March 18, 2013 at 11:55 PM ET
The ballroom battle is back, but Monday night's "Dancing With the Stars" premiere wasn't the usual first-night fun thanks to some unfortunate moves off the dance floor.
Sure, the stars took the stage to show off their beginner basics -- roughly ranging from downright awful to not so bad to "Whoa! Zendaya!" -- but after the fancy footwork, things got ugly.
Normally on the night one of the competition, the judges give the first-timers an overall impression of their moves -- noting where there's room for improvement with an encouraging tone -- and then let the scores speak for themselves. After all, these folks may be stars, but most of them are way, way out of their comfort zones.
But when actor-comedian D.L. Hughley finished his stiff, fumble-filled attempt at the cha-cha, there was none of that feel-good stuff. Instead of trying to build him back up for his next effort, the panel piled on with bad ballroom behavior.
"OMG, D.L.," Bruno Tonioli began. "You have terminated the cha-cha-cha."
Carrie Ann Inaba agreed, adding, "I have some bad news for you: That was yi-yi-yikes!"
But neither of them could match head judge Len Goodman for cruelty. Even though the funnyman standing before him already looked like he was on the verge of shedding a tear or two from the reviews so far, Len put on his most disapproving face and delivered a low blow.
"Listen, if any dance is going to suit you, it's got to be the cha-cha-cha," the elder statesman of the panel said of the dance that obviously didn't suit D.L. at all. "This was no good!"
If the boos from the audience were any indication, they felt the same about the judges' performance.
As for D.L., he took the not-so-constructive criticism in stride, but noted that Len and the gang had crossed the line.
"I haven't danced in 30 years," the 50-year-old said. "So that's the equivalent of bullying a second-grader."
And much like real school-yard bullying, D.L.'s verbal takedown seemed targeted. Sure, the matching 4s he received were fair enough, if a little harsh for premiere night, but other left-foots didn't get the same treatment.
Welterweight boxing champ Victor Ortiz delivered a stiff foxtrot with more than one stumble, as did "Real Housewife" Lisa Vanderpump, but their scores (6s all around) weren't as tough, and their feedback was upbeat by comparison.
In fact, Victor was praised for being "charming" and "debonair," while Len at least declared Lisa's moves "acceptable."
"Bachelor" Sean Lowe wasn't so sure-footed in his foxtrot either, but Len liked his 19-point routine even if it "lacked finesse." And country music star Wynonna Judd didn't exactly wow with her 18-point cha-cha, but Carrie Ann insisted she was "working it" all the same.
But there were a couple of other would-be dancers who managed to get a sample of the bad attitude the panel dished out to D.L.
Andy Dick, who overcame a rehearsal breakdown to deliver one of the best -- if not the very best -- performances from any male star all night, found his sweet, old-school foxtrot ridiculed by Len and rewarded with just 17 points.
"This had the fluidity of 'Robocop,' " Len said of the number.
And it was much the same for Super Bowl champ Jacoby Jones. After performing a ridiculously fun, if not precise, cha-cha, the wide receiver fared a little better point-wise (20), but was still told his dance was "terrible" (once again, courtesy of Len).
Of course, the night wasn't all bad -- on the dance floor or on the panel.
Zendaya, the Disney channel star who happens to be the youngest dancer to join the show at age 16, easily made her mark as the one to watch this season with her 24-point contemporary routine that had all the judges raving. And "American Idol" alum Kellie Pickler also enjoyed a positive first performance (and 21 points).
As for the rest, including beloved figure skater Dorothy Hamill, gymnast Aly Raisman and actor Ingo Rademacher, who ended the night with 21s and a 20 respectively, they managed to stay in the judges' good graces, but it'll take another performance to really see what they can do.
So, after a night like that, who deserves to get the first ballroom boot on season 16? Well, maybe the answer is D.L. (or maybe it's Len Goodman), but luckily for everyone, no one has to leave -- yet. Each of the famous faces will get a chance to come back and show what they can or cannot do on the dance floor again next Monday.
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