Dancing With the Stars, Season 18, Week 1

So we’re back in the ballroom, with a few more changes made: there’s a new band and singers, so at least not all the music will be recorded after all, but they play different music, and the show doesn’t feel the same.  On the other hand, the judges have been moved back to their old spot, there is once again a skybox for the couples to retreat to.  Also there are pretty new scoring graphics, and Erin Andrews gives old partner Maks a shoutout.  No red carpet this time: we open simply with Jason DeRulo doing his new single, briefly getting a pro partner of his own.  Then the dancing begins:

Nene Leakes & Tony Dovolani: Cha Cha Cha to “Give it to You” by Robin Thicke.  Nene in her fluff piece establishes herself as a woman with “personality”: she says she wants to bring it to the dance floor and he says she has enough of it for the both of them.  She does indeed have it, as she shows from the start of the dance, when she has a few moments to herself before Tony joins her.  It makes her far better to watch than Lisa Vanderpump already, although once they really start cha cha chaing her technical deficiencies are still noticeable.  The judges have praise for her personality, kind critiques for her technique, and straight 7s for 21.

James Maslow & Peta Murgatroyd: Foxtrot to “Story of My Life” by One Direction.  Their meeting is hyped before the fluff, where we learn that they actually have a little bit of history: they went out for dinner once and then he never called.  But now they’re “keeping things professional,” he says.  Still, there’s a feeling of romance and chemistry about their foxtrot, or maybe that was just the ambient lighting.  The judges have a very similar reaction as they did to Nene & Tony: like what he projected, had a few comments about technical improvements, and straight 7s for 21.

Danica McKellar & Val Chmerskovskiy: Foxtrot to “Walk Away” by Kelly Clarkson.  In contrast to the awkward meeting of Peta & James, Danica & Val’s fluff has her gushing about how big a fan she is of his.  But in the dance she shows she really is a good actress, appearing aloofs and snappish, and completely confident of herself in the dance; it’s all she needs to take the spotlight even from Val, not easy to do.  Combined it with running forward to peck Bruno at the end, and the judges are very impressed: they do have some things to say about fixing her shoulders but she gets straight 8s for 24.

Sean Avery & Karina Smirnoff: Contemporary to “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane.  They start out by showing his infamous “sloppy seconds” clip, and he shows himself to be such a combination of douche voice and deadpan snark that eventually you have to give in and crack up.  He also claims contemporary is nothing like hockey, but it does allow him to put his power and athletic skills to good use.  Even so it kind of feels like Karina’s getting the spotlight in this routine, more than she should.  The judges speak of the good points but think it needed fine-tuning. Carrie-Anne even saying she’s fascinated by him, but she and Bruno still only give them 7s and Len only gives a 6, producing a total of 20.

Billy Dee Williams & Emma Slater: Cha Cha Cha to Mecco’s Star Wars Medley.  In this fluff it’s the pro’s turn to go crazy on meeting her partner, and we also learn his medical history of arthritis in his back and two hip surgeries.  Then ABC gets their chance to show off their parent company now owning the Star Wars rights, with Artoo appearing at the beginning of the dance, stormtroopers playing a role in it, and two Ewoks appearing in the audience in the end.  But I don’t know if he has a crisis in confidence or if he’s just too old and injured, but his dancing is very hesitant and week; it feels like the stormtroopers move better than he does!  Bruno hits a good simile: He was moving like 3CPO when he should’ve been moving like Vader.  It results in straight 5s for 15.

Meryl Davis & Maksim Chmerskovskiy:  Cha Cha Cha to “All Night” by Icona Pop.  The fluff addresses both that she and Charlie are not a couple off ice(which makes Maks happy) and that she and Charlie have gotten choreography from Derek in the past(which Maks decides it actually a bonus).  The routine starts with her and Charlie waving their podium flowers until Maks runs off with her, and from there, just like we expect, she nails it technically in a way that’s been lacking so far tonight, and the performance ain’t bad either.  The judges speak highly of it, though Bruno manages somehow to find a tiny criticism to make, Charlie is prompted by Erin to also praise them, saying Maks “handled her well,” and it’s actually kind of surprising when the scores are only 8s for 24.

