The ninth season of Dancing With the Stars starts with a bang tonight, with the eight male pros hitting the stage for a group dance to "The Boys are Back in Town." It's good fun, a great start to the season, but I can't help but think that the non-professional males who have to perform in a few minutes are worried they are going to pale in comparison.
Aaron Carter is up first. He had his first hit single when he was 8, and then they cut to make-me-feel-old footage of him at the Grammys in 1999 as a little kid in a yellow suit mugging for the cameras. He's partnered with Karina Smirnoff. Their first dance tonight is the cha cha. In their practice footage, he looks really awkward, but in the performance, especially for the first of the season, he's mostly got it together (lace shirt notwithstanding). He drops Karina a little in their last move. Head judge Len Goodman says it wasn't exactly first class, but it was full of potential. Bruno Tonioli says he is sharp and edgy and he needs to control his energy a little bit. (Host Tom Goodman points out, that's a little like the pot calling the kettle black.) Carrie Ann Inaba says his feet were a little funky, but they were entertaining. Scores: 7-8-7, for a 22/30
Chuck Liddell is paired with Anna Trebunskaya. He interviews that people think fighters are Neanderthals, and he wants to show his softer side. Their first dance is the foxtrot. He is trying so hard, but for a lot of it, his upper body looks so stiff, as does his face. You can see him thinking hard about each next step, though really, who can blame him? I know I would be doing the same thing if I were in that situation. But since he's not a performer by nature, it's hard to cover those nerves, I think. Bruno says it was very rough -- and that they know it. Carrie Ann says he isn't graceful yet, but he was smooth and charming. But yes, fix that footwork. Len says it was better than he thought it was going to be, though it was a little aggressive. He tells Chuck to get in touch with his feminine side, but Anna doesn't look like she thinks that's going to happen any time soon. Score: 6-5-5, for a 16/30.
Mark Dacascos (aka The Chairman on Iron Chef America) is paired with Lacey Schwimmer. He plans to use some of his martial-arts background to feel more comfortable on the dance floor. They dance the cha cha first. They dance to "Kung Fu Fighting," and I can't help but crack up because while I'm watching this, my husband is at prep class for his tae kwon do black-belt test, and I keep imagining if his class suddenly broke into this weird, funky cha cha. (I guess you might have to be me for that to be funny, but I had to share.) His dancing seemed good at some points and kind of odd at others, but I couldn't tell if it was just weird choreography or he was off or what. So let's wait for the real judges. Carrie Ann says he has a lot of potential, agility, flexibility and coordination, but his arms were a little ... I think she was "wu-chu." Len says he isn't a fan of gimmicks, and that it worked pretty well in this particular dance, but he should back off the kung fu in future dances. Bruno says he thought it was going to be like the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics at first, but that it wasn't as much of a treat as he originally thought. But again, potential. Scores: 7-7-7, for a 21/30.
Ashley Hamilton (son of George) is dancing with Edyta Sliwinska, who was also his father's partner. They take on the foxtrot for their first dance. They are decent, but there are definitely stretches where they have pro-dances-literal-circles-around-partner syndrome. (I think we need a pithier name for that because it's definitely going to come up again. We'll call it PDLCAPS for now.) Len says all his basic footwork was "correct," but it was overall in need of finesse. Bruno says he good looks and charm but "total lack of showmanship. It was dead. ... Your Daddy knows how to sell it." Carrie Ann says they look stunning, but with this many people, you have to define yourself, and they haven't done that yet. Scores: 5-6-4, for a 15/30. Yow, a FOUR!
Donny Osmond is partnered with Kym Johnson, and oh yeah, his sister Marie, came in third a couple of seasons back. They foxtrot to "All That Jazz." Lest there be any doubt, this guy knows about showmanship! They are pretty amazing, especially for a first show. Bruno says he played the audience like a master fiddler, but yes, his hold and his shoulders were a problem. Carrie Ann says he is going to be tough to beat performance-wise, but he needs to work on the technique. Len would like to see him tamp down the theatrics and razzmatazz. (I love that "razzmatazz" is in the spell-check dictionary; I don't know why.) Scores: 7-6-7, for a 20/30.
