PureDWTS Season 24, Week 1 – Power Rankings

And so begins another season 🙂 Admittedly, I found it hard to psych myself up for this season – I wasn’t really looking forward to it, after the 3-ring manipulation circus of last season, and didn’t really feel super-invested in any of the couples until last night.  While the talent this season seems almost unfairly stacked in favor of the female celebs, unfortunately for them, I think the guys may have actually ended up more enjoyable and memorable – perhaps the female pros see the writing on the wall, and know they’ve gotta compensate for a lack of experience by having their partners be really, really entertaining?

Generally, aside from maybe 3-4 dances last night, this felt like a pretty tame premiere – the first hour was kind of a bear to get through, as the energy really slipped before picking up around the 9 PM hour. Other observations? The opening number was cool and not something we had really seen yet, but the preponderance of Maks & Val was eyeroll-inducing – they’re really trying to drive the point home that these two are the “stars” this season, huh? I feel like we only saw quick snippets of the female pros, with those two idiots mugging shamelessly in between. The sexism of this show is blood-boiling, at times. Glad to see that the judges were kinda stingy with the scores for the first night, as this tends to stem a lot of potential b*tching from couples down the line who are given cushy scores for weeks before the judges get real and drop the hammer. Getting really tired of them reminding us in one breath that Heather danced backup for Beyonce, while in another launching into this big apology tour about how “different” ballroom is from what Heather does. The cognitive dissonance…it hurts.

Just as a refresher for the regulars and a quick explanation for the newbs, the power rankings are a ranking of who I think is the least likely to get eliminated next week (#1) to who is the most likely (#12). It takes into account how well they danced, how memorable they were, how big I think their voting fanbase is going to be, how big their pro’s fanbase is, how likeable they are, etc. Is it NOT a ranking of how well they danced or how high they scored, so if you’re here to piously tell me that “so-and-so should be higher than so-and-so because they got a better score”, prepare to be called out. Shall we begin? 🙂

1.) Simone & Sasha – Perhaps I had built this one up a bit too much in my head, but I was actually left wanting a bit more from this dance – seemed like Simone might have had a few jitters to work out, and as I had been worried he would do, Sasha seemed to go a bit safe with his choreography. I’m also not all that thrilled with tango as a week 1 dance, so there’s that too, but while the dance was good (and definitely one of the better performances last night), it just felt like a bit of a cop-out from a couple that seems to have so much potential to really blow everyone away. But working in their favor, already Simone seems to be more outgoing and talkative than Laurie was (which may have more to do with the fact that Simone isn’t getting completely drowned out by her own pro enjoying the sound of his own voice too much to shut up and let her speak); and Sasha has always been good about making sure his partners have the spotlight, and tends to make himself less conspicuous as a result. Personality-wise, I think they’re going to charm a lot of viewers.  Additionally, Simone’s movement quality seems more fluid that Laurie’s, so she doesn’t seem as likely to suffer from the choppy, staccato “gymnastic-style” movements I found myself so irked by in Laurie.  They’ve got the tools they need, and they do seem to mesh well together, personality-wise – I just want to see them up their game a bit and give us something more polished and exciting next week.  But a solid week 1 effort 🙂

2.) Rashad & Emma – I would actually give MVP of the evening to these two, with David & Lindsay as a close runner-up – I thought Rashad’s dance was the strongest in terms of both execution and entertainment value last night. He seemed the most at ease of all the male celebs out on the floor – very little in the way of nerves, and I definitely think that’s going to be a boon for him in the coming weeks as other contestants still struggle to work through their own. I think what impressed me the most, though, about Rashad’s movement quality, is that he has very good control – he can stop on a dime, his feet aren’t sliding all over the place, and he’s got some really nice arm lines.  Which is why I was scratching my head at Len claiming Rashad went off-time, because I actually think he stayed in the pocket better than anyone else last night. I daresay Emma’s got a lot to work with this season, and I think she’s like a kid in a candy store – she almost doesn’t quite know what to do with all that potential 🙂 My only caution might be that Rashad may be a bit too “cool” – he’s so at ease and confident that it could come across a tad cocky and detached.  I’m interested to see how he is able to channel a sillier dance, like the jive.  But overall, I’m thinking he may have the best shot of the male celebs of making it into the finale.

