A new scoring system threatens doom and math, but full-body fringe reinvigorates the will to live

By Annie Barrett
Updated September 25, 2012 at 10:53 AM EDT
Credit: ABC
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Welcome back to Planet Mirrorballus, DANCMSTRs! It’s season 15 and we’re stepping it up: Tom has an Emmy, Brooke has a mermaid gown, and Papa’s got a brand new bag of paddles. Not everyone got the memo though: One of the singers wore a flannel shirt!

Just when I’d mastered the art of counting to 10, those silly Dancing With the Stars judges had to go and introduce DECIMAL POINTS into the scoring system. I’d like to score this new scoring system a 5.5…times zero, which is zero. It’s uttah madness, I tell you! Carrie Ann keeps saying “point five,” while Len and Bruno prefer “and a hoff.” They’ll need to iron out those verbal tics because my brain is about to explode from the extra math as it is. Will this be the end of the Fringe Fairy? Stay tuned.

Did anyone else’s gem-studded heart swell big time, thus corrupting the geme pool, when some of the returning All-Stars bounded over to Tom and then kept the momentum going by crushing him in a giant bear hug? So cute! (Who does that guy think he is — Cat Deeley? He’s hugging as fast as he can!) It’s not why Tom won last night, but it sure did make my night tonight.

Will the judges please reveal their absurd half-point scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhhhh-ber!

Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke: 24.5 out of possible 30 Len called their cha cha, the theme of which was “Emmitt’s green shoes are sparkling but Cheryl’s dancing in lingerie — WHERE DO I LOOK?” the best dance of the night. I personally went with the looking-at-shoes option which was a good call because a) been there, done that with all of Our Pros (after 14 seasons I feel like my brain = a stack of racy catalogues stuck together by thick films of Thai food, wine, and rhinestones) and b) Twinkletoes’ footwork was so great! The judges marveled at Emmitt’s natural charisma, but I was more impressed with his feet. They sparkled so hard.

Gilles Marini and Peta Murgatroyd: 24/30 The couple earned three 8s for being really, really, really, incredibly good-looking — and for grounding the premiere with a stunning Old Hollywood foxtrot. Even their rehearsal footage screamed “WOULD YOU JUST LOOK AT THESE CLASSIC BEAUTIES?” despite the fact that at one point Peta’s day-glo hair was in a bun and Gilles was wearing a fashion hat. It’s like watching an Old Hollywood movie about two models trying to make it on a ballroom dancing reality show. They’re going to make it! “You will not come in second place again,” Peta promised.

Awkward Emmys tie-in from Carrie Ann: “Jon Hamm didn’t win last night ’cause Gilles Marini had to come out here and win it tonight!”

NEXT: Let More Fringe Activate Outrageously (LMFAO) Sabrina Bryan and Louis Van Amstel: 22.5/30 When I visited the DWTS rehearsal space last week, I thought Sabrina and Louis looked the best of the couples I watched — and they weren’t even going full force! Turns out Sabrina’s full force, though, is more like overdancing. “It had a lot of impact, but so does a hammer,” said Len after calling their cha cha clean and precise. Cue the boos!

I liked Len’s reasonable plea to the audience to “give my view some consideration.” I know exactly what he and Carrie Ann meant by overdoing it. If Sabrina were less desperate to prove her worth as an all-star, she could relax and enjoy it more. But this was some furious choreography from Louis that almost had to be hit that hard. I’m looking forward to what he has in store for the slower routines that will let her luxuriate in the dance a bit. And I agree with Sabrina — Louis should not call her a frontrunner! Especially not out loud, in front of cameras.

Apolo Anton Ohno and Karina Smirnoff: 22/30 Okay, what the heck were these outfits? Had the freestyle/hip-hop round come early this season? Had Apolo and Karina just taken the liberty of placing themselves in the finals? No! This was an LMFAO cha cha, a term I never hope to use again but altogether found very amusing. Their ridiculously hued “Party Rock” outfits only added to the bonkers fiesta vibe of the dance. Apolo’s hair is super long and floppy, and — like legs — he knows how to use it. Their light-up bracelets BLEW MY MIND. I never thought I’d say this, but forget sequins and fringe. Bring on the pink leopard suspenders, electric blue Latin heels, and things that blink!

