'Dancing With the Stars' premiere recap: Bindi Irwin sets the pace

For The Baltimore Sun
Bindi Irwin goes for the "DWTS" gold on the season premiere.

We're back for a new season of sequins, spray tans and semi-stars.

No former head judge Len Goodman this year, but we will see the return of pros Louis van Amstel and Anna Trebunskaya. Lindsay Arnold, who was a pro for one season a while back, has been promoted from troupe to pro again, presumably after Peta Murgatroyd, who was supposed to compete this season, suffered a leg injury. We'll also be without Kym Johnson and Artem Chigvintsev.

There's a lengthy intro that was shot on Hollywood Boulevard. I'm sure they had fun making it but it's about twice as long as I want opening credits to be.

Victor Espinoza & Karina Smirnoff (Salsa)

Victor's a Triple Crown winning jockey, so that means he's short, right? As he dismounts from a horse next to Karina, it's clear she's taller than him. If the Internet is to be believed, he is 5'2" and she is 5'5". And that's without heels. He also apparently has very little short-term memory, so he's not so great at memorizing choreography. She's got him in an approximation of his jockey duds, with a glitter helmet. It's weird to watch him do pelvic rolls in this get-up. He's not so great, even for Week 1.

Co-host Tom Bergeron says he's wearing his "Commemorative Len Goodman Pocket Square." Judge Julianne Hough is now in the center seat — does that mean she's "head judge" now?

Julianne says, "Good things come in small packages," so that joke's out of the way. Judge Bruno Tonioli wanted to see more salsa basics and better timing. Judge Carrie Ann Inaba calls him a "Latin lover." She says his energy and focused and bright, but there was no salsa content.

As Victor talks to co-host Erin Andrews, he appears to be taller than her. Then they pan out and show the very big (and glitter covered!) box he's standing on.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 5; Julianne: 5; Bruno: 5

Tamar Braxton & Valentin Chmerkovskiy (Quickstep)

Tamar is sister to R&B singer Toni Braxton, and as such was part of the reality show centered on her family (“Braxton Family Values”). She's also co-host on a talk show called "The Real." Val says in his introduction that he no longer cares about hair products. I like his fluffy, curly hair.

Her dress is all sparkle on the top, so I approve already. This feels like one of those routines that, if they make it all the way to the end, is one they'll do again for improved scores. It's good now, and it could get even better.

Bruno calls it high octane and high class, with a ton of content. He also praises her for keeping up with the speed of the choreography. The routine blew Carrie Ann away, especially for Week 1. Julianne says it was smooth and graceful, but gives a small note about Tamar's frame.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 8

One of Tamar's talk show co-hosts has a "1" and a "0" on the palms of her hands, but the way she's holding them up, it's more like "01" than "10." Whoopsie.

Chaka Khan & Keo Motsepe (Cha-cha-cha)

Chaka Khan is the queen of a funk, a multiple Grammy Award winner and every woman. She's a legend. Chaka is glad to see Keo as her partner, calling him "tall, dark and handsome." Keo reveals that he's a prince of a region in Africa. Chaka says they're the "royal couple" of this season and then executes a brilliant Queen of England wave.

They're dancing to Chaka's song, "I Feel for You." I have such a strong memory of hearing this song for the first time on the way to dance classes as a kid.

Oh, Chaka. She forgets a lot of the steps, but she's got joy aplenty. I was feeling old about remembering when the song debuted, and then Carrie Ann says it was her "groove" in high school, so I feel better.

The judges are nice, but basically tell her it wasn't good. Bruno says Chaka being on their stage is like a goddess descending among the mortals. 

Scores: Carrie Ann: 5; Julianne: 4; Bruno: 4.¿Tough, but fair.

Hayes Grier & Emma Slater (Cha-cha-cha) 

Hayes is a "social media phenomenon" which means I'm clueless about the kid. He's only 15! I'm not sure it's legal for him to even touch Emma Slater, much less dance with her. Emma says Hayes dances like a "T-Rex." Emma feels old too, and she's only 26.

They're dancing to one of the songs of this summer, OMI’s "Cheerleader," so it means Emma is in a cheerleader outfit and Hayes in a football jersey. The kid's not bad, but his feet could use some work in terms of placement and precision.

