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Posted at 11:12 AM ET, 03/10/2009

Reality Check: 'Dancing With the Stars'

By Liz Kelly

Denise Richards splits for partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy. (ABC)

If you're not much interested in D-list celebs or ballroom dancing, then you probably won't be setting the DVR to tape "Dancing With the Stars" for the next few months, but last night's season premiere was eminently watchable.

Tacky costumes? Check. Big hair? Yep. Spray-on tans? Got 'em. Stars? Not so much. Faux-lebrities? Take your pick. While the show takes big liberties with its name (stars these are not), the dance-off is artery-clogging cheese TV at its best and last night's season premiere did not disappoint, despite the lack of any really big names or a Heather Mills-ish must-see moment.

Last-minute substitutions -- "Girl Next Door" Holly Madison for Jewel and "Bachelor" jiltee Melissa Rycroft for Nancy O'Dell -- failed to build much in the way of excitement. In fact, the show's wildcard -- recovering addict and "Jackass" alum Steve-O -- delivered a surprisingly tame performance and seemed genuinely psyched to conquer his waltz routine.

Although I won't be watching all season (I think overexposure to fake tans may be carcinogenic), I'll briefly recap the debut performances here, then take your predictions on who will emerge victorious during sweeps week.

Recaps and voting after the jump...

Lil' Kim (and Derek Hough)
Am I the last one to find out that the one-time jailbird and Notorious B.I.G. ex is a giggly valley girl? A valley girl who dedicates her performance to "all my girls at the federal detention center," but still... Her performance -- to Janet Jackson's "Nasty Boys" was solid, if shaky. With a little more confidence, she may develop into a contender.

Belinda Carlisle (and Jonathan Roberts)
The Go-Go frontwoman -- who herself said that "DWTS" was as far as she could possibly get from her roots -- seemed uncomfortable and embarrassed to be in the room. And after judge Bruno Tonioli's invocation of Cloris Leachman to describe her performance, I'm guessing she won't last long.

Lawrence Taylor (and Edyta Sliwinska)
The legendary New York Giant was out of his element on the dancefloor, but gets an A for effort. Unlike last season's Jason Taylor, who managed to turn his gridiron moves into dancing cred, LT was practically frozen in place as eastern European dynamo Sliwinska danced circles around him. My final analysis: A good sport.

Steve-O (and Lacey Schwimmer)
The first of two "stars" who found their stardom on previous reality TV shows, Steve-O was touted as the novelty act going into the season opener. But it turns out sobriety does wonders for coordination -- although a little stiff, the onetime out-of-control idiot buckled down and delivered a passable waltz as fellow "Jackass"-ers Wee Man and Johnny Knoxville cheered from the audience. I hope he hangs in there -- if for no other reason than proving to himself that reinvention rocks. Though he did manage to blurt out that he "Kicked the waltz's butt."

Gilles Marini (and Cheryl Burke)
In this couple, Burke -- a three-time "DWTS" champion -- is actually the bigger name, but you will probably remember Marini as the naked showering neighbor of Samantha in last summer's "Sex in the City" movie. Despite admonitions from Burke that he needed to concentrate on looking masculine -- and an unfortunate choice in costumes (reminiscent of "Saturday Night Fever") -- this couple may be headed for the finals.

Chuck Wicks (and Julianne Hough)
Okay, surely some kind of nepotism is at work here when Hough's real-life boyfriend -- apparently a rising country crooner -- is cast as her "star" partner. Truly a sign that "DWTS" may be running out of viable contestants. Their waltz was fine, if forgettable.

Holly Madison (and Dmitry Chaplin)
With less than a week to practice after stepping in for the injured Jewel, "Girl Next Door" Madison managed to deliver just about what you'd expect from a Playboy Bunny -- lots of cleavage and burlesque. Sadly, she forgot the routine about midway through and had to be borne along by Chaplin, whose seemed to consider a Playboy bunny ample compensation for a last-minute change in partner.

Ty Murray (and Chelsie Hightower)
Memo to Murray: I know you're some kind of big-time rodeo champ and married to Jewel and all, but a little less "aw-shucks cowboy" shtick and a little more dancing, please. I'm still not sure you actually have working knees. Oh, and lay off the Clash songs ("Train in Vain") -- Joe Strummer has enough to worry about in the afterlife.

