The wait is finally over! For years ballroom fans have clamored for an all-star season of "Dancing With the Stars," and on Monday night, they got it.
The premiere episode of the season saw host Tom Bergeron welcome back the batch of returning celebs -- made up mostly of past winners and finalists -- for the ultimate "Dancing" showdown. And in return, one star gave Tom quite a welcome too.
After performing a surprising fluid and graceful foxtrot -- and after receiving some surprisingly tough talk from the judges following it -- actress Kirstie Alley put her 19 points behind her and found something else to focus on -- Tom's mouth.
In what has to be the longest lip lock in history of "Dancing With the Stars," Kirstie delivered one heck of smooch to the host in honor of his first Primetime Emmy award, which he accepted the night before.
"Winning an Emmy certainly has its perks! Thanks, @KirstieAlley!" Tom tweeted after the show.
At least that unexpected gesture helped cheer the crowd, who had been busy booing the judges for their negative comments over a mostly positive dance.
But while Len Goodman and the gang seemed unduly harsh on some of the all-star cast, they also had plenty of praise for others, such as their pick for leading hoofer hopeful, Emmitt Smith.
The former "Dancing" champ and retired running back took the floor for a bold cha-cha-cha with pro Cheryl Burke. Wearing bright green shoes that drew attention to his footwork, Smith reminded fans and the panel how much charisma and smooth moves he packs.
Carrie Ann Inaba told him he was "born to dance," while Len simply called his moves the best of the evening. The 24.5-point score (yes, we have half points now) put Emmitt firmly at the top of the leader board.
Of course, fans may find that they have a different favorite for the evening. If reaction from the in-house audience (and yours truly) counts for much, actor Gilles Marini could claim that spot.
Trailing Emmitt in the all-star premiere by just a half of a point, Gilles' nearly flawless foxtrot with an old-Hollywood feel established him as one of the ones to watch. In season eight, he barely lost to winner Shawn Johnson, and if his first posture-perfect dance is anything to go by, he'll give her, Emmitt and the rest of the stars a real race for the mirror-ball this time around too.
As for Shawn, the fresh-from-retirement, gold-medal-winning gymnast (and TODAY.com "All-Stars" blogger) hit the floor with Derek Hough for a smooth, if not classic, foxtrot. And while she said that she felt she was cheating on season-eight partner, Mark Ballas, by moving to the groove with Derek, her first dance was evidence that the match could be a big success. After all, his strong suit is complex chorography, and hers is following it.
While head judge Len felt the dance failed to "look like a foxtrot," Carrie Ann pointed out that it fit the style of an American Smooth Foxtrot, and the judges seemed to split the difference in scoring, giving her a total of 22 for the night.
Other early favorites include Cheetah Girl Sabrina Bryan, who delivered 22.5 points worth of hip shaking and pivots beside partner Louis Van Amstel with an impressive, if slightly intense, cha-cha-cha. And season-one winner Kelly Monaco also wowed with her unexpectedly scorching cha-cha-cha with Val Chmerkovskiy. Back in her debut season seven years ago, the ballroom bar was set lower and the show wrapped up in just six weeks. In fact, during her first time in the ballroom, Kelly didn't get around to the cha-cha-cha, making her 21.5 point performance even more impressive.
With so much top talent, the acts in the middle ranks might surprise some "Dancing" fans. Past winners and finalists -- such as Apolo Anton Ohno, Helio Castroneves, Drew Lachey and Melissa Rycroft -- all put on quality efforts, with scores grouped between 21 and 22 points. They're all close enough to the leading acts that a surge to the top of the leaderboard wouldn't exactly be a coup, but only time will tell who -- if any of them-- breaks out of the middle of the pack.
As for the rest of the acts, even one of those bringing up the rear had something to brag about on night one.
Bristol Palin's 19.5-point cha-cha-cha didn't reflect well on the leaderboard, but it did represent a massive improvement from the teen activist who went far despite frequently flubbed footwork in season 11. Sure, she still needs to work on her lines and on-stage personality, but when it comes to rump-shaking, she's got it down.
Actor and N'Sync alum Joey Fatone edged out Bristol point-wise with his 20.5 cha-cha-cha, and brought fun to the dance floor. But he'll have to bring better footwork and posture if he wants to go far. Maybe his playful rivalry with Apolo and fellow boybander Drew will help.
Pamela Anderson took the spot at the very bottom of the leaderboard with just 17 points for her problematic and oddly moody cha-cha. Carrie Ann offered the actress and former Playmate a criticism that she likely hasn't heard much of before: "The body wasn't quite there."
While some seasons kick off with a freebie week for the latest ballroom contenders, these dance-floor vets have no such advantage. The first elimination of the season takes place Tuesday night, and given the performances so far, it's hard to say who might waltz away in week one. If moves alone dictate that decision, Pam is a goner. But as "Dancing" fans know, it's not just about moves.
Fan base is the biggest factor in the early weeks, and we'll soon find out how that factors in this time.
Which returning celebrity brought the best moves to the ballroom on Monday night? Take our poll below and then share all your "Dancing" thoughts on our Facebook page. Plus, join us on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. PT / 3:30 ET to chat about who you think might be going home!
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