The hit show returned to ABC March 17 for its 18th season. The season’s 12 contestants performed for the first time. It was also the first episode with new co-host Erin Andrews and new music director Ray Chew. There’s a few new faces among the pros, too—Maksim Chmerkovskiy is back, and Witney Carson and Henry Bialykov are both dancing their first season on the show as partners. But, for this week at least, the show stuck to its familiar format. Here’s what each couple danced:
- NeNe Leaks and Tony Dovolani: The reality star might be known for her bigger-than-life persona, but her first cha-cha was anything but overdone. Carrie Ann told her to dance bigger and Bruno corrected her footwork in the basic cha-cha step. She’s musical, though, and a great entertainer, so that could work for her. Score: 21
- James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: The Big Time Rush member and his partner danced a foxtrot. While their chemistry (they’re kind of into each other) is obvious, the judges found plenty to nitpick. Bruno said James’ footwork needs work. Len said his frame wasn’t great. Score: 21
- Danica McKellar and Val Chmerkovskiy: Their foxtrot was the first performance of the night that the judges were very enthusiastic about. Actress Danica has a lot of natural talent going for her. The judges were impressed by how much they enjoyed the dance and how well Danica and Val danced together. Score: 24
- Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff: The contemporary routine showed off former hockey player Sean’s strength in a lot of lifts. What it didn’t do as effectively was highlight technique. The judges appreciate the partnering, but note that Sean needs to develop his transitions. Score: 20
- Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater: The Star Wars-themed cha-cha had a lot going on on the stage. There was a replica R2-D2 and cheering audience members dressed as Wookies. What there wasn’t was much dancing. Actor Billy had charm and a great smile, but not much technique. Yes, he’s had two hip replacements, but even the judges couldn’t find much good to say. Score: 15
- Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: The Olympic ice dancer’s first cha-cha was a little underwhelming. It’s clear that she has a lot of dance training, but it’s also clear she’s out of her comfort zone. Obviously, she has a strong technical background, though, and the judges praised the speed of her turns. Score: 24
- Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: This was a lovely surprise. Former child star Candace is a great mover. She’s musical, strong and confident, even in the floorwork. The judges are very impressed. Score: 25
- Cody Simpson and Witney Carson: Their cha-cha was enthusiastic, but it felt like it relied a little too much on Witney being flirty and sassy than on actually technique. Both partners seemed to enjoy the dance, but pop singer Cody looked a little bit stiff. The judges appreciated the energy but wanted to see more technical detail. Score: 22
- Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke: The Monopoly-themed foxtrot was entertaining. Drew’s clearly out to play the fish-out-of-water card. He had a strong feeling for the music, but he was a little awkward. But, the dance gets a good crowd reaction. Score: 21
- Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: The Paralympic snowboarder’s cha-cha was an absolute joy to watch. Not only does she have musicality and speed, she’s a great performer. She was radiant throughout the piece, and she was very precise in her movement. Score: 24
- Diana Nyad and Henry Bialykov She might be a record-breaking swimmer, but those talents don’t necessarily translate to the ballroom. But, Diana's got a lot going for her. She’s graceful and poised. Carrie Ann said she has potential. Score: 18.
- Charlie Davis and Sharna Burgess: This was the crowning glory of the night. Unlike Meryl, Charlie seemed as at home on the ballroom floor as the ice rink. There were plenty of well-executed tricks and the judges were pretty much dazzled. The couple got by far the best score of the night. Score: 27
For a first night, there was a lot of potential in these dances. This isn’t the most outstanding cast the show has ever assembled, but there are a lot of celebs here who seem willing to work to improve. That should make later weeks fun to watch to see how far they can come.