What should my penance be for that blasphemous comment about forgetting sequins and fringe? I’m willing to do just about anything to redeem myself in the eyes of Lord Mirrorballus. Accepting suggestions in the comments.

NEXT: Carrie Ann wants it firm, but not rigid Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough: 22/30 This could be one of my favorite new couples, and it’s primarily because they’re so smiley! When I look back on their rehearsal package, dance segment, and judges’ critique combined, I just picture Shawn’s face lighting up — already smiling but on the verge of a super huge all-out grin, know what I mean? She’s just become so much more effusive. A lot of that, I’m sure, is thanks to the new dynamic with her partner. Together they’re just fabulous.

The judges disagreed on whether their American Smooth foxtrot was really a foxtrot — Len, “a cup of tea in a world of lattes,” just didn’t see it, and Bruno thought it was a cha cha cha with a little sex appeal. I’m biased because I never really care what the dance is (and sometimes, even after all these years, I have to rewind to find out!) but I thought it was excellent. Next up: Shawn jives on her hands! She totally could, you know. Gymnasts can do anything.

Helio Castroneves and Chelsie Hightower: 21.5/30 Everything we loved about Helio with Julianne has been duplicated — and even heightened? — by his partnership with Chelsie. “They gave me another blonde. I like that!” he beamed upon meeting her, and pretty soon he was begging her to pinch his butt. As he is an ideal student, the teacher must oblige. Helio is a real perfectionist — right away you could tell he knew he messed up a few times in what Len called “one or two incidents” of his foxtrot. But I can’t imagine fans wanting to get rid of these shiny happy people too soon. Just watching Helio stumble around the practice floor and fall down, seemingly for the camera’s benefit, is a delight.

Drew Lachey and Anna Tre-BUN-skaya: 21.5/30 First of all, I feel like Anna’s blue and white sequined/feathered gown is what Nicole Kidman’s befuddling Emmy gown should/could have been. I don’t know why all the Emmy nominees don’t just wear Dancing With the Stars costumes instead. Huge, huge missed opportunity for ABC.

The judges weren’t giving out freebies for the guy who bravely stepped in for pregnant Samantha Harris in season 5. “It was all a bit too hard and hectic for me,” said the DANCMSTR before struggling to find the proper euphemism for the word “short.” (He ended up going with “Compact,” then “neat,” then “precise.” Those all sound like compliments, Len. Just call him freaking short! You know you want to.) “Sometimes you stiffen up,” Bruno agreed. Carrie Ann consulted the judges’ special thesaurus under the table (it’s mostly just sex terms) and announced to Drew that she wanted to see him “firm, but not rigid.” I was shocked Tom didn’t chime in, but sometimes his silence and miming (of a helpless live host who just won an Emmy) can speak volumes.

NEXT: Does he really expect us to not call him Val? Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 21.5/30 Don’t call him Val! In an effort to ramp up the romance in his season 15 partnership, our old, possibly-named-Valerie friend will go with his full first name, Valentin. Happy V-Day to all. “Kelly and I exude sensuality coupled with smoldering hot sexual tension,” Valentin (ugh, I don’t know if I can stop calling him Val this whole time) declared in a raucous round of the new DWTS rehearsal game, “Tell, Don’t Show.” He also nearly played “Tune In, Tokyo” with Kelly’s two perky flotation devices. “Valentin” (that’s probably what I’ll have to do — air quotes) gets funnier every season, or they just decide to air more of his hilarious stuff.

Kelly hadn’t danced the cha cha in season 1, and confidently hit all her marks in this gold-and-silver fringed one. They both looked HOT. I really appreciated V-Day’s matching gold-and-silver sparkly bicep band to round out their look. I would totally wear that thing as an anklet to the beach. Tom probably should have worn it to the Emmys.

Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani: 21/30 Len called their Fosse-inspired foxtrot “a little bit theatrical,” which…. isn’t that, like, a massively understated definition of Dancing With the Stars itself? What isn’t a little bit theatrical on this bizarre planet? The DANCMSTR’s red, white, and blue suit was a little bit theatrical. Kyle Massey zoning out behind Tom in a near-comatose state was a little bit theatrical. The actual dances are supposed to be well beyond those minor levels of drama! Oh well. I suppose he needs a new synonym for “messin’ about.”

