Monday night's performances by the men suggested that on this season of “Dancing With the Stars,” frontrunners would emerge early (why hello, Aaron Carter!). Tuesday night's performances by the women also put forth a couple of strong performers, though there were more possible dark horses and one very compelling story.
The evening led off with Debi Mazar of “Entourage,” who was partnered with the very popular Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Particularly compared to some of the performances from the men Monday night, Mazar's salsa was surprisingly challenging. Her hips and feet weren't quite where they needed to be, but she showed at least some promise that was acknowledged by the judges.
Melissa Joan Hart started her appearance, paired with Mark Ballas, by announcing that she wants people to understand that her “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” days are behind her. During the Viennese waltz, Melissa's expressive arms wrote checks of gracefulness that the rest of her sometimes couldn't cash, and it was hard to tell much from such a slow and easy dance. She looked OK for a first time out, but when Bruno Tonioli unenthusiastically called it “adequate,” he got it about right.
Singer Mya is paired with Dmitry Chaplin. Doing the Viennese waltz, she was the first of the women to look like she might be a natural dancer. She and Dmitry have nice chemistry, and she looked sure-footed and smooth. Len Goodman strongly criticized Dmitry's choreography as too far from a real Viennese waltz, but the other two judges vehemently defended the performance. In one of the biggest discrepancies in scoring you will ever see on the show, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno gave the performance 8s, while Len smacked it down with a 5.
One-time supermodel Kathy Ireland (now billed as an “entrepreneur”) wants to get in shape through the show, and her partner — Tony Dovolani — will undoubtedly keep her moving. He was alarmed, however, to note that she didn't seem able to count on the beat of the music. Indeed, she looked uncomfortable standing still before the dance even started, and she didn't improve. Kathy was constantly looking to Tony just to keep up with the timing. The judges broke it to her as gently as they could that she was stiff and awkward, and the audience will likely do the same, probably a little less gently.
Natalie Coughlin isn't quite a household name, but as an Olympic medalist in swimming, she's at least athletic — and she's paired with Alec Mazo, who's been looking for a good partner ever since winning with Kelly Monaco in the first season of the show. Alec first worked to cure her of her tendency to grimace angrily while competing, then went on to teach her the salsa. At times, Natalie seemed to have the hang of it, but her hips aren't quite built for Latin dancing just yet. She's coordinated and athletic, but she still tends to look like she's working a little too hard.
Singer Macy Gray is dancing with the lovely and frequently challenged Jonathan Roberts (who handled Marie Osmond's fainting spell and Heather Mills’ missing leg), and it's pretty clear that this is not the year things get easier for him. Roberts called Macy “a little bit eccentric” from the beginning, and indeed, she seemed as out of her element as anyone the show has ever featured. Macy managed to walk around the floor in time with the music when it came time for her “Viennese waltz,” but that was about it. Carrie Ann called the performance “beautiful in its own bizarre way,” which was clearly the strongest praise she could muster.
Model Joanna Krupa and past winner Derek Hough look like a great team when they're standing in line waiting for the show to start — so how do they look in motion? In spite of wearing what appear to be pants made from Big Bird pelts, Joanna looked good dancing. Hers was the first salsa that looked genuinely sexy (her model appearance, of course, doesn't hurt), and she definitely looks like a competitor to watch.
Last up was Louis van Amstel and Kelly Osbourne, who's a naturally sympathetic figure, given her wacky family and her obvious insecurities about her looks, weight, and whether she's got any sex appeal at all. In fact, Kelly explained that it was her eagerness to try something more feminine that led her to the show. Her natural fear that she'd be hopelessly clumsy did not come true at all: she turned out to have a lovely smile, plenty of grace, and much more natural ability than anyone (especially Kelly herself) expected. Looking like a likely fan favorite because she's both talented and an underdog of sorts, Kelly hugged her wildly excited and weepy famous parents and received very nice praise from the judges. It was an obviously genuine moment, and precisely the kind of thing that keeps people tuning in to the show.
Next up was a foxtrot relay that showcased Natalie, Kathy, Debi and Joanna. All the women in the relay looked fairly good, with Joanna and Natalie in the lead — as you'd predict, based on their solos. It was a much closer contest than either of the men's relays on Monday night, but in the end, the judges' order was Joanna, Natalie, Debi and Kathy.
The cha-cha-cha relay involved Mya, Macy, Kelly and Melissa. Macy still looked rough, but the other three looked very good — Melissa looking much better than she did in her Viennese waltz. Mya is the best technical dancer, and Kelly again looked thrilled to be dancing, seemed very sharp and clean, and grinned right up to the very last second when she had a small mistake. The order for those four was Mya, Kelly, Melissa and (undoubtedly well behind the others) Macy.
So who goes Wednesday night? Well, Macy is the worst dancer by far, but often, first boots are doled out to the bad and boring over the even worse but marginally interesting. It could and should be Macy, but memories of the early booting of Paulina Porizkova, another former supermodel, suggest that Kathy would be a good choice if you were putting money down on Wednesday night's result.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.