PureDWTS Season 29, Week 1 – Power Rankings

As I find myself saying more and more often in this god forsaken year – this episode of Black Mirror sucks 😛

Granted, my bar for this season of DWTS was set lower than ever; I was expecting a certain degree of shenanigans that inevitably comes with COVID-19 precautions. The lack of audience meant the couples seemed to just get swallowed up by the stage (and lighting), and the walls constructed on both sides of the dance floor to obscure the lack of audience seemed to evoke a sort of post-apocalyptic robot obelisk. Then there was the dystopian (and highly unnerving, at times) pre-recorded applause, booing, and cheering noises that were piped in, often at the wrong time (and wayyyy too loud). The intro of the celebs at the beginning of the show seemed to be some sort of bastardized version of the “choose your player” screen at the beginning of video games, with each character pulsing awkwardly in some sort of characteristic movement – or a preview of the 2020 version of The Sims, who knows. While I enjoyed the intro of the pros walking to the stage one by one and striking a pose, they all seemed to look a bit sad – I like to think it was because they missed Tom. I certainly did.

I just can’t with Tyra, guys. I know it was her first night, but sis was just trying wayyyy too hard, and it came across disingenuous and awkward at times; I just found myself going “We let go of the ease and aplomb of Tom and Erin FOR THIS???” And this is DWTS, not the Met Gala – so the ginormous “look at meeeeeee!” ballgown made me roll my eyes, as did the costume change. I can’t recall Tom or Erin ever changing costumes during the show, or wearing anything that was so over-the-top as to shift focus from the contestants. Nor did they feel the need to stunt in a Ferrari…

…as I had kind of expected based on the fact that we had to get through 15 couples in two hours, the dances were quite truncated, as were the judges’ comments; seems as though plenty of time was left for Tyra to ask awkward questions of the couples afterwards, though. Carrie Ann is Carrie Ann, just blonder now (but don’t think that she won’t still call out lifts because she’s blonde, guys!!!); could be just me, but did anyone else think Bruno seemed even less coherent than in previous seasons? Could also be bad sound, but at times I found myself rewinding to re-listen to what he said because it just sounded like nonsense to me. Derek was the bright spot on the judges’ panel, as we had expected – four seasons judging on World of Dance have left him with the ability to give concise, constructive, and relevant feedback after a dance, and not fall into the Len Goodman trap of getting too wrapped up in playing the part of the conservative, grumpy grandpa figure to actually give helpful advice. I found myself nodding along with most of what Derek said, and was thankful to have him as a stabilizing force on the panel…and also to troll Carrie Ann’s perpetually-ridiculous lift policing 😉

But at the end of the night, all dumpster fire jokes aside, I found myself with one dominant emotion: hope. The world may be collapsing into ruin around us, but at the end of those two hours I found myself happy that 15 celebrities, 15 pros, 3 judges, and 1 iffy host still managed to put on a good show. I don’t think any couple phoned it in or deliberately sucked – each one seemed to be trying their best out there, even if they weren’t terribly confident in themselves. I was left feeling just a bit more optimistic about the rest of this year, which is a precious feeling these days. And while I’m no longer on Twitter, I remember tweeting sometime in June (I think) a list of items DWTS needed to do in order to “atone” for sins of previous seasons: one was to ensure that Keo and Brandon got partners (check), one was to bring back Artem (check), one was to hire Britt as a pro (check), and one was to hold Len accountable for some of the racist stuff he’s gotten away with saying on the show (check-ish…I’ll settle for replacing him altogether). Aside from the absolute travesty of losing Tom & Erin – the show actually made good on most of my list. Bravo.

So yeah, some of you have noticed I’m no longer on Twitter; I’m going to do my best to make up for it in the rankings. You might notice I’m throwing gifs into my posts now, as that was often my favorite way to react quickly on Twitter. I’ve got plenty of shady Naomi Campbell gifs stockpiled to troll Tyra with this season 😉 The rankings are likely to also be a bit longer, as it’s now my only means of reacting to the show – before, I felt the need to somehow differentiate my live tweeting from the rankings to a degree, which often left me with writer’s block. But that’s no more…the words seem to flow more freely now that I’m not trying to say different things than I did on Twitter! 🙂

