Look, it's an elite weight-loss program! No, it's a resuscitator for a dying career! No, it's Dancing with the Stars! Tonight, a defensive linebacker glided across a dance floor with a Polish (self-proclaimed) seductress spinning around him, a Wild Thing cried and apologized repeatedly when she disappointed her partner, and a computer geek turned billionaire escorted a befringed dominatrix across the hardwood. Such are the paradoxes inherent in this show. We had the usual celebrity types this season, with a few twists and surprises.
But before we get into who danced tonight, let's talk about who didn't. ABC does love to tease a shocker, but I have a feeling the ones they revealed tonight were not welcome. Jewel, who had suffered from tendinitis for the past couple weeks, and was diagnosed with fractured tibia in both legs last week and so had to pull out of the show, and Entertainment Tonight anchor Nancy O'Dell tore her meniscus, an injury that requires surgury and rehab, and so forced her to quit. Now, I was ambivalent about seeing O'Dell perform, but Jewel was a different story. To see that country girl get all gussied up and do something besides croon beautifully would have been a real treat. I won't make you wait like ABC.
Jewel's replacement is Holly Madison, who wants you to know one thing: she is NOT a Playmate! She may be one of The Hef's girlfriends (as shown in her E! reality show The Girls Next Door), but she has also been a photo editor for Playboy and has appeared in Scary Movie 4 and Entourage. These things apparently make her one of the "most popular women in the world today," according to her official bio on ABC's website.
The other replacement quite the shocker, and probably a smart move on ABC's part. Last week's most famous reality show dumpee has become the newest cast member of DWTS. That's right, The Bachelor's Jason Mesnick's loss is DWTS' gain, according to Len Goodman, as former Dallas Cowgirl Melissa Rycroft steps in as Tony Dovolani's partner.
And now, for a bit of play-by-play analysis, with the stars ordered from highest to lowest score.
Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke: The Guy Who Showed His Thing can shake his (groove) thing! As Cheryl so bluntly put it, the French actor "doesn't have a fan base, so he has to work harder than everyone else." Ouch, Cheryl. Never one to mince words, is she? I like that girl. Gilles (pronounced Jeel, lo and behold) will probably build a fan base pretty quickly, judging by tonight's red-hot cha-cha, which was really about half panache and great choreo by Cheryl. But what I want to know is, did she choreograph that finger through the breasts after the music ended? Too sexy! Judges' score: 24/30
Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas: This gymnast probably could have coasted on sheer cuteness and Olympic gold medals until the halfway point even if she was as bad as Shannon Elizabeth. But she gave a beautiful waltz! Carrie Ann was moved, and I've got to say, much as I hate to be a sap, so was I. Judges' score: 23/30
Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani: What a difference a week makes in this crazy place called Hollywood! Last Monday, she had her heart broken on national television. This Monday, she danced a beautiful waltz in front of millions of people! This former Dallas Cowgirl is apparently no slouch at learning choreo, having had only 48 hours to rehearse for tonight. According to Bruno, her dance "was like watching a beautiful bird about to take off." Kudos to Melissa for earning the second-highest score of the evening. Judges' score: 23/30
Li'l Kim and Derek Hough: I can see how Kimberly Jones became hip-hop lyricist Li'l Kim; she is a catchphrase machine! "I'm dedicating my first dance to all my girls at the federal detention center." Or how about, "I'm going to look like black Barbie, and this is my Ken." She definitely has stage prowess, natural rhythm, and a booty she knows how to use! Judges' score: 21/30
Chuck Wicks and Julianne Hough: If Julianne was serious when she said her boyfriend was the hardest dance partner she'd ever had, she has her work cut out for her. Remember Cody Linley, aka "ADD boy," from last season? Although he certainly has natural rhythm, he apparently doesn't take too well to the missus bossing him around. In any event, this couple's giggly bickering met with mixed results according the judges, but was just plain adorable in my book. Judges' score: 20/30
David Alan Grier and Kym Johnson: My pre-show predictions about this funnyman were apparently totally off-base, 'cause this comedian can dance! His waltz had genuine grace, and his jokes made me laugh ("Have I lost any weight yet?" in rehearsal), so I'm happy. Judges' score: 19/30
Holly Madison and Dmitry Chaplin: Yikes. I know she only had one week to prepare, but this model was a bit herky-jerky in her cha-cha. And yes, that's a technical term. I like her partner's positive prognosis: "There's absolutely no time for technique. She's going to be walking her way through the cha-cha." She was still more at ease than some stars who have the full time to prepare — I'm thinking Kim Kardashian and Shannon Elizabeth. Judges' score: 18/30
Denise Richards and Maksim Chmerkovski: The price you pay for Maks' level of greatness? Tough love and tears. This demanding pro pushed his apologetic partner to tears before the first episode ever aired, but she still only registered a shaky cha-cha with some glimmers of potential. Sorry, Maks-i-poo. Judges' score: 18/30
Belinda Carlisle and Jonathan Roberts: This Go-Go girl already had the beat, and now, she can spin without becoming nauseous! Jonathan is such an understanding partner though; where he's concerned, many of the other pros would be rolling their eyes and saying, "Get tough!" She pulled it off in the end though, making the waltz look graceful in a chartreuse bedazzled gown, with attached gloves, no less. How dare Bruno compare her to Cloris! (I think that will become Bruno's ultimate put-down metaphor for women, as Bruno has used Billy Ray Cyrus to insult male stars in the past.) Her score earned boos from the audience, and rightly so, I think. Judges score: 17/30
Steve-O and Lacy Schwimmer: Many stars balance family and careers with this show, but this one is fitting dance practice into his rehab schedule. And his speech about how this "wholesome," "challenging" activity will only help his efforts to recover from his addictions was truly touching. I was in total agreement with Len's critique of Steve-O's definitely stiff walt, "I expected much worse." And can I just say, Lacey's peacock skirt was fabu! Judges' score: 17/30
Lawrence Taylor and Edyta Sliwinska: You gotta love when you see a man who has tackled the best football players in the country bite his nails and say that he's never been so nervous before a game. Once again, Edyta designed a dance that showed off her skills and masked her partner's shortcomings. Any guy looks good holding Edyta's wrists while she twists in a two-piece number that somehow integrates sequins, fringe, and a V-shaped skirt that stays between her legs. Judges' score: 16/30
Ty Murray and Chelsie Hightower : I expected Billy Ray levels of terribleness from this poker-faced cowboy. But I was pleasantly surprised. He even looked like he was kind of enjoying himself–but maybe that's because he got to grab a young girl's boobs twice during his cha-cha. His manner is thoroughly appealing though: During rehearsal, "That's like cheerleader stuff; I can't do that," and after his perf, "I just went out there and forgot everything I've learned for the past month," and after the reveal of the scores, "I think they judged it fair. I had a lot of mess-ups." Judges' score: 14/30
Steve Wozniak and Karina Smirnoff:This is the only star I've ever seen say he needs a "five-minute thinking break." The Woz somehow combines the lovableness of Shawn Johnson with the facial expressions of Mark Ballas to make a truly entertaining attempt at a cha-cha. Can we please talk about Karina's Goth My Little Pony outfit? Crotch- and crack-fringe? Unheard-of, and for a reason. Judges' score: 13/30
So that's the first night, folks. No elimination show this week, as every star will get another chance to strut their stuff next Monday, March 16, at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central on ABC. After-party here!