Its the first live show to come back during a pandemic, so there were going to be issues on Monday’s season premiere of “Dancing With the Stars.”
The piped-in audience sounds in the empty theater due to COVID-19 regulations were jarring at first, but workable. Judges Bruno Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba and Derek Hough (filling in for stuck-in-London Len Goodman) were in rusty spring-training form. New host and executive producer Tyra Banks was tight after her fierce red gown entrance.
The show felt rushed and sometimes joyless getting through 15 new-dancer introductions, partner meet-ups and dances.
But the celebrity dancers showed promise and the night’s main event, “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin, did attempt her paso doble. The animal activist lived up to the expectations of being must-see TV, even as she sprinted to the bottom of the judges’ leaderboard faster than a cheetah going after prey.
Here’s how the big first night went ahead of next Tuesday’s first elimination show.
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Carole Baskin and Pasha Pashkov
The big-cat lover had already made it clear that she would be dancing her paso doble to the fitting Survivor anthem “Eye of the Tiger.” Baskin and partner Pashkov chewed that theme to the bone with tiger ensemble, Pashkov emerging from a cage to begin and frequent arm-raised-to-claw tiger roars.
Baskin, 59, warned in the preview that she had “zero” dance experience, and it showed. That arm-lift tiger-roar got tiresome, and its only week one.
Tonioli was the only judge to speak somewhat harshly, saying, “You used those claws all the time, I thought you were going to dislocate your shoulder.” He noted the dance “resembled” a paso doble.
“I want to hear you roar,” Tonioli said, pulling out a rare and low 3 score. “Sorry love, it can only get better.”
Hough trying to sound positive might have been the best footwork ever by the five-time “DWTS” champion. “You’re here, you’re doing it,” he said, giving a 4.
Total judges score: 11
A.J. McLean and Cheryl Burke
The Backstreet Boy admitted he has never done anything resembling ballroom dancing, before finding his partner in Burke. He jumped off the steps with wild abandon and jived with seeming ease, often kicking solo away from his pro partner, before spinning her out to end the routine.
“Shot right out the cannon,” exclaimed Hough, who asked for a little more jive action. “But you feel comfortable out there. It’s going to be great.” The other judges called for a little polish in the likely contende and gave respectable six scores across.
Total judges score: 18/30
Chrishell Stause and Gleb Savchenko
The “Selling Sunset” star said she has “the heart” to make up for her lack of ballroom experience. But in a glamorous gold dress, she rocked a tango with more skill than expected before gold tape fell from the ceiling to signal the end. The judges called the real estate contestant a solid fixer-upper.
“I know you can sell, and you managed to get the tango into escrow, but you’re a long way from closing,” said Tonioli, who gave a four score. The other judges echoed the call for improvement.
Total judges score: 13/30
Vernon Davis and Peta Murgatroyd
The San Francisco 49er and Super Bowl champion showed effortlessly smooth moves in his foxtrot to “All of Me” by John Legend. There is work to be done, but he showed he could be a contender as he glided impressively across the dance floor.
Inaba was visibly impressed, “You have a stage presence; elegance with masculine control,” she said, still dropping a point for an illegal lift. (On the first week, Carrie Ann. Really?) She ended giving a five.
“You got the foxtrot to the sizzling point,” said Tonioli.
Totudges score: 17 out of 30.