Usually, if your head is spinning after watching “Dancing With the Stars,” it’s because the set designers really went overboard with the sequins and flashing lights. This time, we truly had trouble keeping track of all the changes to this “new and improved” season.
To start: Erin Andrews is the co-host; there’s a different band; a new guest judge will join Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli each week; and the voting is some complicated new scheme that involves phone calls, Facebook and e-mail, with the lowest vote-getter getting eliminated at the beginning of each episode of the following week.
All eyes were on Andrews in her first episode as the replacement for the suddenly-fired Brooke Burke Charvet. The quick verdict: Besides the fact that she treated every post-dance interview as breathlessly as she would treat one after a huge sporting event, once she takes it down a notch, she’ll be a welcome addition as someone who can ask coherent follow-up questions.
Meanwhile, here’s our ranking of every contestant after the first episode (taking judge scores into account), and what storyline it looks like the show will assign them for the remainder of the season:
Charlie White/Sharna Burgess (Contemporary, judge scores: 9, 9, 9 for a total of 27)
Best known for: Getting a gold medal in Olympic ice dancing in Sochi with partner Meryl Davis
Performance: Charlie’s feeling the pressure, as it’s tough going from the ice rink to the dance floor, and people have high expectations anyway because he’s a dancer. Naturally (because he’s a DANCER), he kills it. “You guys are a perfect match,” gushes Carrie Ann. Len calls it fantastic, but is interested to see what Charlie has in store for next week.
Storyline: Possible ringer, will have to prove he’s not at too much of an advantage.
Amy Purdy/Derek Hough (Cha cha, judge scores: 8, 8, 8 for a total of 24 points)
Best known for: U.S. Paralympic Team Snowboarder
Performance? Amy, a double amputee after surviving bacterial meningitis, is the first paralympian to compete on the show. After an intro segment that explains her battle with the disease and two prosthetic legs, we also see Amy on her snowboard in Sochi. Back in the ballroom, she performs flawlessly with Derek, and gets a huge standing ovation from the crowd. “I’m gobsmacked,” a stunned Bruno says, while Carrie Ann is on the verge of tears. Len says that they can’t judge her any differently than any other contestant (which is what she prefers), and with that caveat he says: Gold medal!
Storyline: Overcoming the biggest of obstacles.
Danica McKellar/Val Chmerkovskiy (Fox trot, judges scores: 8, 8, 8 for a total of 24)
Occupation: Actress, math genius
Best known for: Playing Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years”
Performance:Danica starts things off by saying Val is way cooler than her. Maybe it’s because she’s a well-known math whiz, but the expression on her face is “A High School Math Teacher Just Thrilled to Be Here.” Still, it’s rather adorable and the judges love her, calling her “super high energy” and saying that her enthusiasm and exuberance carried the dance.
Storyline: Obviously already a fan favorite, the Nice One whose ranking has nowhere to go but up.
Candace Cameron Bure/Mark Ballas (Contemporary, judge scores: 9, 9, 8 for a total of 25.)
Best known for: Playing DJ Tanner on “Full House”
Performance: Candace said right up front that as a mom of three kids, she’s going for “respectable role model” rather than “sexy,” immediately setting up a rivalry with fellow ’90s nostalgia star Danica McKellar. She pulled off a very successful dance that impressed the judges, and “Full House” memories go a long way for voters.
Storyline: Fake rivalry with Danica McKellar; would be much more effective if real.
Meryl Davis/Maksim Chmerkovskiy (Cha cha cha, judge scores: 8, 8, 8 for a total of 24)
Best known for: Getting a gold medal in Olympic ice dancing in Sochi with partner Charlie White
Performance: Hmm, what are the odds that the Olympic ice dancer would be an amazing dancer? She did a fantastic job, and Len already had this line cued up: “You’re nice on ice and good on wood.” (Because what are the odds he came up with that on the spot?)
Storyline: The overachiever — tangled in a rivalry with Charlie.
Drew Carey/Cheryl Burke (Fox trot, judge scores: 7, 7, 7 for a total of 21)
Occupation: Actor, game show host
Best known for: “The Drew Carey Show,” “Price is Right,” proponent of Cleveland rocking
Performance:Looking jaunty in a top hat, Drew is smooth as can be. Carrie Ann calls him a crowd-pleaser, Len loves it, while Bruno is mostly positive but says there are a “few wrinkles that need to be ironed.” Still? While not the flashiest contestant, he could be a real sleeper this season.
