Dancing with the Stars: Athletes Week 1 “Double Elimination Opening Night”
Adam & Jenna find themselves matched by Josh & Sharna; technical slipups take Jamie & Artem and Johnny & Emma down.
It’s the all-athlete season of Dancing with the Stars, and they are officially having fun with it. No opening montage this time, just the athletes introduced on the floor in spotlights, and an opening number to “We Will Rock You” laden with sports paraphernalia. There’s also a sports desk Tom and Erin start at, and a jumbotron for the scores. (Tom comments they should’ve gotten that one long ago, and he’s probably right). And the judges are in referee outfits, Bruno in a sexy one.
But of course, this is also the fast four-week season. They decided they had to have an elimination opening night and a double one at that. That means the voting’s different this time. It takes place during the show (which means only viewers in the eastern half of the country can participate!) and will close just before the show ends. So we’ve got ten dances plus that to get through in two hours:
Chris Mazdzers & Whitney Carson: Salsa; “Mr. Put it Down” Ricky Martin feat. Pitbull
We learn about luge in the fluff, since not everyone knows what it is. We also learn it gave him excellent toe point. But of course, the salsa requires hips. The most memorable parts of this number are him showing off his bare chest, and the spectacular lifts. But even if the fog machine obscures it at one point, his dancing’s pretty competent too, to the point that Len even says he’s impressed, and Carrie Ann waves a pom-pom and hits herself in the face with it. They do have some technical criticisms to make, though, and their scores are straight Sevens for 21 total.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Lindsay Arnold: Cha Cha Cha; “Sign, Sealed, and Delivered” Stevie Wonder
The fluff includes his many life accomplishments, a cameo from Magic Johnson for extra superstar power, and Lindsay teaching him cha-cha moves on the Lakers’ court. For the dance, he gets to play with a golden basketball at the start, and she surrounds him with lots of glittering gold dancers, mostly female. Although how well they dance maybe accidentally highlights how stiff and awkward his own cha-cha-chaing is. He’s got a good grin and determination, and the judges are very nice to him with their comments. Carrie Ann and Bruno even give him Sixes. A Five from Len means he totals 17.
Jennie Finch Daigle & Keo Motsepe: Foxtrot; “All-American Girl” Carrie Underwood
The fluff has them meeting at her ranch, in front of her kids-and her cattle. It also very much portrays her as a country-girl family woman. With the song lending itself to it, the routine further enforces that image. She does a wholesome routine in white with a farmhouse and a porch, with the kids even sitting on it, and they end with a group hug. She glows through the whole thing, which makes it a joy to watch. Her dancing’s a bit loose for a foxtrot, though. “You’re not grabbing a horse by the reigns,” Bruno tells her while grabbing Len. They too get straight Sevens.
Jamie Anderson & Artem Chingvintsev: Viennese Waltz; “Feeling Good” Avicii feat. Audra Mae
She talks a bit about snowboarding in the fluff, but there’s no snow-covered meeting; they meet in the studio. The rest is her finding dancing harder than she thought until she gets nervous. The dance is a snow-covered one, with the ballroom looking snow globey. At first, they whirl around beautifully, but then she loses her timing, messes up, and lets that show in her dancing. Bruno advises her to cover mistakes up. Carrie Ann blames it on her nerves and tells her “You’re more elegant than you think you are.” Len liked it enough to give it a Seven, while Sixes from the other two leave her with 19.
Mirai Nagasu & Alan Bersten: Salsa; “No Excuses” Meghan Trainor
The fluff touches on her triple axel, her friendship with Adam, and her bringing Alan gloves when she comes to the studio to meet him. The salsa allows Mirai to be at her spunkiest and her most aggressive, and them being on a small raised circle on the floor further highlights that; this routine has the most spark so far. “You’re a boss,” Carrie Ann tells her. The judges do think she overdid it slightly at times, occasionally to the detriment of her technique. But Len decides not to object to the high amount of tricks, and he and Bruno even break out the Eights. A Seven from Carrie Ann leaves them with 23.
