‘Dancing With the Stars’: Step by step

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Stars! And what’s more, they’re dancing! After all the backstage drama leading up to this season’s premiere of ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ it was a relief to finally arrive at Cycle 8 and see the contestants get through the two-hour extravaganza without any sort of bodily harm or broken engagement. Though that’s not to say that there wasn’t any drama on this episode as well. And I’m not just referring to the last-minute additions, or the fact that a real-life couple was competing together for the first time in ‘DWTS’ history. No, I’m talking about ... the new grand staircase! How about that? It makes it seem as though the stars are descending from the heavens themselves!

Seriously, though, it’s always a little tough to separate the wheat from the chaff at the beginning of a season, and the 13 stars and all their sparkly outfits can sometimes lead to sensory overload. Overall, I thought most of the celebs carried themselves admirably, and it was nice to see that everyone wanted to be there, at least. And a few front-runners and fan favorites came to the surface:


At the top of the judges’ scoreboard was Gilles Marini, better known as the hot neighbor in the ‘Sex and the City’ movie. But while his cha-cha with Cheryl Burke was sultry and fun, I thought the resounding 24 was a little generous for the season premiere.

Then came Shawn Johnson, who earned a total of 23 but should automatically get extra points for posing on a glittery balance beam in the intro and a gold star for being so gosh darn adorable. I pegged Shawn to be a front-runner from the get-go because of her gold medal-winning work ethic, extension, and megawatt smile. And I wasn’t wrong: Partner Mark Ballas used her flexibility to an advantage with the crowd-pleasing split drag (sorry, no expert ballroom terms here) across the floor, and she showed a pleasantly surprising elegance in her waltz. I’m kind of apprehensive to see how she’ll fare in the Latin dances, however. She may be able to tumble effortlessly on a four-inch beam, but will she be able to shake her moneymaker in a samba to the same effect?

Also scoring a 23: newly single Melissa Rycroft. Not only did she step in some 48 hours earlier to fill in for an injured Nancy O’Dell and pull off an elegant routine, Melissa (who was sporting some kind of ring on her left hand) taught us that there is redemption not only in reality TV, but in America. Only in this great country of ours can a woman like Melissa be dumped by her “loser” fiance on “The Bachelor” and then put on a sparkly fishnet top and a glittery lower back tattoo and waltz around with Tony Dovolani on another reality show ... in the span of one week! In the droll words of Tom Bergeron, “You didn’t think you’d have this much fun on ABC shows, huh?”

And to echo the sentiment of the drunken Siberian groupie on this week’s ‘The Amazing Race,’ “I love America!” Where else can someone first be introduced to a series while in prison, and then dress up in some sort of Christmas tree tinsel and cha-cha with Derek Hough on that very same show just a few short years later? I’m talking about you, Lil’ Kim! Twenty-one for a first-time score — not too shabby! Give a shout-out to all the girls at the federal detention center — wha wha!

And in what other country can a former drug addict and bonafide Jackass sober up, un-staple his gonad from his leg, don a pin-striped suit and dance with a woman disguised as a peacock? That’s right: The good ol’ US of A. Steve-O may only have received a grand total of 17 from the judges, but judging by that semi-standing O he got for his stiff efforts, he is an early fan favorite. Plus, who doesn’t love an underdog, particularly one who is so self-effacing? “I’ve got disadvantages for days,” he claimed. “I’m very Caucasian. I can’t keep a beat. I’ve very poor balance, and the scrawniest ankles that you’ve ever seen.” He’s like a supinating Adam Carolla, sans the grating irritability. And I think he and Lacey Schwimmer make a good match.

Falling firmly in the middle of the pack are erstwhile Go-Go and all-around cool cat Belinda Carlisle, who may have the beat but is having a hard time letting partner Jonathan Roberts lead, and disarmingly droll comedian David Alan Grier, who did an OK waltz, but who claimed he’s mainly in this for the swimmer’s body and sexual favors. And the last-minute fill-in for Jewel was Playboy Playmate Holly Madison, who scored a respectable 18. I remember some orange fringe in her routine, but in my notes I just wrote “blonde” and “bouncy.” Also fringed and a little awkward was Denise Richards, whom I pegged to be the next Brooke Burke, but doesn’t appear to possess the same natural ability as last season’s winner. And then there’s country singer Chuck Wicks, who many of you said had an unfair advantage of being paired up with real-life girlfriend Julianne Hough. Turned out he needs to dial it down a couple of notches. And stop making it look like he’s strangling his partner.


On the lower end of the leader board are football Hall of Famer and former NY Giant Lawrence Taylor, who reminds me of Emmitt Smith and may just need a couple of weeks to let his freak flag fly. There’s also rodeo champ and husband-of-Jewel Ty Murray, who is charming with his laid-back drawl (his approach to ballroom dancing is like bull-riding: “You’re never completely ready; it’s just your turn”), but appeared a bit like a deer caught in headlights when on the floor with ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ alum Chelsie Hightower (it looked like wife Jewel was doing everything in her power not to bust a gut on the sidelines after his performance).

And in the I’m-just-happy-to-be-here category is computer genius and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The Woz was entertaining enough in the intro portion, when he took to sitting quietly in the corner with his eyes closed and spouted geeky bon mots like “dancing is analog.” And he reminds me of an Ewok. Unfortunately, his knee-twirling number to Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” with Karina Smirnoff (who herself looked like she was wearing a strategically placed oil slick) earned him a less-than-stellar score of 13 and elicited this bon mot from Bruno: “It was like a Teletubby going mad at a gay pride parade.” Though if his routine was performed on Segways rather than regular feet, he probably would have killed it.

Now, there’s still another week of competition before the first elimination, and we have yet to see the exciting new bottom-two dance-off that Tom Bergeron so enticingly promised. But after tonight I’d say the Woz is a shoo-in to be inducted into the ‘DWTS’ first-to-go hall of shame. What do you think? Were you as mesmerized by Edyta’s fringe as I was? Did Melissa redeem herself with her performance? Who do you think showed some ballroom flair, and who do you think was outshined by his/her sequins?

-- Allyssa Lee

Photos of Melissa and Shawn courtesy ABC