1.) Justina & Sasha – I kind of expected Justina to be fun – if you follow her on Instagram, she just has a really good, fun energy. But I wasn’t expecting her to be as technically proficient as she was! I was kind of blown away with how well she was hitting every move with confidence and flair. She definitely won the award for showman of the night for me, but honestly, taking into account everything else in addition to showmanship – she was the dance of the night for me, too. You can tell she’s got musicality, and she moves BIG, which is something that more petite women seem to struggle with on this show. I was getting Marissa Jaret Winokur vibes from her, but better. I’m definitely excited to see what else she’s got up her sleeve this season, but I’m mostly just loving her energy right now 🙂

2.) Skai & Alan – I think the only reason I don’t have Skai tied with Justina is that Skai got a dance this week that required a bit more control, and thus the performance wasn’t quite as explosive as Justina’s high-energy cha-cha. But I’m glad she got tango, because it showed us that she’s got something a lot of the other contestants might not: control, but with impact. She was nailing those sharp leg lines in the beginning of the dance, and she’s flexible to boot. I’d have to go back and re-watch, but I feel like she might have gotten a bit lost on some of the turn sections – but that’s something that Alan can easily work on with her as the season progresses. I had to raise an eyebrow at “Super Bass” as a tango song – aside from the awkward bleeping out of naughty words that seemed to leave holes in the song, only the chorus seemed well-suited to tango. But they made it work – and I loved the pose at the beginning with the sunglasses 😎

3.) Kaitlyn & Artem – Did anyone else just adore Kaitlyn’s reaction to getting Artem as her partner? 🙂 After his unceremonious ousting last season, I’m so glad Artem got a partner that was clearly thrilled to have him as her pro – and if Heidi & I’s five-year-long suspicions are correct, it was Kaitlyn’s DWTS dreams in season 21 getting squashed that resulted in Artem sitting that season out. So Kaitlyn & Artem together? It just makes a lot of sense to me 😉 Not to draw too many comparisons to previous Bachelorettes on DWTS, but right out of the gate, Kaitlyn already moves better than Hannah – there’s a certain ease to the way she moves that Hannah didn’t really develop until much later in her season. She can still move a bit small, though, and there’s definite room for improvement in her hip action and arm styling; but she’s got a good foundation of dance knowledge and musicality, so Artem has a lot to work with this season. Plus she seems really eager to learn, which usually makes for a successful partnership.

4.) Johnny & Britt – So at long last, we FINALLY got Johnny Weir on this show!!! Seriously, I feel like he’s been a rumor for as long as I’ve been blogging – so like, 11+ years. And unfortunately, I think all those years of anticipation have resulted in some inflated expectations for America’s favorite flamboyant skater; I think Adam Rippon’s win 2.5 years ago also has set the bar pretty high. To be clear, I don’t think Johnny’s cha-cha was bad; I just think the song was all wrong, and Johnny’s movement quality was a bit too…flowy. While Adam definitely took a few liberties with some of the movements in his dances, they all at least looked like the dance they were meant to be: a cha-cha still looked like a cha-cha, a quickstep still looked like a quickstep. Likely owing to a less-than-ideal song for cha-cha, Johnny looked like he was doing some sort of modern jazz routine instead 😛 He did hit every step, though, and clearly has musicality. And I still enjoyed Britt’s choreography, and thought there were some fun flourishes in it that point to her possibly being pretty clever as a choreographer. Loved that they didn’t end the dance with a dip, like almost every other couple. While I think Johnny doesn’t have the MBT in the bag by any means at this point, I do think there’s room for improvement here – and I’m eager to see what he and Britt come up with.

5.) Nev & Jenna – Nev can definitely dance – I had heard that he had studied contemporary/modern dance for a spell in college, but I wasn’t sure how well that would actually translate to the dance floor. I think it definitely paid off for a dance like foxtrot – he clearly knows where to put his limbs, how to finish lines, and how to move big. Very light on his feet, too. A few issues with posture, but overall an impressive first dance. But I’m wondering how well his dance skills are going to translate to the Latin dances – I think that’s going to be the real test. And as I mentioned in the pre-season, I think with 15 couples this year, anyone from more of a niche fanbase (anyone that may be wildly popular with a small subset of the general audience, but is perhaps not widely well-known) is going to have to come out of the gates strong in order to get the votes. Luckily, this was a good first impression – I’m hoping he can keep up the momentum in the coming weeks. Mama Spence still keeps asking “So who is this guy again?”, which makes me wonder if other Boomers are saying the same thing.