Julianne says the routine's got her really excited because Hayes has a natural ability. She wants him to work on his core strength and connection to Emma. Bruno wants him to work on his focus. Carrie Ann says, "If I was only 30 years younger … I'd still be too old for you." Carrie Ann likes his stage persona, but repeats what Julianne said about keeping his eyes open. 

Hayes' older brother Nash shows up backstage and he's wearing white jeans so tight, you could measure the phone in his pocket.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 7

Andy Grammer & Allison Holker (Foxtrot)

A singer, Andy is responsible for one of the other big songs of the summer, "Honey, I'm Good," which Derek and Nastia Liukin performed to last season. (Andy even appeared to sing it live.)

I feel bad Len isn't here for this routine because it seems like one he'd love, with Andy all kitted out in mid-century formal wear and hair.

Bruno says he did pretty well, dashing and confident on the dance floor. He wants Andy to work on his foot placement and not overemphasizing the rise and fall. Carrie Ann thinks Andy was a bit nervous and that may have affected his connection with Allison. Julianne thinks their connection was fine, but Andy needs to not hunch his shoulders so much.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 7

Paula Deen & Louis van Amstel (Quickstep)

Paula — chef, cookbook author and television personality — immediately hugs Louis to her bosom upon meeting him. She calls it a bosom herself. I keep looking at her trying to decide if she's had a lavender rinse done to her hair. Louis says Paula gets distracted easily. Oh, Louis. 

This dress makes her look like a madam in Lawrence Welk's house of ill repute. The long, full skirt with feather trim on the bottom also has the advantage of hiding most footwork flaws, so that's cunning. 

After the performance, Paula makes a crass bodily function joke and no one quite knows what to do with it. Carrie Ann says she didn't quite get her feet under her, so it looked like Louis was dragging her. Julianne says it looked like Paula was hanging on to Louis for dear life. Paula admits she was. Bruno compares her to a barnacle and says if she'd held on to Louis any tighter she'd have broken him. DON'T BREAK LOUIS! He's a treasure. 

Erin picks up Paula's joke and tries to run with it. Ill-advised, Erin. When someone plops a turd in the punch bowl, you don't highlight it — you quietly throw out the whole thing when no one's looking.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 5; Julianne: 5; Bruno: 5 

Carlos PenaVega & Witney Carson (Jive) 

Carlos was in the boy-band Big Time Rush and is married to fellow contestant Alexa PenaVega. Carlos and Mark both have the same haircut (long on top, pulled back into a tiny ponytail at the crown). It looks good on neither of them.

Carlos apparently looked to Mark for shoe advice too, as he is wearing red spats to go with his red suit. Of all the things you could do to win me over, emulating Mark Ballas is low on the list. 

Julianne says Carlos is the most natural performer they've seen all night. She thinks he needs to let out more of his inner joy. Bruno wishes he'd pointed his feet more in the flicks and kicks required of the jive. Carrie Ann thought it was fabulous.

(They're holding off on the scores until after Alexa dances so the husband and wife will get their results together. I'm going to put the score here with their summary, for the sake of consistency.)

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Julianne: 8; Bruno: 7 

Alexa PenaVega & Mark Ballas (Jive)

Alexa is an actress best known for being in the “Spy Kids” franchise. I wonder if they'll have the married couple perform the same dance style each week. 

As if to rebuke me personally, Mark is not wearing spats for this routine. Dumb hair still in play, though. Their routine is fun, with good energy.

Bruno liked her kicks and flicks. Carrie Ann wasn't sure what was going on with Alexa's arms when they weren't in hold. Julianne praises the choreography, particularly its tough jive content. She wants Alexa to work on her connection with Mark a little bit, though.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 8 

Kim Zolciak-Biermann & Tony Dovolani (Salsa)

Kim is a reality TV show personality from "Real Housewives of Atlanta." She's also a "football wife" (married to Atlanta Falcon Kroy Biermann) and a mother of six. Poor Tony. Someday, maybe, they'll give him someone young instead of always sticking him with the "women of a certain age."

Kim says her biggest challenge is going to be letting go and putting herself out there. Even she acknowledges the irony of that coming from a reality TV star. 

Their costuming is some sort of Egyptian thing, with Tony barefoot and wearing a giant gold color. And not that I'd kick him out of bed, but Tony's torso is not flattered by the high-waisted pants and belt. That was a very slow salsa with little to no salsa content. 

