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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 03/20/2012

‘Dancing With the Stars’: Was it really the best season premiere ever?


The season premiere of “Dancing With the Stars” Season 14. (Adam Taylor - ABC)

Welcome to the least-controversial “Dancing With the Stars” season ever — no reality stars, no political figures. Still, producers are hoping that filling the cast with nice, easygoing people (seriously) will bring the ratings for the Season 14 premiere.

There’s a dozen dancers to get through, so after a quick intro from Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke Charvet (who remind us there’s no results show this week — those start next Tuesday), we see the first couple:

‘Extra’ co-host Maria Menounos and Derek Hough

Dance: Cha cha cha

Maria tells us she signed up for the show because she’s always finding herself in “crazy” situations, which is just an excuse to show her New York Giants-themed bikini photo (from when she lost a Super Bowl bet last month to “Extra” correspondent A.J. Calloway). Three-time “DWTS” winner Derek, meanwhile, wants the same number of Mirror Ball Trophies as he has chest hairs — which, as it turns out, is four.

Derek describes Maria’s dancing technique as Bambi on ice, and she’s just as timid when she steps out on the floor for the first dance, a smile frozen to her face. But she’s not a terrible dancer, and that’s key for these early rounds.

The judges return! Len Goodman thinks Maria coped very well for the first dance, though she could use some more “hip action.” Bruno Tonioli purrs at Maria and encourages the duo to work the “sexpot” angle, which is always good advice for a reality show. Carrie Ann Inaba believes it was excellent, but she could see Maria thinking too hard when she moved from one step to another. Scores: 7, 7, 7 for a total of 21 points.

Actor Jack Wagner and Anna Trebunskaya

Dance: Fox trot

Heartbreaker on soap operas, pop star — is there anything Jack Wagner can’t do?! Hopefully the answer isn’t ... dancing. Anyway, the rehearsal turns into a bit of a therapy session when Anna says that Jack has to stop being so hard on himself when he does something wrong. He admits that he has trouble being patient since he feels a sense of entitlement in life, but he manages to pull himself together for the rest of rehearsal.

Jack moves a bit cautiously on the dance floor and carefully spins Anna around as they both beam through a peppy song. He manages to get all the steps, but he doesn’t seem to have any grasp on footwork.

“Love is in the air!” Bruno declares, calling it “beautifully acted and danced.” Carrie Ann says the performance took her to a happy place and that not only can Jack act and sing — but he can dance. What a relief! Len liked it overall and thinks it was a feel-good dance, but was not impressed by Jack’s poor technique. Scores: 8, 7, 8 for a total of 23 points.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd

Dance: Cha Cha Cha

Donald Driver brags about his Super Bowl win and gets the benefit of a home visit, where we meet his two adorable kids. Turns out he’s been a big fan of the show since the first season. Donald has no issues looking ridiculous, proved when he happily rolls up his pants legs in rehearsal to reveal what Peta dubs the skinniest legs she’s ever seen.

That’s nothing compared to the shiny gold shirt he puts on for the performance, but it’s clear he’s having a blast. He starts on stage singing along to the song, and moves with great confidence. It’s by far the most fun to watch.

“That didn’t feel like week one,” says Tom Bergeron as the audience goes crazy. “You are nothing but charisma and charm!” gushes Carrie Ann, who admits there wasn’t much dance technique, though he was a real crowd-pleaser. Len isn’t quite as impressed and says he got overexcited, and that resulted in him losing control. Bruno compares it to a rooster chasing a hen, and while it was entertaining, he needs to refine his moves. Scores: 7, 7, 7 for a total of 21 points.

Pop singer Gavin DeGraw and Karina Smirnoff

Dance: Fox trot

Why did Gavin DeGraw sign up for the show? He’s tired of being stuck behind a piano at his concerts and he wants to show off on stage. However, he has little to no dance ability and compares his dance moves to someone walking with an injury. Karina doesn’t really know what to make of him, but she says he’s really funny — that’s never a good sign.

Gavin moves through the dance without ever looking like he quite knows what he’s doing, though he improves during steps that require him to leap through the air.

Len thinks Gavin coped well with a difficult dance, though he didn’t move fluidly enough to capture the fox trot. Bruno enjoys his charm and then makes the unfortunate choice of telling Gavin, “You have to learn to link the moves ... you cannot stiffen up at the wrong places.” This leads to a few too many double entendre jokes, causing lots of uncomfortable laughter and Carrie Ann to completely lose her train of thought.

After Gavin manages to flirt with Brooke Burke Charvet and Karina at the same time in the Celebriquarium, the judges reveal the scores: 7, 6, 7 for a total of 20 points.

Disney star Roshon Fegan and Chelsie Hightower

Dance: Cha Cha Cha

Unfair advantage because Roshon stars on Disney dance show “Shake It Up”? Not quite. Chelsie points out that just because Roshon is a professional freestyle hip hop dancer, he still looks like a lost puppy trying to stumble through the cha cha.

Still, Roshon has a natural rhythm and very impressive footwork. He adds his own moves to the cha cha during the performance, looking far more professional than the much older dancers before him.

Bruno loves it and his laser-sharp footwork. Carrie Ann is equally impressed and says it was one of the coolest cha chas she has seen in 14 seasons. Leave it to Len to rain on everyone’s parade: “There’s no question you can dance,” Len says. “Technically, the performance was very low.” He thinks there was too much hip hop and not enough cha cha. Scores: 8, 7, 8 for a total of 23 points.

‘The View’ talk show co-host Sherri Shepherd and Val Chmerkovskiy

Dance: Fox trot

Maksim Chmerkovskiy is known as the angry one on the show, and Val introduces himself as Maks’s better-looking brother. He definitely has a better attitude and tries his best to help Sherri bring elegance to the fox trot. Sherri claims that elegance doesn’t come naturally to her, and she doesn’t seem to care — she frequently stops during rehearsal to shriek and jump around with excitement.

