Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dancing With The Stars Season 5 Girl's Night

(S05E01) It's that time of year again, and fans always know what to expect from Dancing With The Stars: glamorous B-list celebrities, exciting performances, and frequent use of the phrase "than ever before." Host Tom Bergeron started things off by calling this season the "dawn of a new era," and claimed that they have the "most exciting cast ever assembled." Let's let the ratings decide that, shall we? For the first week of competition, the powers that be tried something new--a three-night premiere! Can you handle it?

Tonight, the six ladies tackled either the Foxtrot or the Cha Cha Cha and the results were mixed, as they always are in the first week. Co-host Samantha Harris was absent, having recently given birth to a baby girl. Former champ Drew Lachey was on hand to sub for Samantha, which was a nice treat for viewers. I like the idea of bringing back former contestants--how about letting Kenny Mayne co-host next week?

The first performance of the night was an all-pro Swing number ("Dancin' Fool"). This was a great alternative to the usual celebrity introductions, and it great to see some of my favorite pros back on the dance floor. With the new schedule, I was worried that the 90-minute, six-performance episode would contain a ton of filler, but that really wasn't the case.

We finally got a look at what Tom called the "remarkable" cast of season five, and I'm still not sure who some of these people are. Perhaps I should pay more attention to the modeling world. Mark Cuban looked seriously awkward on stage, and I instantly had flashes of Tucker Carlson. Jennie Garth looked fantastic, and appears to have aged about a year since 90210. I don't follow car racing, but if all drivers are as hot as Helio Castroneves, I might have to start. This is an attractive group, I'll say that much. Now, on to the dancing!

Jennie Garth and Derek Hough (Cha Cha Cha) - Jennie Garth had the tough job of dancing first. We learned from her intro that she is the proud mother of three girls, and that her skin is flawless. We also got reacquainted with Derek Hough, brother of cutiepie Julianne. There was a lot of smack talk in this episode, and Derek began it by calling himself "deadly on the dance floor." His attempt to sound macho was hilariously followed by a clip of Jennie calling him a "cute little thing." So much for being tough. Jennie had some trouble getting comfortable during practices, and confessed to being nervous about taking center stage. Derek's goal this week was to bring the dancer out of Jennie, and to live up to his trash talk.

The couple performed the Cha Cha Cha to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl," which was an adorable and fitting choice. They even looked the part: Jennie wore a sophisticated navy dress with some serious jewelry, and Derek wore a matching mechanic's outfit (did his name patch say "Garth"?). The dance started out a bit slow, but overall was cute, flirty, and fun. Jennie had some decent moves for the first week, including a challenging drop and the splits. She seemed considerably more at ease during her performance than in her practice footage.

Len began his assessment of the couple by commending Jennie on getting over her nerves. He praised her leg action, but told her to work on her leg action, as her free leg was soft and floppy. Bruno, ever the flirt, called Jennie a yummy mummy, and warned her about her leg work as well. Carrie Ann thought that the couple did very well for the first week, but told Jennie to work on her confidence and to be steadier on her feet. Score: 21 (Carrie Ann - 7, Len - 7, Bruno - 7). Jennie had a tough draw, since the judges are always stingy with high scores for the first performance. I have to believe that the couple's charm and Garth's popularity will keep them around for Week 2.

Josie Maran and Alec Mazo (Foxtrot) - Model/actress Maran is in my "Who?" pile of this season's contestants. Are you allowed to call yourself a model/actress when you're 90% model and 10% actress? Josie signed on to do the show in order to fulfill her dream of being a rock star, minus the singing. Alec said that after following a win with an early elimination, he wants to be back on top. Josie's practice footage made her look like a jokester, and she won me over after calling Alec a "hunkety hunk hunk." Alec clearly doesn't believe in returning compliments, because he called Josie "deceptively unfit." Ouch. I guess you can look graceful without actually being a good dancer. If memory serves, Alec put his foot in his mouth with Paulina Porizkova last season, too. Hopefully Josie will teach him a thing or two about flattery.

The pair performed the first Foxtrot of the evening to "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" (Nat King Cole and others). Josie looked stunning in a low-cut, teal dress, but looked slightly less amazing on the dance floor. She didn't seem to have a good sense of rhythm from what I could see. Josie also let Alec dominate the performance, and chose to take her cues from him instead of featuring herself. Again, she looked incredible (long legs always look graceful), but that might not have been enough.

The judges' comments were fairly consistent with one another. Len said that Josie looked elegant, but caught the couple trying to stay in a hold throughout the entire dance. He told the couple to work on Josie's control problems and made a snarky comment about her footwork. Carrie Ann could tell that Josie was out of her element, but enjoyed her beautiful smile. Bruno admitted that the Foxtrot was a difficult dance, but said that Josie looked like a beautiful sailboat stranded on a sand bank. I wonder if Bruno writes these comments in advance and applies them to the dancers as he sees fit? Score: 16 (6, 5, 5). This score was met with a lot of boos, but I think it was probably deserved. I love Josie's personality, but she has her work cut out for her. Without a Wayne Newton-level fan base she might not make it to the next round.

Sabrina Bryan and Mark Ballas (Cha Cha Cha) - Where was I during this whole Cheetah Girls phenomenon? Apparently phrases like cheetahlicious are sweeping the nation. Sabrina wanted to bring a fresher edge to the show, and Mark (a DWTS first-timer) called himself a dancing ninja. These two should be an interesting couple to watch this season. Mark's biggest obstacle during training was keeping Sabrina from confusing hip-hop with the Cha Cha Cha. It's a common problem. The couple decided to split the difference and infuse their routine with some hip-hop moves.

