PureDWTS Season 28, Week 1: Power Rankings

So we wrapped up the premiere of the “new, improved!” DWTS a little over 24 hours ago, and I’ve got some mixed feelings. My main concern: in the wake of the disastrous year the show had in 2018, they’re currently trying to reinvent/rebrand the show to give ratings a boost and maintain a hope and a prayer of this show surviving into 2020.  The only problem? I feel like the rebranding involves just turning DWTS into Strictly Come Dancing 2.0.

Yes, they’re essentially the same show, in terms of the concept, aesthetic, etc. But Heidi and I have long been reminding people that comparing DWTS and SCD is a bit like apples and oranges, because the fact that the two shows air in completely different markets makes each take on slightly different flavors. Americans and Brits are two different cultures that have different tastes when it comes to television – I have yet to meet an American that understands the appeal of British soap operas (I can’t tell you how many times I fell asleep trying to watch the same god-forsaken episode of EastEnders in college because a girl in my dorm was from London and swore up and down that it was the greatest TV show ever), while I’ve heard more than one Brit puzzle about why American television is so violence-driven (same girl in my dorm was CONVINCED we all carried guns on our person because she had watched 24 before coming to college). And there’s obvious differences between our humor, with British humor being quite a bit drier and high brow than more crass, slapstick American humor. Given all those differences – would it be a stretch to assume that  Americans expect different things out of DWTS than Brits do out of SCD?

With respect to DWTS and what I’ve observed in my 10 years of blogging, I tend to think Americans care less about how many syllabus steps a routine has and care more about being entertained and wowed by a memorable dance. I know SCD is more driven by syllabus content and correct execution of the steps, and low-scoring of non-compliant routine is more commonplace than it is here in the US, where it’s unusual to see any paddle lower than a “6” taken out after week 1. So for things to shift rather suddenly from the DWTS focus on entertaining and memorable dance numbers to a more content-driven approach from the judges, I have to wonder: is this sh*t gonna fly…? Some of the best choreographers we’ve seen on DWTS are the ones that really thrive when they’re unfettered by syllabus  requirements – think Derek, Mark, and Julianne, who all ended up Emmy nominated at some point as a result. We’ve still got a few pros in the current stable that I think choreograph best in a more out-of-the-box setting – namely Jenna, and possibly Brandon. Then again, with the prospect of an Emmy nom a distant memory since the departure of Derek and the onslaught of more competition in the Outstanding Choreograhy category…maybe it’s time to start focusing more on content? I honestly don’t know – but I’m not sure the answer to all of DWTS’ problems is just tweaking everything to match SCD. Time will tell, especially after we hear about this new elimination twist next week…

One good thing to come out of the “let’s do it like SCD!” gambit? The delayed reveal of the partnerships left us more  likely to get unexpectedly WOWED by some of the contestants – and I daresay with all the chatter about Hannah, Karamo, Kel, and Sailor, I did NOT see James coming at all. I was genuinely and delightedly surprised, which was nice. I also didn’t head into this season with a favorite – there were a few contestants/partnerships I found intriguing, but nobody that I knew from the jump I’d be voting for…so I felt like I was seeing everything with fresh eyes. But shall we get on with the rankings?  🙂

1.) James & Emma – Immediate thoughts after watching his tango: “Hi, I’m James Van Der Beek, an affable, self-deprecating, kinda-dorky white guy that (gasp!) can actually dance, and I’m here to avenge fellow affable, slightly-dorky-white-guy-that-can-also-dance James Hinchcliffe.” Easily the best tango of the night, and really the best dance of the night, in terms of the whole package of technique, showmanship, and overall presentation.  He had the posture and frame, and the timing was right; while his feet could use work (most everyone’s feet could use work at this point, though, really), he already seems to have a good understanding of where his upper body, lower body, head, and arms should be at any point during the dance – and that seems to be half the battle with the men on this show: just knowing where to put everything.  He was a confident leading man and he sold the dance well, while still coming off as a likeable, down-to-earth guy…which is often the other half of the battle in this competition. We’ve seen really good dancers that just don’t seem to resonate with the audience (i.e. Tinashe, Heather, Sabrina) and we’ve seen not-great dancers that people seem to really root for (Bill…and Grocery Joe, and *cringe* Bones). Thankfully, I think James is going to excel with both…which makes him a force to be reckoned with this season, along with the fact that I think he and Emma just vibe really well together.  From the moment he was announced on GMA, I thought of him as “Emma-bait” – the exact type of really likeable and hard-working partner that she really shines with, a la Bill and Drew (and really, John too).  Interested to see if he fares this well in Latin (I’m thinking he might be someone that does ballroom better than he does Latin), but I’m excited about this pairing. And I’m totally here for another totally-unexpected great dancer that might be able to make up for Hinch’s robbery 😉

