Premiere of Paula Abdul’s ‘Live to Dance’ Scores Big in the Ratings

Paula Abdul and fellow "Live to Dance"judge Travis Payne on the premiere episode.  (CBS)

Paula Abdul and fellow "Live to Dance"judge Travis Payne on the premiere episode. (CBS)

UPDATED: Paula Abdul should be dancing with joy. The two-hour debut of her new competition show “Live to Dance” was the second highest-rated show in prime-time Tuesday night, according to Nielsen overnights. “Live to Dance” averaged 10.226 million viewers from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. (7-9c), second only to “NCIS,” which drew 10.234 million viewers at 10/9c. Thanks to both shows, CBS won the night.

PREVIOUSLY: On her previous show, Paula Abdul was the warm and fuzzy judge, and not surprisingly the former pop star brought those same qualities to her new competition series on CBS, “Live to Dance.” What was surprising? After the first seven minutes, I turned to my TV-watching buddy and said, “Okay, I’m in.”

I didn’t expect it. But I was won over by the first contestant, nine-year-old Jalen from Seattle, who kicked off the show with an a-maz-ing b-boy hip-hop routine to the Black Eyed Peas’ latest hit, “Dirty Bitch.” It got the studio audience – and the most cynical viewers at home (hey, call me a sap, I don’t care) – up on their feet. The judges were also entertained. They must’ve been saying to themselves, “We might have a hit.”

Using the kid to open was good TV. He was cute, his father cried, and he deservedly advanced to the next round, the experts’ “short list,” and his shot at the $500,000 grand prize – and he allowed Abdul to deliver a mission statement. “You are an amazing bright light to this show and that is exactly what this show is about,” she said.

Abdul – the show’s head judge, executive producer, creative partner, mentor and coach – added that she wanted to grab the little kid’s face and squeeze it. I couldn’t have been the only one to recall the bizarre moment on “American Idol” when she gazed adoringly at David Archuleta following a performance and said, “I wanted to squish you, squeeze your head off, and dangle you from my rear-view mirror.”

Again, it was good TV.

Those looking for memorable stumbles from Abdul saw her come close by telling 11-year-old Kendall Glover that she is a “young talent that is going to emerge into the Heaven’s above of greatness.” That near-miss aside, she was poised, polished, and on point. But wait, we’ve got more. This audition round was taped and carefully edited, as are future episodes till the show goes live in later rounds.

If that format sounds awfully familiar, it’s no accident. ‘Live to Dance’ has the look, feel, and sound of ‘American Idol,’ from the pacing, production values, and overall structure to host Andrew Gunsberg’s Ryan Seacrest-like audition interviews to the clips of thousands of screaming hopefuls from audition city to audition city. Oh yes, and the montage of bad auditions.

It also feels a little like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “America’s Got Talent,” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

But so what. It worked.

I liked that the audience was encouraged to chant “Change Your Mind” at the judges if they nix a contestant with two or more red stars. And, guess what? The panel of experts are not only are allowed to change their vote at will, but they actually did it. This can add a fun element to the hotly contested later rounds, I think.

As expected, the two-hour series premiere was a Whitman sampler of dancers and dance styles and age groups, including Bev and Hap, a cute married couple ages 83 and 68, a trio of former ‘Solid Gold dancers,’ a soccer mom, teens in love, and a 32-year-old flight attendant who imitated Abdul on her hit ‘Forever Your Girl’ Of course, she got fame while he got the boot.

Overall, it was a fun two hours of television that appeared to have all the right moves.

Who: Any age. Any dance style. Any type of group (solo, pairs, or crews).
What: It’s a competition dance show to find America’s best new dance act. Acts perform live in hopes of getting two or more gold stars to move onto the next round. Two or more red stars, means it’s a no-go. 18 acts will compete in the semi-finals.
Where: The premiere episode showed auditions in Los Angeles and New York.
Judges: They’re called experts, not judges, and they are Paula Abdul, Pussycat Doll Kymberly Wyatt and choreographer Travis Payne, who’s worked with Michael Jackson and countless others.
Why: For contestants, it’s a chance to win $500,000. For Abdul, the stakes are even bigger.

What did you think of ‘Live to Dance?’ Hit the comments below.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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