Arike Ogunbowale & Gleb Savchenko: Salsa; “Them Girls” Whitney Myer
The fluff has her two buzzer-beaters from March, Gleb’s failed basketball shots, and her balking at wearing high heels. She actually wins that battle and gets to dance in glittery sneakers! She too starts by doing ball tricks-with a gold mirrorball-and does a routine with a bunch of extra dancers in it. But she’s someone who has a real presence on the floor, and her own style and energy which allows her to truly command it. The judges like that, but Len criticizes her lack of hip action and only gives her a Six. Carrie Ann and Bruno give her Sevens, but the former tells her to wear heels next week. She thus totals 20.
Adam Rippon & Jenna Johnson: Salsa; “Sissy That Walk” RuPaul
When Adam and Jenna meet in an arena locker room, they both promptly scream. As if he wasn’t perfect enough for this show, they apparently click extremely well, and they have way too good chemistry. And that’s when his first dance features him moving like it’s second nature, doing everything with perfect attitude, and turning the air electric. It’s not absolutely perfect — there’s a weird move or two-but it’s more than close enough to establish this as a team to beat. “You were born to do this show,” Carrie Anne declares as all three judges rave their heads off, then break out straight Eights for 24 and the lead.
Johnny Damon & Emma Slater: Foxtrot; “Centerfield” John Fogerty
The fluff, after doing his wins, also shows him as a family man. But he and Emma meet on a baseball field, and she describes the routine as celebrating his career. So he dances out of a team of dancers onto the “DWTS Foxtrot Field” in uniform, and Emma has a whistle, but after the fancy intro, it’s actually mostly pure dancing. Which he isn’t the best at, even if the goofiness is kind of charming. Carrie Ann even calls him “adorable,” and Bruno assures him “It will get better,” while Len praises him for going for it. They’re even a touch lenient by giving him straight Sixes for 18.
Tonya Harding & Sasha Farber: Foxtrot; “When You Believe” Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston
Actually didn’t hear most of this fluff due to an Amber Alert (suspect that’s for the better), but she says at the end of it that she really doesn’t want to fail at this one. Tonight, she succeeds. In fact, on the dance floor, she shows a grace and musicality mostly lacking from her skating in her younger years. Although the roses the audience throws on her at the end remain uncalled for. All in all, contrary to what we expected, the judges have to declare her a good dancer, and Carrie Ann and Len even give her Eights. But a technical quibble of Bruno’s keeps his score down to Seven, so she totals 23.
Josh Norman & Sharna Burgess: Cha Cha Cha; “Finesse” Bruno Mars
We get one last meeting on a sports pitch, and her first question is whether he can move his hips. Once they remove to the studio, though, she notes how rapidly his movement improves. As it opened, the night closes with a routine that shows a lot of bare chests though with lifts not allowed Josh has to settle for jumping over Sharna at the beginning. Most of the rest is pure dancing, and it turns out he truly is good at it, both technically and expressively. He’s one of the good ones, Len and Bruno say, while Carrie Ann declares him the flyguy of the night. Straight Eights and we have a tie for the lead.
Now comes the hard part, as we have to get rid of two couples based on the voting done during the show. To keep things simple, Tom and Erin call three couples in jeopardy: Jamie & Artem, Johnny & Emma, and Tonya & Sasha. The strangely pro-Tonya audience object loudly to the last one. But when the votes got lowest-scoring Kareem & Lindsay to safety, we know they could easily have dropped Tonya & Sasha below the two next-lowest scoring couples. Or did they dance their way to safety this time?
They did; it’s Jamie & Artem and Johnny & Emma out. Everyone is so sad to see them go. In a more merciful season, Jamie especially could’ve gotten over the nerves and gotten much better. Instead, these two honorable athletes are out to Tonya Harding, but what can you do? She outdanced them fair and square.
The voting lines have now reopened; they’ll have that for next week as well, where they will also be team dances and guest judge Rashad Jennings. The question is whether making the celebrities try to dance with each other with fewer weeks under their belts is at all a good idea…