(CBS News) Bristol Palin jiggled, French beefcake Gilles Marini oozed suaveness and uber-Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno showed he is in it to win it (again) as ABC's venerable talent show "Dancing With The Stars" opened its first all-star competition.
"DWTS: All-Stars" Season 15 looks to be a good one as former champions shook the dust off their dance shoes and took to the floor for the hit show's 15th season.
Burning questions of the night abounded. Where would comedienne Kirstie Alley be on the fat scale? Would Palin bring a new attitude along with her new face? How would those early champions from Season 1 and Season 2 compete with the contestants from more demanding later seasons? How long would it take for contestants to take shots at Palin's much-heralded red-state support? Answer to that last one: not very.
In a night of foxtrots and cha-cha-chas, a couple of former champions threw down early warnings that they would take no prisoners in Season 15. Eight-time Olympic medalist Ohno -- looking chunkier and cockier than in his first outing five years ago -- gave a pelvic-thrusting performance that left judge Carrie Ann Inaba calling for the smelling salts.
And NFL legend Emmitt Smith, who funked his way to the "DWTS" mirrorball trophy in Season 3, commanded the floor again in a performance that chief judge Len Goodman called the best of the night.
Overall, the dancing was generally strong as contestants built on their performance skills and sold their routines to the crowd, even if their technique was not perfect. Several of the actresses in the mix, Pam Anderson and Alley, won the audience with their commitment to the feeling of the dance, if not the exact steps. Anderson delivered a smoldering cha-cha-cha to an Amy Winehouse song that had the right attitude, if not enough "content," as the "DWTS" judges like to say.
As chief judge Len warned at the top of the show: "The judges are going to be a little tougher. What was good has to be great."
Here's a rundown of how the all-stars did on the Season 15 debut.
This former boy bander was a little tubby when he appeared on Season 4 but worked his way into shape and into the finals that year. Flash forward and he's still a little chunky by Hollywood standards. Fatone is one of the best comic contestants to appear on the show. He brings the fun, and put in an energetic performance that left him wheezing.
"I can't breathe,'' gasped Fatone after the routine.
"Joe, you're like a boomerang. You throw him out and back he comes," said judge Len.
What does that mean?
Golden girl gymnast Shawn Johnson had the second-best professional (Mark Ballas) as her partner when she snuck into the winner's circle in Season 5. Lucky Shawn now gets the hands-on best pro in Derek Hough for this season's run. She made the most of it, showing more expression and stage presence as she and Hough did a foxtrot that had effusive judge Bruno Tonioli panting.
"You put a little sex appeal into it,'' which for Bruno is a very good thing.
Former champ Johnson wants a second mirrorball trophy to console her for not being able to compete in this year's Olympics.
Sabrina Bryan holds the distinction of the best dancer to be sent home the soonest, which happened to her in Season 5. My theory on that surprise ejection is that the audience thought she was a ringer. It's a very gray area in the whole "DWTS" esthetic of how much previous dancing experience a contestant has before they start the show. As a member of a girl band The Cheetah Girls, I think the audience thought maybe she had an unfair advantage. Perhaps Bryan made the mistake of revealing too much, too soon in Season 5 and paid the cost.
It's all history now. The audience has forgiven her, voting her to be the 13th performer this season in an online ballot this summer. Bryan is a dynamite performer, and delivered a sizzling cha-cha-cha.
"You came back with a fire under your boot-tay," exulted Inaba.
Race car driver Castroneves is the weakest dancer to ever win the mirrorball trophy, which he gained in Season 5 with the enormous help of Julianne Hough, a talented pro who has moved on to a singing and acting career.
Castroneves continues to charm the audience with a puppy dog demeanor and a 1,000-kilowatt smile.
"You have such a bright and engaging personality that people don't look at your feet,'' noted Goodman.
Busty Pam Anderson won't last long this season, but I enjoy her dancing. What she does, she does well. She never breaks character and performs the role of each dance. On Monday, she delivered a twitchy cha-cha-cha in the spirit of the late Amy Winehouse that was all boozy attitude and Cleopatra eyes.
