Ann loved the Asian theme, and thinks Mark has a lot of potential. Len isn’t a fan of gimmicks, and doesn’t want to see Kung Fu in the Waltz. Bruno says the talent is there, so “keep it tight.” As they head backstage, Tom describes the relay dance, which kind of makes no sense. We’ll have to see what this relay thing is. Backstage, Mark accuses Lacey of wanting to show the world his man-boobs. Yes, please. The judges throw out 7-7-7, and nobody yells, “Winner winner, chicken dinner.” Thank heavens.
Ashley Hamilton & Edyta Sliwinska: We see Ashley’s dad George in the audience, and his tan looks divine. Ashley is billed as an “actor and comedian” so I looked him up on the IMDB. It’s not a long list. Edyta, who worked with George as well, has high hopes that are dashed pretty quickly. The guy is big and blocky and doesn’t move well. Before they even dance, I have to say: kid looks good in a suit. But as soon as the Fox Trot starts, he proves to be stiff and inflexible on the dance floor. He could be worse — he’s no Kenny Mayne — but he could be so much better. Len tells him his footwork was correct, but it had a roughness. Bruno sees the family resemblance, but calls Ashley on a total lack of showmanship. Carrie Ann says she didn’t see anything that defined them. The judges give him 5-6-4. Wow, Bruno!
Donny Osmond & Kym Johnson: I watched Donny and Marie when I was a kid, although I’ve never been a huge Donny fan. (According to my mother, my dewy 70s eyes were only for the Hudson brothers. None of you know who they are. Or were.) Sister Marie took 3rd in season 5, and she’s dared Donny to do better. What’s nice is both Kym and Donny think they’re lucky in this pairing. And what’s charming is that he blushes bright red when he touches Kym’s lady pillows. They’re doing the Fox Trot to “And All That Jazz,” and he has all the showmanship and personality that Ashley was lacking. His moves are also the best of the night so far. He has his stiff moments, but overall it’s a pretty good dance. Bruno compliments his theatrical nature, but bags on his posture. Carrie Ann knows he’ll be a fan favorite, and asks for better ballroom. Len calls it TOO theatrical, too razz-a-ma-tazz. The judges show their scores after the break: 7-6-7. Len, you gave Aaron an 8. Really?
Louie Vito & Chelsie Hightower: Louie is a snowboarding champion, who’ll be competing in the 2010 Olympics. I’ve never heard of him. But Chelsie was grand on SYTYCD. Louie is known for his double-something-something-1080. He’s never danced, and has never seen an episode of DwtS. He’s short and scruffy. He’s a hobbit! They’re doing the Fox Trot to “It’s My Life”, and it’s not a very exciting routine. He stumbles a couple of times, but also has a couple of decent moves. Carrie Ann calls it a “little surprise,” which makes me giggle. She really enjoyed it. Len insults Louie’s hobbit hair, but calls his technique good. Bruno says the word “hobbit”, so clearly it’s the obvious joke, and I should go for something else. Hmm, snowboarding is kind of like surfing — maybe there’s a Gidget joke in here somewhere. His scores are 6-7-6, so obviously Len is living in a parallel universe tonight that’s just slightly different from our own.
Michael Irvin & Anna Demidova: He’s a Super Bowl champ, and she was chosen by America to be a new professional dancer. Michael has had a lifetime rivalry with Jerry Rice, so he’s determined to do better than his nemesis. They start their Cha-Cha-Cha with a solo, where he shakes and shimmies all by himself. I’m afraid that’s the best part of his routine. Most of his movements are tiny and subdued, except for a few spastic poses with an arm thrown way out. Len wants more slickness from Michael, and more content from Anna. Bruno acknowledges that he’s a crowd-pleaser, but the dance wasn’t good. Carrie Ann puts the blame on Anna for lack of content, and gives Michael props for more charisma than Jerry Rice. As they head backstage, we get the introduction of the band and the singers (thank goodness the woman who wears huge head-jewels is back). As Michael and Anna get to the back room, Aaron Carter jumps up to give Michael an awkward handshake-like greeting, and it makes me dislike Aaron a little bit more. The judges offer up 5-4-4, and Michael’s dreams of beating Jerry are gently squashed.
Commercials: Bruno Tonioli did a commercial for Zaxby’s. Is the chain that well-known? Checking their Web site, they’re only in 11 states in the south and southeast. But they must have a ton of advertising dollars. And I have to say, they make a really good Buffalo chicken salad.
