DANCING WITH THE STARS Debuts; Season 14 Premiere Recap

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The two-hour premiere of DANCING WITH THE STARS showcased this season's rag-tag group of actors, musicians, and TV personalities turned dancers - to the sound of an extremely generous panel of judges. To what judge Len Goodman called "the best first show of any season," the harshest of criticisms came in the form of, essentially, pats on the heads.

This season features a standard slew of stars from every medium, including singer Gavin DeGraw and Karina Smirnoff, musical legend Gladys Knight and Tristan MacManus, football player Donald Driver and Peta Murgatoyd, Disney star Roshon Fegan and Chelsie Hightower, former Little House on the Prairie child star Melissa Gilbert and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, TV personality Maria Menounos and Derek Hough, tennis pro Martina Navratilova and Tony Dovolani, TV personality and actress Sherri Shepherd and Val Chmerkovskiy, former actor and recording artist Jack Wagner and Anna Trebunskaya, actor Jaleel White and Kym Johnson, UK classical singer Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas, and telenovella actor William Levy and Cheryl Burke.

For those unfamiliar with the show's format, DANCING WITH THE STARS is hosted by Tom Bergeron  and Brooke Burke-Charvet, the celebrities perform choreographed dance routines which will be judged by renowned Ballroom judge Len Goodman and dancer/choreographers Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba.

In the March 19th season premiere, contestants and their partners were given the choice of either a foxtrot or cha-cha. No one will be up for elimination this week, instead, scores and the numbers of votes will be averaged with next week's, and the contestant headed home will be decided thereupon.

Maria Menounos & Derek Hough
Dance: Cha-Cha
Score: 21/30

Though Menounos may consider herself a "dude with boobs," and would rather be wrestling than rehearsing, her Fran Drescher laugh and perfectly sculpted for television personality proved to be an adequate opener for the fourteenth season. Menounos and Hough cha-cha-'d to Kelly Clarkson's "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger," which resulted in what judge Carrie Inaba called "confidently flowing," though noted it was a bit jarring; as if Menounos' moves were captured on camera, and she were just flipping through the photos. She earned solid 7s all around, with judge Bruno Toniolo calling for her to "open up the sex pot," for the next routine.

Jack Wagner & Anna Trebunskaya
Dance: Foxtrot
Score: 23/30
For the first round of dances, self-proclaimed "heart breaker," Wagner, and partner Trebunskay brought a whole lot of schtick. With synchronized kicking, their foxtrot to "Sugar Town" looked more like it belonged in a middle school talent show between a note-writing, never-speaking couple than a legitimate, well-rehearsed duo performing on national TV. Alas, Carrie Ann and Bruno generously praised Jack and Anna for the upbeat feel of the dance, while Len said Jack's "technique was poor," with over-the-top posture and haphazard footwork - though the costumes were nice.

Donald Driver & Peta Murgatroyd
Dance: Cha-Cha
Score: 21/30

Though it started just as schticky as Wagner and Trebunskaya's dance with Driver lip-synching, the routine proved to be the most impressive of the premiere so far. With enough energy to get Carrie Ann to stand up, arms flailing - Donald and Peta's cha-cha proved to be a powerful punch of controlled body rolls, splits, bedazzled lapelles that sat better with the audience than the judges themselves. Driver and Murgatroyd, like Menounos, received 7s from all three judges.

Gavin DeGraw & Karina Smirnoff
Dance: Foxtrot
Score: 20/30
Singer/Songwriter Degraw and Dancing vet Smirnoff proved that having one of the most acclaimed professional dancers in the world as a partner isn't equatable with instant confidence. What was geared as a romantic foxtrot fell flat; DeGraw was visibly uncomfortable: "The foxtrot is a fluid dance, and you were stiff," Len said following the routine, in which he rated a 6.

Roshon Fegan & Chelsie Hightower
Dance: Cha-Cha
Score: 23/30

Fegan, of Disney fame, falls within the sect of competitors with prior dance experience. With a background of hip-hop and freestyle - admittedly not precisely the style of DANCING WITH THE STARS - it's questionable if it's, for the lack of a better word, fair, for him to be in a competition of otherwise novice dancers. Regardless of prior dancing work, Fegan was clearly more used to entertaining a pre-teen crowd than their parents. A shouting Bruno called him "unbelievable," while Len claimed the "technique [level] was very low;" there was simply too much hip-hop for the DANCING stage.