3.) David & Lindsay – Biggest pleasant surprise of the night for me – while I found myself really appreciating David’s upbeat attitude and willingness to embrace the experience in his rehearsal videos, I admittedly had the bar set pretty low for him in terms of actual dance skill.  I got a definite “affable drunk uncle at a wedding” vibe from him.  But MAN – he impressed the hell out of me last night, doing a dance that’s kind of a b*tch to do anyway, let alone in week one.  He stayed on time, his frame looked great, he looked like he was having fun – and Lindsay, god bless her, took a hokey song and a tough dance and actually gave him legitimate quickstep choreography that was still really fun to watch. This girl is doing EVERYTHING right these days – she is right up there with Sharna on my list of pros that is overdue for an MBT, with how talented they are as teachers and choreographers. David seems like he’s willing to work hard and has a good rapport with Lindsay, and I would actually go so far as to say he’s a bit more open to the whole experience than Calvin was initially – I think the latter took a few weeks to really warm to the competition and hit a good stride, so David may already be ahead of him in that respect.  I am interested to see how David handles a Latin dance – I think that will be the real test of his potential this season.  But man – I think these two could surprise the hell out of a lot of folks, and possibly slide into the finals.

4.) Normani & Val – Val must have set some sort of new record for time wasted NOT doing the assigned dance – that intro of the two of them dancing separately on the stage seemed to go on FOREVER before they actually got into hold and started doing “quickstep” – and I use the quotes because it times it actually felt more tango-y, plus there was such a lack of body contact that I’m not sure what dance it resembled. I’m glad Len called Val out for both shortcomings – the coddling needs to stop, and Val needs to get serious about actually getting down to the nitty gritty of these dances instead of hiding behind empty, time-wasting choreography. On the plus side, Normani actually seems to have more natural skill than Laurie, and seems to be more of a performer. But here’s the biggest issue I’m seeing with these two: both seem to want to be the “star” of the partnership, and seem less inclined to work as a team.  Hence the lack of body contact, and so much time spent NOT in hold – plus they both seemed to be trying to outdo one another when talking with Erin: Normani’s kinda basic comment about “literally passing out” had me rolling my eyes (if you “literally” passed out, then why doesn’t there seem to be footage?), as did Val’s “I’m-joking-but-not-really-because-I’m-truly-this-insecure” gripe about his scoring average going down – dude strikes me as the type that probably tries to edit his own Wikipedia page. Dear Lort, just make them both SHUT UP, because their mouths did them no favors last night. There’s talent here, and potential – but both need to shut it, work together, and focus in order for it to go anywhere.

5.) Charo & Keo – Probably the 2nd biggest pleasant surprise of the night for me, after David – Charo actually handled her salsa far better than I had thought she would. Granted, they gave her a style that probably suits her natural skill set the best, so I’m not sure subsequent dances are going to fit her quite this well, but for week 1, this was a solid effort. As I mentioned to someone on Twitter that was questioning why I had been doubtful of her skills headed into the competition, historical data from the past 23 seasons tells us that contestants over the age of 60 typically seem to struggle with simply remembering choreography, and moving more than a few baby steps in any direction. Additionally, history tells us that Keo’s partners in particular seem unusually prone to forgetting their choreography 😛 So to my surprise, Charo actually seemed to remember her entire routine, and moved to a surprising degree – plus I was entertained the entire time! The woman needs subtitles more often than not, and I sometimes wonder what exactly she’s on to make her act so zany, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t riveted the whole time her rehearsal package was playing, the whole time she was dancing, and the whole time she was chatting with/issuing death threats to the judges 😛 And for what its worth, Keo actually seems to be handling her pretty well – which is a feat.  But I do think the schtick will wear thin before long, and I doubt we see her make it past week 5, at the latest.  But I’m gonna enjoy the antics while they last 😉