Tom DeLay & Cheryl Burke: He looks much younger than I thought he would. Maybe it’s the goofy dancing outfit. Yep, it was — as soon as the rehearsal footage starts, he gains 10 years because he wears his sweatpants way up high on his torso. He seems excited to get “prissy” and “in touch with [his] feminine side.” Their Cha-Cha-Cha is just as terrible as I hoped it would be — it’s a trainwreck I can’t look away from. He lip-synchs some lines from “Wild Thing” and clomps around the stage like a sheet of plywood. Bruno calls him “crazier than Sarah Palin” and makes funny faces. Carrie Ann gives him props for being light on his feet. Len says that parts were magic, parts were tragic. We take a weirdly timed commercial break, then the judges show their scores: 6-5-5. Samantha then throws it to Tom B., turns around, spins back, and looks embarrassed as we cut to commercial again. that little glitch was more entertaining than some entire dances we’ve seen so far.
Back from the break, we see the female competitors sitting in the front row. Tom interviews Debi Mazar, who seems more than a little crazy. Then he moves down to Kelly, who seeems only slightly less crazy than Debi. Excellent.
Now it’s time for the relay dance. The guys have been put into two groups, where they’ll all dance the same dance to the same music. Then the judges will rank them from first to last. The first group is Ashley & Edyta, Chuck & Anna, Donny & Kym, and Louie & Chelsie. They’ll all be doing the Salsa, and they’re all wearing fire-engine red. Hot. In the rehearsal footage there’s a lot of terrible, Donny falls on his butt, and Louie makes a not-that-unclever joke about Donny getting a high score on his birthday card. Oh, snaps.
Ashley & Edyta are up first, and Ashley doesn’t even dance for half of it. He’s just a frame for Edyta to writhe around and flip over on. They’re followed by Chuck & Anna, and Chuck seems to finally maybe have some fun. He’s still stiff as cardboard, though. Next up, Donny & Kym, and he’s far and away the smoothest mover out there. Just as they finish, here come Louie & Chelsie, or more specifically, here comes Louie flipping across the floor. By the end of the season, every guy will have made an entrance by doing a double flip. It’s cool and all, but as soon as he starts dancing, it all falls apart. There’s just nothing sexy about him. He’s a snowboarding … Gidget … SNIDGET! There it is.
Carrie Ann states the obvious, that Donny smoked everyone else. Donny seems flabbergasted. Len insults Ashley specifically, then compliments Donny’s rhythm. Bruno calls out Donny as tops, but also gives Chuck a compliment about his movement. The couples head backstage, and stand in order of height like a bunch of cell phone signal bars. I want to see Ashley and Louie stand next to each other. It’d be like the Green Giant and Sprout. Samantha gives them each a chance to say something unfunny, then it’s judgment time. Ashley & Edyta get last place, for 4 points. Then Chuck & Anna get 6, Louie & Chelsie get 8, and Donny & Kym take the top honors and an additional 10 points.
The remaining teams will be doing the Viennese Waltz (and I’m trying to remember which dancing show had a contestant who called it the “Vietnamese Waltz”).In rehearsal, Aaron frets about getting dizzy. Mark jokes that the Waltz is so stiff and uncomfortable, it’ll suit Tom DeLay. Tom brags about his moves and hitches his sweatpants up even higher on his chest.
Aaron & Karina are up first, and while the dancing is good, I’m looking up Aaron’s nostrils the entire time. His face is squished up like he smells something rancid. It’s like watching a dancing Draco Malfoy, and it makes me hate him a little more. Mark & Lacey take to the floor next, and it’s decent, but not all that smooth — they have some weirdly abrupt movements. Not a lot of tricks or thrills, either. Then it’s Tom & Cheryl, and while it’s better than his Latin dance, he has a lot of trouble with his feet. He can’t seem to keep time with the music. He drags Cheryl away, and then it’s time for Michael & Anna. He looks like he’s having fun, but once again her choreography isn’t terribly exciting.
Len calls Tom a “tad skippy” and commends Mark for his control. Bruno loves Aaron’s rotation, loves Mark’s lines, calls Tom “skippy skippy skippy”, and gives Michael kudos for improvement. Carrie Ann seconds the improvement for Michael, and has good things to say about the other three as well. As the judges figure out their scores, we fill time by having Mark and Tom banter back and forth. Again, not funny. Tom & Cheryl get the bottom spot with 4 points. Then it’s Michael & Anna with 6, Mark & Lacey get 8, and Aaron & Karina take first for the round and get an extra 10 points.
Recaps run, and boy are there some forgettable guys in this group. Aaron & Karina top the leaderboard with 32 points, while the bottom spot is shared by Ashley & Edyta and Michael & Anna, who are tied with 19. Who will get America’s votes? Who will get the Wednesday boot? We’ll have to wait to see, because tomorrow is all about the ladies. Let’s home some of them bring it.