Storyline: Unabashed fan favorite — could he rise through the ranks of more nostalgic names?
NeNe Leakes/Tony Dovolani (Cha cha cha, judge scores: 7, 7, 7 for a total of 21)
Occupation: Reality star, actress
Best known for: “Real Housewives of Atlanta”
Performance: Known for her brash personality, NeNe’s dance steps matched: Maybe not the most technically proficient, but she’s sure fun to watch. The audience went crazy. “That’s the way to get the party started,” roared Len. “Great start! Well done!” Bruno was similarly complimentary, but suggested she work on her footwork. “Were you, like, crying?” Carrie Ann exclaimed. Indeed, NeNe was crying — she was the first dance of the night, and there’s a lot of pressure. Carrie Ann suggested that Nene, a “big, large, voluptuous, sensuous woman” should make her dances equally big.
Storyline: Seeing if personality can triumph over skill.
James Maslow/Peta Murgatroyd (Fox trot, judge scores: 7, 7, 7 for a total of 21)
Occupation: Actor, singer
Best known for: Playing James Diamond on hit Nickelodeon series “Big Time Rush,” and a member of the show’s real-life boy band
Performance: Well this is delightful — the “DWTS” casting team is taking cues from other reality shows about bringing exes back to face each other. Turns out, James and Peta went on a date a couple years ago, though things fizzled. They both seem legitimately very awkward when revealed to be partners. “You could’ve texted…” Peta trails off upon seeing James for the first time. Intrigue! Nonetheless, they agree to keep things strictly professional. Maybe they’re trying too hard to be businesslike because their chemistry doesn’t quite translate during the fox trot, although the judges praise their “natural elegance.” Len says James is clearly only here as eye candy for the ladies; but he did an okay job.
Storyline: One half of an adorable showmance. James, you gotta milk that for all its worth!
Sean Avery/Karina Smirnoff (Contemporary, judge scores: 7, 6, 7 for a total of 20)
Best known for: Being a former NHL player on the New York Rangers
Performance: Uh oh, bringing up the controversy about Sean’s suspension and “sloppy seconds” comment from 2008 in his first intro segment? Why bring up that ancient history when the majority of viewers probably won’t even get it? Someone must have gotten on the wrong foot with producers. Sean doesn’t help matters by snapping at Karina, and standing unsmiling at the judges until Carrie Ann calls him “fascinating.” The judges seem to like his strong technique, but his personality has got to shape up or he’s out of here.
Storyline: This season’s resident Angry Guy — he did NOT look pleased when Len gave him that 6.
Cody Simpson/Witney Carson (Cha cha cha, judge scores: 7, 7, 8 for a total of 22)
Best known for: Being an Australian pop star
Performance: He seemed to be having a great time, though the judges weren’t thrilled. Carrie Ann criticized his big feet, while Len scolded him to work on his technique. If he doesn’t get the tween girl vote this week, this could spell trouble if he’s up against James Maslow for the same demographic.
Storyline: Will he remain faithful to his girlfriend even though he’s “distracted” by Witney?? Um, yes. Stop trying to create drama, “DWTS.”
Billy Dee Williams/Emma Slater (Cha cha, judge scores: 5, 5, 5 for a total of 15)
Best known for: “Star Wars” franchise
Performance: After arthritis and two hip operations, Billy Dee is still psyched to take to the dance floor. For being the oldest competitor, we applaud him, but he doesn’t have much of a real chance — even though it was very wise to dance to the “Star Wars” theme. Never underestimate the love of “Star Wars.” The audience loves him, while the judges struggled to find something nice to say about his careful, shaky performance. “You played it very dainty,” Bruno said carefully. Carrie Ann called him “the most relaxed dancer I’ve ever seen…but we’re going to need a little more from you.” “You didn’t forget your routine,” Len offered weakly.
Storyline: The underdog.
Diana Nyad/Henry Byalikov (Fox trot, judge scores: 6, 6, 6 for a total of 18)
Best known for: Breaking records as a champion distance swimmer, swam 100 miles Cuba to Florida
Performance: Very slow and deliberate, though Len gave her the backhanded compliment that it was better than expected. Carrie Ann liked seeing her gain confidence as the dance went on: Diana wins a few points by joking that she’s holding off showing her real skills, and professional (ice) dancer Meryl asked if Diana could show her a few moves.
Storyline: The underdog, part two — but with less name recognition and “Star Wars” gimmicks.
Erin Andrews replaces Brooke Burke-Charvet: Seriously, ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ what’s going on?