They’re both part of the all-new “DWTS” — and they both do about equally well in their respective debuts.
Welcome to a whole new “Dancing with the Stars,” complete with a seemingly invisible virtual audience somewhere above the judges heads, a socially-distant ballroom and Tyra Banks installed as our shiny new host.
Derek Hough slid effortlessly into Len Goodman’s seat, though Len still made a pre-taped appearance they tried to play off like it was live just to say he would be back down the road (virtually). As a judge, Derek is supportive, but a stickler for some technique as are his counterparts Carrie-Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli.
But no one was quite a stick-in-the-mud as Len, which means the pros are going to get away with offering far less content in the chosen style as they try to freshen it up for viewers at home. We’ll have to see how much his absence affects things.
Even more glaring in their absences were Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, who enjoyed an easy rapport and kept things light and fluffy. Now, in their place comes the fierce and, thus far, rather serious Tyra.
This isn’t Tyra’s first rodeo, but it sure looked like it. She was surprisingly very nervous in her freshman outing here, despite seeming pretty confident and polished live work on “America’s Got Talent” while she was there. Here, she looked overwhelmed and uncertain, fumbling over her words constantly while reading the teleprompter.
Even worse was her attempts to interact with the contestants, which came across very stiff. And apparently the only thing she knew about them was what was said in their package before each dance, as every question was basically, “You said this, how do you feel about that?”
Add in some technical issues and this really did feel like a brand new show trying to work out its kinks. Plus, with all of her promises of a bold new shows, the only differences so far appear to be Covid related and have nothing to do with Tyra’s particular stamp, whatever that might be.
The bottom line is that this is a campy show and Tom Bergeron helped it revel in its inherent silliness. Tyler is so serious all the time, striking poses and looking sideways at the contestants while in frame to ensure she’s giving good face to the camera. It was all a bit too much.
“Dancing with the Stars” has long had a policy against lifts that’s long been ignored by the professionals on stage. This week, though, Carrie-Ann Inaba made it far more noticeable than usual by pointing out twice as a huge problem, praising a flip at another point and ignoring it in three other dances.
So was she docking points, just not pointing it out those times? And if this is such a strict policy, how is it so flagrantly ignored over and over again seemingly every week? Couldn’t production oversight just ban them outright if they don’t want them in there?
Clearly the pros don’t care about the policy because they know that audience votes matter more than the judges anyway, but it’s not a good look.
Plus, the two times Carrie-Ann had a problem with it was spin moves where the women’s feet were slightly off the ground. But she had nothing to say when it was full-on lifts in three other routines? Last season, eventual winners Alan Bersten and Hannah Brown had lifts everywhere, and Carrie-Ann was among those applauding them.
Either it is a thing or it’s not, but don’t try to have it both ways as it just leaves the audience feeling frustrated.
Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I’ve spent the last eighteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I’ve got this.
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues **<a href=”https://toofab.com/tags/carrieanninaba”>Carrie-Ann Inaba</a>**, **<a href=”https://toofab.com/tags/lengoodman”>Len Goodman</a>**, and **<a href=”https://toofab.com/tags/brunotonioli”>Bruno Tonioli</a>**. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
(Jive) For a first effort, there were a lot of positives here. AJ can clearly learn choreography and he had the excitement to pull off the energy of this. He also had some nerves, slipped on the big jump, didn’t extend enough, missed the timing on the last pose — but the biggest issue is partner chemistry. Once these two are on the same page on the floor and he tightens up his discipline, they could be quite something.
Chrishell Stause & Gleb Savchenko
(Tango) Yikes, this was tough. Chrishell was incredibly stilted and tensing her muscles through almost every step, making for a very tight performance. She looked like she was falling over rather than have that tango carriage. Every bit of her nerves went into her body and you could see it. She looked nervous, unsure what to do with her feet and like Gleb was literally dragging her around the stage. If she can relax a little, she might be able to figure this out..
Vernon Davis & Peta Murgatroyd
(Foxtrot) Extensions and finishing his moves (especially with his arms). He also offered some of that stiff clunkiness we’ve seen from athletes not used to exploring quite this much grace. But at other times, it was there. And there’s a dancer in there that might just emerge this season if he throws caution to the wind. His character and chemistry are already building nicely, as he did some nice storytelling. But he needs more rise-and-fall and less lumbering overall.
(Cha Cha) Anne brought attitude to spare on that dance floor, and a real attack to the dance. She wasn’t completely confident in herself with the choreography, though she did appear to know it so maybe she just needs to trust in that. She also wasn’t as light and vibrant as Keo throughout, but that was more because she seemed to be thinking about the next move more than just being in the moment with this one. Still, this was a very strong first outing and filled with such joy.