Dancing the entire fox trot with an enormous smile, Sherri glides through the steps while beaming like she’s having the time of her life. It’s pretty comical, though it obviously works on the judges.

“You are the happiest contestant we’ve had ever in all 14 seasons!” exclaims Carrie Ann, noting how much joy Sherri brought to the dance. Len echoes her, and sums the performance up in three words: “Fun, fun, fun.” Bruno also agrees she lights up the room. No one really critiques her dance moves that much, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Scores: 8, 7, 8 for a total of 23 points.

Actress Melissa Gilbert and Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Dance: Cha Cha Cha

Melissa, best known for her work as Laura Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie,” tells us she has had a rough few years, what with a divorce and a broken back. Her next challenge is dealing with Maks, known last season for being extremely unpleasant toward partner Hope Solo. Sure enough, his criticisms include “Not good at all” and “Sucks” as Melissa attempts to cha cha. But she seems like she has a better attitude than Hope, and can take a joke, so Maks might calm down after all.

Overall, it’s a rather charisma-free dance, though Melissa seems to hit most of the steps. And Maks doesn’t seem as angry as usual, which is promising.

Len says it was a very ambitious routine and that Melissa coped well. Bruno calls the first dance “inspiring,” even though he points out lots of problems. Carrie Ann thinks there’s definitely potential — but there were definitely some nerves. Maks does not look pleased. Scores: 7, 6, 7 for a total of 20 points. Maks barely says a word during the Celebriquarium interaction, even when Melissa gushes about how he is an amazing partner.

Actor William Levy and Cheryl Burke

Dance: Fox trot

Telenovela star William Levy, known as the “Brad Pitt of Mexico,” causes screams to start in the ballroom before Tom Bergeron can even introduce the duo. But even super-good looks can’t guarantee flawless dancing, as he and Cheryl — also impressed by his handsomeness — struggle a bit in rehearsal.

He improves during the performance as he spins Cheryl around, though he seems to stand still a lot while she does the complicated moves.

It takes awhile for the audience to calm down, but then Bruno gets everyone riled up again pronouncing William and Cheryl “the hottest package of the season.” Carrie Ann is also drooling and takes a minute to thank ABC for her job. Len manages to sneak some criticism in over the screaming, and says that William kept control of the cha cha. Scores: 8, 8, 8 for a total of 24 points.

Tennis pro Martina Navratilova and Tony Dovolani

Dance: Fox trot

Martina says that beating breast cancer inspired her not to be afraid of anything, including “Dancing With the Stars.” She admits that high heels might be a problem, given that she’s a hardcore athlete, and she worries about not being feminine enough for the ballroom. “I haven’t worn a dress in 20 years,” she says.

Tony is determined to bring the elegance to the dance floor, gliding around looking very dapper and even pulling out a pocket watch — the ultimate fancy accessory. Martina looks timid the whole time.

“You were so beautiful,” Carrie Ann says, sounding a bit surprised, before telling her to work on her turns. Len, however, says the performance was close, but not quite there — a little too careful, if anything. Bruno compliments her on looking stunning, and suggests that she works on her fluidity. Scores: 7, 6, 7 for a total of 20 points.

Opera singer Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas

Dance: Fox trot

Katherine admits that no one really knows her in America (she’s best known in the UK), so she’s totally out of her comfort zone — and she hopes America won’t hold that against her. That’s about all we learn, in addition to the fact that she once performed — as a singer — on “DWTS” back in Season 12 during classical music week.

Even though Katherine proclaims that dancing in front of all these people scares the living daylights out of her, she moves with the confidence of a total pro on the stage, easily spinning around with Mark.

Len loved the musicality and the detail of the dance, while Bruno decides it was “exquisite,” with impeccable style. “You’re setting the bar so high,” he tells Katherine, who looks like she’s on the verge of tears. Scores: 9, 8, 9 for a total of 26 points, the highest score of the show so far.

Singer Gladys Knight and Tristan MacManus

Dance: Cha Cha Cha

Arguably the biggest name on the show this season, Gladys — of Gladys Knight & the Pips — introduces herself as a music legend and the “Empress of Soul.” She hits it off right away with Tristan, who tells her that the Pips had no idea what they were missing with her moves.

Gladys moves with ease and performs the whole dance with a smile, getting a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of the upbeat performance. You would never know she’s the oldest competitor on the show, even though Brooke Burke Charvet points out this fact in the Celebriquarium.

“You’ve got class, you’ve got class — you’re a star!” Bruno yells. “I’m so honored that you’re on our dance floor and you’re shaking your tailfeather like nobody’s business!” Carrie Ann says, trying to get the best soundbite. Len goes for the simple compliment — she did a wonderful job. Scores: 8, 7, 8 for a total of 23 points.

Actor Jaleel White & Kym Johnson

Dance: Fox trot

In the final slot is Jaleel, known as Steve Urkel from “Family Matters.” Jaleel says that people probably think he’s clumsy and geeky (based on his Urkel character), but Kym says that he’s a natural dancer.

Jaleel dazzles on the dance floor and matches up well with Kym, leaving all traces of Urkel behind.

Carrie Ann thinks it was super-smooth, and Len also loves the routine, saying it had elegance and sophistication. Bruno compares Jaleel to the great Gregory Hines and that there couldn’t be a higher compliment. Scores: 9, 8, 9 for a total of 26 points, tying Katherine Jenkins for the highest score of the night.

“This is the best first show of any season!” the usually-grumpy Len exclaims after Jaleel’s performance. Was he right?

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 03/20/2012

 
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