Sherri ShepherdVal Chmerkovskiy
Dance: Foxtrot
Score: 23/30

Sherri Shepherd shimmies. A lot. And screams. And has trouble being elegant - according to Shepherd herself. However, she's the sort of contesant that DANCING producers should slip on their finest dancing shoes to land. Shepherd mixes sass with grace; she's charming, endearingly brash and is hilariously humble: "This is, short of birthing my child, the hardest thing I've ever had to do," she said upon the completion of her routine, adding,"I think I left a boob on the floor." All three judges praised Shepherd, with Bruno saying, "I could use a little bit of Sherri everyday of the week; you're light on your feet, you have good timing, you light up the room."

Melissa Gilbert & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Dance: Cha-Cha
Score: 20/30

Former LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE child star, Gilbert, cha-cha'd with Dancing star Chmerkovskiy, to Marvin Gaye's "Aint no Mountain High" - which resulted in a rather unimpressive, slightly-bland, slightly-forgettable routine. Though all the judges called it an ambitious, inspiring performance, with Carrie claiming Gilbert had "great potential," one can hardly blame Gilbert & Chmerkovskiy for being unable to outstage Shepherd.

William Levy & Cheryl Burke
Dance: Cha-Cha
Score: 24/30

Telenovella star Levy failed to rouse any sort of critique on he and Burke's routine - dance-wise, at least. Rather, he was just asked to remove his shirt. In a dancing competition, a contestant's torso should hardly outshine the dance itself - but in Levy's case, this didn't hold.

Martina Navratilova & Tony Dovolani
Dance: Foxtrot
Score: 20/30

Tennis pro Navratilova, who claims she hasn't worn a dress in 20 years, danced a heavy foxtrot with Dovolani. In a routine that was more stomp and less flow, the judges commented on her ability to explore new territory, Len said she was not "not quite there," and the routine was a little too careful. The performance garnered meager applause. Or, in dancing-dialect, the sound of one tapshoe gimping across stage.

Katherine Jenkins & Mark Ballas
Dance: Foxtrot
Score: 26/30

In a dance just as classic as her voice, Jenkins and Ballas tied with Jaleel White and Kym Johnson for the highest score of the night. But classic can be interpreted as lackluster to some, and it's debateable as to whether there was enough wow in the moves themselves to impress past the sunshiney-sunflower lightshow. Len, out of character, exlaimed, "that was crackin'!" while Carrie claimed Jenkins could secretly be a pro. However, like in seasons past, Jenkins may prove that winning the highest score doesn't necessarily equal winning the most hearts.

Gladys Knight & Tristan MacManus
Dance: Cha-Cha
Score: 23/30

Music legend Knight, who is arguably the most high-profile contestant of the season, may prove to be of the highest quality as well. With charm like Shepherd and the grace and beauty of Jenkins, she and MacManus may prove to be this season's favorite with at-home audiences. Knight proved, all while sashaying across the stage, that the legend does indeed have the moves, according to Bruno, who later saluted her. Carrie's praise took less of a vocal form: Knight's performance simply caused her to flop around on the judge's table in typical fashion.

Jaleel White & Kym Johnson
Dance: Foxtrot
Score: 26/30

Closing out the season 14 premiere was White, affectionately known as Steve Urkel, and Johnson. With a smooth, jazz-infused routine reminiscent of old Broadway, the duo tied with Jenkins and Ballas for the highest score of the night. With a standing ovation from Carrie and the audience alike, it was clear there wasn't a trace of Urkel on stage.

The show feels like an old televised friend - like AMERICAN IDOL in its early days - with loyal viewers awaiting its return during the show's off-time. Familiar it is, considering the show is fox-trotting into its fourteenth season. However, regardless of the number of times the show has come and gone from the airwaves, it's sure to be another season of ratings success for ABC. And commercial success for the show's record number of advertisers.

To view photos of contestants rehearsing earlier this month for tonight's premier, check out the previous coverage BroadwayWorld brought you here: /bwwtv/article/Photo-Flash-First-Look-DWTS-Season-14-Contestants-in-Rehearsals-20120305.

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Tyler Peterson Tyler is one of BroadwayWorld's lead News Desk Editors, covering breaking Broadway and theatre news daily. He studied Public Relations and Creative Writing at Loyola University Chicago while working part-time for BWW on evenings, weekends, and occasionally during classes. He has also been involved in the Chicago theatre industry, working in media relations and publicity with Margie Korshak, Inc.