'Dancing With the Stars' kicks off with Baltimore's Mario

Well, here we are, back for the premiere of yet another season of Dancing With the Stars.

It's an interesting cast this year, and locally, of course, we're most excited about the presence of R&B star Mario among the contestants.


First up, the pros come out and put on a show to "Let Me Entertain You."

Then we're introduced to the stars, after which we learn that then men perform tonight, the women tomorrow and there's no elimination this week. Well, whew, because I was afraid for a minute that this was going to be on three times this week!

The first out on the floor aremagician Penn Jillette and Kym Johnson. In an interview, Penn says he isn't the youngest or most athletic, but he has the most stage experience, which he hopes will help. They seem to be having fun during preparations, and here's hoping that sense of fun comes with them during their performance. They start the cha-cha-cha with the longest feather boa I have ever seen. And it's true, he is super-comfortable on stage and performing the heck out of the dance, but it kind of feels more like a comedy show than a dance show. Still, it is entertaining. Judge Len Goodman says Penn captured "the flavor" of the cha-cha-cha, but, "the problem is your feet." Still, he closes, "well done." Bruno Tonioli says, "It was like watching a trailer for Shrek Goes Cha-Cha-Cha." Carrie Ann Inaba says he has great attitude but needs to work on the footwork. Scores: 5-6-5, for a 16/30. (Host Samantha Harris makes comments including the words "magical" and "do the trick," and I wonder if she really wants to use all her best lines in the first 25 minutes!)

NFL star Jason Taylor is partners with Edyta Sliwinska, and he says he signed up for the challenge. He interviews (and he tells Edyta) that he's concerned about having to go back to work in the NFL and so he doesn't want to lose his macho side. Their first dance is the foxtrot, and it's smooth and upbeat. For all his talk, Jason seems to handle the dancing pretty darned well. Len: "You are a good-looking guy. ... It's like looking in a mirror. ... You've got great posture, you moved across the floor well, you're elegant. ... The acting side is what you need." Carrie Ann says she expected he would be a little rough on the first dance, but he wasn't. Bruno says he's the most graceful tackler he's ever seen, but he adds that he needs a little more "drive." Scores: 7-8-7, for a 22/30.

Cristian de la Fuente and Cheryl Burke are partners this season. Cristian interviews that he is under a lot of pressure as a Latino because people expect him to be a good dancer, even though his country is Chile, which is known for sea bass and wine. They dance the cha-cha-cha, and Cristian seems to have overcome his problem with being "robotic," as Cheryl put it. Carrie Ann says he is well-suited to the cha-cha and that they have chemistry, but he needs to work on his shoulder. Bruno says he looked like he was riding a bike, he was so hunched over. Len says his hips down were great, but his shoulders and arms were a problem. Scores: 7-7-7, for a 21/30.

Adam Carolla is partners with Julianne Hough. Adam says he signed up because it sounded humiliating, so he thought he should do it. For their first dance, they perform the foxtrot. He puts in a good effort, but you can tell this is not natural for him at all. But you can also tell that he's been working hard. Bruno compares it to "Will Ferrell with a bit of John Cleese thrown in. ... There is work to be done. ... Plenty." Len says Julianne has her work cut out for her, but his footwork was good. Carrie Ann says he had moments that were good and other moments that were ... not. Scores: 5-5-5, for a 15/30.

Baltimore's Mario is the youngest person in the competition at 21. He is partnered with Karina Smirnoff. During their preparations, Karina had to get surgery for a herniated disc in her neck, but she seems to have recovered before the live part of the season began. They are dancing the cha-cha-cha. There is no doubt that his concert experience helps him out because Mario can move, and he and Karina have amazing chemistry. Carrie Ann: "Dannnnnnnng! Wowwwww! Dang, you can dance. ... Ladies, this is the standard you have to watch out for." Len: "It was rhythmic, you had great hip action," but he tells him to work on his footwork. Bruno says he is a great dancer and a great performer. Samantha asks him about his dance experience, and he says he has no formal dance training, "just choreography" (I assume he means in concerts and videos). Scores: 8-8-8, for a 24/30.

Steve Guttenberg is partners with Anna Trebunskaya this season. They praise each other's skills as a student and a teacher, and Steve says he's getting the dance in his head, he just needs to get his body to follow. They dance the foxtrot, and it's decent -- he's definintely using his acting skills to sell it, but his body seems to have picked up some of the steps he was worried about. Bruno says he put his heart and soul into it even though it started out like the "Billy Ray school of dance." Carrie Ann says there is something very adorable about Steve and that she likes his charm. She does tell him to watch his musicality. Len says he is the first one to come out and look like he was enjoying himself, but he needs to work on his technique. Scores: 6-6-6, for an 18/30.

Everyone gets another chance to dance before anyone gets sent home next week, but who do you think is in danger? I'm thinking Adam Carolla, although his radio fan base might prove me wrong.

Tomorrow, the women. Who are you looking forward to seeing?