Premiere night of “Dancing with the Stars” was, as always, worth the wait. And though there was at least one stinker in the group, this season is shaping up to showcase a more talented than usual ensemble. At least for the female celebs. Making the gents wait for their own evening of ballroom rivalry, Tom Bergeron and his new co-presenter, season two winner Drew Lachey, introduced viewers to “Ladies’ Night.”
Following in her “90210” pal Ian Ziering’s footsteps, Jennie Garth kicked off the evening of dance. And, despite some lumbering legs, she performed at least as well as he did last year. Rehearsals with her partner, “Dancing” first-timer Derek Hough (brother of season four winner Julianne), didn’t show much chemistry between the pair, but things improved a little on the dance floor.
Cha cha-ing to “Uptown Girl,” Jennie looked nervous, though she later claimed that it was just excitement. Yeah, not buying that one, but those “excitable” nerves resulted in the biggest problem for the couple: Jennie’s stiffness. It was remarkably noticeable next to the ultra-limber Derek.
The judges were kind, giving the dance sevens all around. A little generous, but maybe it was just a first night gift. The insane Bruno Tonioli declared Jennie a “yummy mummy,” and in fairness, he was right. She looked amazing beside the cute, if overly eyebrow-endowed Derek. The ever-honest Len Goodman dished out the constructive criticism, pointing to the leg-action issues.
Could have been worse
Luckily for Jennie, anything she was lacking was virtually forgotten by the time supermodel Josie Maran took the stage. Maybe Josie didn’t know what to expect from the show, as evidenced by her reason for being there. “I’m taking part in ‘Dancing with the Stars’ because I get to live out my dream of being a rock star without the singing.” Hmm.
At least Josie had the most entertaining training footage with her partner Alec Mazo, or as she calls him, “Hunkity, hunk-hunk.” She practically abused him with foot stomps and face smacks throughout rehearsals. For his part, Alec got back at her, calling her “deceptively unfit.” Ha! Too bad Alec’s snark isn’t likely to be around for long this season.
Sure, that may be a premature statement, but in addition to some less than impressive footwork on the foxtrot, Josie didn’t make any friends with the judges. Receiving by far the worst marks of the night (16 out of 30), even the usually kind Carrie Ann Inaba said that it was obvious dancing didn’t come naturally to Josie.
The audience booed the judges for their accurate appraisal of Josie’s dance, but just watch them vote for anyone but her all the same.
The judges were much kinder to their favorite for the evening, “Cheetah Girl” Sabrina Bryan. Dancing with new guy and self-dubbed “dancing ninja” Mark Ballas, Sabrina promised to “bring some cheetah-licious flavor!” Way to play to the old fan base, Sabrina. Needlessly, too, as the pair impressed everyone on pure hoofing merit.
With a hip-hop infused cha cha, Sabrina and Mark put on a high-energy number showcasing both of their strong suits. From a classic ballroom sensibility, they popped a few too many modern moves, but made up for it with crowd-pleasing entertainment.
Even before Tom threw it to the judges, Bruno was unable to contain himself, miming his excitement. When he finally got a chance to speak up, he called her a “bewitching blond dynamo” with precision footwork. Surprising absolutely no one, the staid Len took off a point for hip-hop. Still, with a score of 26, no one complained.
Johnny & MarieWith a tough act to follow, Marie Osmond used her personality to make up for any soft-shoe blunders. And the ambitious Marie was out for the win, saying that she wanted to do it for other over-45 single moms. Her secret weapon? “25 million viewers — 22 million of them Osmonds!”
Wearing a gorgeous long purple gown, which looked to have some stellar support garments under it, Marie upstaged her foxtrot better half, Jonathan Roberts. Not with stunning moves or anything, but with her cheeky play to the judges. She went so far as to blow them a kiss midway through the performance. And it worked, as they found her “adorable” and gave the pair a set of sevens.
Less adorable, but much more sexy was the pairing of Spice Girl Mel B. and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. The two perfectionists butted heads during rehearsals, but those same strong personalities worked well come cha cha time.
In a sparkling leopard print, leggy number, Scary Spice gave up her controlling ways and managed to allow Maks to lead. A good portion of their routine didn’t require up-close work though, which probably helped Mel B. In fact, the couple made the best use of the enormous dance floor during their routine, spreading out for much of the number.
When it went to the judges, Carrie Ann handed out an odd compliment, saying, “You’re a better dancer than I thought you’d be.” Didn’t she ever see the Spice Girls? What they lacked in vocals (and that was a heck of a lot), they made up for with moves. Sort of.
Dr. Quinn: Dancing womanSabrina and Mark may have had the highest score, but the all-around best was saved for the end of the night. The lithe and elegant Jane Seymour, who at 56 is the oldest woman to ever compete on the show, joined Tony Dovolani for a beautiful foxtrot. The only possible thing to criticize her for was an unfortunate gown selection. That flouncy getup would have looked better in any other color than shocking hot pink.
Jane could practically teach some of the pros about long lines and detailing. At one point Tony dipped her almost parallel with the floor and she smiled into the most graceful movement of the night. To top it off, the pair earned a standing ovation for their efforts.
The judges may have given them a 24, tying the Mel/Maks score, but don’t be surprised if viewers rank them the overwhelming winners of the night.
In the end, it was a decent showing from the women, but the men were missed. It seemed a shame to have to wait a night for the glitz of Mr. Las Vegas, the hubris of what’s-his-name, um, Albert Reed, and the obnoxiousness of Mark Cuban.
Ree Hines lives in Tampa, Fla., and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.