PureDWTS Season 18, Week 1 – Power Rankings

So season 18 – the season of “lots of big changes”, and I’m not so sure I’m liking them.  Right off the bat – skeptical about Erin as a cohost.  Seems like she isn’t about playing 2nd banana to Tom – felt like she was just waiting for her turn to talk, and was trying too hard to be clever and funny when asking her questions…which, by the way, were exactly what I worried they would be: pointed, uncomfortable, and at times, salacious.  Not sure if it’s her asking those questions (or somebody up in the booth feeding them to her), but I’m not liking the gossipy, almost tabloid-y direction the show is taking – suddenly, we have to know who’s dating who, and what their significant others think about their partners, and who stole who’s boyfriend in the past, etc.  Seemed especially evident when Erin was needling-er, interviewing Cody & Witney – didn’t really enjoy the tone of that one in particular, as it sounded to me like Erin was throwing some serious shade in Witney’s direction (“Well, I think you’re a distraction!”).  Just SHUT UP, Erin – I had my fill of you channeling Regina George back in season 10.  Remember: those who stir the sh*t pot should have to lick the spoon. ;-)

And then there’s the “rivalries” – ugh.  The three major ones that they seem to be pushing are Meryl vs. Charlie, Cody vs. James, and Candace vs. Danica.  And while Conrad may have referred to them as “healthy rivalries” in his press release – I would hardly call dredging up 20-year-old drama about stolen boyfriends to be “healthy”.  Are we sure the Muppets in the production office haven’t been replaced by high school girls? Because some of this stuff is seriously immature.  But hey, if they’re gonna continue pushing the rivalries – guess I’ll do a weekly scorecard of them, too, since these things seem to be UBER-IMPORTANT on DWTS these days.  But anyhow…shall I get on with the rankings? :-)

1.) Charlie & Sharna – Can’t say I’m too surprised here, as we had heard that Charlie’s routine was “REALLY good!” and we all kind of expected both he & Meryl to easily handle their routines.  Was pleasantly surprised at how well he handled the (pretty short) section of side-by-side contemporary choreography – he seems to really get the “pulse” of contemporary, and knows how to use his limbs properly.  He’s obviously SPECTACULAR doing lifts, and he handled the many ones Sharna threw at him without so much as a bobble…but that’s probably my one big critique of this routine: it was very, VERY lift-heavy.  Seemed like most of the routine was either prepping for a lift or doing the lift, as opposed to doing any separate steps.  Contemporary does NOT mean “do all sorts of lifts!” I would caution Sharna not to get tempted to throw every lift she knows into any routine in which it’s allowed, simply because her partner is quite possibly even a better lifter than Tony.  Beyond that, I really enjoyed it, and I’m excited to see what else this partnership can do.

2.) Meryl & Maks – I think I would have Charlie & Meryl neck-and-neck if Meryl had gotten contemporary or foxtrot this week – while she handled the cha-cha well, it just doesn’t seem to be  a dance that suits her personality perfectly.  She seems calm, graceful, and focused – and the cha-cha does require a certain degree of sass and abandon to carry off well.  Technically, it was still quite good – she can handle the fast transitions that Maks throws in, she turns well (although it looked like she might have gotten a bit tilted on one of the turn sequences), and she “gives good face” – she knows how the right faces to pull when she’s dancing. She seems to mesh well with Maks, too – I wouldn’t call their chemistry a “romantic” one, but rather one of mutual respect: she respects him as a teacher, and he respects her skills as a student.  Seems more like a meeting of the minds than a meeting of the hearts. Totally underscored – Meryl knocks this dance outta the park, and somehow gets the same score as Danica, who really fumbled? *sniff* What’s that smell? Something’s rotten in the state of the ballroom…and I hope it’s not an ongoing theme this season.  I think Meryl may really wow us in the ballroom round – just the air of elegance and grace she has to her (and that nice, long neck) could make for some gorgeous waltzes.

3.) Amy & Derek – For someone that had limited rehearsal time, Amy did well.  For someone who had limited rehearsal time AND jet lag, Amy did great.  For someone that had limited rehearsal time, jet lag, AND two prosthetic limbs, Amy did FANTASTIC.  I was seriously worried that she would be rather limited in how many cha cha figures she would be able to do (just due to the limitations of her prostheses), but I found myself thinking “Man, she moves better than someone of the gals we’ve had on the show that were completely able-bodied!” If there were any limitations in her movements, Derek must have done a great job of masking them, because at times I forgot she even had prostheses on – and I think that’s Amy’s ultimate goal, anyway: to not be characterized by her disability.  I probably would have given her a point more, simply because I feel like her dance was overall cleaner than Danica’s (who got the same score).  The only problem I can forsee with these two? Amy seems to have a hard time closing her thighs – and as the season wears on (and she has to do dances like rumba & samba), it’s something that Len will probably hone in on. Aside from that – really excited to see what we get from these two :-)

