“JoJo, you’re changing the world. You’re a leader,” Banks told the singer, who came out as LGBTQ this year. “There are little kids looking up to you, like, ‘Oh, my gosh. If she can be herself, I can.’"
“Finally!” judge Bruno Tonioli raved. “The groundbreaking moment we’ve all been waiting for.”
The judging panel — which also included Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Derek Hough — awarded the pair the highest score of the night, capping off a two-hour episode with competitors that included an Olympian, professional athletes, actors and the most famous influencer involved in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
Here’s our ranking of all 15 pairs from the premiere from best to worst:
1) JoJo Siwa and Jenna Johnson (quickstep, judge scores: 8, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 29 out of 40 points)
Best known as: One of your child’s favorite pop stars, if you’re the parent of a preteen, and a former cast member on Lifetime’s “Dance Moms.”
Story line: Yes, she has years of dance experience already, but ballroom dancing is a different story. Plus, she wants to inspire others. “What I love to do is make truly being who you are easier for kids,” she tells the camera.
Performance: JoJo and Jenna look like they’re having the most fun of any pair, and the judges appreciate the energy — so much that they overlook it when Jenna briefly slips. Len calls it a dance that’s “full of attack, full of enthusiasm” even if they lost a bit of control, while Derek proclaims that JoJo was “born for ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ ”
2) Amanda Kloots and Alan Bersten (tango, judge scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 28 out of 40 points)
Best known as: “The Talk” co-host, Broadway dancer and fitness instructor who became a national news story last year when her husband, actor Nick Cordero, died last July after a brutal case of covid-19.
Story line: She says she’s looking for a way to find herself again after going through such a tragic year and thinks Nick would have told her, “You better not stop living. You better keep going.”
Performance: Amanda is a natural, which makes sense given her dance background. The judges adore her. “That was full of tango content,” Len tells her approvingly. Derek reminds everyone that dancing is a perfect way to reclaim joy, and thinks the routine was sensational. Carrie Ann starts crying as she talks about Nick looking down on Amanda, who she says looks like an angel.
3) Suni Lee and Sasha Farber (jive, judge scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 28 out of 40 points)
Best known as: Three-time Olympic gymnastics medalist who was the gold all-around champion at the Tokyo Olympic Games. This fall, she’s headed to compete as a student at Auburn University.
Story line: People always assume she’s a good dancer because of gymnastics, but she swears that is not the case. Can she overcome her nerves?
Performance: “You can jive, baby!” Bruno roars. The judges are fans, though they offer a critique that’s common with gymnasts: Suni needs to be less concerned about precision and figure out how to dance more freely. But Carrie Ann adds that she’s a perfect match for ballroom dancing.
4) Melanie C and Gleb Savchenko (cha-cha, judge scores: 7, 7, 6, 7 for a total of 27 out of 40 points)
Best known as: A Spice Girl — Sporty Spice, to be precise.
Story line: She doesn’t want to make a fool of herself on the dance floor. Specifically, she “doesn’t want to become a meme.” (Relatable.)
Performance: Dancing to her group’s biggest hit (“Wannabe”) is a strong opening move. “You know what you’re doing, I can tell,” Bruno says slyly. The judges have many positive things to say about Melanie’s opening number — compliments range from “clean” to “precise” — yet warn her to work on her foot placement and hip action.
5) Kenya Moore and Brandon Armstrong (fox trot, judge scores: 7, 6, 6, 7 for a total of 26 out of 40 points)
Best known as: One of the stars of “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” as well as the winner of the Miss USA pageant in 1993.
Story line: She just turned 50 and is ready to live her best life, and competing on DWTS is one way to do that.
Performance: Bruno and Derek love her, and Carrie Ann says she’s naturally relaxed and refined, which most people struggle with in the beginning. “It had the charm and sophistication you want to see in a fox trot,” Len says.
6) Cody Rigsby and Cheryl Burke (fox trot, judge scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 24 out of 40 points)
Best known as: A beloved Peloton instructor (or as ABC calls him, a “celebrity fitness guru”) who pumps up cyclists by reminding them that you did not survive a pandemic to do anything but thrive.
Story line: He used to be a dancer, but now all his time is dominated by Peloton. Can he recapture his talent?
Performance: Cody starts his fox trot on a Peloton bike, and that is just good branding. “Now I see what the hype’s all about. You are fabulous!” Carrie Ann says, though she notes that Cody’s nerves were showing. Len deems him “one to watch,” and the others agree he’ll be around for quite a while.
7) Christine Chiu and Pasha Pashkov (tango, judge scores: 6, 7, 6, 6 for a total of 25 out of 40 points)
Best known as: Co-owner and founder of Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery (her husband is a well-known plastic surgeon) and the “couture queen” on Netflix reality show “Bling Empire.”
Story line: Christine is a superfan of the show. Does that mean she can pull off the dances?
Performance: “You are like a diamond in the rough,” Carrie Ann says, and adds that while she’s inconsistent, it’s still early in the season. Len calls it a “terrific effort,” agreeing with Derek, who has some critiques but ultimately thinks it was a beautiful dance.
