"Dancing with the Stars": A new season with no bad dancers

DANCING WITH THE STARS - "Episode 1401" -- This season's spectacular new cast of celebrities brought the glamour, the glitter and -- most importantly - the savvy dance moves during the two-hour Season 14 premiere of "Dancing with the Stars," MONDAY, MARCH 19 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. Dancing either the Foxtrot or the Cha Cha, the couples surprised audiences with exciting performances throughout the evening when they hit the ballroom floor for the first time on live national television. (ABC/ADAM TAYLOR) KYM JOHNSON, JALEEL WHITE
Adam Taylor
Kym Johnson and Jaleel White on "Dancing with the Stars," March 19, 2012.

(CBS News) A new season of "Dancing with the Stars" is like a new season of the opera. Except, no one dies at the end. They merely tear a ligament, strain a knee or ruin what's left of their reputation.

Last night's inaugural featured names of which some might have never heard and others whose sanity many might suddenly have questioned.

Pictures: "Dancing with the Stars" Season 14

"DWTS" is a charitable show. In its first week, there are no eliminations, merely potential humiliations.

First into the frilly fray was Maria Menounos, she who seems to have simultaneously presented every entertainment show that appears during your dinner.

"I'm such a boy," declared Menounos to partner Derek Hough. She added, "I'm like a dude, but I have boobs."

Menounos is a booby-dude with a laugh which would strike a hyena dumb. Her cha-cha enjoyed some felicitous footwork, but there were some stiff, dudey moments.

Judge Bruno Tonioli wanted her to have softer hips. He wanted her to open up her "sex spot." Although he didn't indicate where that might be. Carrie Ann Inaba wanted her to be a little more fluid. Or perhaps to drink some.

Jack Wagner is very good at golf. He is the only non-professional athlete to have ever won the American Century Celebrity Golf Classic. Here, though, he was a dressed as a country club member, circa 1953. Well, this was a foxtrot.

Wagner was starchy at times, as are so many golf club members on their first dancing date, but he maneuvered through his foxtrot without excessive strain.

"You just took me to a happy place," purred Inaba. Len Goodman, though, poured a little depressive salsa onto the proceedings. "Your footwork is haphazard," he huffed.

Then we had the requisite football player - the Green Bay Packers' Donald Driver. Donald clearly fancies himself as a mover and shaker, as well as a Driver.

He swiveled his hips as if he was trying to fool a cornerback, and one suspects that several Wisconsin clubs have benefited from his enthusiastic twistings. At the end, one somehow hoped he would perform a Lambeau Leap into the orchestra.

"You kicked that cha-cha's booty," enthused Inaba. She didn't feel, however, that there was actually much cha-cha in his cha-cha. "You got over-excited a few times," explained Goodman.

What on earth is Gavin DeGraw doing here? Apparently he wants to be seen away from the piano. He could have just gone shopping. DeGraw wears hats all the time. Yes, even for the foxtrot.

It was, at times, a little chaotic. "It lacked musicality," said Goodman, perhaps amused at telling a musician that he was musicality-free. "You stiffen up in the front places," added Tonioli, with absolutely no double-entendre intended.

And then there was Roshon Fegan from "Shake It Up!" This, naturally, is a Disney Channel show, one of the few you might have missed.

Fegan believes himself to be an excellent hip-hop dancer. Could he translate this talent to the cha-cha? Partner Chelsie Hightower thought he seemed like a "little lost puppy dog." So she put him on a lead and hoped he wouldn't pee on the floor.

His bumping and grinding was a little teenage on occasion. But when it came to moving his feet in time, he showed more than a little aplomb.

Tonioli called Fegan "laser-sharp." Goodman, naturally envious of youth and exuberance, called his performance level high but the technical level low. The very reverse, indeed, of the average Goodman showing.

Sherri Shepherd believes she will "laugh her way all the way to the mirrorball." Shepherd worried that she doesn't do elegance very well. Somehow, she managed a more than passable impersonation of it, with timely turns and a peculiarly peaceful grace.

