‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: ‘Our wildest cast ever!’


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Welcome back to the ballroom, dance fans! We’re at the top of yet another sequin-studded season of “Dancing With the Stars.” This time around, we’ve got a Baby, a comedian, a football player, a Brady, and a Palin. Not to mention the Hoff!

There were a lot of burning questions raised during this two-hour premiere event. Sure, the Hoff can jog in slow motion on a beach and bring the entire country of Germany to its knees, but can he pull off a cha cha? Can the Situation shake it and walk at the same time? Why gold batwings, Margaret Cho? Is Bristol Palin the next Kate Gosselin? Let’s run down the dancing deets.


Shooting to the top of the leader board were Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough. Full disclosure: When I heard that Grey was going to be on the show, I was excited. Super excited. I mean, she’s Baby Houseman from “Dirty Dancing” – an integral movie from my youth. But I didn’t know how much I wanted her to be there until she showed up for the rehearsal footage with Derek Hough. Particularly that scene where she finds out that they’re going to be dancing to “These Arms of Mine” — a sentimental throwback not only to Otis Redding, but because it was used in “Dirty Dancing” itself. What started out as pure excitement on Grey’s part quickly turned into a sob of tears as memories of the late, great Patrick Swayze came rushing to the forefront. “He was like you – he was young and gorgeous,” she sobbed to Derek. It was as real and as touching as I’ve ever seen. Oh, Patrick Swayze, you are missed.

And how bittersweet it was to have her out on the dance floor, dancing to the song that she and Swayze slow-danced to those so many years ago. To see Grey continuing the dance seemed to bring everything full circle, and Swayze and Kellerman’s was as alive and as well as it once was. And it didn’t truly hit home how much she needed to be on that show until that moment when she showed up and waltzed straight back into my heart. She looked great. Of course, she danced great. She’s Baby, and nobody puts Baby in the corner. “Some things get better with age,” praised Carrie Ann. “I think you’re one of them.” Baby Jennifer and Derek got a 24 for their waltz, a great start to what I have my fingers crossed will be many more dances to come. Mostly, I hope they get to do a lift at the end.

Sure, he might be drinking a little bit too much of his own Kool-Aid, but how adorable was “That’s So Raven” star Kyle Massey during his performance? While I’m somewhat aged out of the tween demographic, I have to say it’s nice to have a refreshing jolt of youthful energy to fire up the ballroom. And as for partner Lacey Schwimmer, not sure how I feel about your blonde Mouseketeer vixen look, but it’s great to have you back. Lacey’s high-energy cha cha choreography matched Kyle’s youthful enthusiasm note for note, and their routine, set to 3OH!3’s “My First Kiss,” just about brought the house down. “You are officially my first crush of Season 11!” Carrie Ann exclaimed. “You are like dynamite out there.” “Just brilliant!” gushed Bruno. Not only that, but Kyle showed boys everywhere how to take peeks at women’s chests without getting in trouble: “It’s my center point.” Total: 23, though Kyle could no doubt give himself a couple extra points just from his unfettered self-enthusiasm.

Also posting a respectable score of 23 was one-named singer and songwriter Brandy. The perfectionist wanted to be pushed hard, and it was up to partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy who had to shed his attempt to be a good boy this season to do it. And their Viennese waltz was serviceable, if a little staid in my book. The judges, however, thought it was golden. “That was fantastic,” lauded Len. “I love the taste of Brandy in the evening,” purred Bruno. Judging by the giddy way that the Grammy winner was jumping up and down after the criticism, however, you’d think that she’d already won the Mirrorball trophy.

Just a point behind them was former Laker Rick Fox, partnered with pro dancer Cheryl Burke (how does she get her pick of the men?). It’s a team of champions, ballroom fans! They have three NBA rings and two Mirrorball trophies between them. Despite the massive height difference between Rick and partner, who looked positively pocket-sized by comparison, the couple was able to pull off a romantic and convincing Viennese waltz that was elegant enough to impress the judges and hot enough to melt the hearts of all the females (Eliza Dushku sat courtside to make sure everyone knew he was taken). “Your posture was ridiculously gorgeous,” raved Carrie Ann. “I was blown away.” Len thought the height didn’t get in the way at all. And while Bruno foresees a Kurt Warner/Rick Fox smackdown, I foresee a lot more moves where short Cheryl slides through tall Rick’s legs. Total: 22.

‘The Hills’’ Audrina Patridge, self-described “fun loving party girl on ‘the Hills’” knows that this is serious competition. There is no going out, no distraction for her while she’s training, As Carrie Ann said, the reality TV star’s got the attitude and the body to do well this season. (She’s also highly competitive in the spray-tanning department.) Audrina’s safely shimmying cha cha, set to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” went bold with a solo at the very beginning, which you’ve got to give her credit for. And while Len said he wanted her to be a little more feisty, Bruno told her to hold her performance all the way through, you can bet that partner Tony Dovolani will take whatever he could get, as long as it wasn’t Kate Gosselin. Total: 19.