8) Melora Hardin and Artem Chigvintsev (tango, judge scores: 7, 6, 7, 6 for a total of 26 out of 40 points)
Best known as: Jan from “The Office,” thanks to the NBC comedy’s endless domination of streaming services and the intense Gen Z fandom.
Story line: It’s a scary and exciting challenge, she says. She also danced ballet when she was younger and wants to see if she can handle ballroom.
Performance: Derek jumps up to give her a standing ovation. “We’re keeping an eye on you, girl!” he yells. No one else is quite as enthusiastic — Bruno mentions she has some balance issues — but at least Len tells her, “Well done.”
9) Iman Shumpert and Daniella Karagach (jive, judge scores: 7, 4, 5, 5 for a total of 21 out of 40 points)
Best known as: NBA star who played four seasons with the New York Knicks and won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s starring with his wife, R&B singer Teyana Taylor, in an E! reality show called “We Got Love Teyana & Iman.”
Story line: He wants to show the world a different side of himself, and dancing is the answer.
Performance: Iman is one of the most fun performers to watch, although Len is weirdly harsh, calling his technique poor as well as “too casual” and “too loose.” But the others are fans. Carrie Ann compliments him as “ridiculous” in a good way and Bruno thinks it was especially nimble considering tall people often have trouble with the jive.
10) Brian Austin Green and Sharna Burgess (fox trot, judge scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 24 out of 40 points)
Best known as: One of the stars of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” though lately he’s been getting more headlines for his divorce from Megan Fox and new relationship with DWTS pro Sharna Burgess.
Story line: Of course he was paired with Sharna. Will their chemistry give them an advantage? Or will things turn awkward if he’s really bad at dancing?
Performance: It’s far from perfect, but they’re the only ones who end the dance by kissing, and this triggers massive cheers from the audience. Derek is wary because the advice is to never date your dance partner, but he admits they did have a noticeable “ease” on the dance floor. Bruno compliments their “sizzling chemistry,” though Carrie Ann cautions him about staring too much at Sharna during the dance.
11) Olivia Jade and Val Chmerkovskiy (salsa, judge scores: 7, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 25 out of 40 points)
Best known as: A YouTuber, lifestyle influencer … and you might have heard about how her parents, actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, went to prison over the college admissions scandal. (Olivia dropped out of the University of Southern California, where her parents were accused of paying $500,000 to get Olivia and her sister into school designated as crew recruits, even though neither rowed crew.)
Story line: DWTS often operates as a redemption tour stop for public figures, and Olivia is ready for it. Strangers have spent the last two years online slamming her as entitled and spoiled, and she wants to prove to them she has a strong work ethic.
Performance: Carrie Ann and Derek tell her that she has great legs, though advise that she needs to work on her shoulder movements. Even Len is pleased, calling her “polished,” one of his favorite compliments.
12) Jimmie Allen and Emma Slater (tango, judge scores: 6, 5, 6, 5 for a total of 22 out of 40 points)
Best known as: Nashville artist who became a breakout star several years ago, and the first Black country singer to launch his career with a No. 1 hit.
Story line: He’s a natural-born performer onstage. Does that mean he can ballroom dance?
Performance: The judges are slightly lukewarm about the tango, though all of them say that Jimmie has a lot of potential. “It’s a very tough dance,” Carrie Ann admits, saying she still thinks he did a great job.
13) Matt James and Lindsay Arnold (cha-cha, judge scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 24 out of 40 points)
Best known as: Former star of “The Bachelor” and the franchise’s first Black male lead. His finale this past spring drew a lot of attention because he broke up with the winner, Rachael Kirkconnell, over her racially insensitive social media posts — but he confirms to the DWTS cameras that they’re back together and doing great.
Story line: He doesn’t want to let down Bachelor Nation, which he calls a “passionate” fan base (an understatement if we’ve ever heard one).
Performance: Matt is clearly not used to dancing, and Len calls him on it right away as lacking — but thinks he could turn things around if he listens to Lindsay. Derek believes he was very charismatic, and Bruno compliments his natural stage presence. “Next time you’ll be brilliant,” he assures Matt.
14) Mike “The Miz” Mizanin and Witney Carson (cha-cha, judge scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 for a total of 24 out of 40 points)
Best known as: The WWE star that you might also recognize from MTV’s “The Real World” in the early 2000s.
Story line: He’s super competitive as part of his job. Will that translate into a ballroom dance competition?
Performance: Derek admits he had somewhat low expectations, but that the Miz was great. Len is much more muted with “That was better than expected.” Carrie Ann is nicer (“The energy that came out of you was ridiculous”) but they all think he has room for improvement.
15) Martin Kove and Britt Stewart (paso doble, judge scores: 4, 3, 3, 3 for a total of 13 out of 40 points)
Best known as: The villainous teacher (Sensei John Kreese) in 1984 hit “The Karate Kid”; he returned for the “Cobra Kai” series in 2018.
Story line: He’s a bit nervous as the show’s oldest dancer this season, but he is trying to channel the confident energy of his famous character.
Performance: Martin doesn’t have the steps down and the judges can tell: Derek criticizes Martin as unprepared, and Bruno calls him out for forgetting moves. Carrie Ann, however, praises him for his commitment to his character. Len is not impressed yet is determined to say something nice: “For someone in your 70s, I thought you came out and did a really gallant effort.”