Powerful Start for ‘DWTS’ Season 17

"DWTS": Derek Hough and Amber Riley (Photo: ABC)

Dancing with the Stars” began season 17 with a little bit of poignancy for me, as the ABC classic has been downsized to just one night a week. Hate to start with a downer, people, but we would have to see how the show would deal with ch-ch-changes this season. Anyway, at least we had cancer stricken Valerie Harper’s incredibly gutsy story this season. And I heard Bill Nye the Science Guycould be a sleeper hit; would he be as fun to watch as Andy Dick?

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At any rate, there would be no eliminations on week one, so everyone would get a fair chance to dance twice.

The show started with a rather bizarre opening number taking place in the parking lot of the studio as all the stars and their partners got out of their limos and then cavorted on a red carpet. Even the judges got into the act and started boogieing, which made us all laugh backstage.

Brad Daugherty and Peta Murgatroyd: Cha cha
The Pretty Little Liars star amazed me with his smooth moves and it was a very good start to season 17! It was an energetic routine with Brad following Peta’s every move. He looked like he could go far and certainly be pleasing to the teen girls ABC hopes will watch the show. Judge Len Goodman said it was fabulous. Bruno Tonioli praised it as sizzling and very hot but said Brad had lost timing. Carrie Ann Inaba said he has big potential and was fun to watch. They got one 8, great for the first night.
Score: 22

Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani: Foxtrot
The Scientology refugee is out of the frying pan and into the fire, learning to dance instead of audit. Ha. Dancing to an Amy Winehouse song, Leah was trussed up in an outfit that was distracting me, as all I could look at was her boobs busting out of the dress. Okay, so a little stiff, but Leah made up for it with attitude and her friend Jennifer Lopez was cheering her on in the audience with boytoy Casper by her side. Wow, that was some star wattage for “DWTS.” Bruno asked if she’d ever done it before, it was that good. Bruno said she went Miley Cyrus for a moment. Huh? “Sass and class,” Carrie Ann concluded. She wanted more arm extension, though. Len praised it as clean and precise.
Score: 21

Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff: Contemporary
The High School musical star and his partner gyrated so beautifully that right away, someone backstage said he had an unfair advantage. He lifted Karina like he was meant to do this all his life. There was applause in the press room and we all thought he deserved 10s already. Karina told host Tom Bergeron her hands were shaking afterwards. Carrie Ann gave her woo shout and said it was great choreography. “This is week one?” Len said, startled. Bruno said Corbin was strong, powerful, and athletic.
Score: 24

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Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke: Foxtrot
Oooh, another cool star sighting –this time of Jack’s parents Ozzy and Sharon in the audience. Highlight of the rehearsal footage showed Jack discussing his major health issues, which involve MS. But he also has a lot to live up to, as his sister Kelly did so well once upon a time on DWTS. Hi foxtrot with Cheryl started very bouncy, and when they went into hold he didn’t seem to be connecting with Cheryl as well as he could. But then, suddenly, he relaxed and smiled at her and it was clear sailing! Jack was a decent lead and overall, a very cute routine and even Jennifer Lopez liked it. Everyone clapped backstage at Jack’s poise. Sharon Osbourne was sobbing in the audience. Len said, “You can dance!” He praised the posture and footwork while Bruno called it joyful and uplifting and Carrie Ann loved it, too. The first breakout star of the season?
Score: 23

Amber Riley and Derek Hough: Cha Cha
The “Glee” star is known for her singing, but I was sure she’d have rhythm. And you can never count out four-time mirror ball winner Derek! The number started with Amber showing some attitude on his own and then Derek joined her for some fabulous aggressive and sexy moves. Everyone backstage was going nuts at her styling and self-assurance. Again, applause in the press room. Totally fierce! Bruno beckoned Amber and called her the tigress of season 17. Carrie Ann was so happy with the routine that she went into some of her crazy gyrations and didn’t make much sense. Len said he was flatulating; yeech. But he meant it was excellent and the scores reflected that. Three nines on week one. That was a first for “DWTS.” Oh, gosh—people were going to accuse golden boy Derek of getting the best partner. Again.
Score: 27

Elizabeth Berkley and Val Chmerkovskiy: Contemporary
Here was one people were accusing of being a ringer After all, Elizabeth was the “Showgirls” star back in the ’90s. In fact, there was some snickering in the press room when she mentioned “Showgirls.” Hey, it’s a camp classic! I wasn’t too fond of contemporary as I felt it was too soon on week one to say anything goes. But Elizabeth and Val delivered a lyrical routine to John Lennon’s Imagine. She threw herself into Val’s arms with wild abandon, yet was always in control, too. To me, it was almost as skilled as Kellie PIckler’s winning freestyle last season. Carrie Ann called her an angel as Elizabeth cried. Len said, “It was lovely to watch.” Brunco called it a great piece of dancing. She received three 8s; I thought it should have been 9s.
Score: 24