Jeannie Mai & Brandon Armstrong
(Salsa) Jeannie wasn’t lying when she said she was up for anything, and Brandon certainly took her up on it. She might have been a little too peppy and cheerleader for the proper mood of this salsa, even as it was up-tempo and exciting. But her reckless abandon is just the kind of enthusiasm and energy that can make for a great partnership once she can control it so she’s more precise in her movements as well.
Perhaps most importantly for us, how was Carrie-Ann ignoring these two prominent lifts while Derek even praised them after Vernon was docked for barely lifting Peta’s toes off the ground in a spin move? Do the professional dancers know about this rule? Consistency, anyone?!
Jesse Metcalfe & Sharna Burgess
(Quickstep) Easily the hardest style to get at the top of the season, Jessee really surprised us on this one. He was a little too hoppy at times and a little too heavy at others, but he actually managed to keep up with the steps, gliding relatively smoothly across the floor. On top of that, he slid effortlessly into the leading man role. Sharna is a great partner, and she may yet bring out greatness in him on that dance floor.
Skai Jackson & Alen Bersten
(Tango) We can already tell that Skai is going to be a force to be reckoned with on this season. What an incredible first dance, filled with passion and attack. She hit every bit as hard as Alan in every step of this tango. It wasn’t totally classic tango with a driving motion into each step and that signature swivel, but that’s something that could come with time. What’s undeniable is this chemistry and level of commitment in Week 1!
Kaitlyn Bristowe & Aretm Chigvintsev
(Cha Cha) A little weak in some of her moves, almost with a bored body posture at times, Kaitlyn gave an overall solid first outing. We’re not sure if she lost focus a bit there, or got nervous or ahead of herself in the choreography,.she definitely has the tools to come together as a real contender this season. This was recognizable cha cha, at times perfectly in sync with Artem. She needs to just push a little harder into the dance and sustain it throughout.
Nev Schulman & Jenna Johnson
(Foxtrot) What a charmer. Nev was so graceful, he looked like he stepped out of a 1940s film reel. Sure, there were some issues with his steps, and he stooped over Jenna at times rather than stand to his full height, but he is formidable out there. One of those hand extensions was legit beautiful and if he can do one there, he can grow to where it’s all beautiful. This partnership has mad potential … and that’s real!
Johnny Weir & Britt Stewart
(Cha Cha) Talk about sizzle, Jonny made a huge statement in his ballroom debut, as did Britt in her first season as a professional dancer. This routine had heat from top to bottom, filled with incredible tension and chemistry between the partners, though it could have used a bit more sharpness. They both brought so much command (and demand) to the stage, we couldn’t stop watching. We did catch him counting at a few points, perhaps overthinking the steps, but as he settles in, he could really contend.
Justina Machado & Sasha Farber
(Cha Cha) Justina was right at home on this dance floor and in these styles, even as it was somewhat clear they were new to her. That’s good for her future on this competition, as she has a natural rhythm and way of moving her body that is perfectly suited for the styles she’ll learn. She needs to keep her footwork consisten and rein in some of that enthusiasm to match the tone of each dance. She hit that dance floor with full abandon, which was an absolutely blast.
Charles Oakley & Emma Slater
(Salsa) A little reminiscent of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Emma used Charles largely as a prop through this piece. He was very stiff, appeared to have no sense of timing. In fact, we’re not sure he could pick out the beat based on how he wasn’t moving with it. He rushed through the few steps he was given, lurchign around like Herman Munster. This was a bit of a disaster right out of the gate. Also, some more lifts so apparently the judges just randomly pick and choose when to point out those aren’t allowed.
Monica Aldama & Valentin Chmerkovskiy
(Foxtrot) Yet another lift (and Carrie-Ann did pick on Val for this one so what is going on with this inconsistency?) as Monica made a strong first opening. She could work on being a little smoother and graceful in this one, but did a great job with a piece that asked a lot of footwork and true foxtrot out of her. She seemed more confident in frame than when she separated from Val or went into a stunt or turn. Still, Monica had one of the stronger debuts and could do quite well this season.
Nelly & Danielle Karagach
(Salsa) Our fifth lift of the night was executed quite well, and Nelly even did a flip of his own (that Carrie-Ann applauded?!). As for his salsa action he needs to sink down into it a bit more and keep his legs more under his body — it looked a bit wild like he was reachign out with his feet at times. Contain the moves within the frame and he could pull this off. There was rhythm, some hip action and good chemistry between him and Danielle, another new pro this season.
Carole Baskin & Pasha Pashkov
(Paso Doble) To his credit, Pasha gave Carole a truly ridiculous but true paso to take on and she walked her way through it. The problem is that’s literally what she did. The whole thing was so bonkers ridiculous, it was still enjoyable, but it was hardly dancing. She seemed a little lost a few times, but definitely enjoyed hamming it up with her over-the-top cat character. Hopefully, that gets put to rest after this week and she shifts her focus to actual dancing. And where was she when Tyra was trying to talk to her, was she not able to hear?
“Dancing With the Stars” shifts to Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET next week on ABC.