Quarterback Kurt Warner may be a legend on the football field, but he has yet to earn that respect on the ballroom from crankypants judge Len. The former Rams quarterback’s Viennese waltz with Anna Trebunskaya was definitely high on the charm, but low on the technique. While Bruno and Carrie Ann fawned over his massive potential, the head judge flagged Warner for his lack of grace (maybe he doesn’t appreciate American football?): “To me, it has very little to commend it,” Len pooh-poohed. Kurt and Anna only got a 19 for their premiere routine, but I have no doubt that this NFL favorite will make it through to next week. Sports figures are super popular on the show, and Kurt’s affable nature shows that he’s got charm for days. Not to mention the massive voting power of his seven(!) kids.


Stuck firmly in the middle of the pack were Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas, and Florence Henderson and Corky Ballas. And you’ve got to give Bristol – “a public advocate for teen pregnancy prevention” — credit for shimmying as much as she could in that fire engine red dress. Part of me feared that Sarah Palin’s daughter would end up as another polarizing, stiff-as-a-board Kate Gosselin, but Bristol did demonstrate that there were some moves somewhere within that untrained body of hers. “You just need to loosen up a bit,” advised Len. “Girlfriend, I see a future for you!” encouraged Carrie Ann. Total: 18.

Which was tied with Florence Henderson. Who we quickly found out was not Mrs. Brady after all, but a feisty hellcat. And while her cha cha cha with Corky Ballas was not as fun as the chest-baring, expletive-heavy, randy rehearsal footage, I’ve seen enough to know that I want the 76-year-old erstwhile Wesson oil spokeswoman to stay for weeks and weeks to come. Plus, she’s got some great life wisdom: “Stay interested, and stay interesting.” Henderson’s got a handle on both.

Michael Bolton, on the other hand, could have taken a little more of that advice to heart. Too bad the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and former guardian of a lustrous mane was so nervous during his Viennese waltz that it ended up clunking like a ton of ill-timed bricks. Despite partner Chelsie Hightower’s posture bar workout and sparkly princess blue dress, he of the raspy singing voice was all but dragged around by his partner’s built-in handkerchiefs. The judges gave him nice little platitudes, but Len dealt the final blow when he said just getting through the routine was good enough. Which, of course, is the last thing anyone with an eye on a Mirrorball trophy wants to hear. Total: 16.

Comedian Margaret Cho tried to bring on the funny with her partner Louis Van Amstel, but I have to say, I agree with the judges and kind of wished she had played it straight for her first routine. Like them, I was really impressed by her opening bars of her Viennese waltz, set to Queen’s “We Are the Champions:” It was powerful and fierce, and went a long way into convincing me that she had some dancing legs underneath that garden variety dress. But in came the colorguard gold lame cape (“Liberace’s shower curtain,” is how Tom aptly described it), and out went the dance’s integrity. Like the judges, I couldn’t tell if she was getting caught up in the gold lame tornado on purpose or not, which took away from the routine altogether. Still, her parents in the audience could not have looked prouder, which won her points in my book. Let’s hope that she can stay for a couple more weeks of therapy. Total: 15

So what’s the Situation? Here’s the Situation. Name: Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. Claim to Fame: The reality train wreck that is “Jersey Shore” and “looking like Rambo with his shirt off.” Pro partner: Karina Smirnoff. Default dance move: The MC Hammer. And while anything that has come out of the “Jersey Shore” usually causes a gag reflex, I have to say, there’s something oddly appealing about this guy. First of all, he may have acting chops. Secondly, he’s got a shooting star shaved into the side of his head. And finally, there’s an earnestness that belies his meathead persona. The “Jersey Shore” shoot allowed the Situation only five days to learn his first cha cha routine. The lack of practice time showed in his rough-and-tumble performance, and the judges weren’t in any sort of mood to be handing out leniency cards. “There is a spark there somewhere,” began Bruno. “A very very faint thing that may or may not be talent.” The best, however, went to Len: “You’ve got the guns, but not the ammunition,” he zinged. Score 1 for the head judge. And score 15 for the Situation for his performance.

Last, but not least (OK, one of the least, with 15) was David Hasselhoff. The producers saved the former “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch” star for last, and I was half expecting that the TV star would take whatever made him hotter than a bratwurst in Dusseldorf and show us some cool moves with a side of zesty mustard on the dance floor. But alas, as he said himself, “My heart’s in the right place; my body’s old.” Accompanied by Season 9 pro champ Kym Johnson (welcome back!), the Hoff was outfitted in studded black pleather and attempted to personify Tom Jones’ “Sex Bomb,” but his cha cha was mostly a dud. Carrie Ann found it to be hysterical, but not in a nice way. “Somehow you reminded me of the offspring of Donny Osmond and Jerry Springer,” she giggled. “You danced with your mouth more than you danced with your body.” Bruno called him “a potpourri of insanity.” And Len simply said, “It’s never too early to panic.”


So is it panic time for the Hoff? Methinks that Margaret Cho and Bristol Palin may be in danger of being the first ones on the chopping block come Tuesday.

What do you think? Who are your early favorites, and who do you think will have the not-so-great honor of being inducted into the Losers’ Club?

—Allyssa Lee


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Photo credit: Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough: Bob D’Amico / ABC