Dancing with the Stars‘ first-ever socially distanced season kicked off Monday and while a lot of it was different, a lot of it was the same. Celebrities danced with pro dancers, judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli, and Derek Hough critiqued their movies, and clear frontrunners emerged. Of course, this marked the debut of Tyra Banks as host, and she stepped into the role with all the Tyra-ness we’ve come to know from the several hundred shows she’s been on over the years.
Season 29 opened with shots of the performers standing solo as Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” playing — a spot-on reflection of our collective mood as quarantined people who wanna do anything with somebody other than the people we’ve been locked in the house with for months now. The set was transformed, as promised, to make it look like it was always designed to be absent of crowds, with the audience section now occupied by Art Deco-styled panels, and the sounds of people cheering were piped in like the canned laughter on a sitcom. As much as things changed they stayed the same, and in the first run of the year, DWTS and made it clear who’s got a real chance at the Mirrorball and who’s going shuffle on home. Here’s what happened, and who to keep an eye on.
AJ McLean and Cheryl Burke
The Jive/ “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd
How They Did: They’re quite a dynamic pair! McLean moves As Bruno said, he as the potential to go a long way.
Chrishell Stause and Gleb Savchenko
Tango/”Raise Your Glass” by Pink
How They Did: For a lady who sells houses by day, Chrishell sure has moves. To the untrained eye, she looked pretty solid out there, but professional nitpickers Derek and Carrie Anne pretty much said she did OK for her first try, and Bruno said that with a bunch of forced real estate puns.
Vernon Davis and Peta Murgatroyd
Foxtrot/“All of Me” by John Legend
How They Did: You know the deal with athletes on this show: they can look like magnificent specimens of grace or like their whole bodies are made of wood. Vernon is somewhere close to the former, able to glide with beauty. A bit stiff in places, but one to watch this season for sure.
Anne Heche and Keo Motsepe
Cha Cha/ “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa
How They Did: Anne’s having fun, bless her heart, and though she wasn’t perfect, she had lots of energy and moved with lightness and ease.
Jeannie Mai and Brandon Armstrong
Salsa/”Tell It to My Heart” by Taylor Dayne
How They Did: A blur of neon and legs, Jeannie worked that floor like her life depended on it, smiling like she would go to jail if we didn’t see all her teeth. Strong first performance though.
Jesse Metcalfe and Sharna Burgess
Quickstep/”Part Time Love” by Stevie Wonder
How They Did: Jesse looked nervous and a little rigid in places, but it turns out he’s as pretty on his feet as he is to look at.
Skai Jackson and Alan Bersten
Tango/”Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj
How They Did: Welp, we see a frontrunner here folks: the Disney star nailed her kicks, dips, and a stunning split like she’d been doing this her whole life. She got the first 7s of the night.
Kaitlyn Bristowe and Artem Chigvintsev
Cha Cha/’Stupid Love” by Lady Gaga
How They Did: Kaitlyn was solid, if maybe a little unremarkable, but she’s certainly going to stay in this game for a while.
Nev Schulman and Jenna Johnson
Foxtrot/”The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra
How They Did: This elegant and classy routine certainly suited Nev; the choreography suited his long limbs and lanky frame, and he looked smooth.
Johnny Weir and Britt Stewart
Cha Cha/”Buttons” by The Pussycat Dolls
How They Did: Just as you’d expect, Johnny brought the eleganza extravaganza, working his frame in a way that made his body look like poetry. Given how flexible and liquid he’s had to make his body in figure skating, it would’ve been weird if he didn’t look amazing out there. He’s got some room for improvement as judges noted, but he’ll be around for a while.
Justina Machado and Sasha Farber
Cha Cha/ “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
How They Did: Yes! She had sass, she had style, she had shake in every step. She looked like she was having fun too, which will make her a continued joy to watch as she goes forward.
Charles Oakley and Emma Slater
Salsa/ “In Da Club” by 50 Cent
How They Did: Oh boy. As if in homage to all old dudes up in the club across the land, Oakley wasn’t exactly a twinkle toes but at least he had a good attitude.
Monica Aldama and Val Chmerkovskiy
Foxtrot/ “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts
How They Did: Despite the slightly terrified look she wore on her face, Monica wasn’t bad out there. You almost wished someone was on the side screaming at her to do better like she does to the kids on Cheer.
Nelly and Daniella Karagach
Salsa/ “Ride Wit Me” by Nelly
How They Did: Given his background in making music that makes people dance, you expected Nelly to be a little more suave, but no. He’s fun to watch though.
Carole Baskin and Pasha Pashkov
Paso/”Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
How They Did: The moment we were all waiting for came last, as cat-covered train wreck Carole Baskin roared out onto the floor. Given her own admission that she can’t dance, it was reasonable to assume she was going to do much, much worse than she looked but she wasn’t entirely awful.
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Dancing with the Stars Season 29 premieres Monday, Sept. 14 at 8/7c on ABC.