Last year, the "Dancing With the Stars" premiere opener involved an aerial shot of the Griffith Observatory. This year, it's cars in the backstage area and some astroturf here and there. Budget cuts?
Also, this year's cast is about half "Who is that?" people for me, so this should be exciting.
Fun fact: this is the 400th episode of the show.
Normani Kordei & Val Chmerkovskiy
Normani is one of the singers in the pop group Fifth Harmony. Her grandma is really excited about her being on the show.
She's pretty good out of the gate, especially for it being a quickstep. If they go far enough, I predict this could be their "Do it again, but better" dance. I wish, overall, that the song had more of a build, rise and conclusion instead of just starting and stopping.
Tom Bergeron speaks with Len Goodman, who confirms he'll be with the show every week this season — no flying back and forth to England. I wonder if he's left "Strictly Come Dancing" or if they've adjusted schedules of the two shows.
Julianne Hough likes the hip-hop sequence at the beginning. Len, unsurprisingly, does not. Bruno Tonioli likes the individual flair Normani brought to her quickstep moves. Carrie Ann Inaba thought the hip-hop sequence might have gone on a little too long, but once they got into quickstep it was solid.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 6; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 7
Nancy Kerrigan & Artem Chigvintsev
Nancy is excited about competing again, having been a competitive Olympian. Artem meets her at an ice rink, riding in on a Zamboni. He's shirtless and his tightie whities are showing, thanks to his microphone pack. Not his best look. I'm struck by the resemblance between Nancy and Lauren Graham (of "Gilmore Girls" and "Parenthood").
It's a lovely, gentle Viennese waltz and Nancy looks graceful throughout. Royal blue is also clearly her color. Julianne calls her arms beautiful, but wants her to work on her rise and fall and on her "spotting" during turns. Bruno says she's looking good and feeling good. He wants her to work on the extension of her feet. Carrie Ann echoes Julianne's comments about focus and spotting. Len calls them "a pairing with great promise."
Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 7
Chris Kattan & Witney Carson
Witney has never seen "Saturday Night Live," so she has zero idea who Chris is. She asks if he has any injuries and he tells her he broke his neck. Apparently his neck is causing some limitations, but he's enthusiastic anyway.
They're dancing to "What Is Love?", the song that was always used in his "Roxbury" skits with Will Ferrell on "SNL." They mimic some of that to begin with, and that's not the worst part of the dance. Chris is really terrible at dancing, y'all.
Bruno says it was the perfect interpretation of a cha-cha-cha with a hangover. He says Chris had the character dead on, but the cha-cha-cha was from an alternative universe. She also liked that he was going for "goofy bad" dancing, including the lift. Len says the best thing about that cha-cha was that he doesn't have to watch it again. Julianne tells him to do his thing and not lose himself.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 5; Len: 4; Julianne: 4; Bruno: 4
Bonner Bolton & Sharna Burgess
In case you wondered how they're framing Bonner, a bull rider, we see him moving hay stacks and then ripping off his shirt. A year ago, he had an accident in rodeo arena and broke his neck, which caused very temporary paralysis. The producers are also clearly trying to play up a sexual attraction between these two. Is it because they're the only age-appropriate match in which neither partner is married?
This is a "country" cha-cha-cha, according to Sharna. She's clearly talking Bonner through most of it, even using her hands to direct him sometimes. This makes me very nervous in a first dance, when they've had more time to practice than they ever will again.
Carrie Ann is drooling over Bonner and praises the chemistry with Sharna. Len calls his dancing "a work in progress" but sees potential and chemistry in their partnership. Bruno asks, "How can you resist a cowboy with a killer forward thrust?" And then he tells Sharna she's "in for the ride of [her] life." Lordy. Bruno does warn Bonner about being flat-footed.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 5; Julianne: 5; Bruno: 6
Charo & Keo Motsepe
OF COURSE you give Charo the salsa her first week. I grew up (and I don't care how old this reveals me to be) watching Charo on "The Love Boat." But don't let the silliness fool you — she's also an incredible guitarist. Sometimes I think of her as the Latin Dolly Parton — people discount her because of her looks and persona, but she's talented, hard-working, and business savvy. They might also use the same plastic surgeon.
Charo's clearly got the rhythm, but I worry about her stamina and her flexibility — both things that tend to diminish with age (she's 66, after all). Len calls it an action-packed performance, but says she needs to work on her technique. Julianne says Charo was quick and did her turns well. Bruno starts speaking in Spanish and Tom has to physically restrain Charo from going over to him. Carrie Ann calls her high voltage and wants to see a little more content.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 5; Julianne: 5; Bruno: 5
After the scores, Charo grabs the microphone from Tom and says only, "¿Por que?" She's clearly revving up for a tirade when Tom and Keo restrain her. I'm enjoying how she's playing into a character and how Tom's riffing with her.
Nick Viall & Peta Murgatroyd
This dude is a "Bachelor." Which means he's blandly photogenic, but has more of a sense of goofiness about him than I'd expect.
He misses a few steps, has pancake hands, and is really pigeon-toed, but has the performance and chemistry parts down. Is this something Peta can work on? Maybe.