The judges are doing their best. Carrie Ann cheers weakly, "You did it!" Bruno tells her she has to perform it, not just do it.

I love that Erin updates Kim on the “Monday Night Football” score, since husband Kroy's teams is playing in it. (Atlanta ended up winning.) 

Scores: Carrie Ann: 4; Julianne: 4; Bruno: 4

Bindi Irwin & Derek Hough (Jive)

Bindi is daughter of Australian zookeeper, conservationist and TV host Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin, who died when Bindi was only 8. She's followed in her dad's footsteps and seems like a sweet, grounded kid. That being said, she's showing a little more cleavage than I would have been allowed to display when I was 17.

Julianne calls it the best performance of the night. Bruno says it was clean and precise and enjoys Bindi's charm. She is just a ray of happy sunshine.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Julianne: 8; Bruno: 8

Gary Busey & Anna Trebunskaya (Cha-cha-cha) 

Gary Busey is an actor known primarily for his work in movies and mug shots. At 71, he's also the oldest contestant this season. I love that he's paired with Anna, because I think she's just the right amount of feisty and fun to handle him.

Anna is wearing a sparkly aqua jumpsuit with feathers at the shoulder. It's ridiculous and I love it. Gary's jacket matches her jumpsuit. I'm also pretty sure Val stole all of Gary's hair products because his hair is wild and unkempt. 

Gary tells Tom he "danced in a cosmos of riddles." I have no idea with that means. I'm not sure Tom does either. Then Gary tells Tom that his (Tom's) left eye is spinning.

Carrie Ann welcomes Anna back and tells Gary he's in good hands with Anna. He doesn't hear her and she repeats herself like you would to your deaf old aunt in the nursing home. Julianne says it may not have been a great cha-cha but it was entertaining.

Gary makes his way back to the red room so slowly that Erin has to vamp, narrating his walk toward her. The girl's a pro; Brooke-Bot (a.k.a. former co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet) would never have been able to deal with that sort of thing. Gary tells us "fun" stands for "Finding Understanding Nothing." Then he says this was his mom's favorite show, and even though she's been gone for years, this dance was for her.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 5; Julianne: 5; Bruno: 5

Alek Skarlatos & Lindsay Arnold (Foxtrot)

Alex introduces himself by saying, "You probably have no idea who I am." Then we see news clips about him and his fellow off-duty soldiers thwarting a terrorist attack on a train bound through France. He then quietly says, "I've never danced." He seems sweet. Pro-partner Lindsay is impressed by how quickly he picks up the choreography. 

He's smiling through the whole routine and seems to be really enjoying himself. Good for you, kid. You're an actual hero and now you get to dance with a pretty lady on national TV. Nice to see you having fun with it. 

Carrie Ann calls him a good student and praises his performance. Julianne says she's really happy for him and could tell that he was having a blast on the dance floor. She also compliments Lindsay on her choreography. Bruno says he was "born for the ballroom" and is light on his feet.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 7

Nick Carter & Sharna Burgess (Cha-cha-cha)

"Yes, I'm still in a boy-band," says Backstreet Boys member Nick. Sharna admits that when she was 13, Nick Carter was in the posters on her bedroom walls. She's clearly a bit overcome with fan worship. 

His blue suit has clear spangles sewn on it and it makes me happy. I was more of an ‘N Sync (or really, New Kids on the Block) girl but I'm beginning to see the appeal of BSB here. Nick's smooth, with tons of charisma. 

Julianne admits Nick was on her bedroom walls, too. Julianne praises his mastery of Karina's tough choreography. Bruno predicts now that Nick will be in the finals. Carrie Ann says he seemed nervous at the start, but then he snapped to it and was great. 

Apparently, Nick popped the button of his trousers near the beginning of the routine and jokes that he needs to lose some weight.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Julianne: 8; Bruno: 8 

Scoreboard

Bindi & Derek: 24

Nick & Sharna: 24

Carlos & Witney: 23

Tamar & Val: 23

Alek & Lindsay: 22

Alexa & Mark: 22

Hayes & Emma: 21

Andy & Allison: 21

Victor & Karina: 15

Paula & Louis: 15

Gary & Anna: 15

Chaka & Keo: 13

Kim & Tony: 12

That's a lot of cannon fodder near the bottom of the scoreboard. A double elimination next week will be a very good thing. My money is on the housewife and the jockey go first.

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