4.) Candace & Mark – Probably the biggest surprise of the night for me – and probably my favorite routine.  I guess since everyone seemed to be talking about Danica (and we were well aware that Danica had MUCH more previous ballroom experience than Candace, to who my knowledge, had none), I figured that Candace would struggle a bit more to stand out – but was pleasantly surprised to see that Candace was a natural at contemporary last night, and actually handled it better than Danica handled her foxtrot. As I mentioned on Twitter, Candace seems to be a much more “organic” mover than Danica – she doesn’t pull faces, try to overstretch her lines, or try to be a huge showman; she just does the moves the best way she knows how, and the result is very believable and pleasant to watch.  Now, we’ll see if that holds true when she has to do a Latin dance – contemporary seems to be the style that allows for the most open interpretation, but she’ll need to be a lot more tight in her technique for all of the other styles.  I have to tip my hat to Mark, though, for returning to the creative Mark we saw in season 8 with Shawn, as I thought the choreography on the floor was genius.  This couple is turning out to be much more of a contender than I thought they would.

5.) Cody & Witney – Did anyone else get a bit of deja vu to two years ago, with Roshon & Chelsie’s week 1 cha-cha in season 14? I feel like Witney has kind of become the new Chelsie, perhaps with a bit more pizzazz – and Cody seems to have Roshon’s swagger, maybe with a bit less refinement in his moves, but it’s there.  I thought they handled this cha-cha pretty well – Cody may have gotten a tad sloppy from time to time, but the showmanship is definitely there and I think he & Witney have a good chemistry.  Found it interesting that they seemed to really hone in on the fact that he had a gf – and for those who don’t know, it’s Gigi Hadid, daughter of RHOBH’s Yolanda Foster and an up-and-coming model.  She made the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue this year, and supposedly booked some huge campaign for Dolce & Gabbana – she’s being touted as the “next big thing” in modeling…makes me wonder if they’re already starting to court her for a future season, since she has the potential to have some big star-power in the future.  But anyway – I actually like these two as a pair, and think they have some longevity this season.

6.) Drew & Cheryl – Cheryl gets my “costume of the night” award, since she was the only one that wore green on St. Patty’s Day and I loved that shimmery emerald color :-) It seems like fun, invested Cheryl is back again – she and Drew seemed to be having a ball out there on the floor, and Drew was handling that foxtrot impressively well.  The frame wasn’t perfect and the footwork wasn’t perfect – but he got the gist of it: he had the timing, the character, and a generally good grasp of the movement.  So it looks like Cheryl’s got another potential dark horse this season :-) My only real complaint? I feel like Cheryl’s foxtrots are all starting to look a bit similar to me – and it’s not really her fault.  She’s just been on the show so many seasons that we’ve seen it all – and for whatever reason, she seems to get more traditional foxtrot music than some of the other pros  (no “Boom Boom Pow” or “Easy Lover”) and so her foxtrots are usually a little more on the slinky, old-fashioned, top-hat-and-tails side.  But god, I loved that green dress – and is it just me, or has Cheryl gotten pretty foxy these past two seasons? Maybe it’s just the fact that she seems happier, but her costumes seem to have improved drastically and she’s ditched a lot of the heavy extensions in favor of a more simple, flattering bob.  It works :-)

7.) Danica & Val – I’m starting to think that Danica (or “Spazzica”, as I was inclined to call her last night) may well be her own worst enemy on the show. Everything about her last night seemed wound extra tight, from the hyper-speed with which she was talking to the way she was overpunctuating every single line in her foxtrot – it just kind of set me on edge to even watch her, because her anxiety was palpable. I’m gonna try to chalk it up to first-night jitters, but I think she may have set the bar for herself extremely high and as a consequence, she may be constantly struggling to meet her own expectations…and it may read to viewers as desperate.  She handled her foxtrot well enough, but she seemed to whiff a lot of the lines by just flinging her arm out – Val probably needs to work with her on developing her lines, as opposed to throwing them away; also saw her shoulders creeping up a bit.  She seemed to “sell” the dance well-enough, but she also seems like she might be an excessive “face-puller”: just saw a lot of exaggerated expressions throughout the dance.  From the way Val made it sound in his blog, neither of them seemed very thrilled about the foxtrot, so maybe this was just an 0ff-week for them; but I think they should be thankful that they got the score they did, considering that I thought both of the other couples that got a 24 (Meryl & Maks and Amy & Derek) did quite a bit better than they did, and even a couple lower-scoring couples (James & Peta and Cody & Witney) outdanced them.

