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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 03/22/2011

‘Dancing With the Stars’ Season 12 debut: We watch so you don’t have to


The celebs took the stage for the first night on “Dancing With the Stars” spring season. (Adam Larkey - ABC)
Dancing with the Stars” returned to ABC’s lineup Monday without a polarizing political figure, to the everlasting disappointment of the media.

Yahoo, for instance, called the new lineup a “stumble,” and said the names of this year’s lineup had been revealed, “to, let’s say, an underwhelmed public.” And, by “public” Yahoo meant “the press,” citing lousy reviews of the new celeb competitors in the New York Times and Movieline.

Despite the shocking lack of a polarizing political figure, there was plenty of fun on Monday’s 12th season debut.

Just not immediately. Disney Channel princess Chelsea Kane kicked things off. Poor thing was home-schooled and “never had that boy dance” so this show is super important to her. Chelsea’s foxtrot is a study in cotillion correctness and a total snooze, for which she is awarded 21 out of a possible 30 points, by judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli.

Talk show host Wendy Williams is already shaping up as this season’s diva. At the start of her taped bit she walks into rehearsal and asks pro dance partner, Tony Dovolani who he is, as though he is applyig for the job of becoming one of the little people who make up her retinue. She’s also seen having one of her trademark crying jabs – to release tension she explains as she up her tears with her hair/wig. The studio audience laughs. “I had no idea our piece was going to play me getting upset!” Wendy whines after her dance.


Wendy Williams and Tony Dovolani take the stage. (Adam Larkey - ABC)
Wendy tiptoes gingerly through her cha cha cha, like someone moving across a crowded dance floor -- only there are no other couples there. And though Len Goodman likes the fact that her “dumplings were boiling over” in her gold mini-skirted costume, the judges savage her timid performance, which may explain why she nearly comes to blows in the interview room with “Dancing” co-host Brooke Burke, when Brooke expresses surprise at Wendy’s weeping.

“You don’t watch my show enough,” Wendy snaps back. Then Wendy begins to regale Brooke with stories about past crying jags she’s had on her syndicated talk show. Only Brooke, who’s paid to make sure this train runs on time, cuts her off to get the scores. Wendy clocks 14 points.

“How does this feel?” Brooke asks.

“FINE!” Wendy barks ferociously.

“You bottom’s the tops!” Len raves after Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward’s ebullient cha cha cha. Everyone agrees, awarding him 21 points.

PHOTOS: ‘Dancing with the Stars’ season 12 cast announced

Supermodel and 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami survivor Petra Nemcova chokes up while rehearsing on the day the Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit. “My heart is breaking knowing what people in Japan are going through” she sobs during rehearsal, in her taped bit. She dedicates her foxtrot “to every person who has been suffering in Japan and every person who has been impacted by this tragedy.” Then she dances like someone whose pelvis had been broken in many places in a tsunami, for which she is awarded 18 points.

Pro dancer Chelsie Hightower is going to have her hands full with rapper Romeo, who balks at some of the dance moves. “If I can move my hips better than Rihanna, it’s a problem,” bloviates the guy who has no problem with the name “Romeo.” Romeo’s reluctance to buy into some aspects of this gig is surprising, given that he’d previously agreed to be a contestant on the show many seasons back. Only then he “tweaked my ankle” – anyway, that’s his story – and his dad, rapper Master P, graciously stepped in for him and became notorious for scoring the lowest scores in the show’s history. Low, as in 2’s. Master P’s progeny pulls in 19 points Monday night.


Petra Nemcova takes the dance floor with Dmitry Chaplin. (Adam Larkey - ABC)
Sugar Ray Leonard reminds judge Carrie Ann Inaba of song-and-dance man Ben Vereen for “tiny moments” – presumably not the ones in which his shoulders are up around his ears during his foxtrot. “The foxtrot is fine wine and caviar – this was beer and pizza,” Len Goodman criticizes.

“Sugar – can I call you Sugar?” Bruno asks Leonard, noting that’s a gag out of the great Billy Wilder flick “Some Like it Hot,” in which Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, in drag, hid out from mobsters by joining an all girl band. This did not necessarly make it better – since “Sugar” was played by Marilyn Monroe.

“You can call me Daphne,” Bruno continues -- Daphne was played by Lemmon.

“Thank you, Daphne,” “Dancing” host Tom Bergeron says, cutting through the tension. Sugar Ray lands 17 points.

Former Hugh Heffner gal-pal Kendra Wilkinson likes the word “club” -- as in, “I’m going to turn all those years of club dancing into elegant ballroom dancing,” and “]my dance] is hot. Not club hot, but classy hot.” Carrie Ann compliments Kendra on pulling off the “hard, ambitious choreography” but the crowd’s not behind her. Deep inside Kendra, her pro partner Louis Van Amstel insists, is “a little girl waiting to come out and grow up,” but even Brooke can’t fake believing that attempt to friendly-up Kendra’s image.

Oh, look, it’s Hugh Heffner, in the audience, with a new blonde babysitter.

Len says Kendra’s dance held his interest from start to finish, “not always for the right reason.” He tells her she has to work on things “from the waist down” -- which we’re not even gonna touch. Anyway, she cops 18 points.

Ralph Macchio, on the other hand, is Mr. Likeability of Season 12, with his self-effacing, Ray Romano-esque manner. His foxtrot is rambunctious and Bruno says – we think – that Ralph is going to be a “great, stalking hit,” which is about as offhand a compliment as you can give, assuming we heard that second word right.


Hines Ward and Kym Johnson do the Cha Cha Cha. (Adam Larkey - ABC)
For a WWE star, Chris Jericho is mighty dull to watch. Couldn’t he fall down and start pounding the floor like they do in the ring, or catapult himself off the judges’ desk? Something? Anything? His big moment was when he ripped the sleeves off his jacket – not much of a dramatic high point -- though watching him shake his dance partner Cheryl Burke till the dandruff falls out of her hair is kind of interesting.

If “Loveline” co-host Mike Catherwood could just come out and talk, he could win this competition. His performance with pro Lacey Schwimmer had all the chemistry of cousins being forced to foxtrot together at a wedding. He’s the best on his feet in the post-dance blather – particularly his response to Brooke’s question in re whether he had been “counting” on the fact that his mother is Mexican to help him with his dance. Apparently, those “Latin roots” were supposed to help him – with a foxtrot.

Here’s an idea: pair Mike with Wendy Williams and watch the psycho-babble fly. We think it would end with Wendy getting roasted.

Mike wound up the night’s low scorer with 13 points. “Thirteen is not high, but it’s better than my father, Master P,” Mike cracks.

In the taped bit, Kirstie Alley’s rehearsal with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy looks like an afternoon with Maks the Elephant Trainer. If we’d seen him balancing a ball on her head it wouldn’t have surprised us. “If someone told me to haul [henie] it would take two trips,” Kirstie jokes, gamely.

But when Kirstie hits the stage to cha cha cha, she steals the show. She has more footwork going on than a cattle stampede. She’s also 60 years old, we learn – which we think makes her season 12’s oldster.

“Are you over 40?” Carrie Ann asks politely, after someone mentions she’s 60.

“Way!” Kirstie responds.

“Then, honey, you are working it!” C.A. shoots back. The judges shower her with 23 points.

By  |  12:05 PM ET, 03/22/2011

 
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