Dancing Kicks Off with Jitters and a Surprise Frontrunner
03/10/2009 AT 12:00 AM EDT
And they're off! The race for Dancing with the Stars' coveted mirror-ball trophy officially began Monday night. An Olympian, a rodeo champ, a former Playboy Playmate, a computer tycoon and a handful of reality TV stars cha cha'd and waltzed their way into season eight during a two-hour premiere packed with first-dance jitters, downright disasters -- and a fresh batch of Bruno Tonioli's most outrageous comments.
Grammy-winning rapper Lil' Kim and reigning Dancing champ Derek Hough kicked off the night with a hip-swiveling cha cha that earned props from all three judges. "First night, first dance, overall I thought it was first class," judge Len Goodman said, as the hip-hop star (and former inmate), who dedicated her dance to "all my girls in the Federal Detention Center," let out a sigh of relief. "You can work wonders with that tushy!" exclaimed fellow judge Bruno. "The potential is there."
Last-minute replacements Holly Madison and Melissa Rycroft -- who filled in for an injured Jewel and Nancy O'Dell, respectively -- may have had less than a week to prepare but they're already off to a good start, according to all three judges. "There is hope my darling, keep working hard!" Bruno told the former Playboy Playmate and Girls Next Door star, whom Carrie Ann Inaba described as a "newborn deer right now with wobbly legs." As for Bachelor star Rycroft, "it was like watching a beautiful bird about to take flight," Bruno said about her waltz. Belinda Carlisle and Lawrence Taylor both got off to a promising start with their dances -- but failed to execute to the end. "You looked like Julie Andrews," Tonioli told the former pop star and partner Jonathan Roberts, "and then you turned into Cloris Leachman… your waltz lacked fluidity!" And likewise for the Taylor, the Super Bowl champ, who boasted he had "more dance ability" than fellow NFL star and season 6 contestant Jason Taylor. His stiff cha cha cha was anything but quick, sharp and precise -- in other words, everything the dance is supposed to be.
Reality star Steve-O received a semi-standing ovation from the audience that included his Jackass costar Johnny Knoxville. He may be at a disadvantage -- "I'm very Caucasian, I can't keep a beat," he lamented during practice -- but that didn't stop the stuntman from waltzing around the dancefloor and mesmerizing Carrie Ann and even the usually stodgy Len. "What I admire is that you came out fully committed," the head judge told him. "I'm going to say I expected it to be much, much worse. Well done."
A star (or two) was born tonight. Gilles Marini cemented a spot at the top of the scoreboard with two-time DWTS champ Cheryl Burke after the two performed a sultry and high-energy cha cha cha showcasing the Sex and the City hunk's relaxed yet on-target dance moves. Carrie simply exclaimed "Woo hoo!" while Bruno raved that "clothes on or clothes off, you certainly know how to strut your stuff!" Marini's toughest competition at this point? Rycroft and pint-size gymnast Shawn Johnson, whom the judges praised for her elegant and graceful waltz.
Honorable mentions included rodeo champ and Jewel's husband Ty Murray ("I do like the fact that you let go," Inaba said, complimenting his willingness to try something outside his comfort zone) and David Alan Grier (who, even though judges slammed for making too many facial expressions, had a "very, very commendable" performance).
A nervous Chuck Wicks earned a sweet kiss from girlfriend and partner Julianne Hough at the end of their dance, with Carrie Ann describing him as "one of the most graceful men" on the show. But on the other end of the spectrum: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's cha cha was simply a "disaster," Len said.
Nerves and pressure got the best of Denise Richards, who broke down and apologized each time she messed up a dance step during practice with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Goodman's warning and piece of advice for the actress was to "tone up a bit more and dance yourself. You always look as though Maks is pulling you around." --Eunice Oh
Bruno was in top form, bringing out a fresh batch of "Brunoisms" that elicited laughs -- and some boos. Here, a sampling of his best one-liners: • "It was like watching a Teletubby going mad in a gay pride parade!" … on Steve Wozniak's cha cha cha •"I don't know The Bachelor guy but he's a loser!" … on Bachelor Jason Mesnick, after ex-fiancee Melissa Rycroft's waltz •"It was like you were chasing a whirlwind… I thought you were going to strangle her. You have to calm down!" … to Chuck Wick after his waltz with Julianne Hough •"It looked more like an army drill than cha cha cha … left, right, left right" … on Ty Murray's performance
Here's how the contestants stacked up after Monday's dance: •Lil' Kim & Derek Hough: 21 out of 30 for their cha cha cha •Belinda Carlisle & Jonathan Roberts: 17 out of 30 for their waltz •Lawrence Taylor & Edyta Sliwinska: 16 out of 30 for their cha cha cha •Steve-O & Lacey Schwimmer: 17 out of 30 for their waltz •Gilles Marini & Cheryl Burke: 24 out of 30 for their cha cha cha •Chuck Wicks & Julianne Hough: 20 out of 30 for their waltz •Holly Madison & Dmitry Chaplin: 18 out of 30 for their cha cha cha •Ty Murray & Chelsie Hightower: 14 out of 30 for their cha cha cha •Shawn Johnson & Mark Ballas: 23 out of 30 for their waltz •Steve Wozniak & Karina Smirnoff: 13 out of 30 for their cha cha cha •David Alan Grier & Kym Johnson: 19 out of 30 for their waltz •Denise Richards & Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 18 out of 30 for their cha cha cha •Melissa Rycroft & Tony Dovolani: 23 out or 30 for their waltz