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Few surprises on ‘Dancing’ premiere

Shocker! Hamilton was hammy, Master P supremely uninterested
/ Source: contributor

The return of ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" Thursday night heralded the return of shiny costumes, clumsy dancing, famous folks who just want an "A" for effort, and extremely strange music choices. It did not, however, bring many surprises.

The lowest scores went to rap mogul Master P and his partner. Despite the musician's repeated statements that he was trying out ballroom dancing to prove that people should be willing to do things they're not used to, he performed his cha-cha as if it were the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to him. His performance suggested a relative at a wedding who is forced out on the dance floor and can't wait to dash back to the anonymity of his table. P's partner, Ashly, danced frantically around him and shook everything she could, but there was no compensating for his lack of interest.

At the other end of the spectrum, the judges' top scores went to Drew Lachey. (Not to keep slapping the music selections in the face, but "She Bangs" is not a legitimate cha-cha.) This is the same Drew Lachey who, rather than coming from football, news, or soap operas, came from a boy band and performing in "Rent." The fact that he can cha-cha better than Master P didn't make for much of a plot development.

George Hamilton? Precisely as unctuous and hammy as his "Doonesbury"-fed legend dictates. He even mentioned his tan. Interestingly, while last season's favorite John O'Hurley made his career as a poor man's George Hamilton, George Hamilton is, on this show, the new John O'Hurley. Just another wrinkle in the B-list universe.

Tia, Tatum, and the lady wrestler who could
Perhaps the bravest soul of the evening was the lovely Tia Carrere, who is a new mom actually carrying visible baby weight, unlike the many Hollywood moms who complain about how their stomachs are three percent less rock-hard than before. Dancing with a demanding Russian partner named Max, Tia waltzed to "What A Wonderful World" (whatever) and looked very bit the blissful mommy the show had decided she would be. Whether Max will know what to do with her during a spicier dance where she can't play the Earth mother remains to be seen.

Also performing adequately were Tatum O'Neal and journalist Giselle Fernandez, the latter of whom angled for viewer affection by revealing that her late father was a dancer. And I'm sure the waltz she performed to Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" was just what he had in mind.

Football great Jerry Rice danced agreeably with his partner, Anna, who promised that she has what she called "a Russian mentality" of "You do it, or you die." Not wanting to die, Jerry got through his dance, but he tied with Tia, Lisa Rinna (who executed some moves far lovelier than anything Jerry came up with), and Stacy Keibler, the lady wrestler who was adept at giving a physical performance while wearing something slinky. On this show, the male celebrities often seem to be rewarded just for showing up.

Not so highly rewarded, however, was ESPN's Kenny Mayne. Honestly, Mayne wasn't as bad as it looked like he was going to be in the introductory segment when he and his poor partner Andrea were seen practicing. Indeed, Mayne's performance was frantic, ungraceful, and suggestive of a few disorders he should probably have investigated, but at least he was trying.

Going into Friday night's results show, Drew Lachey is at the top, with Giselle and Tatum behind him. There's a four-way tie among Jerry, Lisa, Stacy, and Tia, with George, Kenny, and Master P bringing up the rear. Viewers had the opportunity to vote after the two-hour premiere ended, and according to host Tom Bergeron, the couple with the lowest "combined" scores from judges and audience will go home.

Is Master P the new Evander Holyfield?So who will head home? History suggests that "Dancing" viewers get rid of the team that is not necessarily the worst, but the least interesting. Trista Rehn was outlasted in the first season by Evander Holyfield, after all. (Incidentally, it's nice to see Trista's ex-partner Louis paired with the playful Lisa, given last season, in which Trista didn't want to do a rumba for fear she would somehow violate her marriage vows to the fireman she married on television.)

It seems, of course, that Master P is at risk, since he's at the bottom of the judges' standings. He barely moved during his first dance, and eschewed ballroom-dance clothes and shoes for a ball cap with a glittery "P" on it.  The question is whether his incongruous appearance is so interesting in its awful awkwardness that viewers will vote to keep it around. Stranger things have happened.

This seems to shift the greatest risk onto Kenny. The judges' comments — in particular, the accusation that that his dancing was "demented" — combined with his knowing, deadpan descriptions of his own ineptitude made him seem like just the sort of train wreck that viewers wouldn't want to send home But then, Kenny suffered the cruelest fate that a clown can on a show like this: someone was even worse than he was.

And then there's George, who barely danced at all, allowing his partner Edyta to dance around him while he stared lustfully at her. George is the kind of boring, who-cares, middle-runner who can easily get knocked out very early in a competition like this. While there were undoubtedly mischievous elves voting to save Master P for another week, and maybe even some to save the "demented" Kenny, there can't be that many people dialing for George.

Will it be Master P on the first train out of town? George? Kenny? Someone else? "Dancing" will try out its first results show on Friday night, and in addition to an inaugural bootee, we'll get a group cha-cha to "Tie A Yellow Ribbon." Uh, just a guess.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.