Anyway, once I stopped focusing on the strange black triangle on Melissa’s abs that reminded me of underwear (from one of my many decrepit catalogs, of course), I really enjoyed this dance. I didn’t notice the body contact issue, but Bruno and Carrie Ann agreed the pair needed more. Were those piles of gold coins on the floor or just your standard sparkly gold curlicues that threaten to slither around the floor?

Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson: 20.5/30 Their “P.Y.T.” cha cha was the perfect way to kick off this throwback season, and I have to admit that right at that point (in the haze of the DEADLY SMOKE MACHINE) I did wish that all the returning contestants could be with their original partners. Really, it doesn’t matter. But Joey and Kym have so much fun! Anyway, I liked the twinge of “Hey, I remember this” and the excitement in knowing we’ll get to see it all again and again. Superfans rewarded! Speaking of which, I nearly passed out with envy after realizing Kym’s sparkly hose had short tufts of gold fringe sticking out of them in random places. FULL-BODY FRINGE. It’s a milestone in any woman’s life, the first time she sees full-body fringe and imagines, “What if?” I’ve got a lot to ponder.

“I like a man that gives it large!” cried Bruno after Joey’s sassified cha cha. It only took him three minutes.

NEXT: Give that ass its own brain! Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas: 19.5/30 Bristol referred to Mark as her “security blanket.” Awww. I had one of those too, named Nushie, and it was always giving me astute advice like “Let that ass go NUTS. Give that ass its own BRAIN.” It’s why I grew up to become such a…. sedentary recap writer. But there’s still hope for Bristol, who has returned with a new body, face (she’s smiling), work ethic, and confidence. That last one is really the key — I used to get so uncomfortable watching her feel uncomfortable because she had to dance. Now, with a few other reality shows under her diagonal fringe belt, she’s no longer afraid of this one. Really enjoyable cha cha. Len called her the most improved contestant so far.

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 19/30 Ahhhhh, I really did miss this couple’s anything-goes approach to rehearsal chatter, when they just do a running play-by-play of the dumb, insignificant non-events that are happening. The best: “You see the sweat part over there? That means that your boob is constantly on me,” the professional ballroom teacher pointed out to his student. What exactly is Mr. Butt Seriously complaining about here? If Maks told me my boob was constantly on him, I’d just be like, “You’re welcome.” End of story.

Their foxtrot took place in a mystical purple land of fire, rain, and curtains, and despite the artful visuals and the drama Kirstie brought to the role of “Adele in heat” (I think?), the judges bashed her dull edges and lowered carriage. “The quality of movement wasn’t superb,” said the Union Jack flag in the center. Bummer.

Pamela Anderson and Tristan MacManus: 17/30 God, Pam, get it together! She started out strong, cracking jokes about the Tea Party in a confessional and adorably flirting with Tristan during rehearsal. Their cha cha had a strong vibe to it — sexual angst, tension in general, the electrifying effect of Tristan’s wild ‘n’ free chest hair — but the judges didn’t see any technique. “There wasn’t enough work there for me to really praise you,” buzzkilled Len. I’m no dance expert, but I wonder if this was DANCMSTR’s way of knocking Pam down for not finding enough time to rehearse in the past few weeks. Anyway, Pam looked on the verge of tears up on Brookebot Mountain. Can Tristan’s fan base save her? They may be gone tonight.

Video: Last week I visited Apolo Anton Ohno and Karina Smirnoff, Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough, Sabrina Bryan and Louis Van Amstel, and Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson in the glamorous shared rehearsal space I like to call “The House of Flying Swaggers (and Disco Ball Dreams).” It’s just as magical, and purple, as I’d thought.

I’ll have more from the cast as well as a guided tour of the space from leprechaun correspondent Tristan MacManus in the next few weeks!

Be sure to check out the Dancing With the Stars After Party on ABC.com, where I’m an “expert panelist” (HELLO, no need for those air quotes!) alongside hosts Joanna Krupa and Marc Istook and all-star insider Kyle Massey on occasion. After Party will be live on ABC.com, YouTube, and Facebook at 10 p.m. ET following each Monday night telecast.

Who goes home tonight? Did Cheryl’s dress look really itchy? Whose hair was more wild — Kirstie Alley’s or Louis Van Intensité’s? Discuss!

Thanks for reading — and welcome back!


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