2.) Hannah & Alan – Might have been the fact that they were first out of the gate, might have been the fact that there just seemed to be really high expectations for these two in the preseason, but this dance…was good, not great. Hannah definitely has some dance skills, but I think it’s going to take some time for Alan to break her of what I would consider some “cheerleaderish” tendencies: softening some lines, posing, using more of a wide-stance jazz technique for Latin steps, and seemingly treating routines as a series of 8-counts as opposed to really feeling the timing of the dance. I’d like to see more bending and straightening in her legs, and tighter turns – and the potential is there.  I think she’s a fantastic showman, though – she looked pretty confident for most of her dance, and looked like she was having fun.  I do think she’s an ABC darling, and is still really popular with the general viewing audience – so on top of probably being the most trained (and polished, from her pageant days) of the female celebs this season, I think she’s going to have the votes to take her far.  I’m not entirely convinced right now that she’s going to be one of the last two standing, but she’ll definitely make it to the back half of the season. She seems to have a good chemistry with Alan, but PUH-LEASE – resist the showmancing urge, Llinares & Co. You seemed like you might have been flirting with it, with that Bachelorette-themed intro, but I can assure you that following through is going to end poorly for all involved.

3.) Lauren & Gleb – If I had to guess, I’m thinking the show might be angling for a female celeb/male pro victory this season – which I guess makes sense, when you look at our stable of champion female pros and the men have…Val. And if this is the case, I think the most likely candidates for a good ol’ pimpin’ by the judges are Hannah and Lauren – both likely have the fanbase to carry them, and aren’t total slouches in the dancing department. While Hannah is definitely the more polished of the two, I think Lauren may be the better showman – she’s got a bit more of a raw, exuberant energy than the more collected, focused Hannah. Which is not to say she’s a bad dancer – she does have rhythm, and while she’s a little stutter-y on some of the faster steps, she’s got some agility too. I’m getting a Kellie Pickler vibe off of her – probably did some cheerleading way back in the day, but needs the right pro to harness that latent talent. Is it Gleb? Prolly not. 😛 I guess the one upside to Gleb’s time wasting choreography is that it gave Daniella something to do and brought Britt (that was Britt on Lauren’s right, right?) back from the dead in the now-defunct troupe – but aside from that, it flies in the face of the new content-focused strategy the judges have, you’d assume he’d get docked, right? Nah. Still got the 3rd highest score of the night, for a lot of signature Gleb time-wasting and posing. Should have docked points for that atrocious Peter Pan-looking getup he had Lauren in – yikes. Well at least Lauren is likeable, which is probably going to take her far this season.  We’ll see how likeable (or unlikable) Gleb makes himself this season…

4.) Ray & Cheryl – Ehhh…I’m having a hard time here, given Ray’s past. I don’t know that I’m ever going to reach a point this season where I embrace him fully…but I will say that the dude seems to have a good energy and really, really wants to be there, so I’ll credit him that. He sold his performance, for sure. On the flip side, since I’m calling out time-wasting, I thought the bit at the beginning with him doing that damn squirrel dance was unnecessary, and I saw more than one whiffed hand pass and turn – he’s exuberant, but he still needs to nail his choreo. As for the choreo – seemed like body roll, hip wiggle, turn, repeat. Not the most innovative or memorable salsa I’ve seen, but what I did see was folks on Twitter just eating it up.  I’ve not always been the biggest Cheryl fan, but I will say this: her fans are passionate, and have stuck with her over the years – which translates to some longevity for her partners. The chatter I heard about Ray was polarizing – those who are familiar with his checkered past seem to absolutely hate him, but those who are Ravens/general NFL fans seem to think he’s the Tom Brady of linebackers and thus, a god. I don’t think Ray’s gonna win, but I have a feeling he’s likely to stick around for awhile this season based on he and Cheryl’s combined fanbases – so I guess I’m just hoping he takes this seriously and puts in the work.