Sadly, "The View" co-host has already been accused of cheating. She was seen - can you cope with the shock? - allegedly taking lessons in December. She didn't deny it. "I'm 169 pounds, I'm diabetic and I'm pigeon-toed. Y'all do not want me falling out on that dance floor," she explained.

"I could do with a little Sherri every day of the week," gushed Tonioli. Most of us could.

Melissa Gilbert emerged from a broken back to try this, her latest challenge. From the "Little House on the Prairie" to the large house on Beverly Boulevard.

Gilbert had a little trouble extending herself at the beginning of her cha-cha, but then she seemed to find her footing and her inner rock chickette, one that not everyone knew she had.

"It's the attack of the woman in black. You can certainly grind it," said Tonioli. However, the judges were concerned at her lack of hip action.

Then the screaming started. Ah, yes, we had a heartthrob of Spanish romantic dramas. No, not Marc Anthony, nor King Juan Carlos, but the next best thing: the Mexican Brad Pitt. Oddly, William Levy is from Cuba, enjoyed a baseball scholarship in Florida and has never dated Angelina Jolie. (As far as we know.)

Levy is a large man, but the first time he began to work his hips, several members of the audience were overcome with an attack of screeching, swooning frenzy. Levy seemed only truly comfortable when he was pressed so close to partner Cheryl Burke's buttocks that his hips were creating dimples previously unknown.

As the ladies prepared to remove their bras and toss them in Levy's direction, Bruno Tonioli was seen to be licking his lips without cessation. Then he stood and declared Levy to be "the hottest package of the season." At least I think the verb was "be." It was implied, you see.

Inaba began: "First of all, I'd like to thank ABC for my job." Even Goodman liked it.

Martina Navratilova was most concerned about wearing high heels and being "not very feminine."

She said she hadn't worn a dress in 20 years. Her foxtrot was as tentative as her dress was unflattering. Her face had carved upon it such a level of sheer fright that, though she tried hard, there was a certain tightness that never left her.

"It was close, but it wasn't quite there," said Goodman. He accused her of being too careful.

Katherine Jenkins doesn't look like an opera singer, ready to swoon, poisoned, just before the final curtain. Instead, she comes across like a Welsh soap opera star, full of teeth and girly enthusiasm.

Her foxtrot, however, was entirely elegant. Not one high-pitched element, and apparently not one false foot placement. She did end up prostrate like most opera singers. But she wasn't dead, merely resting.

"I liked the detail that went on throughout the dance," said Goodman. He worried that she had a saggy ribcage, though.

Some might think it a tragedy that Gladys Knight has sunk to this. Why would one of the greatest singers of all time - even she calls herself a music legend - want to be on this show? There seems to be no adequate explanation. Perhaps this was her part-time love.

Knight herself said she was going to "make like a Pip", a reference to her famous backing group, whose members never let her dance.

Glad was glad she had the cha-cha. Her steamy Irish partner Tristan McManus was last season dedicated to staying legally sane while partnering Nancy Grace. This time, he had a lady of such charming exuberance that he must have felt like he'd got on the midnight train to Georgia and found it full of Guinness.

"The legend has got the moves," cried Tonioli. Inaba was so happy that Knight was shaking her tail.

And finally, Steve Urkel - real name Jaleel White. White wanted people to understand that he wasn't clumsy or geeky. That had been Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's job when he was on the show.

White's opening leap was a thing of syncopated beauty. He moves like Mark Cuban in his dreams.

"It had elegance. It had sophistication," said Goodman.

The true sophistication of this show was that the contestants had clearly enjoyed far more practice than in years past. Not one was an unsalvageable dork. Not one moved like, say, Steve-O or Master P. In fact, not one had one sole initial in their name.

TOP THREE: Jaleel White, Roshon Fegan, Katherine Jenkins
BOTTOM THREE: Martina Navratilova, Gavin DeGraw, Melissa Gilbert

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

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