'Dancing with the Stars' recap: Season 18 premiere

Here we go...

Season 18: No band, new co-host, new rules.


The evening starts with a performance by the pros while Jason Derulo "sings" and dances. He brings his own dancers, who have some of their own moves. Derulo gets really athletic with some of his moves near the end of the performance.

Tom Bergeron introduces new co-host Erin Andrews. Erin, by the way, is noticeably taller than Tom. (Not that it matters.) Tom then introduces the new band and musical director. WHAT???? I thought Harold Wheeler got the boot so they could go to recorded music. This is shenanigans. The new band is smaller, but not by much.


NeNe Leakes & Tony Dovolani


Around her forehead, NeNe is wearing a headband that looks EXACTLY like one of those overpriced belts they're always foisting onto brides on "Say Yes to the Dress."

Someone needs to talk to NeNe about the difference between "dance face" and "pulling faces." Also, the costume department has made her look like a lampshade in the bridal suite of a bordello.


Len Goodman says NeNe "got the party started" and says it was fun and entertaining, but she needs more pressure through her feet. Whatever that means. Bruno Tonioli says she has much to give, he loves her energy, but she needs better footwork. Carrie Ann Inaba notices NeNe is crying and asks if she's OK. Carrie Ann loved her personality, but wants NeNe to dance bigger. Tony is sweating like he's in a sauna; no idea what's up with that.

Erin asks NeNe why she's so emotional, but NeNe doesn't really have an answer. Erin comments on Tony's sweating too.  Erin gets me.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Bruno: 7

James Maslow & Peta Murgatroyd


AWKWARD -- James & Peta went on a date once, then he went on tour and never called her. The next time they spoke was when he walked into the studio as her partner this season.  Oh dear.

James has long legs and they could be really gorgeous, but his lines aren't quite there yet.

Bruno says it was good as a first effort, but he needs to work on the lines and the footwork. Carrie Ann talks about his "natural elegance." Len thinks James did a good job, even if it was a little messy in places.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Bruno: 7

Danica McKellar & Valentin Chmerkovskiy


Danica is so excited to have Val as a partner. She confesses to being a huge fan of the show since the beginning.

Val looks like he's leading her really hard, like, not so much leading as pushing and pulling her so she doesn't go the wrong way.

Carrie Ann calls her adorable and enthusiastic, but tells her she needs to keep her shoulders down and not be so expressive with her mouth. Len points out that she's holding too tightly onto Val's shoulder, which might explain the shoulder issue.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Bruno: 8

Sean Avery & Karina Smirnoff


This guy is about as animated as a still-life painting of a bowl of fruit. I say only "about" because I've seen some lively grapefruits in my time.

I wish contemporary dance had never become a style on this show. Leave it to the all-pros, guys, on "So You Think You Can Dance?"  With Sean and Karina, there's running and jumping and anguished faces.

Len calls it full of intensity and says he liked the lifts. But then he says that between the lifts, there was "a lot of running about." HA! Len gets me.  Bruno calls him focused and liked the musicality of the routine, but criticizes the transitions into and out of the lift. Carrie Ann says he's intense, but he's going to have to learn how to point his toes.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 6; Bruno: 7

Billy Dee Williams & Emma Slater


Boy, they must not like Billy Dee's chances much if they're busting out the "Star Wars" theme music and the Leia slave bikini on the first week. At 77, Billy Dee has had two hip operations and has arthritis in his back. Fun fact: Billy Dee Williams does the worst Wookie impression in the world.

This is painful to watch. They need a mercy elimination for this sort of situation. There are Ewoks in the audience cheering and they're subtitled. Ooh-kay.

Bruno says Billy Dee played it too careful and needs to be bigger. Carrie Ann calls him the "most relaxed" dancer she's ever seen, but they'll need a little more from him next week. Len says he was on time and didn't forget the routine. That's damning with faint praise if I ever heard it.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 5; Len: 5; Bruno: 5

Entirely fair, if harsh.

Meryl Davis & Maksim Chmerkovskiy


I couldn't figure out what was weirding me out about Meryl until I realized she looks like one of Disney's animated princesses -- giant eyes, tiny nose, giant mouth and skinny. From now on, I'm just going to pretend she's not real but drawn and it'll make more sense to my eyes.

Oooh, she also has a high-pitched chirpy voice. She really is a cartoon character. She clears up right away that she and Charlie are not dating.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, she's great. And these routines must seem like nothing compared to a long program skate.

Carrie Ann can't be heard over the crowd cheering, but I think she said nice things about Meryl's arms. Len says she's "Nice on ice and good on wood."  Oh, Len. Someone explain to Grandpa that he made a funny. Bruno says her spins were so fast that he thought she was frakking for gas. Huh? Bruno is running out of material.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Bruno: 8

Honestly, I'm surprised those aren't 9s.

Candace Cameron Bure & Mark Ballas


Weird. While Danica McKellar very much looks like Winnie Cooper all grown up, I wouldn't have made the same connection for Candace Cameron and D. J. Tanner.

Candace explains that she won't be Mark's "sexy girl" and will stay on the "modest end" of costuming.

Well, contemporary is a strength for Mark and I'm also not sure the judges are willing to harshly criticize contemporary routines yet. That's my problem with "contemporary" on this show -- it's the Emperor's New Clothes of styles, no one wants to admit they don't understand, so they don't want to criticize it.

So, the judges love it and say she's an incredible dancer.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 8; Bruno: 8

Pish. I don't think it was better than Meryl's.

Cody Simpson & Witney Carson



This couple has the lowest combined age of any couple. He's 17, she's 20 -- TOGETHER they're 40 years younger than Billy Dee Williams. MATH.


