Welcome to Dancing With the Stars: Juniors, which is happening whether you want it to or not! Thankfully, the show learned a lot from the junior edition of So You Think You Can Dance, and instead of pairing little dancers with adult pros, which, as you can imagine, was insanely awkward at times, the little celebrity kids (and kids of celebrities — what a world!) get partnered up with a professional junior dancer (um, these kid pros are insane), and matched with a DWTS Pro as a mentor. Our Juniors judges, DWTS King Val Chmerkovskiy, choreographer extraordinaire and Academy Award winner Mandy Moore, and Olympic figure skater (and break out star) Adam Rippon, do a nice job of offering some critiques while keeping everything upbeat.
The formula mostly works! Are there awkward moments? Of course! Did I ever think I’d see Malcolm in the Middle interviewing Honey Boo Boo? Not in one thousand years. But did I still cha cha away smiling? Yes! And that last thing is all that matters. Enough with the chit-chat, let’s watch some adorable tiny humans dance their hearts out.
Jason Maybaum and Elliana Walmsley
Mentor: Emma Slater
Cha Cha, “Bills” by Lunchmoney Lewis
I knew these people would be tiny, but this tiny? How adorable are little Jason (an actor on Disney’s Raven’s House) and Elliana? Will this competition simply be a cute-off? Not if Jason has anything to do with it. He’s bringing all of his experience dancing at bat and bar mitzvahs to the dance floor. He wants to win! It’s tough to tell what the technical level of these kids will be, but Jason definitely has high-performance value. Mandy loves his confidence, and all three agree that he’s a showman. He even makes a joke about paying bills. Get it? He’s a kid. HE DOES NOT PAY BILLS.
Judges’ Score: 18/30
Tripp Palin and Hailey Bills
Mentor: Jenna Johnson
Foxtrot, “Mama Said” by The Shirelles
Tripp is a kid who’d rather spend his time fishing than dancing, and who blames him? His mom, Bristol Palin didn’t seem to totally love her time on the show (she came in third place in season 11), and it doesn’t seem like Tripp is totally into this either. He’s super shy in the beginning, but in great hands with Hailey (this girl is so good!) and Jenna. He definitely looks a little lost out there and falls behind the music, but gets through the whole thing with a smile on his face. He was probably so scared! All three judges applaud his courage (and choice of footwear), but actively avoid talking about the dancing. Typically, not a great sign.
Judges’ Score: 17/30
Addison Osta Smith and Lev Khmelev
Mentor: Keo Motsepe
Cha Cha, “Burnin’ Up” by Jessie J featuring 2 Chainz
Did you guys see Addison win season 4 of MasterChef Junior? She was amazing. I’m sad to see her baseball caps are gone, but glad to see she is still killing it in the kitchen. The learning curve from the kitchen to the ballroom is a little steep, but Addison brings the heat. And by heat I mean sass. The technique, maybe not so much. Adam points out that she was mouthing her eight counts (a bit distracting) and Mandy wants her to work on matching Lev’s energy (which is a lot!). I’m just sitting over here very pleased because, true confession, I live for cooking-themed dance routines.
Judges’ Score: 15/30
Miles Brown and Rylee Arnold
Mentor: Lindsay Arnold
Salsa, “Who Let the Dogs Out” by Baha Men
I can’t fight this show any longer — I love these two. Miles is from Black-ish and Rylee is Lindsay Arnold’s baby sister. Together, they melt hearts. Miles has never danced with a girl and he’s so nervous! Rylee cries when she’s overcome with emotion! And although I never wanted to hear “Who Let the Dogs Out” ever again for as long as I lived, I’m giving them a pass! Miles is a natural dancer and their salsa is equal parts energetic and smooth. The judges seem to be very withholding, huh? Adam and Val rave about the routine but only hold up shiny seven paddles. Sevens!
Judges’ Score: 22/30
Sophia Pippen and Jake Monreal
Mentor: Sasha Farber
Jive, “Do You Love Me” by The Contours
Can you even imagine doing this show as a 9-year-old? Sure, Sophia Pippen (NBA legend Scottie Pippen’s daughter) is a “fashion model” but dancing in front of a live audience is a completely different game. Lucky for her, she’s paired up with Jake Monreal, a precious treasure from the junior edition of So You Think You Can Dance and Sasha. I will never tire of Sasha fanboying over Scottie Pippen. Sophia seems shy, but all of that goes away the minute the music starts. They tell a cute little jive-over-milkshakes story and the judges are impressed. Mandy loves the storytelling and Val loves how clean and sharp they looked. More of them, please.
Judges’ Score: 21/30
Hudson West and Kameron Couch
Mentor: Hayley Erbert
Cha Cha, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” by Shawn Mendes
It seems like the actors on this show have a little advantage. They’re used to working and rehearsing, much more comfortable with the camera, and can sell even a so-so routine. That’s exactly what General Hospital star Hudson West does with his first week on DWTS: Juniors. This cha cha feels a little too “kids acting like adults” to really take off. Still, Hudson is right there with Kameron the whole time, smiling his face off and owning every move. Mandy and Val advise Hudson to work on his timing, but Adam praises him for getting through a ton of partner work. Not a bad reception, overall.