5.) Karamo & Jenna – Prior to last night, I had Karamo pegged as one of the last two standing this season – and I still firmly believe that (who will be there with him is up for debate). And Karamo has some natural rhythm and dance talent, ON TOP OF being a really good showman. Like Ray, it’s not hard to see that he’s really happy to be on DWTS and is having a ball. So why did he and Jenna’s seemingly flawless salsa get lambasted by the judges? First of all, I think the judges are giving him a bit of the Jordan Fisher treatment – he’s obviously a contender, and they’re nitpicking a bit in order to give the impression of a more level playing field (it got so ridiculous during season 25 that Len actually complained about Jordan’s finger styling at one point…seriously). But beyond that, upon second and third viewing, I actually found myself saying “This isn’t as good as I thought it was initially.” And part of it does have to do with technique – there wasn’t much in the way of hip action on Karamo’s part, and at times he almost seemed a bit too bouncy. Additionally, in what is somewhat unusual for Jenna (at least when she has a talented partner), the choreography was…kinda bland. Lot of salsa basic, turn here, trick there…nothing like the edgier, more “out there” fare we saw from her when she partnered Adam. Honestly, this salsa seemed a bit interchangeable with more than one other high-energy, premiere-night showstopper – it had the same kind of energy as Rashad’s week 1 cha-cha, DeMarcus’s week 1 cha-cha, hell, even Nyle’s week 1 cha-cha. It was a good routine, but it was ultimately another generic party dance. Where Adam’s week 1 cha-cha stood out as something new and different (by virtue of its voguing/drag queen inspired steps), Karamo’s salsa was…more of the same. Makes me wonder if Jenna erred on the side of caution with the new “focus on content!” edict from the judges, and ended up with something safe but boring. On top of that, they’ve already played the hell out of “Juice” this season, between GMA and other promo spots – so the dance suffered in the same way Bethany’s week 1 jive did back in season 19, which overplayed “Shake it Off” to an obscene degree. So when you pit this generic party dance up against the edgy and unexpected tango from James, it just tends to pale in comparison.  The good news is that this week was kind of a freebie, and hopefully these two can create something a bit more interesting next week.

6.) Sailor & Val – I’m still just a little dumbfounded at how this all transpired.  TO BE CLEAR – I absolutely believe that Christie is genuinely injured.  Don’t get it twisted, like some on Twitter were choosing to do. Not pulling a Wendy Williams over here. After watching the video, it just seems like an utterly banal way to incur an arm fracture: Christie was literally just walking around Val, looked like she tripped over his foot (which she didn’t see…?), used her arms to brace her fall, and voilà – broken arm. Wasn’t even dancing yet – just walking.  Anywho – I’m glad they clarified that Sailor had been rehearsing since Friday, and didn’t try and play it off as her only having mere hours to rehearse the routine, as they seemed like they were trying to do on GMA. And per a source, Sailor does have some dance training, contrary to what she said in the package. She definitely has some understanding of rhythm and movement, and seemed to handle the first few bars of that foxtrot quite well.  Things got a bit dicier after that – saw a few thrown-away arm lines and some shuffle-y footwork while in hold. And there was the small matter of her lip syncing the entire song, which got a tad distracting, but I’ll cut her a break given the time frame she had to work with and she probably needed SOMETHING to help her remember the counts. It was a decent dance, given the time frame – I’ll give her that, and I give her props for basically getting shot out of a cannon by taking her mom’s place in the 11th hour. But the amount of effusive praise the judges were heaping on this dance made me think the fix was in – Sailor was going to get the high score and be labeled “one of the ones to beat” this season, based on a decent-for-the-amount-of-time-given foxtrot with a lot of posing and walking back and forth (and a big prop). I think it’s hogwash that it got a point better than Karamo & Jenna and two points more than Ally & Sasha (both who had more content), but I’m guessing they were giving Sailor a handicap, given the shortened period of time she had to learn the dance in.  I think Lauren and Hannah are going to end up being the judges’ darlings this season; the question is, will Sailor be one, too? I don’t think she has the fanbase of the other two, but she does have Val…who is somehow the most popular male pro. Will it help her or hurt her? We shall see…

