March 19, 2012 at 11:27 PM ET
Aaaaaaand they're off! Monday night, the stars put on their dancing shoes (and some really questionable costumes) and strutted their ballroom stuff on the season 14 premiere of "Dancing With the Stars." The results? Mixed, to say the least.
Basically, the ballroom romps broke down into three categories: Good, fun and fair. Oh, wait! There was one more category: Unfair.
That's because just one night into the competition, things are already getting personal on the part of the panel of experts. What else could explain the bounty of nitpicks actress Melissa Gilbert received after tackling one of the most difficult dances of the night alongside ballroom's bad boy, Maksim Chmerkovskiy?
As any loyal "Dancing" fan knows, Maks has had his share of verbal run-ins with Len Goodman and the gang, and last season the tension between the pro and the panelists escalated right past the spinning mirror ball and through the roof. This season? It seems like his partner (and by extension, Maks) is paying for it.
The "Little House on the Prarie" star took the stage for the sort of cha-cha-cha one might expect halfway into the competition. The intense choreography, which required many more solo moves than any of the other cha-chas of the night necessitated, showed off some early strengths from the star -- such as a great sense of musicality from a non-musician/non-dancer and near-perfect timing. It also revealed some tiny, typical first-night weaknesses -- most notably imperfect arm lines and shoulders that could use more finesse in the future.
Anyone familiar with the early routines would expect such a dance to earn a decent score -- maybe a couple of 8s and a 7, which seemed the score of the night for equal dancers and for several lesser ones. But no, after a string of nitpicks about the shape of Melissa's free arm, the judges gave her 7s and a 6, unfairly landing her in the back of the pack and presumably punishing Maks for last season's sins (if you want to call them that).
Melissa was far from the only good dancer of the night, just the only one held back for it. Also from the plus side of the dance floor was actor Jaleel White, who left his "Family Matters" character, Steve Urkel, behind for a fantastic foxtrot. (Of course, there may have been a little Stefan Urquelle in those smooth moves.) For his effort, he earned two 9s, one 8 and whole lot of praise.
"I'm telling you, I thought I was watching the great Gregory Hines," said Bruno Tonioli.
Tying Jaleel on the scoreboard with a flowing foxtrot of her own was Welsh operatic-pop star Katherine Jenkins, otherwise known as "who?" to most viewers. Only time will tell if her moves are enough to overcome her lack of stateside fame.
Which might have been a concern for former model and actor William Levy, if he hadn't totally blown the ballroom away with his sexy (seriously sexy) cha-cha. Levy no doubt secured plenty of votes as he moved alongside partner Cheryl Burke and showed off moves that were part Chippendales and part ... something else almost too naughty for ballroom. The end result? Carrie Ann Inaba has a new favorite and William has a matching set of 8s.
Disney Channel star Roshon Fegan impressed the crowd with his precision cha-cha moves, but there was a darned good reason for that. While his partner, Chelsie Hightower, may have shown him a few cha-cha pointers, the routine, influenced heavily by hip-hop moves, played right into his ringer status. After all, before getting his 23, Roshon admitted he was a lifelong freestyle hip-hop dancer.
Another one dancing for Team Good was actor Jack Wagner. Not surprisingly, given his musical background, Jack was strong on musicality. In a sweet foxtrot, he kept up with pro partner Anna Trebunskaya nicely, if not excitingly, and took 23 points for it.
Those looking for excitement found plenty of it from the fun crowd. There was Donald Driver, who saw 7s for his action-packed cha-cha with Peta Murgatroyd. Sherri Shepherd also made a fun impression with her 23-point foxtrot with the self-proclaimed "better looking" Chmerkovskiy, Val. And then singing legend Gladys Knight put the Pips to shame with her equally scored cha-cha with Tristan MacManus.
As for the just fair dancers, they were led by Derek Hough's rare non-ringer partner actress and "Extra" host, Maria Menounos, who earned 7s for her cha-cha. It was one less for Gavin DeGraw's foxtrot with pro Karina Smirnoff. And the likable Martina Navratilova, who surely won't be bringing home Tony Dovolani's much-desired mirror ball this season, tied Gavin (and Melissa?!) with her foxtrot.
So, who's premiere-night dance was worthy of the premiere ballroom boot of the season? Luckily for the stars, they won't have to worry about it yet. There's no elimination this week, so all of the hopefuls will return next Monday for another shot to show what they can do – and more importantly, how much better than can do it than they did this week.
Who topped your personal ballroom scorecard? And who do you think should hang up their dancing shoes? Share all your "DWTS" premiere night perspectives on our Facebook page. And don't forget to join me and Anna Chan for our weekly chat at 3:30 ET Tuesday!