Bill Nye and Tyne Stecklein: Cha cha
Oh, oh, we had a new blonde pro on the scene. Bill admitted he already knew how to swing dance, which was refreshing on a show in which everyone claims they don’t know nothin’ about dancing. Okay, so this one had a lot of wacky beekers and other props that reflected a Weird Science theme. My fellow press members thought it was a funny routine and to me, his footwork looked reasonably good although his posture was the pits. “Awwww” was the reaction behind the scenes. Bill had his own chanting section in the audience. Len said it was painfully bad and the crowd booed. Bruno was also shaking his head and said it just didn’t gel. According to Carrie Ann, he’s the kind of contestant that makes “DWTS” what it is. How true! Len gave him a 4. Yikes. It really wasn’t that bad.
Score: 14

Keyshawn Johnson and Sharna Burgess: Cha cha
Keyshawn hasn’t played football in awhile, but he was limber and focused, although not as graceful as some of the others we’d seen already. I was going to go out on a limb and say we wouldn’t have a football player win the show this season. I thought he was too physically large to do this—just being honest. Bruno said it was very hard because he was big and he lost the timing. Carrie Ann said the beginning was a little stiff but she liked it overall. Then Len said he has to work on the technique. The comments were kind, but the score wasn’t. Hmm.
Score: 17

Christina Milian and Mark Ballas: Contemporary
The former “The Voice” correspondent was on another reality show – and gushing about J.Lo being in the house! Christina’s dance with Mark in the “DWTS” fog machine had a coldness to it I really didn’t want to see on week one. How could someone judge this next to a structured cha cha? It just didn’t seem appropriate to me although reporters applauded at Christina flopping around on the floor in the dark. We were being generous tonight. Carrie Ann said the first half of the routine, she was inexplicably looking down. Len said it was a little wild while Bruno said there was so much drama and gave a mixed review.
Score: 22

Bill Engvall and Emma Slater: Foxtrot
Bill was teamed with a former troupe member making her “DWTS” debut, which wouldn’t give the blue collar comedian much of a voting head star. The tune was Hot Stuff and, shocker, Bill, at 56, moved incredibly well. He had some grace and rhythm which I didn’t expect and I liked his connection to Emma. The funnyman seemed to really take things seriously, concentrating on leading and stirring Emma instead of showing off. Len said he remembered the routine although it needed more fluidity. According to Bruno, he saw a hint of elegance in Bill’s approach; well said! Carrie Ann was happily surprised but wanted Bill to smooth things out for week 2.
Score: 18

Valerie Harper and Tristan MacManus: Foxtrot
The 74-year-old had been told she had three months to live. The sitcom legend has cancer and is the first terminally ill person to do “DWTS.” Apparently she used to dance when she was a teenager. Clad in a bright blue ball gown, Valerie twirled like she was 16, not 74. Wearing a big smile and obviously enjoying herself, Val did an amazing job and ended it sweetly in Tristan’s arms. Tristan gave her a chance to do a solo curtain call and it was hard not to get teary eyed. “It’s good to be alive and it’s even better to be dancing,” Valerie said. How could anyone “judge” this? Bruno said she was radiant and stylish but she needed better frame. Carrie Ann was emotional and thanked her for being on the show and setting an example for people. Len said she had lovely flow and gushed, “Beautifully done.” Valerie got a generous score—and won our hearts.
Score: 21

Snooki and Sasha Farber: Cha cha
Okay, so her real name is Snooki but her real name is Nicole Polizzi. Sasha had been seen around these parts before but was making his real “DWTS” debut tonight. Lots of new faces, and I don’t like change. Oh, well. Snooki looked very thin, so different from her “Jersey Shore” partying days. She wanted to show she wasn’t a hot mess. The dance started with both dressed in black and him spinning her around the floor and then stripping her down to a sparkly pink dress. Although Snooki looked at her feet once, she seemed to have the right attitude for this and kept up with the fast choreography. Overall, not bad, though there was a tepid reaction in the press room. “I was really impressed,” Carrie Ann said. “You just went for it.” Len called her a little pocket rocket, which raised eyebrows, but we knew what he meant. The cranky judge loved her footwork. The other guy, Bruno, said Snooki’s legs were well place and tried to explain what he meant. Anyway, it was a triumph for the 4’8″ former party girl. Carrie Ann raised the wrong paddle, but Snookums got a solid score.

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

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