Rob Wade, I tip my hat to you, sir…I haven’t enjoyed a first episode of the season this much in a LOOOOONGGGG time I may have been on the struggle bus in the moments leading up to the premiere, as I had to hunt for a live feed for the first time ever (of course the Colts would play their first Monday Night Football game since 2010 on DWTS premiere night, the year ABC took over MNF from NBC); but the bulk of tonight’s dances more than made up for it. I quite literally agonized over most of my rankings – with the exception of maybe 2.5 dances that I would consider “not good”, I felt like everyone else really brought their A-game and delivered some solid routines. This was HARD, guys!
Other random things I enjoyed? The fact that they’re putting a lot more emphasis on the pros’ professional experience, and rattling off various titles they’ve won over the years – I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the bulk of our pros are CHAMPIONS in what they do. Also enjoyable? The fact that they cut the judges off if time was running tight Honestly, the bulk of what they say is just mindless prattling to me, so I’m more than thrilled that they opted to cut that out in favor of spending more time with the couples.
On with the rankings!
1.) Alfonso & Witney – First of all, a bit of a dorky confession: I may have teared up just a TINY bit watching Alfonso’s jive Alfonso has been my dream contestant for several years now, and watching him out there just KILLING it and the crowd going nuts felt to me like Heidi probably did watching Derek win his Emmy: I was just so daggone happy for the guy. It was kind of a dream come true, and he looked like he was having so much fun – so if you’re reading this, Alfonso – thanks for letting me live vicariously through you But anyway! As I said on Twitter – still any naysayers out there that think Alfonso isn’t the one to beat this season? He is just a consummate performer – he was 100% invested in the dance, his technique was as close to perfect as any of the jives tonight, and he really sold the performance. I won’t dwell too much, but I’m EXTREMELY excited to see what we’re gonna get from these two in the coming weeks…and I’m glad Alfonso seemed to let go & enjoy himself. Best night I’ve had since finding out he was going to be on the show
2.) Bethany & Derek – One of many pleasant surprises of the evening – and prior to tonight, I had only maybe seen one or two clips of Bethany, so I wasn’t sure quite what to expect; was impressed by how grounded and mature she acts for being only 18. Was also impressed by how well she handled the jive technique – I agree with Julianne that jive really is kind of cruel in week 1, but Bethany seemed to get the hang of the bounce and did a great job of extending her legs. I will agree with Carrie Ann, though, too, and say that there were a few points where she seemed to lose a bit of steam – chalk it up to exhaustion or first night jitters, but overall, I think she did a great job and has both room for improvement and some nice momentum for the season. Plus, she shares a name with my lil sister, so that’s got to be some kind of good karma
3.) Randy & Karina – Gotta love big, burly guys that can both kick some @$$ as well as be charming and graceful – and Randy really fit that bill tonight I know we had hinted that he was unexpectedly good, but he was even better than I thought he’d be – he was there for Karina every step of the way, had some gorgeous feet and great body positioning – even his posture looked good! Also seemed very at ease out on the floor and showed a bit of a romantic side with Karina – god, I just love it when strong men aren’t afraid to show a vulnerable, gentle side. I might have a teensy-weensy crush on Randy now Has great chemistry with Karina, and seems to be embracing the experience completely. Looking forward to seeing what other surprises these two have in store for us this season.
4.) Sadie & Mark – I guess I may have fallen into the stereotype trap just a tiny bit in assuming that, because Sadie comes from a conservative Christian family, that she was going to be another Candace: super-picky about costuming, afraid to really let loose and be sexy, and constantly talking about her faith. Boy, am I glad I was wrong – she’s not only adorable and down-to-earth, but she actually has quite a bit of natural dance talent! I was just in awe of those long legs of hers – not the slightest bit spindly & Bambi-like, as so many of our taller ladies seem to struggle with; she knows how to place them and how to make them look pretty when dancing. Her arms are gorgeous, too! She’s working the long-limbed, slightly-lanky build to her advantage, BIG TIME. And really, I think she’s the type of partner that Mark really does well with: young, hip, and able to really embrace the experience and enjoy the ride. Yet another couple I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of
5.) Janel & Val – Let me first say that I STILL don’t think “Bang Bang” is a good jive song. It’s a good song in general, yes, but not well-suited to the jive – and even with the tweaking they did to it, it still felt a little off to me. It also didn’t help that it took quite a bit of time to get to the actual jive tempo of the song, so consequently, the whole first half of Janel’s jive was really more of a jazz routine. When they finally got into the jive section, she did decently well – maybe a little messy on the kicks and flicks, and could have used a little bit more bounce through her torso. I think she’s got a lot of talent and she’s got a lot more to show us, but I’m not sure this was the best dance to show us what she’s made of. Still a lot of potential to show us in the coming weeks, though – and I liked her thigh-highs
6.) Lea & Artem – Lea’s actually pretty damn good – possibly the best foxtrot of the night, technically-speaking. Nice extension, stayed on rhythm, and seemed comfortable doing it. And I think she’s gonna really blossom this season. Just a few things she’s got working against her: one, Artem’s choreography. It’s definitely more Strictly than DWTS – not a whole lot of open work, not a whole lot of rocking the boat in terms of being funky & unique; it’ll please Len, but I’m not sure that it really makes a splash on this show. Two, her dance experience – I’m glad she’s been up-front about it (and not tried to hide it, a la #danicanotadancer), but I think some people are unfortunately going to expect her to really deliver (even though it was many years ago). I think the fact that they name-dropped Baryshnikov probably set the bar far too high for her on the first dance, in some folks’ eyes. Third problem: bad running order. The #2 slot is statistically the worst spot to dance in, as couples who dance in it tend to get lost in the shuffle. I don’t think she’s in any danger of going home this week (especially with other contestants kinda self-destructing…), but I think she & Artem are going to have to make more of a splash in the coming weeks in order to stand out amongst so many big personalities this season.