7.) Ally & Sasha – I definitely approached this partnership with a sort of weariness after the riot-at-the-resort of season 24, when the Harmonizers attempted to hijack this site and turn it into a Normani fan page. But I was pleasantly surprised by Ally, who I feel has a completely different energy both on and off the floor than Normani – where Normani is confident, bold, and sexy, I think Ally’s vibe is more sweet, down-to-earth and carefree: she’s exuberant, throws herself into the moves 100% (even if she’s not feeling terribly confident in them and is maybe a tad nervous), and makes an effort to put on a good show. And really, she’s not nearly as bad a dancer as some were warning me she’d be (Harmonizers, safe to say I understand you the least) – I’m maintaining my stance of “Even the ‘worst dancer’ in a pop group is likely still a better dancer than the average person!” She’s clearly picked up some understanding of rhythm and musicality from her time in Fifth Harmony, though I will say she has a tendency to dance adjacent to the beat and not quite on top of it. She’s not off-time…but she’s not perfectly on it, either. And while I praise her ability to really commit fully to her moves, I think it sometimes gets a bit frantic-looking – maybe Sasha could work with her on committing to a step without overselling it? Generally, I thought this was a really respectable dance, and probably deserved a point or two more than it got in the grand scheme of things. Do I see them lasting long in the competition? Ehhh…ask me again after the elimination next week, when we have a better feel for how the voting might shake out.  At this point, my concern is that Lauren already kind of fulfills the “young singer” niche more easily by virtue of singing country (which appeals more to the politics of the show’s main demographic), which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for Ally, who might end up falling victim to the weird relationship this show has with young, female pop stars. Time will tell.

8.) Kate & Pasha – Another pleasant surprise for me last night – not only Pasha being a warm, down-to-earth pro, but Kate actually being quite a performer! Hers was the first routine of the night that actually made me sit up and pay attention – she’s a performer, for sure, and was 110% invested in her routine. Sure, there were a few whiffed steps and the technique was just ok, but I really didn’t care – I was entertained the whole time. And dare I say that some of Pasha’s choreo had a vaguely Ballas/Hough feel to it? While the judges may insist that they’re harping on content this season, I have a feeling some of the out-of-syllabus, flair-type steps Mark & Derek became somewhat known for are going to still be quite popular with the audience – and may trump this newfound crusade for content. I think their routine this week is likely memorable enough to keep them safe next week, but I worry that Kate may be cannon fodder among all the young, able-bodied, and experienced dancers this season – I really hope these two carve out a niche as the entertainers of the season and are able to stick around for awhile based on that. If nothing else, I think Kate had the funniest intro package 😛

9.) Kel & Witney – This was another partnership that I feel suffered from high expectations in the preseason, which didn’t really get lived up to last night. Kel’s tango wasn’t terrible, but it seemed to lack the finesse and precision that made James’ so great – posture could use some work, and his footwork got a bit wishy-washy at times. However, it did start off strong, and I think Kel could be one that gets set up with a really good growth arc this season – maybe another Frankie Muniz-type journey, with ups and downs but ultimately a strong finish? Part of me thinks that ballroom is just not Kel’s forte, and he may actually shine brighter in the Latin dances – which could be interesting to see, as I think he and James are kind of competing for the “90s nostalgia” vote this season, and I think James could be the opposite (better in ballroom than in Latin). I have them pretty low simply by virtue of going in the dreaded “spot of doom” – 2nd, and being somewhat middle-of-the-pack in their scores. I tend to think they’re safe next week (particularly if they can come back and pull off a stronger dance), but if someone was getting eliminated last night, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see them in jeopardy. Oh well – last night was a test run, next week counts. Kel had my favorite men’s costume of the night – loved the watercolor suit.  Not quite as wild about Witney’s lip jewels (they looked splotchy from far away), but they still made a pretty pair 🙂

10.) Lindsay – Regardless of how you feel about her partner, she worked her magic once more and pulled some stuff out of him that I don’t think anyone could have anticipated. She was given lemons and made lemonade, and did so with grace and aplomb. Nothing but respect for her work ethic. I think that routine may be just enough to keep her and her partner safe through the first elim (as it seems to be generating a lot of chatter), so I’m not banking on them leaving next Monday – but I wouldn’t be disappointed if they did leave, as it might extinguish the dumpster fire that is currently my Twitter mentions. The bulk of my followers seem to be taking the same tack about this situation that I am, and are choosing not to devote any energy to it; however, of the outliers that are immolating my mentions, half think Lindsay was rude to her partner and needs to apologize and be more supportive as a partner, and the other half think Lindsay was too nice to Sean and should have refused to partner him in the first place.  I think both parties are living their best (delusional) lives 😉 I’ve said it many a time on Twitter, but I’ll say it again here: I think Lindsay came across as the consummate professional in her interactions with her partner, and those that think otherwise make me worry that they have a rather dated opinion of how interactions between men and women in a professional setting  should be (hint: kissing ass isn’t required of the woman). And for those that are calling for her to resign as a pro to “take a stance” against her partner’s casting – so, y’all are gonna pay her lost wages, right? And her legal fees when she gets sued by ABC for breach of contract? And you’re going to personally ensure that she doesn’t get blackballed from future dance gigs because she’ll be known as a quitter that’s difficult to work with, right? If anything, I would think Artem & Sharna’s unceremonious dismissals from DWTS would give some folks better perspective on just how tenuous the pros’ positions are on the show from season to season – turn down a spot this season, maybe you don’t get offered one next season.  And maybe word gets around to other choreographers that you’re a diva that is picky about her partners, and suddenly the phone stops ringing with gigs…in a career that already has a very short duration, and becomes even shorter for women who choose to become mothers.  I’m not going to begrudge Lindsay for trying to remain professional and continue her career…and I have no patience for armchair pundits who piously call for her to step down.  Easy to dish out judge-y advice when you’re not the one suffering the consequences, hmmm?

