“Dancing with the Stars” 2016 kicked off March 21 on ABC as the 12 celebrity contestants at long last gave America a gander at their fancy footwork. The season opened with a fabulous group number that featured the entire cast strutting their well-heeled stuff before co-hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews –fresh off her $55 million lawsuit win– got the party started in earnest by ushering the first couple onto the dance floor.
The lucky pair? “The Facts of Life” alum Kim Fields and Sasha Farber, who were charged with hoofing a sassy cha cha. Decked out in bright red, sparkling fringe, Kim was all about attitude and brought fabulous energy to the ballroom.
Len Goodman liked the routine and called it “a great start to the show” (though he’s still grumpy old Len, so of course he didn’t like all of it). Bruno Tonioli loved “the way she lets her hair down” but told her to work on her foot placement and watch her shoulders. Carrie Ann Inaba, finally, saw “a whole lot of fierceness in a little tiny package” and likened her to a “firecracker,” but cautioned her against the temptation to rush. Kim was visibly (and oddly) delighted to receive a score of 20 out of 30.
Second up to make their first impression in the ballroom were the surprisingly emotional mixed martial artist Paige VanZant and Mark Ballas. For a professional fighter, Paige came out of the gates in graceful, sexy fashion with her foxtrot. On top of that, she looked hot-hot in her orange halter dress, and she had amazing rhythm. Who knew she would be so good?
Bruno called Paige “the flying beauty” and said he hadn’t expected her to be light on her feet, but he told her to work on her timing and control. Carrie Ann said she was like a “gold mine” and loved her fearlessness. Len liked her musicality and posture, and called it “a terrific job.” Paige and Mark earned a 21.
Also opening their quest for the Mirrorball Trophy with a foxtrot were Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and Karina Smirnoff, who hit the ballroom next. It took about five seconds to figure out that Doug isn’t exactly a dance natural, but hey, he tried. There was concentration on his face. He was wearing the right shoes.
Carrie Ann loved Doug’s “sense of commitment” and praised him for not giving up despite “a few stumbles.” She encouraged him to embrace being an underdog. Len praised him for really “trying to sell it” and told him to come back strong with his week two paso doble. Bruno, finally, told him to work on, well, everything, because “it can only get better.” Uh, ouch? Doug and Karina earned a 15, prompting Doug to appeal to all of Boston for help.
Fourth up? Stephanie Tanner in the ballroom, as “tango” was the word for “Full House” star Jodie Sweetin and Keo Motsepe. All in all, Jodie looked good! She brought great intensity to the ballroom and danced with purpose. The sole negative was this odd thing she did with her mouth. It was just odd.
Len thought it had “spirit,” “attack,” and “attitude,” but told her to watch her head placement. Bruno said he didn’t know she could “be so alluring” and loved the purpose, and called it “a very, very strong performance.” Carrie Ann, finally, thought it was “very impressive” and appreciated the “attention to detail,” but didn’t like her “glued-on look.” Jodie and Keo, like Kim and Sasha, earned a 20.
TV personality Geraldo Rivera and returning original pro Edyta Sliwinska kept things going during “Dancing with the Stars” 2016 premiere night with a cha cha. Geraldo looked like he had no idea what was going on, but he looked so droolingly thrilled to be dancing with a gorgeous, scantily clad woman that the lack of focus somehow made sense. Plus he’s kind of adorable with his giant, goofy grin.
Bruno jokingly praised him for his “minimalistic” strategy, and Carrie Ann speculated that Edyta had distracted him a wee bit. Len offered up practical advice, telling him that “dancing is a work in progress” and told him to dance from his feet and work upward. Geraldo mumbled something about a dancing bear to Erin before the judges gave them a score of 13.
Hoping for a better fate were couple number six, actress Marla Maples, who’s also known as a former Mrs. Donald Trump, and Tony Dovolani. With the challenging quickstep as their very first assignment, the duo had a tough row to hoe, but Marla managed quite well (really very well; week one quickstep?!), and she looked incredible to boot.
Carrie Ann called it “fun” and said Marla was “divine” when she dances. Len said it was full of “vim, vigor, and vitality” though he noted “an incident,” but she “did good.” Bruno called her the “uptown bombshell.” Marla and Tony earned a 21, prompting Tony to exclaim “finally!” because he hasn’t seen sevens during week one in a long, long while.