It's interesting; Cody didn't seem to have much of a personality in the rehearsal footage, but on the dance floor, suddenly there's an abundance of charisma.

Bruno feels rejuvenated just by watching them. Bruno says they did great on the fancy stuff, but could have been more solid on the basics. He then adds that Cody has "charisma by the truckload." Sometimes, Bruno gets me. Carrie Ann wants him to work on his lower half, but his upper half is fine.

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

Drew Carey & Cheryl Burke


Tom introduces Drew as having "the distinction of having had two simultaneous hit shows on ABC, a career path I highly recommend."

Drew comes right out and says to Cheryl, "When I was fat, I couldn't do this sort of thing, but now that I've lost the weight, I just want to do things with my body that I haven't done before." They then joke about Drew's "core."

So, the conceit seems to be that Drew is Mr. Monopoly. That's cute without being too clownish. He's better than I expected, but there's definitely room for improvement. He's good at partnering and expressive with his arms, but needs a little more grace and polish.

Carrie Ann calls Drew this season's crowd-pleaser. She says he has great form and style. Len calls it very watchable. Bruno says there are a few creases to be ironed out, but it was still entertaining. Translating Bruno, I think he also said essentially what I would have, about Drew having a comic touch to the routine without it being a joke.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Bruno: 7

Erin puts a number to Drew's weight loss: 80 pounds. Yowza. Good for him. I bet he's not far off from his Marines weight.

Amy Purdy & Derek Hough


Not gonna lie -- I was getting Amy Purdy confused with Aimee Mullins, ANOTHER Paralympian double amputee in her 30s who's a motivational speaker. This reinforces my lifelong belief that Amy is way-too-common a name with which to saddle a child. I know Jennifers, Heathers, Michelles, Lindas, Barbaras, Jessicas, Susans, Britneys, Madisons, Emmas and Jasmines agree with me. When they're old enough, the Isabels and Sophias will too.

It's really cool to see how Amy's prosthetics work during the rehearsal footage. She explains that she CAN feel pressure when her feet are on the ground. I'm not trying to be insensitive when I ask, How will the judges critique her footwork? She is literally incapable of pointing her toes.

They've chosen to costume her in pants that are long enough to cover the tops of the prosthetics while still allowing you to see that they are indeed prosthetics. I like that decision.

Len says they can't judge her any differently than they do the other contestants and they know she wouldn't want it any other way. He says she got a bronze in Sochi, and tonight a gold in cha cha. Bruno loved her shapes and performance level and then seems actually speechless. Incredible. Carrie Ann is crying and calls Amy "a beacon of light in this world."

Let's all pause for a moment and give thanks that it's Erin handling this interview and not Brooke. I'm also in love with Erin because she said "have an impact" rather than use "impact" as a verb. Grammar-girl crush.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Bruno: 8

Diana Nyad & Henry Byalikov


Diana is having a hard time in heels. She's against the way they arch the human foot. BUT THEY LOOK COOL, DIANA.

This is a very slow, very careful foxtrot; it seems to be about half the tempo of the music. Diana should always smile -- it does great things for her face. She's one of those people who has a resting frowny face that makes her look angry.

Judges' comments boil down to "Better than we thought, still needs a lot of work."

Scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 6; Bruno: 6

Diana says, "It's not the way you start, it's the way you finish." She then surprises me by having a robust sense of humor about herself. Tom says, "We've determined that Diana has a dry wit and the judges are all wet." Tom gets me.

Charlie White & Sharna Burgess


Charlie looks like such an innocent lad that I'm slightly concerned about pairing him with Sex Bomb Sharna. Charlie's hip action needs some work, which makes sense, given that I don't recall a lot of that being required in ice dancing.

Contemporary is such a different style than what Charlie would have done on the ice. It doesn't surprise me that the best moves in the routine are the lifts and lifts/spins.

Carrie Ann giggles and then says these two are a perfect match, with a yin and a yang. Len says it was a good dance in week 1 and says it was "ice dancing without the ice." Len is now not getting me. Bruno praises Charlie's attention to detail.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 9; Bruno: 9

I'm not sure I liked it quite that much. And I don't think it was that degree better than Meryl's.


Charlie & Sharna: 27

Candace & Mark: 25

Amy & Derek: 24

Danica & Val: 24

Meryl & Maks: 24

Cody & Witney: 22

Drew & Cheryl: 21

James & Peta: 21

NeNe & Tony: 21

Sean & Karina: 20

Diana & Henry: 18

Billy Dee & Emma: 15

And now for our first "twist" of the season. The celebrities all told the producers prior to the season what dance style they were most looking forward to doing. And now, it seems, that's the style they'll be tackling next week. The stars go down the line announcing their chosen style. Oops, wait, running out of time so Tom and Erin announce the styles for the dancers.:

NeNe: Jive

Amy: Swing

Meryl: Swing

Candace: "Romantic rumba" - she seems surprised by this. I am too, given her clip package.

Danica: Samba

Drew: Jive

Sean: Salsa

James: Salsa

Diana: Cha cha

Billy Dee: Tango

Cody: Tango

Charlie: Tango

After having seen all the couples dance, I'd like to revise my preseason predictions somewhat:

Bottom tier: Billy Dee, Diana, Sean, NeNe

Middle tier: Cody, Drew, James, Amy

Top tier: Charlie, Meryl, Candace, Danica

The "Star Wars" fans might be enough to keep Billy Dee around after next week, making Diana or Sean toast. Weirdly, it wouldn't surprise me if Sean goes first, given that Diana showed more of a personality than Sean.

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