8.) James & Peta – First off, I gotta say: kind of a d*ck move on the part of TPTB, blindsiding Peta by giving her James as a partner without any advanced warning.  Peta may not be my favorite pro, but I felt sorry for her as she seemed pretty embarassed by how the whole thing went down – and they seemed to intentionally try and make it as awkward as humanly possible for both Peta & James.  No likey.  I was actually pretty impressed by how well James handled himself out on the floor – he had a very nice frame and stayed on-time very well, despite some rather jarring tempo changes and complex patterns Peta threw at him.  He could probably stand to work on rise & fall (he seemed a bit stilted), and just learn to relax a bit more out on the floor and focus a bit more on showmanship.  I think Cody may have him beat in that department, but James seems like he might be the better technician.

9.) NeNe & Tony – I was extremely surprised by how well NeNe did with her cha-cha – but then again, the bar was set very low for her in my mind, so as long as she didn’t pull a Wendy Williams and barely move, I think I would have been pleasantly surprised :-P She certainly doesn’t seem to struggle with showmanship – she definitely does have “soul” and can sell the character of the dance.  I have to give a bit of a “tsk, tsk” to Tony, though, as this dance was probably 2/3 hip-hop and only 1/3 actual cha-cha – so I’m not sure we really got an accurate representation of how well NeNe is actually going to handle Latin.  The little cha-cha she did do, though, seemed ok – it maybe lacked a bit of refinement, but it wasn’t the worst we’ve seen and she’s got room to grow. I’m curious to see how well she handles the ballroom dances – she seems to take very big steps (which is a unique problem, considering that many of Tony’s partners seem to be small movers), so I could see her potentially struggling to tighten-up her footwork.  Kind of loved seeing NeNe genuinely humbled while getting praise from the judges – and I love that she has already done better than all of Wendy Williams’ dances combined.  Kinda hoping NeNe rubs it in her face a bit, considering Wendy was already throwing shade at her the day after the cast announcement ;-)

10.) Sean & Karina – I know I can’t be the only one that half-expects Sean to break out a “Hello, Clarice” at some point this season – dude’s voice gives me the creeps sometimes, as does his intense, icy demeanor.  I really want to like the guy, because I like Karina – but he’s one hard shell to crack.  Lots of walls up, and I think he should thank his lucky stars he has Karina because she seems like the only person that might be able to endear him to viewers.  I get the feeling that he is really trying – there were actually some very nice moments in his contemporary last night – but if he could just smile and relax a bit more, I think he’d be much better-received by both the judges and viewers, even if his technique didn’t necessarily improve. I’m a tad worried that, aside from contemporary and maybe paso doble & tango, there aren’t going to be that many dances this season that really suit his intensity well – so hopefully he can find some playful side to bring out.

11.) Billy Dee & Emma – Yes, it was the weakest dance of the night – no arguments here.  But seriously, judges – the dude is 77 years old, and you don’t need to be an asshat when critiquing him (looking at YOU, Carrie Ann).  I actually appreciated that Len was able to say something semi-positive about his attempt – I guess that is one aspect in which I’m thankful for Len: he’s the most likely to sympathize with older contestants.  I thought Emma worked the best she could with what she was given – she still did a lot of cha cha choreography, but kept it simple enough that Billy could actually (sort of) keep up, and went with a really fun, really fitting theme.  At least if Billy gets sent home next week, we can say that we did get to see a Star Wars dance out of him :-) I’m inclined to think that he just MIGHT have the fanbase to help him overtake at least Diana to stick around next week, but I doubt he’s got the clout to last longer than that…but I still love he & Emma, nonetheless :-)

12.) Diana & Henry – As pleasant and drama-free as this pairing is, and how admirably Diana handled her foxtrot – I worry that they may just get lost in the shuffle when it comes time to vote.  While Olympians like Charlie & Sharna have a massive followings of their own, and Amy has a powerhouse like Derek to help carry her through – I feel like Diana’s name is just not quite as well known, and since it’s Henry’s first season as a pro, his fanbase is untested.  It’s not that they’re unpopular – it’s just that they’re not terribly well-known…yet :-) I actually thought Diana stayed on-time quite nicely in her foxtrot and struck some very pretty poses – it was a tad cautious and maybe a little elementary, but it was pleasant to watch nonetheless and she does have a certain grace in her presence.  I hope I’m wrong – because I think this season, a calm, drama-free couple is going to be a welcome respite from the drama I sense brewing; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up in the bottom 2 next week…if they’re doing one.  Lord knows how everything is going to work this season :-P

 

The “Rivalry Scorecard” for the week:

Charlie vs. MerylCharlie wins this round, for just getting into the character of his dance a bit better.

James vs. CodyCody, for being a better showman.

Danica vs. Candace - Candace, for coming across as more natural and comfortable.

 

So what did you guys think of this week? Are you liking or disliking the changes? And who are your favorites so far?