6.) AJ & Cheryl – AJ wins my award for second-cutest first meeting – the sweet little excited “Hiiiiiii!” he gave when he saw that he got Cheryl was just precious 🙂 Off the bat, I feel like he’s miles ahead of Nick Carter in terms of dance skill – I often found myself thinking Nick was a chaotic mover, with a tendency to do wayyyyy too much; AJ has far more control in his movement (perhaps even a tad too much). I actually thought their jive was pretty good, and probably deserved a point or two more; I think where it suffered was in terms of camera work (that stage just seemed to swallow them up, and the camera seemed so far away at times that I couldn’t really see what they were doing) and lighting (seriously, it got really distracting at times). I’m hoping he didn’t hurt himself when he landed from his jump off the stage – he seemed to lose his balance a bit. Generally, though, he hit every beat (if a bit too softly) and has a good sense of the music – I think there’s a lot of potential here and room for improvement. Looking forward to getting a longer dance out of him with better camera work, so I can actually see what he’s doing!

7.) Jeannie & Brandon – Jeannie was probably the contestant I was least familiar with going into this season, but I was pleasantly surprised – she’s adorable and has a really fun energy. She’s also a decent (if not a bit chaotic) mover, and seems to be good at selling a dance. I think Brandon was wise to go the route of throwing in a bunch of salsa tricks, as Jeannie’s slight build and stature makes it easy for her to get thrown around; her hip action could also use work, so Brandon was likely wise to keep it to a minimum. Generally, though, Jeannie’s got a lot to work with – she moves big (despite being small), like Justina, and can perform the hell out of a dance. She just needs a bit of polish 😉 Also not a 100% ideal salsa song, but they worked it out – in my mind, though, “Tell it to My Heart” really belongs to Alyssa Edwards and her epic lip sync on Drag Race 😎

8.) Jesse & Sharna – You’d think by now the show would be tired of shipping Sharna with good-looking, single men – but nope 😛 The minute I heard these two would be paired together, I said to myself “Crap, they’re trying to set up another showmance.” And it does seem to me that Jesse is at least receptive to the idea – making comments about Sharna’s “steamy” dances with Nick (were they, though? I just remember them being pained, more often than not), turning up the heat on their quickstep, etc. Anywho, Jesse started off the dance pretty wooden, but seemed to loosen up as it wore on; still see some shoulder issues (and possibly some timing ones) that need to be addressed. Was glad to see the cute, clever little flourishes we’ve become accustomed to in Sharna’s choreo back again 🙂 Also loving her blonde/pink hair – a nice change of pace, and likely more low-maintenance than the bright red (as someone who has tried having fiery red hair – it’s a PITA, and fades like crazy). There’s definite potential here, but I think it’s going to take a few weeks before he might become a real contender.

9.) Monica & Val – My big concern for Monica headed into this competition was less about her skill level and more about her personality. For anyone that has watched Cheer on Netflix, you know that she’s kind of the strong, silent type: not really one to raise her voice, one that rules with a quiet strength that commands respect (and love) from the kids who cheer for her. She’s definitely not super-energetic like Justina, or kooky like Anne, or enthusiastic like Kaitlyn. And while that may result in her fading into the woodwork as we move on through the season, I gotta say: there is something really compelling about the way she dances. She can move (and you can tell she’s in great shape!) and she has a really refined, elegant quality to her movement. She also has a sort of earnest vulnerability to her that seemed to fit really well with her song choice. At the end of it, I just found myself saying “Wow, that was really nice.” I think the big test will be when she has to do a Latin dance – while the refined elegance works well in ballroom, I think she’s going to have to turn up the energy for Latin dances. Will also be interesting to see the dynamic between her and Val – she’s not the top to get easily riled, but she’s also no doormat; I wonder if she might actually be the ideal partner for Val.

10.) Nelly & Daniella – I went in not really sure what to expect from Nelly, and I can say this now: he’s either going to go the way of Rob Kardashian, who started his season on kinda shaky ground before figuring out about halfway through the season that he actually could dance and enjoyed doing it; or he’s going to go the way of D.L. Hughley, who never seemed to be enjoying himself and was just biding his time until his elimination. Thing is, Nelly can actually dance and put on a good show – he definitely had a good feel for the music and natural flow; it just needs a bit of tightening up, so to speak. I think his problem is that he’s just reeeeeally skeptical about this show – I’d venture a guess that he’s doing it for the money, and probably thinks it’s kinda corny and thus is afraid to show he’s enjoying himself. I think the key is going to be shedding that “tough guy” image and just really embracing the experience. And I was actually impressed with Daniella’s choreography, and what she was able to pull out of him – hello, backflip?! Clearly he’s got some athleticism, and I hope he leans into it. A big question mark for me, but one with potential.

