Two Olympic gold medalists, a teen pop star, two teen idol actresses and a veteran actor who appeared in the “Star Wars” series were among the celebrities who appeared Monday night on the season 18 premiere of “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC.
Vying for the mirror ball trophy were Olympic ice skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White – who won gold medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as a pair but who are competing against each other in this event; ”The Wonder Years” actress Danica McKellar; comedian-turned-game show host Drew Carey; endurance swimmer Diana Nyad; veteran actor Billy Dee Williams; “Full House” actress Candace Cameron Bure; “Real Housewives” reality star NeNe Leakes, Australian pop singer Cody Simpson, and “Big Time Rush” actor-singer James Maslow.
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In two “Dancing” firsts, double-amputee snowboarding champ Amy Purdy, who lost both of her legs as a teenager and pushed to become a world-champion adaptive snowboarder, was the first paralympian to compete. Sean Avery was the first former hockey player in “Dancing’s” history.
Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the outspoken pro dancer and fan favorite, returned to the show after sitting out two seasons. He partnered with Davis.
The premiere opened with a live performance by pop star Jason Derulo.
NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani: Leakes, who stars in the hit reality TV show, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” turned in a saucy cha-cha with attitude. The three judges – head judge Len Goodman and his counterparts, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli – praised her performance. Goodman told her she needed more pressure in her feet, but compared her turn to “an all-you-can-eat buffet of fun and entertainment.” Tonioli called Leakes “sassy,” and said he loved her energy and enthusiasm, while Inaba told her that her larger-than-life personality shone through. Inaba offered this piece of advice: “You’re a big, large, beautiful, voluptuous, sensual woman. I want you to dance bigger. I feel like you were dancing a little small to match Tony. I want you to give it more.” Each judge gave Leakes 7 points for a total of 21 out of a possible total of 30.
James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: The “Big Time Rush” actor/singer’s foxtrot won kudos from the judges. Tonioli, who gave Maslow a 7, said the singer delivered vigor, attack and determination. Tonioli said he liked the effort Maslow put into the dance, even as he urged him to relax more and pay more attention to precise footwork. “I have to tell you, as a first effort it was very, very good,” Tonioli added. Inaba said Maslow had a “natural elegance” that was nice to see – and she awarded him and 7, and Goodman said that even though the footwork was “a bit messy” at times, he appreciated that Maslow attempted to get it right. He, too, gave Maslow a 7 for a total of 21 points.
Danika McKellar and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: The “Wonder Years” actress’ confident foxtrot brought the ballroom audience to its feet with a rousing round of applause. Inaba called McKellar “adorable,” and said her enthusiasm for the dance elevated the performance, but she advised the actress to be careful of how she held her shoulders. Goodman thought McKellar held on too tightly to her partner’s shoulders, but added: “You don’t get a second chance at a first impression and my first impression is ‘terrific.’ Well done!” Tonioli commended McKellar’s exuberance and interpretation, but also added a warning about the set of her shoulders. Each judge awarded McKellar 8 points for a total of 24.
Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff: Avery, a former hockey pro who has a bit of a bad-boy reputation, delivered a poignant contemporary routine that brought the audience to its feet. “I’m actually very surprised because I thought you were going to be a lump of ice but you’re not,” Tonioli said. “You’re powerful, you’re focused, you’re connected, you’re very committed to what you do.” Inaba called Avery “fascinating to watch,” but told him he needed to learn how to point his toes, and Goodman said the routine was “full of intensity, which I love.” He also said the lifts were “terrific,” but added that the performance needed a bit of finesse in places. “You know, your first dance – contemporary is a difficult dance. I thought you did really well. Well done.” Avery earned 7s from Inaba and Tonioli and a 6 from Goodman for a total of 20.
Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater: The actor channeled his iconic character, Lando Calrissian, from the “Star Wars” series, for a cha-cha set to the movies’ instantly recognizable theme music. Williams appeared on the dance floor flanked by two storm troopers and next to a replica of R2-D2, the beloved droid from the series. Williams’ low-key performance didn’t bowl the judges over. Inaba said: “You’re definitely the most relaxed dancer I’ve ever seen. The hips are still going but I think … we’re going to need a little more from you next week.” Tonioli said he believed Williams played the wrong character. He drew boos from the audience (and from some Ewoks in attendance) when he suggested that Williams play a stronger character – Darth Vader – on the dance floor. Goodman appreciated Williams’s effort: “Billy Dee, you were on time, you didn’t forget your routine, it was entertaining. They’re right. You need to come out with a little bit more but, listen, two hip replacements, you’re 77. You did a good job. Well done.” Each judge awarded Williams 5 points for a total of 15.
Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: Judges found the Olympian’s rapid cha-cha thrilling. Inaba said it was “exciting” to watch, and Goodman said that, while Davis was “nice on ice,” she was “good on wood,” too. Tonioli said the routine had lyricism and artistry. “What a debut. Fantastic,” he said. Davis earned three 8s for a total of 24.
Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: Judges raved about the “Full House” actress’s intense contemporary routine. Goodman’s critique took all of six words: “Candace, you can dance. Well done,” he said. Inaba was amazed. “Where did that come from?” she asked. “You are such an incredible dancer,” she said, adding that she wanted to see the routine again. Tonioli called the performance “dynamic and dramatic.” The actress earned 8s from Tonioli and Goodman, and a 9 from Inaba, for a total of 25.
Cody Simpson and Witney Carson: Tonioli called the pop singer’s energetic cha-cha “fresh, cool, funky.” He said Simpson had charisma “by the truckload,” but told him to be careful with his basic cha-cha moves. Inaba said Simpson was “fantastic in the upper body” but said he needed to work on his lower half, particularly since his big feet were “distracting.” Goodman thought Simpson needed to work on his technique, but said the routine was “full of confidence, full of attack, full of energy.” With two 7s from Inaba and Goodman and an 8 from Tonioli, Simpson earned a total of 22 points.
Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke: Carey, a comedian and TV game show host, had a crowd-pleaser with his classic foxtrot. Inaba liked what she called the easy groove and great form. She added: “Every season there’s always one contestant that just makes everybody smile. I think we just found our crowd-pleaser right here.” Tonioli said the routine had flaws, but said it was full of content, entertaining and wonderful. Goodman agreed: “I’ll tell you what: that was very watchable,” he said. “I enjoyed it from the first beat of music right through.” Each judge gave Carey 7 points for a total of 21.
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: Purdy, a paralympian who lost her two lower legs to bacterial meningitis, got a standing ovation from the audience for her cha-cha and high praise from judges. Goodman started off by telling Purdy that she would be judged on the same criteria as the other competitors, then said: “You got a bronze medal in the Olympics. You got a gold medal in the cha-cha-cha.” Tonioli called Purdy’s performance “beyond belief.” “We have Wonder Woman in this room, I’m telling you. Timing, shapes, performance level -how do you do it? I’m gob-smacked,” he said. Added Inaba: “I’m like – I’m in shock. I’ve never seen anything thing like that,” she said, adding that it was an honor to watch her dance. Each judge awarded her 8 points for a total of 24.
Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov: Nyad, an endurance swimmer, said she felt uncomfortable in heels, but judges appreciated the effort she put into her foxtrot. Tonioli told her she needed to be lighter and smoother, Inaba said she enjoyed watching the swimmer get more comfortable as the choreography went on, and while Goodman agreed that the performance needed to have more fluidity, he said: “I wasn’t expecting it as good as that, so well done to you.” Nyad earned three 6s for a total of 18.
Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: An Olympic gold medalist ice dancer, White didn’t disappoint with his tender contemporary routine. “It was poetry in motion,” Inaba said. Goodman said the performance was “a good dance” for week one, and said he looked forward to White’s future performances. Added Tonioli: “You’re an artist. The attention to detail in week one is incredible. … It’s a very, very high standard to maintain, so I really hope you continue, because that was astonishing.” White earned three 9s for a total of 27, the highest score of the night.
Celebrities and their partners will learn several ballroom styles and perform live every week with the goal of advancing to the finals and the championships. The stars advance by earning judges’ scores and viewer votes.
Typically, the star with the lowest combined total of judges’ scores and viewer votes is eliminated from the competition every week. The first elimination will be next week.
In a first for the show, viewers will vote mid-season to have celebrities switch pro partners.
The premiere also featured the debut of Erin Andrews alongside show co-host Tom Bergeron. Andrews replaces former co-host Brooke Burke Charvet.
The Judges’ Scores
Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: 27
Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: 25
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: 24
Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 24
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: 24
Danika McKellar and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 24
Cody Simpson and Witney Carson: 22
James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: 21
NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani: 21
Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke: 21
Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff: 20
Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov: 18
Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater: 15