But the judges didn't go for it.
"It was a bit shaky but you didn't fall over,'' sighed Goodman.
Before her dance, Anderson talked about the tough competition, joking that Palin has "the whole Tea Party, right?" As one of the Internet's most downloaded stars, maybe she shouldn't knock other people's fan bases.
"You look like a girl who would go all the way," purred Tonioli.
Said Pam: "Yes!"
One would think her 15 minutes would be up by now, but spurned "Bachelor" reality star Melissa Rycroft is eking out more time in the spotlight. The former professional cheerleader, now a wife and mother, is back after a third place finish in Season 8.
Some might say a professional cheerleader would have an unfair advantage, since dancing to choreographed routines is what those girls do. But as the "DWTS" programmers wink at the audience, Rycroft gets another chance to argue she's more than a generic spunky gal with decent dance moves.
"You have the most exquisite lines," said Inaba after Rycroft's foxtrot.
Apolo Anton Ohno
When he won the show five years, ago Ohno had a boyish charm and an Olympian work ethic. This time around he's got a little more junk in his trunk, and a cocky attitude.
"Is it just me, or did you just get 3,000 times more sexy?" asked Inaba after Ohno thrusted and gyrated his way through a sexy cha-cha-cha.
Ohno is partnered by feisty Russian pro Karina Smirnoff, who won two seasons ago. I'm thinking Karina may strike gold (or rather, mirror) again with Ohno.
"I'm a diehard competitor and we'll see who is able to work the hardest and perform the best," said Ohno before the dance.
Gilles Marini is a French actor famous for showing a glimpse of his penis in that second "Sex and the City" movie. As a finalist on Season 8 he was what I would call a suspiciously good dancer for someone of avowed no previous experience (see Bryan, Rycroft, and let's face it, dozens of other competitors on this show through the years).
Marini is so darn good looking and looks so great in a tux that half the battle was won before the first step. But his dancing is so smooth and suave it brought, as judge Bruno declared, "Old-time Hollywood gloss and glamour" to his foxtrot.
"Technically so good," said Tonioli.
Was tacky judge Bruno referring to those cosmetic surgery rumors when he told Bristol she had returned to the show "refreshed, revised, refurbished."
Or was he talking about her dancing, which was a lot better?
Mama Bristol jiggled her moneymaker and smiled throughout in a solid cha-cha-cha that built on the glimmers of stage presence she torturously developed during her extended stay in Season 11.
"I'm going to do my best and perform this time around," said Palin before the dance, which was watched by parents Todd and Sarah and son Tripp.
"I vote you the most improved from since we last saw you,'' said Inaba.
Drew Lachey and Kelly Monaco
These early season champs - Monaco won the abbreviated first season that was only 6 weeks long, and Lachey won Season 2 - are laboring under the impression that they're ill-matched to compete against the more polished performers of later seasons when "DWTS" hit its stride. I have to admit I did not see those first two seasons. I was not overly impressed with these two and don't see them lasting.
When rotund Alley performed her first dance on Season 12, it was a pleasant shock to see how light on her feet she was. She was fun to watch in Season 12, fighting with temperamental Russian pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy and involving the audience in her weight loss drama.
This time around was a bit of a letdown. While much lighter than Season 12, her dancing felt heavier as she and Max gamboled through a foxtrot.
"You have the most beautiful sensual quality when you dance," said Inaba.
"Needs refining," said Goodman.
Alley is still zany, though, planting a full-on liplock smooch on host Tom Bergeron.
"That's for your Emmy," she said.
NFL legend Emmitt Smith crossed the goal line in Season 3 with a smooth funky style that was on full display in Monday night's cha-cha-cha. Sly, sexy, confident and cocky. It was the best dance of the night, declared Goodman.
Or as judge Inaba opined: "Yabba Dabba doo!"
At the end of the evening, the judges had placed Smith at the top of the leaderboard, and Anderson at the bottom. When the viewers' phone-in votes are added in, the first one of the 13 all stars will be kicked off tonight.
It looks to be a good season.