7.) Michael & Emma – I’m now convinced that Mike requested Emma this season – he name-dropped Bill, and he seems to feel really comfortable with Emma…especially with his slightly bawdy sense of humor. Is he a great dancer? Hell no, but like Bill, I think his appeal lies more in his ability to throw himself headlong into a dance and really give it his best shot, even if he’s pretty bad at it. So I can definitely appreciate his cha-cha, even though it was almost completely lacking in technique I think the best weapon these two can wield this season is fun – they aren’t the best dancers, but they might be one of the more adorable pairings. I think Mike’s personality & self-deprecating sense of humor is going to appeal to a lot of viewers, and probably keep him around much longer than his dance skills – which I’m glad for, since these two are my second faves after Alfonso & Witney
8.) Tommy & Peta – My second hat tip of the evening goes to Miss Peta – I know I’ve been pretty critical of her in the past, but tonight, she kinda stood & delivered: she actually seemed to roll well with a partner that most people had written off from the get-go, and delivered a pretty respectable cha-cha with a lot of entertainment value. So to her I say “Well done.” And to Tommy – dude, you can actually move? And stay on-time? Without getting distracted by your surroundings, getting the munchies, or passing out on the couch? Bonus points for use of Cheech Marin (and a badass Caddy) as a prop, Peta’s marijuana leaf-dress, and quite possibly the only time we’ve ever heard (or will ever hear) a Snoop Dogg song on DWTS! This may go down as one of the most irreverent cha-chas the show has ever seen (and I’m sure some of the more conservative viewers are going to flip out over it), but I also think it’s going to end up being one of the most memorable – hell, I think it may already be up there with Nicole’s Prince cha-cha as one of my favorites in DWTS history! Glad to see that Tommy has some actual dance talent and a good rapport with Peta, and I’m hoping he sticks around for at least a few weeks…my god, did I really just say that? Funny how things can change in :58 seconds
9.) Jonathan & Allison – A very respectable first outing for both Jonathan & Allison – cute jive that both kept up with well. And they both seem to be really excited, and get along really well. My only concerns? Both come from untested fanbases, and in a night with unique jives like Alfonso’s, Janel’s, & Bethany’s, I think this one was a tad garden-variety. There was nothing truly “wrong” with what they did – it was a very respectable jive. I just think the rest of the jives we saw tonight were more memorable – so the struggle for these two right now may be to separate themselves from the pack a bit more. Get a bit more out-of-the-box and in-your-face with the choreography – you’ve got the skills
10.) Tavis & Sharna – Tavis got some moves, baby! He seemed to have a lot of fun with his foxtrot, and sold the attitude of it well. And I think he’s got the right attitude about the show in general: just have as much fun as possible with it, and don’t take it too seriously. But Deep Throat has said that he seems to be struggling a bit with his week two dance (cha-cha), so he may be better at the ballroom dances than the Latin ones. Next week could be a lot tougher for him – hope he & Sharna can have a Tommy & Peta-esque breakthrough. Work on those feet, work on that posture – maintain the confidence!
11.) Antonio & Cheryl – Something about Antonio just kind of BUGS. I don’t know if it’s an odd sort of intensity he has or what, but he just came across a bit ill-at-ease during his whole dance…like he wasn’t having fun. Maybe it was just nerves, but I felt like if he had just let go and had fun with it a bit more, his technique might have actually improved, too – this seemed stiff. He stayed on-time and didn’t really mess up, but he never really seemed to let himself go 100%, either. Still seems to have some walls up – hope those start coming down in the coming weeks. If not – I fear he could be an early out.
12.) Betsey & Tony – This cha-cha started off so cute and with so much promise – and then they went and just HAD to do a bit with props, and it all got shot to sh*t. This is a prime example of why I advise extreme caution in incorporating props into a routine – not only does it tend to piss Len off, but it also creates the potential for a massive blunder…and this was pretty massive. Probably a good 15 seconds of a :58 routine lost to a rogue feather boa. But in the parts that Betsey got right, she was 100% committed, having fun, and was fun to watch…and she did a split & a cartwheel! Probably the first senior citizen we’ve had on the show that is still quite athletic. Hopefully she can redeem herself next week, because she does seem like she’s having a lot of fun
13.) Lolo & Keo – Oh maaaaan…I really wanted to like Lolo, I really did. But talk about dousing oneself with gasoline & then lighting a match Everyone makes mistakes – I get that she didn’t hear the text message cue and that really threw her off her game (like, wayyyy off her game). But wow – she really just dug herself further into a hole with the way she was moping about it afterward, and being so hard on herself, and interrupting the judges, and giving b*tchface to the camera, and dwelling on how bad she did, etc. I know Deep Throat had said she gave off a Hope Solo-esque vibe, but man – this was Hope times TEN. Had she just shaken off (no pun intended, with respect to this season’s theme song) the mistakes with a smile (a la Betsey) and kept smiling, I think she would have saved a lot of face and managed to still connect with viewers. But her behavior tonight just kind of reinforced the opinion some seem to have of her being kind of frigid & uptight. And on a season when so many couples are likeable AND are dancing well – I’m gonna be really surprised if she manages to avoid getting the boot tomorrow night. Which sucks, because I could listen to Keo talk for hours. *sigh* Had she just let go and embraced the experience, I think she would have enjoyed herself a lot more…
So those are my thoughts on tonight’s show – what are yours? Who do you think won the night, and who do you think is royally screwed? Let’s talk!!!