Candace Cameron Bure & Mark Ballas: Contemporary to “Burn” by Ellie Golding.  Like Danica she squees over Mark, but after introducing her to his family warns him she won’t be his “sexy girl.”  For the contemporary, at least, she doesn’t have to be: they instead use emotion, weird yellow things, theater in the round setup, smoke, and brilliant choreography well-executed to create a great image and moment.  The judges are very impressed, with Carrie-Ann even saying she wants to see it again, and she gives them a 9, while Len and Bruno give them 8s for 25 total.  Meanwhile, they continue the build-up of a Candace-Danica rivalry they’ve already been pumping, showing a clip where Candace reveals a boyfriend once dumped her because he was interest in Danica, which Danica claims ignorance of.  Hey, why not say they both were great tonight?

Cody Simpson & Witney Carson: Cha Cha Cha to “Timber” by Pitbull & Kesha.  The fluff, after first establishing he has a girlfriend, then allows him to nonetheless find Witney’s hips distracting.  Which perhaps makes sense, with his being a teenage boy, expect that when it comes time to dance, it almost seems like his hips are by far the more hypnotizing ones.  In fact, while watching him and Witney blaze through their routine and stun on the dance floor, you almost regret that she seems to be doing just a little bit more dancing than him, but then it seems for the better when the judges weigh in, and while Bruno calls them “the poster couple for the energy of youth” and the other two agree, they’ve got things to point out technically, especially on his footwork.  It keeps Carrie-Ann and Len’s scores down to 7, though Bruno gives them an 8 for 22.

Drew Carey & Cheryl Burke: Cha Cha Cha to “Money(That’s What I Want).” After a fluff where he calls himself “America’s Sweetheart” but admits he might not be the strongest dancer and she suggests the hashtag of #oldmanproblems, they do their routine on top of a projection of a Monopoly Board with him in an appropriate suit and selling the personality, while she goes ahead and does slightly more content than him, though his part doesn’t entirely lack it.  He’s uncertain enough that when the judges mostly praise the entertainment before gives him straight 7s I though they were being a little generous quite frankly, though the audience in the ballroom certainly disagreed.

Amy Purdy & Derek Hough: Cha Cha Cha to “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic.  The story of a double amputee trying to ballroom dance on legs she’s quick to note she doesn’t have the same kind of feel for that people have for their natural limbs is impressive enough, but the fluff also notes how she lost her legs to an illness she apparently was given a 2% chance of surviving, and, crazily, she and Derek practiced in Sochi while she also competed in the Paralympics!  She is sure to note she literally just got off the plane back and is jetlagged too.  Not that any of this was all that apparent when they danced: she and her artificial legs seemed to have no problem at all.  The judges are truly amazed, with Carrie-Ann even tearing up, and they break out another set of straight 8s.

Diana Nyad & Henry Byalikov: Foxtrot to “Beyond the Sea.”  Har har.  The fluff shows her successful arrival in Florida earlier in the year, which is nice to see, but from the practice onward she’s clearly struggling, with Henry calling her a “fish out of water” and her talking about what a terrible thing high heels really are(I concur, but that’s another story).  It shows in the dance, and the judges only give her straight 6s, for 18.

Charlie White & Sharna Burgess: Contemporary to “Let Her Go” by Passenger.  The fluff piece continues to attempts to argue that Meryl and Charlie’s advantage is quite that absurd over everyone else by showing Charlie having to work on his hip action.  On the other hand, like Mark, Sharna choreographs an intimate routine “in the round,” and contemporary really plays to the strength of modern ice dance, since it’s largely what they do during free dances these days, except not on the ice.  And perhaps for this one there’s just a little bit more emotional impact and Meryl didn’t quite manage this week, but in the first matchup between those regularly partners he wins it, getting straight 9s for 27 and also getting the highest score for the first week.

Announcement on “Good Morning America” by Derek & Julianne tomorrow.  Not looking forward to dealing with whatever they want to throw at us next…

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