Julianne says Nick has the passion and the determination but needs to work on getting his feet into the floor more, and going for big gestures with his arms. Bruno thought the dance style suited Nick, but wants him to work on his hands. He points out the times Nick's hands were curled up like claws. Carrie Ann tells him to relax.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 6; Julianne: 6; Bruno: 6
Heather Morris & Maks Chmerkovskiy
So let's talk about Heather Morris, who did star in the show "Glee" but got on that show primarily for her dancing abilities, having been called in to teach choreography to the cast. Prior to that, in 2006, Heather made it through the Las Vegas finalist rounds of "So You Think You Can Dance," only missing the Top 20 by a single vote from the judges. In 2007, she began working as a backup dancer for Beyonce on tours and television appearances. Now, I'm not saying all the contestants should have no dancing experience whatsoever, but this may be the biggest "ringer" star they've ever cast.
I'm impressed that the show acknowledges her Beyonce experience right away. Heather does clarify that she's never done ballroom dancing. She would have if she'd made it onto "SYTYCD."
She's clearly got the grace and lines of a dancer and gets the performance aspect of the routine, due to her acting background. Her layout spin is a thing of beauty. I'm honestly not sure what the judges will find to criticize here.
Bruno thinks we're in for something magical with this partnership. Carrie Ann thinks Heather was hiding her personality behind the performance. Len calls them a "match made in heaven." Julianne tells us that being a ballroom dancer is very different than what Heather was trained for. She calls it graceful and well done.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Julianne:7 ; Bruno: 7
What? Were they grading on a curve? They had nothing negative to say to her, save Carrie Ann's weird comment. Maybe they're just trying not to favor the ringer early.
David Ross & Lindsay Arnold
David's the first Major League Baseball player on the show. And he's a catcher? How are his knees? They're going for a straight-up baseball theme in this opening number, Chicago Cubs song and all. At least we're getting this out of the way. He's clearly throwing himself into it, and isn't half bad.
Carrie Ann says it was so much fun. She calls David charming and smooth. Len praises the quickstep content. Julianne says he was light on his feet and smooth.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Julianne: 7; Bruno: 7 (Clearly grading on a curve for Heather, for David to get the same score.)
Erika Jayne & Gleb Savchenko
She's a "Real Housewife" and some kind of singer/performer. She's got a Lamborghini parked in front of her mansion and tells Gleb if they win, he can drive it. He asks if he can have it. So them's the stakes, then.
They're dancing to Erika's latest song, which includes the line, "It's expensive to be me." Her whole vibe is stripper, so it should come as no surprise that at age 45 she can still do a full split in heels.
Len says it was a little too raunchy for him. Me too, Len. Julianne calls her amazing and praises her "message" of women embracing their sexuality. Julianne does wish there had been more salsa content, though. Bruno gives Erika some critique about centering her weight when dancing in high heels. Carrie Ann agrees with that.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 6; Julianne: 6; Bruno: 6
Rashad Jennings & Emma Slater
Rashad describes himself as an "asthmatic, chubby kid with a learning disability." Emma's excited about the NFL player's hip action abilities.
Rashad's wearing gold sequin dancing shoes, so I love him already. His face is fun to watch, although I could see them dinging him later for "pulling faces." He's got real potential — dancing ability, athleticism, personality.
Julianne says it was the best dance of the night so far. She says Rashad nailed the technical aspects while giving it his own groove and flavor. Bruno calls it the revelation of the night. Len says Rashad got ahead of the music on occasion, but thought it was terrific overall.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 7; Julianne: 8; Bruno: 8
Mr. T & Kym Johnson
At least they gave him a partner old enough to know who he is. Can you imagine Mr. T paired with Witney? Mr. T says he can't dance, but he's a learner.
He's performing to the "A-Team" theme, so, again, we're getting that out of the way right away. He's … not great, but is clearly trying. He's also two years younger than Charo, but seems 10 years older.
Carrie Ann says Mr. T. has a lot of power but there were too many mistakes. Len says the "T" doesn't stand for "technique" but does stand for "tenacity." Julianne loves his heart.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 5; Len: 5; Julianne: 5; Bruno: 5
Simone Biles & Sasha Farber
Yay for Sasha finally getting a partner with instant finalist potential. The Olympic gymnast is very giggly about the intimacy required in the tango. Simone just turned 20, though, so it's not as icky as some of the other pairings on the show that have featured underage stars. She's so tiny, she makes 5-foot-7 Sasha look tall.
Len says it was a great balance between performance and dance content. Julianne calls Simone the "whole package." Bruno calls her "deliciously lovely." He also praises Simone's placement and poise.
Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Julianne: 8; Bruno: 8
Simone & Sasha: 32
Rashad & Emma: 31
Nancy & Artem: 28
Heather & Maks: 28
David & Lindsay: 28
Normani & Val: 27
Erika & Gleb: 24
Nick & Peta: 24
Bonner & Sharna: 22
Charo & Keo: 21
Mr. T & Kym: 20
Chris & Witney: 17