Dancing to "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls, Sabrina and Mark delivered a lively, unconventional Cha Cha Cha. Sabrina is definitely one of the most natural dancers among the ladies, so that gives her an advantage. The routine was a major crowd-pleaser, and heavy on the hip-hop. Voters always love these kinds of performances, but the judges are normally less than thrilled by them. Sabrina and Mark sought to win over the audience, and they clearly succeeded.

Carrie Ann acknowledged that the performance was "fierce," but wanted a routine with less of a hip-hop influence. Bruno called Sabrina a "bewitching blonde dynamo," and praised the couple's precision. After instructing Bruno to take a chill pill (what year is it, again?), Len commented on the couple's level of excitement, but didn't want to see as much hip-hop. Surprise! Score: 26 (9, 8, 9). Lesson of the night: some risks pay off! With such high scores and a devoted audience that is obviously much younger than I am, this couple has some serious staying power.

Marie Osmond and Jonathan Roberts (Foxtrot) - After a quick fist-bumping moment between Chris Harrison and the newest Bachelor, Marie Osmond got to take on the Foxtrot. Marie declared that she was in the competition to show other single mothers over 30 (wink) not to give up. Jonathan called himself ballroom's perfect gentleman, and claimed that he could teach anyone to dance. I'd like to see him take on Mark Cuban as a student. After an enthusiastic "Oh my heck" upon seeing her partner, Marie said that it was time for a woman to win the show again. Performing might not be a problem for Marie, but staying focused in practice was. Eventually Jonathan was able to rein in Marie's goofy tendencies, and Marie resolved to concentrate on winning.

The couple's Foxtrot, performed to The Supremes' "I Hear A Symphony," showed off Marie's incredible stage presence. She might not be the most graceful or flexible of the women, but Marie was second to none in the personality department. Her energy and spirit came through extremely well, and she wasn't afraid to dance on her own. She even threw in a few kisses to the judges. The crowd absolutely loved her as well.

Interacting with the judges always wins them over. Bruno thought the dance featured great storytelling, and that Marie's acting masked her technical shortcomings. Len called the couple's routine a "lovely present." Carrie Ann noted Marie's charisma and deemed the performance "adorable." Score: 21 (7, 7, 7). For Week 1, this was pretty fair, especially in light of the other ladies' scores. Since, as Marie mentioned, most of the DWTS audience is made up of Osmonds, this couple should stick around a while.

Melanie Brown and Maksim Chmerkovskiy (Cha Cha Cha) - Ahh, Scary Spice. Now there's a familiar face. Mel B. confessed to having some dancing experience from her Girl Power days, but said that ballroom dancing is more high pressure. The lovely Maksim proudly called himself the bad boy of the show, and expressed his willingness to put his partners through anything to win. These two are well-suited to each other, especially since Melanie counted Maks' vanity as a positive trait. Mel had some issues with relinquishing control on the dance floor, however. Maksim believed that the cheeky nature of the Cha Cha Cha would work in their favor.

The couple performed their routine to a high-energy version of "Deeper Love." Melanie, in an animal-print dress, showcased her personality more than her technical prowess. She and Maksim have excellent chemistry, and their performance went over well with the studio audience. I would definitely put Mel B. at the top of the women's group, along with Sabrina Bryan. Her fiery attitude fit the tone of the Cha Cha Cha very closely.

Carrie Ann brought out her first backhanded compliment of the season, stating that Melanie was a much better dancer than she expected. She did notice that the couple was a bit out of sync, though. Len complimented Melanie's hip action, and felt that the routine was well-performed. Bruno called Melanie a "feisty kitten," and worried about Maksim's ability to tame her. Yuck. Score: 24 (8, 8, 8).

Jane Seymour and Tony Dovolani (Foxtrot) - The former medicine woman was the last performer of the evening. I never knew that Jane was once an aspiring ballerina, and that an injury sidelined her dreams of a dance career. Dancing clearly means a lot to her, which makes me like her even more. Tony and Jane agreed that their strategy would focus on class and grace. Jane pointed out that she was the oldest dancer the show's history, and the cheers from the audience made it clear that she has the mature woman vote. The practice footage highlighted Jane's dedication and tendency to push herself. She's not here just for laughs, unlike some billionaires I know.

Jane and Tony danced the Foxtrot to "Let's Do It; Let's Fall in Love," by Cole Porter, which was a lovely choice. You can tell that Jane has a dance background; her moves were light and graceful. The entire performance was very charming, and featured a difficult move where Jane fell into Tony's arms (almost down to the floor). It always seems that actors are better at playing the part that the various dances call for, and Jane was no exception.

Bruno thought that the couple's performance was the essence of elegance, and commended Jane's ability to use her hands to express the emotion of the dance. Carrie Ann was glad that Jane didn't look stiff, since many contestants have made that mistake with the Foxtrot. Len enjoyed the mix of steps and holds, and instructed the couple to work on their turns. Score: 24 (8, 8, 8). This was one of my favorite performances of the night, and it likely secured Jane's position in the Week 2 roster.

Finally, there was a small chunk of filler at the end of the episode. The men got a chance to talk some trash before their performance tomorrow night. The men feel that Floyd Mayweather is the biggest threat among the men, and Albert Reed talked a big game for someone I've never heard of. Mark Cuban took the opportunity to mouth off to the judges, and Tom wisely called him "delusional."

Each of the female contestants brings something different to the table. Melanie and Sabrina have already set the bar high with impressive scores. I think that Jennie Garth has the most potential for improvement over the course of the season, and she's my favorite female contestant overall. Marie Osmond's showmanship shouldn't be counted out, though, and Jane Seymour has "sentimental favorite" written all over her. This week I'm giving Jennie and Jane my votes. Bring on the men!

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