6.) Bonner & Sharna – If you’re only here to talk about “crotch-grab-gate”, leave – Sharna’s already addressed it, and the whole thing got ridiculously sensationalized on Twitter last night. It is the LEAST interesting thing to me about this couple, and it bores me to hear stupid people blather on about it. But anyway – I think we found our shipper bait for the season.  You can definitely tell that production is angling for a showmance for these two, from the romance novel cover-worthy feel of their first meeting, to the constant reminders of the both of them being single, to the sexed-up staging of their dance – all an attempt to pander to the shippers, which will probably guarantee they make it to at least week 8 regardless of how good (or not good) of a dancer Bonner ends up being.  And I’ll say this: there’s definite potential in him, but he’s not a natural in the same way that James was.  Sharna is probably going to have to work a bit harder with him in order to get the same result, but he does seem ready and willing to work. Hips need some loosening, and it looks like he may have forgotten a bit of his choreography – both fixable, given enough effort.  I actually think he’s got a pretty good stage presence, and found his dance more entertaining than Nick’s, even if Nick’s was technically stronger.  He had a bit of a Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike vibe last night, but I’m actually more curious to see him doing the ballroom dances – I think it may fit his more soft-spoken, southern gent demeanor a bit better.

7.) Nancy & Artem – To quote my colleague Heidi, “Nancy & Artem’s entire dance felt about as long as the time Normani & Val spent NOT doing quickstep!” This dance did seem unusually short, especially following Normani & Val, and while it was quite lovely, I kinda hate that it got stuck with a pretty crummy running order position – plus it was wedged between two far more memorable dances. While I am a tad worried that Nancy may have faded into the woodwork (like Erika), one thing that I thing bodes well for her is her graciousness – I loved how she just seemed so happy and grateful to be there, and fully embraced the experience. Quick story: Mama Spence sat next to her on a plane to Myrtle Beach about 15ish years ago, and said that she could not have been nicer or more down-to-earth – “a real class act”. And I definitely got that vibe from her last night 🙂 Artem’s definitely got a lot of potential to work with – just gorgeous arm lines, and a very fluid quality of movement from her skating. Posture could use a bit of work – she’s not slouching, per se, but I just think she needs to shape a bit more through her torso. I give Artem credit for giving her a legitimate Viennese waltz, and also just letting her shine in the interview portion – he didn’t try to overshadow her like certain other pros.  I would caution them both to try and be a bit more energetic and dynamic in the coming weeks, just so they don’t fade into the background among bigger personalities.

8.) Nick & Peta – For what its worth, I actually think Nick looked like more of a natural mover last night than Bonner – from a technical aspect, I actually think Nick carried off his cha-cha just a skosh more believably.  Where Bonner has him beat, though, is in performance quality – because Nick’s left me feeling a bit strange and disconnected, when all’s said and done. Could have been nerves on his part, but he did seem to get a tad frantic at times, flinging his arms out haphazardly or launching himself into a turn a bit too forcefully. Peta also struck me as being kinda low-energy and checked out, and I wouldn’t say this was her strongest piece of choreography – even though many of her cha-cha’s have the same general look and steps, this one seemed particularly dumbed-down. To Nick’s credit, though, I actually kinda liked that he came across as kinda getting the big picture in his rehearsal package – he seems to understand that the male celebs this season are a tad screwed, because the female celebs are stacked with talent. Also appreciated that he wasn’t afraid to call out Heather’s massive level of dance experience to Heather’s partner’s baby mama’s face 😛 I think there’s definitely some potential in him, if Peta has the energy to harness it and nurture it – but I think they need to work on their connection, and I think Nick needs to resist the urge to play into the “bad boy” stereotype he’s been cast to fulfill.

9.) Heather & Maks – Riddle me this: how is it possible that someone can give probably the most technically-correct dance of the evening, yet leave me feeling completely apathetic about their performance? Because that’s exactly how I felt about this one – just NUMB. It was the dance equivalent of saltine crackers, plain white rice, toast with nothing on it, take your pick – it was nutritionally complete, but lacked any flavor whatsoever.  I agree with whichever judge said that they “didn’t feel like they really knew Heather any better” after watching that dance – my guess is that, being the professional dancer that she is, she probably treated the dance like a paid gig: she came, she learned, she performed, she collected the check. She didn’t become overly emotionally invested in the dance, or really “make it her own”.  And I think that’s what her biggest struggle is going to be – she may be technically near-perfect, but has completely divorced herself of any emotional ties to her performance.  A novice like David or Rashad may be able to really tune into the emotion of a performance in a way that Heather has kinda broken herself of; additionally, I’m getting the impression that this is another season where Maks is really only there to collect a paycheck and promote his own interests, and isn’t likely to really bend over backwards get Heather vulnerable or really challenge her. I find it hilarious that Julianne felt the need to drive home the “ZOMG ballroom is SOOOOO DIFFERENT THAN OTHER TYPES OF DANCE!!!” nonsense, because it just felt like a desperate ploy to save the asses of the higher-ups once more. I think these two are going to have to seriously evaluate their strategy, because performances like this aren’t going to get them to the finals.