With half of the premiere in the books, Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris and (his Z-Pak, because she makes him better! Aw!) Lindsay Arnold opened hour two with a cha cha to “Motownphilly.” Wanya can move! They looked like they were having a party in the ballroom, and even though Lindsay is fantastic, Wanya was the one in the spotlight the whole time. That’s the sign of a success right there! Someone sound the contender alarm because he was smokin’.
Len quipped “there was more packed into that than Bruno’s make-up bag,” but didn’t like the parts that weren’t strictly cha cha (boo). He predicted that Wanya could make it to the finale. Bruno appreciated “the precision of your timing” and loved his “swagger.” Carrie Ann dubbed him “a total twinkle toes in the making.” Wanya and Lindsay snagged a field-best 23.
Eighth in the running order were “Good Morning America” weather anchor and new mom Ginger Zee and Valentin Chmerkovskiy. The new mom and the season 20 champ had the unenviable task of opening season 22 with the physically taxing jive (really, “DWTS” producers? Really?). Ginger gets major props for donning –and rocking– a little blue fringed number on stage just months after giving birth. Her kicks and flicks could’ve been sharper, but she did well enough.
Bruno noted that she worked well under pressure and called it sharp and precise. Carrie Ann said Ginger reminded her of season 21 champ Bindi Irwin and called her “pure joy.” Len called it “frisky, risky, fast, and furious,” but wanted straighter legs. Ginger and Val scored a 23, tying them with Wanya and Lindsay. Hmm. That’s pretty high. They didn’t get right into the dance –there was “bandying about,” as Len used to call it– but no one said a word about it.
“The O.C.” actress Mischa Barton and Artem Chigvintsev followed with a tango. It was an awkward dance. Mischa looked scared, and she seemed to have trouble maintaining her frame, but it was a reasonable first try. It takes a lot of courage to do “DWTS.”
Carrie Ann assured Mischa that she has respect for her for dancing despite not being a natural. Len’s commentary verged on cruel, as he accused her of just “walking” and not dancing. (Mischa looked like she was going to cry.) Bruno encouraged her to “reach for the gallery” and work on her core to avoid looking “sedated.” Mischa and Artem scored a 16.
The show continued on as the season’s most intriguing contestant, the completely deaf “America’s Next Top Model” winner Nyle DiMarco, took his first spin around the ballroom with partner Peta Murgatroyd, cha cha-style.. First things first: they are sexy! But more importantly, Nyle can dance, and it’s almost impossible to tell that he can’t hear. They are absolutely remarkable.
Len called their cha cha “terrific” and was clearly impressed with Nyle. Bruno declared “shut up, are you for real?” and got up to touch him. He said Nyle could be “America’s next top dancer.” Carrie Ann confessed that she had “so many mixed emotions” and was impressed with how he “brought the rhythm to life.” She called them “a beautiful team to watch.” Nyle and Peta earned a 23, creating a three-way tie for top dog status.
With time waning, the great showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos commenced as the former’s Antonio Brown and Sharna Burgess hit the ballroom with a quickstep. Bam, Antonio is a showman, and he can move. Factor in his million-megawatt smile and a Mirrorball champion could well be made.
Bruno (who, oddly, also noted a “megawatt” quality) said he reminded him of Emmitt Smith, but told him to channel his talent correctly. A very excited Carrie Ann said he was “like a beast” and called him “magic.” She was really, really excited. Len, finally, noted a loss of control, but thought Antonio did a good job given the tough task. Antonio and Sharna earned a 21, which felt a wee bit… low. (A six from Len. Let the head-shaking begin.)
Broncos linebacker and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller closed out both the NFL grudge match as well as the premiere with an unconventional foxrot with Witney Carson. Their “My House” dance was way fun. It was impossible to not smile while he was dancing.
Carrie Ann marveled over how “soft and silky” Von was, given his imposing size. Len appreciated how they did a lot of the dance in hold (given the music), and Bruno called it “a hip hop trot” that was “mighty hot.” He encouraged Von to work on capitalizing on his charisma and presence. Like Antonio and Sharna, Von and Witney earned a 21 (including a six from Len. Again, really Len? Really?)
With the “Dancing with the Stars” 2016 premiere in the rear view, three contestants –Wanya, Ginger, and Nyle– hold a share of the top spot on the judges’ leaderboard and an advantage over the rest of the field. Who will fall victim to the first elimination? Tune in when the show continues on March 28 to find out, and keep up with the official DWTS Twitter page for access to competition extras.