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Tucker Carlson and dancer Elena Grinenko
James Sorenson / ABC
Tucker Carlson and dancer Elena Grinenko are the first to go home on "Dancing with the Stars."
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/14/2006 10:43:47 AM ET 2006-09-14T14:43:47
COMMENTARY

The week’s third hour of “Dancing With The Stars” (ABC, Tuesdays/Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET) brought the results from the first night’s competition and sent Tucker Carlson back to punditry. But before that, they had to figure out what to do with the other 58 minutes. Or, if you like, not counting commercials, the other 42 minutes.

The primary attraction of the evening was special guest Tom Jones, brought in to remind audiences that the dancing part of the entertainment was not, in fact, the corniest kind of entertainment they could be watching. They could be watching Tom Jones — in fact, all of a sudden they were watching Tom Jones, though he first seemed to be traveling semi-incognito under an unattractive goatee. First, they watched him sing “It’s Not Unusual” while a professional dancer with his shirt sliced down to there whirled around the floor with a woman wearing a dress made almost entirely of purple fringe, and later, they watched him sing “She’s A Lady” with the assistance of three helpful backup singers. It’s enough to make a crowd crave the smooth moves of Tucker Carlson.

Tucker did not, fortunately, dance again, but the judges did award an encore performance to Tuesday’s lovable breakout star Emmitt Smith, who got up again with Cheryl Burke to perform the spry cha-cha to “Son Of A Preacher Man.” The performance didn’t have quite the raw energy of the first night’s version, probably because he was no longer a jaw-dropping shock to those who originally expected him to be a heavy-footed clod. But the number was still the highlight of the entire hour. (Take that, Tom Jones. That is worth throwing underwear at the stage.)

Next, co-host Samantha Harris, standard handler of the backstage duties, made the rounds, asking a couple of the particularly good and bad dancers asked to justify their miserable existence or bask in their own success, depending. First, singer Sara Evans was effectively asked whether she was surprised by how terrible the judges thought she was. Sara politely answered the question, though she could have been forgiven for giving Samantha a high heel to the instep. Tucker was asked what he would do if he survived the first vote, and he hedged, saying that his yet-to-be-finalized strategy would involve “more actual dancing.” As opposed to, one assumes, quite as much sitting in a chair, as he did for much of the early part of Tuesday night’s cha-cha.

The first group of dancers put safely through to the next round offered a couple of quick surprises. The first name announced was Harry Hamlin, who had a very bad first time out, showed little personality, and seemed like a good bet for an early booting. He looked genuinely shocked that he was saved, and the squeals of his wife, Lisa Rinna, could be heard from the crowd. You would hope she later assured him that her shrieking did not indicate that she was surprised. (“I was never worried for a minute, honey!”) The show threw another a curve by announcing the safety of yet another bad dancer — Jerry Springer, who was immediately told he was safe until next week. Also moving on, to no one’s surprise, were Emmitt Smith and Vivica Fox.

One viewer puts on dancing shoes
After this first round of eliminations — really, eliminations from being eliminated—it was time for the season’s major new element of time-filling product placement, the Slim-Fast Dance Challenge. In this queasy-making hybrid of programming and long-form commercial, a fan named Tysonia who is looking to get herself in shape has been paired with a professional who will teach her to dance. Each week throughout the season, she will suffer the terrible fate of being paraded in front of not only a set of television cameras but also her family and friends. Tysonia managed a respectable mambo for her first week, which almost definitely means you should begin drinking diet shakes immediately. This will allow you, too, to learn Latin dancing.

After Tysonia’s mambo, there was a demonstration of the mambo executed by all the professional dancers, which we needed to see on the basis that it’s one of the dances that the celebrities will be doing next week. With all the dancers decked out in similar outfits in complementary solid colors, it either looked like a more talented version of the patented “American Idol” group sing, or a production of “West Side Story” being performed by Up With People. Demonstration though it may be, it is safe to say that the mambo as performed by Jerry Springer would not look like this.

Speaking of Jerry, he got a chance to reflect on his survival backstage. He provided the highlight by telling Samantha that he was perplexed. In fact, he told her that he had already checked out of the hotel and had his luggage outside and ready to go. Harry was surprised, too, but his joke — which somehow related to dismembering himself with a set of tin snips in order to “loosen up” — landed with a resounding thud.

Finally, it was time to knock it down to the bottom three. It wasn’t likely that this group would include Mario Lopez or Joey Lawrence, and both of them along with Monique Coleman predictably avoided trouble. After that, however, it got a little dicey. While Tucker landed in the bottom three as expected, Sara did not, meaning that Willa Ford and Shanna Moakler, who both appeared to be in the middle of the pack Tuesday night, found themselves in peril.

Shanna was the first of the bottom three to be pronounced safe, leaving Tucker and Willa. Would Tucker manage the Master P maneuver, staying on the show in spite of being clearly the worst performer? He would not. He became the first bootee, and after a brief last dance, he was finished, sent home with his bow tie, though he vowed to dance again. The world may have shuddered at the thought, but at least it is safe from his performances for the rest of the season.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.

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