Shawn Johnson (and Mark Ballas)
Again playing fast and loose with the whole "star" star thing, the 17-year-old Olympic gymnast is the youngest contestant to ever appear on the show. Although you'd think a trained gymnast would have a leg up on the competition, her waltz was pedestrian and she seriously needs to re-evaluate her costumes before next week's show. You're 17 -- look like it.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak follows the lead of partner Karina Smirnoff. (ABC)

Steve Wozniak (and Karina Smirnoff)
What must Smirnoff have done to be saddled with the lumbering Apple co-founder and self-described nerd, who managed to make all of us uncomfortable as his attempts at humor fell flatter than a MacBook Air? Whatever the case, she struck back by wearing a strategically-fringed transparent body stocking and dancing like there was no tomorrow. (And there may not be -- I predict Wozniak will be cut during next week's elimination.) As Tonioli said, Wozniak looked like "a Teletubby going mad."

David Alan Grier (and Kym Johnson)
You loved him on "In Living Color;" now love him on the dancefloor. Grier's waltz was good enough to take him to the next show, but his humor -- he said he hoped to get "sexual favors" and a "swimmer's body" from his time on "DWTS" -- added a little levity to a show that can take itself a bit too seriously.

Denise Richards (and Maksim Chmerkovskiy)
Listen, we all know Richards is a little kooky, so it's no surprise that she was captured on tape bawling during her training. Said Richards, "I feel stupid sometimes." We understand. Paired with the Borat of ballroom, this couple will hopefully stay around long enough to help out Grier with the humor quota.

Melissa Rycroft (and Tony Dovolani)
Okay, she was unceremoniously dumped in what may -- or may not -- have been a staged "Bachelor" ending, but the former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader is clearly the one to beat in this competition. Not bad for only three days of practice. (Rycroft was a last-minute replacement for injured "Entertainment Tonight" host Nancy O'Dell.)

Now, make your prediction and share your reviews in the comments area below...

By Liz Kelly  | March 10, 2009; 11:12 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Reality Check  
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My IQ just dropped 10 points.

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 10, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

i wish they'd put Karl Rove on this show

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | March 10, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Maybe they *did* put Rove on the show, qv, but he refused to show up.

Posted by: byoolin1 | March 10, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

If Rove's dancing abilities could be covered by executive privilege, Byoolin, I'm not sure I want to know "what really went on" in the Bush White House.

Posted by: northgs | March 10, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Condi Rice needs to be a contestant. She taught George W. the moves he used with Laura at the Inauguration balls. Heck, throw Colin Powell in there for a Secy of State two-fer!

Posted by: mdreader01 | March 10, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

C'mon DWTS is perfect Celebritology fluff. You can't expect them to be able to get Paris Hilton, Brangelina and or Jen on there, or Joan and Melissa Rivers (thank God) like the Donald does.

It's kinda like the Wait Wait Don't Tell Me "It's not my job" segment, only on television. I do like the idea of getting politicians who are recently out of work, though. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Mike Huckabee and Edyta Sliwinska doing the samba."

Maybe they should have shot for Megan McCain, and at least boosted her social life.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 10, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

These are definitely not stars. Many of them I never heard of and only two of those that I have heard of , would I recognize on the street. (although I am sure I would do a doubletake for Marini!)

Washington edition of DWTS sounds intriguing but we would probably just end up with ex-Secret service or White House interns no one has ever heard of.

Posted by: hodie | March 10, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Ah well, at least Woz has the courage to go out there and do that. Bet Ballmer wouldn't.

To be fair, neither would Steve or Bill.

And, to be really fair, neither would I.

Would you?

Posted by: wiredog | March 10, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Faux-lebrities: my new favorite word. :-)

Paris Hilton? Check.

Posted by: Californian11 | March 10, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Can't they change the name of this show to "Dancing With People Who Are Known Marginally Well Enough To Have A Wikipedia Entry," or DWPWAKMWETHAWE for short?

Posted by: MStreet1 | March 10, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I think that there should be a new celebrity activity show: Celebrity Three Rounder. Each week another celebrity who has a record of partner abuse or public assault has to go three rounds with a boxer or martial arts specialist. If this doesn't knock some sense into some people....

For example:

Chris Brown has to go three rounds with UFC Middlewight Anderson Silva.

Amy Winehouse has to go three rounds with Laila Ali.

Suge Knight has to go three rounds with UFC Light Heavyweight Rashad Evans. And Suge doesn't get to hide any weapons on his person.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 10, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Faux-lebrities: my new favorite word. :-)

Paris Hilton? Check.

Posted by: Californian11 | March 10, 2009 1:14 PM

They were know as personalities in the '50s....

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 10, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

So they need to change the name to Dancing with the Fauxlebrities or DWTFF.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 10, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

You people are selling this show WAY short. Tom Bergeron is the best host on TV, and the three judges actually evaluate the contestants on their merit. In my opinion, there are only three reality shows on TV worth watching -- Survivor, Amazing Race, and DWTS. These shows are head-and-shoulders above the combination. Who cares whether these dancers are "stars"? The point is that they are AMATEURS...