11.) Anne & Keo – Ooh wee – Keo got the kooky partner again 😛 I’m beginning to think he’s kinda used to it, though. The rehearsal package was definitely weird (WTF was she wearing???), and the beginning pose of her dance was just bizarre…but oddly enough, I kind of enjoyed it once they got going. Anne’s biggest strength seems to be that she’s not afraid to go full-tilt and probably doesn’t care if she embarrasses herself, so she’s not going to be timid out on the floor. She sold the dance well, though did move a bit small at times; it’s something they can definitely work on. And like Kaitlyn’s gushing about Artem, I love that Anne was singing Keo’s praises – the poor man has been saddled with dud after dud, and then got benched for a season after he made it to the finals for the first time. I appreciate any partner that recognizes his talent is happy to have him as a pro 🙂

12.) Vernon & Peta – Got definite Donald Driver/Calvin Johnson vibes from Vernon – he’s a big guy, but he seems very excited about being on the show and learning how to dance. Not that he can’t already – that endzone dance he demonstrated for Peta seemed pretty intricate, and required some serious foot coordination. So we know he CAN do precise stuff with his feet – now he just needs to apply it out on the floor 🙂 The tempo of the song seemed wayyyy too fast for a foxtrot, and there were a few times where he seemed to get a bit lost; he’s also got some shoulder issues, though I found that his were the opposite of Jesse or Nev’s: he’s slouching because of the height difference, which could take some work to break him of. I still think he has potential, and the only reason I have him so low is that he got stuck in the running order dead zone of 2nd-6th-ish, where everything started to become a blur in my mind by the end of the night.

13.) Chrishell & Gleb – Another victim of the dreaded first hour running order dead zone, and unfortunately a dance that I barely remember in the grand scheme of things. I remember her being pretty wooden, and generally awkward out on the floor; she tried, but it didn’t leave much of an impact on me. I don’t really remember being wowed by the choreo, either, but that’s not a shock since it’s Gleb…I’ve always found him to be pretty lazy when it comes to choreo. Chrishell seems nice enough, but the whole bit in the rehearsal package about waiting for an offer on a home she had listed just seemed really forced and awkward; I’m guessing they’re going to save the whole “My husband unceremoniously dumped me via text message” conversation for “most memorable year” week or something. Chrishell’s kind of in the same boat as Nev and Monica, coming from rather niche fanbases – I’m curious to see whether the sympathy about her divorce will carry her for awhile or not, because I don’t really know too many people who watch Selling Sunset religiously (most I know just tuned in to hear about Chrishell’s divorce). Because unfortunately, with Gleb at the helm, I don’t see this partnership lasting long.

14.) Charles & Emma – Poor Charles – like so many taller guys that have done the show, he seems to want to learn, but he just can’t make his body do the right things. Emma had to keep this salsa pretty simple, and like Lamar last season, I think Charles just has a hard time with the counts, and is so acutely aware of his large frame that he moves small. God bless Emma, she really tried – but I think Charles just has some limitations (both in his height and with his age) that will likely keep him from improving too much. I wish I could say these two would stick around for awhile, but I think they’ll likely be gone either next week or the week after.

15.) Carole & Pasha – If I had to guess what the agenda was in casting Carole this season, it was likely “Use the controversy surrounding her to make sure people talk about the show and maybe tune in, but don’t let her stick around too long.” I think they learned their lesson with a certain former White House Press Secretary last season – the controversy will only carry you so far until you start losing viewers because the controversial ones stick around too long. Based on the scores they gave her, my guess was they wanted to make sure Carole ended up at the bottom of the leaderboard – I don’t think she was a full point worse than Charles (in fact, I think she was actually a skosh better than Charles, in terms of actually doing the steps), and Pasha actually gave her a halfway entertaining routine for her skill level. Can I bring myself to root for her? Nah. But I respect the effort, and I think she’s likely a goner next week, barring any sort of strange interference. I do, however, feel for whatever poor corrections officer is having to deal with Joe Exotic absolutely losing his sh*t in jail right now 😛

Alright, sports fans – thoughts on the premiere, after you’ve slept on it? Who are the frontrunners? Who’s in trouble? Thoughts on Tyra? The set? The judges?