Judges’ Score: 22/30
Ariana Greenblatt and Artyon Celestine
Mentor: Brandon Armstrong
Cha Cha, “Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen
Apparently, Guardians of the Galaxy actress Ariana Greenblatt is the first human person made entirely of energy. You think you’ve met balls of energy before, you have not. She is it. Okay, maybe also her partner Artyon. I’m exhausted just watching these two. Their first routine, a bright (so much yellow) cha cha, is pretty great. Brandon nails the choreography for these little ones — not too hard that she can’t get it, but challenging enough that it looks like a real cha cha. And Ariana and Artyon just ooze charisma. So now I’m exhausted and my face hurts from smiling. Can I go to bed yet?
Judges’ Score: 24/30
Mackenzie Ziegler and Sage Rosen
Mentor: Gleb Savchenko
Foxtrot, “New York, New York” by Ray Quinn featuring Ultra Love
Meet your DWTS: Juniors ringer! Sure, sure, we’re repeatedly reminded that being trained in jazz and contemporary (and being the sister of Maddie Ziegler) is COMPLETELY different from ballroom, but still — any dance training, any live performance experience, is a big help. Just own it, people! Gleb pushes his team hard and Mackenzie and Sage perform a fun foxtrot that quickly moves from the traditional style to a more modern take. Surprisingly, Val is not into it. He’s really taking his position in Len’s seat to heart. The guy wants classic ballroom, people!
Judges’ Score: 22/30
Alana Thompson and Tristan Ianiero
Mentor: Artem Chigvintsev
Salsa, “Conga” by Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Bless Honey Boo Boo: She wears her tiara to her first rehearsal. Seriously, the girl knows how to follow her joy and also uphold her brand. She’s paired with Tristan (um, hello insanely talented dancer) and Artem. Could there be anyone better pair to attempt to rein in the Honey Boo Boo energy? Artem’s smart, he doesn’t totally rein it in — he embraces it and uses it in their salsa. Sure, she’s doing a lot of walking and shaking while standing in place, but she is owning it. She and Tristan look like they’re having a blast and the judges and audience really respond to it.
Judges’ Score: 19/30
Mandla Morris and Brightyn Brems
Mentor: Cheryl Burke
Jive, “Land of 1000 Dances” by Wilson Pickett
Oh, okay Cheryl Burke with this choreography. Get. After. It. Mandla is Stevie Wonder’s son and also a “fashion designer” and seems a little apprehensive about this entire thing. But he shouldn’t be — the kid is a natural. He full on attacks this jive. It doesn’t hurt that his partner Brightyn is a phenom. Seriously, did you see her kick her leg over her head? Val and Artem call it the performance of the night and Mandy is impressed with his level of technique. Do Mandla and Brightyn have this thing locked up? Do they also have two of the hardest names to spell in this competition? Where’s that Akash kid when you need him?
Judges’ Score: 24/30
Akash Vukoti and Kamri Peterson
Mentor: Witney Carson
Foxtrot, “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole
Scripps National Spelling Bee competitor Akash here, can give you a nice definition of the word “tango,” but he’s never held a girl’s hand before. Honestly, I was dreading this performance, the Venn Diagram for spelling geniuses and people with rhythm probably has almost zero crossover — but I was pleasantly surprised. Akash and Kamri are so pint-sized, and that definitely works in their favor, and he looked like he was really, truly living out there. Adam and Val praise Akash for dancing with his heart and Mandy applauds his foxtrot technique. Foxtrot is a tough break for week one!
Judges’ Score: 21/30
Sky Brown and JT Church
Mentor: Alan Bersten
Salsa, “Light It Up” by Major Lazer featuring Nyla & Fuse ODG
Hello, I’d like the be Sky Brown when I grow up. I’m not afraid to admit it, this tiny professional skateboarder is much, much cooler than I am. Okay, like, don’t agree with me so quickly. Sky skateboards into rehearsals, learns that salsa is more than a delicious dip for your chips, and somehow picks up the hip action and armography Alan throws at her and partner JT almost immediately. Mandy is incredibly impressed with Sky’s poise out on the dance floor, Adam praises how sharp and clean the routine is, and Val tosses out the Dad Joke he’s been holding onto all night, telling her that “the Sky’s the limit.” Has Val found his true calling?
Judges’ Score: 22/30
Praise sparkles for tiny miracles and for whatever human had the forethought to pre-tape this series so we could cut away from the crying children. Sometimes adults don’t take getting sent home on this show very well, how can we expect the children to? THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN. And they did. We get a double elimination to end this whole shebang and after adding the live audience vote to the judges’ scores, we have to say goodbye to Addison and Lev (Keo’s team) and Tripp and Hailey (Jenna’s team). Not to cause any additional crying, because my old person heart cannot take that, but it seems right.
How is everyone feeling? Will you tune in next week? Do you believe the children are our future?