Posted by: jerkhoff | March 10, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm obviously in the minority here, but I adore the show. It's a guilty pleasure (along with America's Next Top Model and True Beauty). They help my mind relax after a hard day of puzzle-solving. Sosumi.

I was surprisingly disappointed by Denise Richards and surprisingly peased with Steve-O and The Bachelor chick (btw, I know it's what she's now "famous" for, but I thought it was tacky how they kept referencing the dumpage - even going so far to show a clip). I do think Shawn Johnson will win. L'il Kim = tacky, David Allen Grier = unfunny. Gilles = HOTTT.

Posted by: eet7e | March 10, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Pleased, not peased...let's leave the peas out of this.

Posted by: eet7e | March 10, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Great WaPo username, jerkhoff!!!

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 10, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

eet7e, you're not alone! DWTS is among my guilty pleasures too, after a hard day of using my mind.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 10, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

They were know as personalities in the '50s....

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 10, 2009 2:10 PM

But Jezebel, Paris has no personality!

Posted by: hodie | March 10, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I think the problem is not with the show itself. I agree, highly entertaining. What the others and myself complain about is "truth(or lack thereof) in advertising". These "personalities" (thanks Jezebel), are billed as "Stars" when infact they are not. Perhaps the show should be called "Dancing with the Personalities"? DWTP

Posted by: hodie | March 10, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Lizard Island divided over dancing?

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 10, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Re nekkid shower guy--so do most of us shower in our raincoats, or what?

Pleeease don't make me rent the SATC movie.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 10, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

These "personalities"... are billed as "Stars" when infact they are not.

Doc, I suspect the big stars are often busy with real jobs, while lesser "stars" might have up to four months free to devote to DWTS, should they last that long.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 10, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Hooray Nosy! I've always believed in the "daily hour of dumb." In college, it was Passions.

I can see your point, hodie. In fact, we were talking about the show "around the water cooler" right after my last post, and one of my colleagues said "Not much stars in Dancing with the Stars, huh?" I do think we have dropped from B to C to D list. I can't wait until my Z-list self gets on there!

Posted by: eet7e | March 10, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Re nekkid shower guy--so do most of us shower in our raincoats, or what?

Pleeease don't make me rent the SATC movie.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 10, 2009 4:00 PM

Well, what about if you're showering outside on your deck, without any walls, with a beach at the bottom of your deck, while there are cameras around you as you turn and flash "little reddragon1" at the camera and Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall).

There, now you don't have to rent it! :)

Posted by: eet7e | March 10, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

eet7e, thanks for the recap on the nekkid shower guy scene. remember it fondly...Suddenly warm in here or what?

Posted by: hodie | March 10, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Dear eet7e, hodie, et al.

Since you may have forgotten that sorcerer's cat and I direct the Lizard Island casting office, maybe we could come up with our own list of suitable fodder for the next DWTS. Perhaps categories need to be established first, e.g., ex-jailbird, ex of A-lister, professional nerd, 12-stepper, etc. Queen Liz, do you think there'd be enough meat here for a Friday List call?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 10, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

lesser stars = dwarf stars?

Dancing with the Dwarf Stars. Has a ring to it.

Posted by: hodie | March 10, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

For the record, I ♥ Tom Bergeron on DWTS!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 10, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Dancing with the Dwarf Stars. Has a ring to it.

Posted by: hodie | March 10, 2009 5:05 PM


Hodie, that title would last about 10 minutes before the Discovery Communications lawyers sent a letter asserting trademark infringement on Little People Big World.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 10, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

"...flash "little reddragon1" at the camera and Samantha Jones"...

It wasn't little. ;-)

Posted by: Californian11 | March 10, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

I love DWTS, and actually I think the fact that they are C or D listers adds to the fun. I had no idea who Helio Castroneves was before the show, but by the end, I think I might have been voting for him. I had no interest in Laila Ali since I don't follow boxing, but I loved her on there. And where else could I watch J. Peterman (the fake one) dancing? Etcetera. It's good clean fun.

Posted by: msame | March 10, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I think the fact that they are C or D listers adds to the fun.

You're right, but there's a line. People like "Jewel's Husband" and "The girl from 'The Bachelor' who got dumped" aren't even D listers. I don't think there even is a list for people like that.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 11, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I'd agree with that VTDuffman. This is a particularly bad year for "stars." You'd think the more successful the show gets the better the stars, but it's the opposite.

Posted by: msame | March 11, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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