11.) Mary & Brandon – So cute, these two. Mary clearly loves her some Brandon (in a playful but appropriate way, of course) and Brandon is more than willing to play off her energy. I believe I referred to him as “Mr. Steal Your Grandma” – just very charming and respectful, and not inclined to just write Mary off as an “old lady” that’s probably not going to win this season (that’s more of the attitude of a couple other pros, ahem).  And writing her off would be a mistake anyway, because Mary’s still got some moves – I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well she kept up.  Sure, there were a few little bobbles, but Mary just kept going and managed to get back in the groove after each one. I think foxtrot suited her well – it allowed for more easygoing grooving, rather than the hard-hitting moves of some of the salsas and cha-chas we saw last night. LOVED Mary’s pistachio gown – my favorite female costume of the night,  I thought it just looked really classy and a little sexy, and the color just popped well on her. Brandon delivered on the choreo – plenty of foxtrot basics to please the judges, while still being fun. So why do I have them this low, you ask? I didn’t see a whole lot of chatter about them after their dance – there was plenty of good buzz about James, Karamo, and Hannah, and not-so-good buzz about Lamar and Lindsay’s partner, all the commotion about Christie’s broken arm and Sailor stepping in at the last minute, and also the disadvantage of having to perform a more leisurely dance between two more hard-hitting ones (Ray’s salsa and Ally’s cha-cha). My worry for them is more of a “getting lost in the shuffle” concern, rather than anything super negative.  I hope I’m wrong – there’s definitely other couples I’d like to see leave us before this one. But they’ve got another week to make an impact, so fingers crossed.

12.) Lamar & Peta – Full disclosure, I feel protective of Lamar – without getting into too much detail, I’ve recently started actually processing a lot of unresolved grief surrounding my uncle’s death from an overdose 7 years ago, and it’s brought up some feelings for me that I might be projecting onto Lamar to a degree. Lamar just seems so fragile to me at times – someone that’s really just clinging to sobriety as hard as he can, and is feeling really vulnerable as he’s just trying to move on with his life after a rough few years. So for him to go out and give what I would consider a not-terribly-exciting-but-very-respectable effort on the floor, only to be lambasted by 2/3 judges is a damn SHAME, if not a borderline bad judgement call with respect to his mental health. The “3’s” were unnecessary – for the amount of steps he did on-time and with generally ok technique, that score is asinine compared to others that were given out for routines that really weren’t that much better (and had far less actual dance content). Did Len & Bruno really need to go there? I mean, it’s not like this show is a paragon of dance integrity – so why start the crusade for dance morality with Lamar? I’m sure there’s more at play there, but I digress. It wasn’t the best foxtrot I’ve seen, but it also wasn’t the worst – and I don’t want Lamar to feel like his worth is somehow being measured by this three-ring circus of a reality show that I’m somehow still blogging after 10 years (my Pureversary is this week). So I’m hoping the judges/viewers/whoever the hell is determining who gets eliminated each week (TBD next week, I guess) see fit to give him another shot – but given the number of people I saw on Twitter that were siding with Len & Bruno, I’m feeling skeptical. I was proud of you, Lamar – you went out there and did something that likely terrified you, and put on a brave face when you got ridiculed for it. One other note – Peta, if Lindsay can take a nearly 2′ height difference between herself and (geriatric) Kareem and somehow make magic with it, I don’t want to hear another peep about the 1’3″ difference between you and (younger, more able-bodied) Lamar. Pick Lindsay’s brain if you’re stumped – I’m sure she could give you some pointers.

Thoughts after the first show? Do you have a favorite now, and is it different than the favorite you had after GMA? Any thoughts on format changes?