The premiere of season 11 of "Dancing with the Stars" was like a breath of fresh air. Not only is the line up the most interesting of the past five seasons, but it also promises to be one of the most talked about --- courtesy of some very high-profile competitors ---- and one of the most even (and grotesquely tanned) fields this show has cultivated in years.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Sarah Palin did not show up as long-rumored to cheer on her little girl, Bristol. No matter, the night was every bit as cheery as any smile Ma Palin has ever mustered along the campaign trail.
And let's get the rest of the obvious out of the way: The five most-anticipated dancers were saved, SURPRISE, for the second-half of the evening. These included the aforementioned Bristol, Jennifer Grey, Michael Bolton, MIke "The Situation" Sorrentino and David Hasselhoff. And to no one's surprise they provided some of the biggest laughs and emotional highlights of the night.
Bolton, who found it necessary to remind us that he's a singer, was stiff and disengaged as he flat-footed his way around the ballroom. Partner Chelsie Hightower did as much as she could with his robotic progressions. Call it one big yawner. Their score: 16.
Palin, who started out her routine in a conservative suit a la mommy dearest, quickly shed the suit and a little bit of her inhibitions as she criss-crossed the ballroom to "Mama Told Me Not to Come." No sizzling footwork, though she showed genuine spunk throughout partner Mark Ballas' choreography. She also proved she has no problem navigating the world of spray tans. Score: 18.
The Situation (what a ridiculous moniker, honestly!) was equally ridiculous on the dance floor. Yes, he only had 5 days to rehearse, but for someone who spends such a great deal of his life inside dance clubs up and down the entire east coast, one would think he'd have at least a sense of rhythm. Oh ya, I forgot, he doesn't go to clubs to dance. His partner Karina Smirnoff was obviously dressed in homage to Edyta Sliwinska. Their dismal debut netted a score of 15.
Jennifer Grey provided the drama tonight, bursting into tears during rehearsals with partner Derek Hough, as she was catapulted back in time to well, you know. We knew it was gbound to happen. But she was genuinely overcome with grief, remembering the late Patrick Swayze. But all was OK when she danced one of the best routines of the night. Her waltz earned her a leaderboard topping 24, and a floodgate of tears from judge Carrie Ann Inaba. And I wondering how many "Dirty Dancing" quips Bruno Tonioli will come up with? Tonight's : "She's back where she belongs."
Ah, and then there was The Hoff. Oh David Hasselhoff. Simon Cowel might have predicted you'd win, but maybe he should have waited until tonight's episode to make that ridiculous proclamation. Judges Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli summed it up quite nicely:
Len: "It's never too early to panic."
Bruno: "It's a pot pourri of insanity."
Couldn't have described it better myself.
Score a generous 15 for The Hoff.
The rest of the pack? Pop singer Brandy turned in a lovely Viennese waltz with partner Maksim Chermkovsky (score: 23) that puts her in the serious contender category. Florence Henderson (partnered with the elder statesman of dance, Corky Ballas) kicked up a storm with those astonishing 76-year-old legs of hers to earn a score of 18. Former NBA star Rick Fox --- and perhaps the tallest celeb in the history of the show (okay, beside Penn Jillette) earned a 22 for his graceful Viennese waltz with partner Cheryl Burke. It seemed like he was about 10 feet taller than her, but somehow they made it work. On the NFL side of things, Super Bowl-winning QB Kurt Warner also showed he was graceful on his dancing feet with a nicely executed waltz with partner Anna Trebunskaya. Score: 19 (Fox's routine really was better).
The evening's biggest surprise perhaps was Kyle Massey, the ABC/Disney former child star who set the ballroom on fire with partner Lacey Schwimmer (newly blond and slimmed way down). With a score of 23, he might be the season's trump card.
Audrina Patrdige started things off with a thud (apologies to partner Tony Dovolani). Her routine was boring and her rhythm/movements disengaged from the music and her partner. Score for the former "The Hills" star: a generous 19.
And last but not least, the evening's most bizarre performance, comedienne Margaret Cho. What she and partner Louis Van Amstel delivered was a combination of slapstick gone wrong and wild animals on the prowl. Chalk another one up for Bruno who quipped: "I thought you were going to eat someone." Not sure what her costume was supposed to be about, but it sure looked good on camera. Score: 15.
My prediction for tomorrow's first departee? I'm putting my money on Cho.