Helio Castroneves and Chelsie Hightower reach for greatness during their… (Adam Taylor / ABC )
It’s a very special evening, ballroom fans. The All-Stars season is finally upon us! And this “celebration of the best of the best” is like a who’s who of “Dancing With the Stars”-dom. Former champions and also-rans! Controversial figures! Boy banders! Olympians!
Each couple performed a fox trot or the cha-cha. Though with so many shiny stars swirling and twirling around in the coveted Mirrorball trophy’s glittery orbit, it was hard to focus on just one. As head judge Len Goodman said, what was good has to be great, and what was great has to be exceptional.
There’s even been a tweak to the judges’ scores, allowing for half-points to each paddle score “just to give it a balance.” Who emerged as early favorites during this season premiere and who fell short of expectations? In the words of newly minted Emmy-winner Tom Bergeron (whose best reality-TV show host award was much deserved), “Let the intensity commence!”
PHOTOS: 'Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars': Meet the Season 15 cast
Quickly establishing themselves as the team to beat in this stacked competition were Season 3 champs Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke. The Super Bowl champ’s still got his ease of movement, lightness of step and his Matthew McConaughey-like swagger, and seeing the chemistry ignite back up with his old partner make them quite the formidable force. Emmitt was looking lucky in his emerald-green satin shirt for his cha-cha, set to Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” and Cheryl was sporting full-on '80s Gloria Estefan hair. “The last dance of the evening, and the best,” Len declared. Bruno said something about the essence of uplifting for everyone to enjoy. “Twinkletoes is back!” Carrie Ann exulted. “You were born to dance.” And all three judges awarded Emmitt and Cheryl a total of 24.5 out of 30 their first time out. Allrightallrightallright!
Following closely in second place was actor Gilles Marini, back with his French accent and heavy-lidded looks at the camera to avenge his Season 8 loss, this time partnered with last season’s pro champ Peta Murgatroyd. Apparently, the chemistry they have is amazing. And their fox trot took a page from “The Artist,” starring a Frenchman without a word and in sepia tones, a throwback to the glitz and glamour of Old Hollywood. Bruno said the routine had “style, panache and finesse … old-time Hollywood gloss and glamour.” “That was just so poetic and gorgeous,” sighed Carrie Ann. “Jon Hamm didn’t win last night because Gilles Marini had to win it tonight.” Len said “You had a sophistication about you – I thought you did a terrific job.” Total: 24.
Season 5 early-ouster Sabrina Bryan was the only one of Season 15’s contestants voted into the competition by the viewers. If that wasn’t pressure enough, new pro partner Louis Van Amstel had to go ahead and say that she was a front-runner, which only puts that much more pressure on her. Which is maybe why Sabrina felt like she needed to put that much effort into her first go on this all-star dance floor, attacking with the speed of a cheetah (girl) and the rabid fervor of a gaggle of One Direction fans during a “What Makes You Beautiful” performance. Maria Menounos liked it, though not enough to get on her feet. Carrie Ann, however, declared Sabrina this episode’s Katniss Everdeen. “You are on fiya! There’s nothing like a woman scorned, and you came here with a fire under your bootay.” Still, the judge warned SB against overdancing. So did Len: “It was clean and it was precise; unfortunately, it had a lot of impact. So does a hammer, but you need some finesse as well.” Bruno said Sabrina has “unleashed a fury on the dance floor … [though] at times, you went for it too much.” Total: 22.5