10.) Mr. T & Kym – I was entertained by this “cha-cha” (and that’s a VERY loose definition of cha-cha, because I only saw maybe 3 cha-cha steps total), but content-wise, even Chris had Mr. T beat. Given that Kym is usually known to be pretty good about giving her partners content while still making them look good, I have to reason that perhaps T is really just that poor at remembering choreography that Kym had to resort to long moments of T just striking various strong-man poses and hope that he did them on-time (he didn’t, bless him). And it unfortunately makes me pretty nervous, given that cha-cha is probably one of the easier dances he’s gonna have thrown his way, and he still kinda flopped. I will give him credit for his commitment, though – he may have been doing those poses completely off-time, but he was doing them with conviction, and if he goofed during the cha-cha portions, he just kept going, rather than stopping awkwardly. I think he’s going to make it through next week safely, just based on the fact that he’s a nostalgic favorite, but I doubt T is gonna have the juice to last much further in the competition than week 3 or 4, tops – which sucks, because he is pretty entertaining, and I was excited to have Kym back.  Oh well – such is the nature of the beast we call DWTS…

11.) Erika & Gleb – Actual text I got from Deep Throat after the show: “I had totally forgotten about Erika until I walked right past her just now.” Was Erika bad? No. Was Erika great? No. Was Erika memorable? Not at all, at least for me & Deep Throat, and that’s the biggest problem one can have on this show. I think part of the problem lies in what I have commonly referred to as “singer choreography” – as a singer, Erika is used to doing simpler, lower-impact choreography in order to allow her adequate breath control while performing.  Because of this, I think she’s likely used to moving pretty small – and the kinda-compact, kinda-repetitive, and (if we’re being honest) kinda-cheap choreography Gleb gave her didn’t seem to help her this week.  She handled it all pretty well (although I will agree with the judges that she seemed a bit wobbly from time to time), and she’s got a good foundation of skills to build on – but man, she HAS to stand out from the crowd.  The women this season are just too stacked in terms of talent for her to be blending in – I would caution Gleb not to fall into the same trap he did last season in kinda recycling the same flash-and-trash choreography week after week, and I would maybe have Erika tone down the “I’m rich, I’m fabulous, it’s expensive to be me” act, as it seems to have the potential to put off some viewers. Thankfully, I think Chris self-destructed a bit this week, and likely prevented Erika from getting the boot – but I would not be at all shocked to see her in jeopardy next week.

12.) Chris & Witney – Poor Chris – I think he unfortunately may have Lolo Jones’d this one. The dance, while not technically great, was actually pretty entertaining – the character was on-point, the humor was there, and overall I found it fun to watch, even if his timing was pretty iffy and he was pretty stiff when actually doing the few cha-cha steps Witney gave him. But I think where he really had the biggest misstep was afterwards, during his chat with Erin backstage.  Oof – he came across as tense and awkward, and seemed to just further shoot himself in the foot with some of the stuff he was saying.  I think Erin TRIED to make him feel better (a la Mischa Barton in season 22), but I think she even felt uncomfortable and not 100% sure what to say. I think this was just an unfortunate situation where putting one’s foot in one’s mouth made a marginal situation much worse than it really needed to be. Not that I think things would be a whole lot different if Chris hadn’t been awkward backstage – I doubt he & Witney are gonna last more than a week or two into the season, and I found myself face-palming a bit at Witney’s choreo and general inability to console an upset partner. Seems like Chris’ fanbase is iffy (he’s been out of the spotlight for awhile) and his demeanor too awkward to really save these two next week.

So those are my thoughts after the first night…what are yours? Share your rankings with us in the comments!