Louie Vito is a snowboarder who has never danced or even watched one episode of Dancing With the Stars. So what is he doing here then? He looks rather hopeless in practice, but on stage, he looks like he is having a good time, with a big, goofy grin on his face while he experiences a case of PDLCAPS. Carrie Ann says she's surprised and that she can tell that he hasn't danced before, but he gave it a really honest, joyful effort. Len gives him trouble for his hair: "I was surprised you could hear the music through all that." He adds that his technique, holds and posture were good. Bruno: "It was like watching a little dancing hobbit ... it lacked fluidity and you fell twice," but he thinks if he sticks around, he will become really, really good. Scores: 6-7-6, for a 19/30.
Michael Irvin is partnered with Anna Demidova, who won the pro dance competition last season. Michael says he's doing the show because he has a lifetime rivalry with Jerry Rice, so he wants to come in first so he can beat him. (Going into the break, Tom Bergeron drops the bomb on us that Tom DeLay is going to cha cha to "Wild Thing." Oh, dear. I have no words. I guess I better start finding them.) First, Michael and Anna dance the cha cha to "I Feel Good." During the performance, he goes for it and is having a grand old time, but it comes off a bit awkward to me. Len says for him, it wasn't a great first dance at all. Bruno says he has great presence and he's a crowd pleaser, but the footwork, timing and content were "out." I think part of that lies with Anna, who is a new pro, but still. Carrie Ann calls Anna out on the lack of content and says she needs to push him harder. Scores: 5-4-4, for a 13/30.
Tom DeLay is saved for last, of course, since he's the contestant people are most intrigued by. It's all about ratings, you know. He is partnered with Cheryl Burke, who has a painful, beauty-pageant runner-up smile plastered on her face, like she just can't figure out what she did to deserve this. The practice footage? Well, I don't know what I did to deserve that. I do not need to see Tom DeLay learning to shake his moneymaker, and neither do you. (Also, fashion tip: T-shirt tucked into drawstring-waisted sweatpants is not a good look for anyone. Thankfully, he upgrades to tucked in polos pretty fast.) Cheryl is giving him instructions and tells him to go left. He quips, "Going left for me is absolutely outrageous!" OK, that was funny; I can't deny it. They dance the cha cha to "Wild Thing." All right, so ... to my complete surprise, his actual footwork doesn't seem too horrible. He's clearly worked really hard. But the booty-shaking, the mouthing along with the lyrics, the hip-rolls, THE FINGER GUNS AT BRUNO. It's almost too much to bear. I mean honestly, I thought it was going to be worse, but you just know Jon Stewart and all the other late-night guys are watching and just thinking, "comedy gold." Bruno: "You are crazier than Sarah Palin! ... But actually, the little cha cha cha you didn't wasn't too bad. The rest?" Carrie Ann says it was surreal, but that his basic steps were good and he has natural grace. Len says, "Parts were magic, parts were tragic." Scores: 6-5-5, for a 16/30.
Next, there is a first-ever "relay dance," which is supposed to show the dancers alongside one another, but the scoring description is so complicated that I'm not even going to write it down.
First up, for the salsa relay, are Chuck and Anna, Donny and Kym, Louie and Chelsie and Ashley and Edyta. So now the judges are going to rank them first to last. I'd says, best to worst for me is Donny, Louie (who would have thought?), Chuck and Ashley. Carrie Ann says that "side by side, Donny, you smoked them." Len tells Ashley that was a dance only his father could love. Bruno says Donny was great and that he didn't know Chuck had that in him. Backstage with Samantha Harris, Edyta looks peeved, like she can't believe she got stuck with this guy. Len's rankings line up with mine, so Ashley gets 4 points, Chuck 6, Louie 8 and Donny 10.
For the Viennese waltz relay, it's, well, the other four couples. I'd rank them like so: Aaron, Mark, Michael and Tom. Len thought Tom's waltz was "skippy," and he liked Mark's complexity. Bruno liked Aaron's rotation and Mark's lines and thought Michael was better. Carrie Ann agrees about Michael and says Aaron was grounded and had great lines. She adds that Mark has good lines but needs to breathe and that Tom was elegant. And ... the judges agree with me again.
What did you think of the guys tonight? I think it's going to be an interesting season. And I really hope Tom doesn't stick around for long because the hip-shaking is killing me slowly.
(Photo of Cheryl Burke and Tom DeLay in rehearsal courtesy of ABC)