The 13 new contestants, including two last-minute replacements, strut their stuff in the season 8 premiere

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 10, 2008 at 04:00 PM EDT
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Welcome to season 8 of Dancing with the Stars, the Little Reality Show That Could…add a Playboy Bunny and a Bachelor Dumpee at the very last minute and somehow play out rather normally. The Girls Next Door‘s Holly Madison and recent ABC darling Melissa Rycroft replaced former contestants Jewel and Nancy O’Dell, both of whom withdrew last week due to injuries. Apparently, Dancing With the Stars‘ primary goal for season 8 is to support the flailing industry of general surgery. All Cheryl has to do is fling Gilles Marini and his troubled groin into a spin fast enough, and she’ll keep the dream alive! Don’t you dare do it, Cheryl. Here’s how the 13 couples — let’s call ’em The Top 13, for Steve Wozniak’s sake — ranked after either the waltz or the cha cha cha….

Gilles Marini and Cheryl: 24/30 Might as well face it: I’m addicted to Gilles’ early adoption of DWTS‘ famed ”buttons ruin a shirt” policy. Who cares if this guy was in Sex and the City? I’d be rooting for him if he was just some vagrant Cheryl found sleeping under the bleachers at her favorite theme park, Sea World. Usually the not-so-famous model type gets sent home first, but Gilles and Cheryl should clearly stick around after that bangin’ red and black cha cha cha. Their shared slow, full-body wave was as sexy as an oversize dollop of Nutella smeared over the tip of a giant baguette. Plus, Gilles is already comfortable enough with his partner to not only grope her face, but trace one finger downward from her clavicle…and if you know anything about Dancing With the Stars, you know that’s final-three material right there. Let’s hope Gilles’ bizarre rosary tee makes another appearance during rehearsals, and that he and Cheryl engage in more masculinity jokes, because it’s annoying when the men in this competish get all hung up on how manly they look. Get a clue: We want you to dress like Gilles and the smarmy Russians who are hot, know it, and clap their hands. Embrace the character, y’all!

Shawn Johnson and Mark: 23/30 I was an Olympics fanatic this summer, so hearing Shawn’s adorably squeaky, optimistic rambling on a reality show about ballroom dancing was a bit surreal after that voice had been etched into my brain from Shawn’s post-gold medal-winning sofa chat in Beijing. (Was Samantha the Béla Károlyi or the Bob Costas in this analogy? Totes Béla.) Shawn surprised the judges with an elegant waltz — the only complaint Bruno and DANCMSTR had was with her gymnastics-esque arm extensions. It’s true, I thought she was saluting for her second vault as she and Mark drifted into one corner. Carrie Ann was so moved by Shawn’s dynamism that she teared up a little. She is so the Denise Richards of the judging panel. Side note: Scruffy rehearsal Mark was super hot. Who knew? I hereby restrict Mark Ballas’ shaving privileges to once per week. He’s definitely reading this and will eagerly obey.

NEXT: Lil’ Kim breaks out…of her comfort zone

Melissa Rycroft and Tony: 23/30 We missed out on this couple’s rehearsal package, while Melissa and Tony missed out on, oh, multiple weeks of intense training. Turns out they didn’t need it! Conveniently, Melissa’s so good at dancing already that Tony just had to take ballet and ”throw some waltz around it.” That was funny, and so were Tom and Bruno as they ruthlessly ripped on Bachelor star/highly functioning chimpanzee Jason Mesnick for dumping Melissa on national TV. (Hooray! ABC! You can’t fight synergy, Lemon; it’s bigger than all of us.) But I think my favorite part of this entire slapped-together segment was the ridiculous turquoise-spangled decal used to cover up Melissa’s classy lower back tattoo. Keep that creativity up, for real, costume designers. I want flames for the samba, a curlicue mustache for the tango, and a giant bull’s head for the paso doble. Fringe = optional.

Lil’ Kim and Derek: 21/30 Sure, discussing one’s jail time in the first episode seems a bit shocking, but Dancing with the Stars is ultimately a better television program for having featured Lil’ Kim dedicating a cha cha cha set to Janet Jackson’s ”Nasty Girls” to all her girls in the Federal Detention Center. It simply does not get better than this. Actually, it did a little when Kim artfully and somewhat seductively brushed a sticky strand of hair from her mouth, mid-arm move. Bruno’s right; she can ”work wonders with that tooshie,” especially when it’s swathed in silver fringe. I liked how Lil’ Kim blatantly acknowledged her increasingly plasticine appearance with that ”I’m gonna look like Black Barbie and this is my Ken” remark. Someone had to say it. Loved her. She better not go home soon.

Chuck Wicks and Julianne: 20/30 I wouldn’t mind if this guy left, though. I barely remember him except that he was cheesily attractive and a perfect visual complement to Julianne. Oh, and I wanted them to stop arguing during rehearsals, whether it was for the cameras or in spite of them. That’s going to get old pretty fast. DANCMSTR called their waltz ”a bit hectic,” and Bruno claimed ”At times it felt to me like you were chasing a whirlwind…then you were going to strangle her.” A logical progression; thanks, Bruno. It’s hard to tell whether Chuck’s fan base watches this show, whether Julianne’s fans will keep them safe, or whether enough unaffiliated voters will keep the couple in because they happen to be exceedingly attractive and currently dating. Actually, if the judges keep scoring Chuck highly, the voting element might not matter for a while. Hmmm. Just realized the whole time I was writing that paragraph, I was picturing Jonathan Roberts instead of Chuck. Close enough.

David Alan Grier and Kym: 19/30 I’m not sure DAG’s highly evolved sense of humor went over too well with the audience, but it didn’t seem to go over smoothly with Kym. (That ”I came on the show for the free dance shoes and sexual favors” line he delivered last night won’t help.) The judges really scrutinized the technical parts of his performance, which to me suggests that it was generally pretty good. Bruno’s relatively uncharacteristic snippiness (usually DANCMSTR’s the crankier one) shone through in his critique of DAG’s various performance faces: ”I know you’re a multifaceted character. One will suffice.” Like he should talk! The biggest takeaway from the judges’ critique: Kym needs to rein in her partner’s errant ass.

NEXT: Don’t be a jackass

Holly Madison and Dmitry: 18/30 The Bunny whose nervous giggles haunt my nightmares danced a barely competent cha cha cha. Granted, after Holly stepped in for Jewel on Tuesday, she and So You Think You Can Dance alum Dmitry had less than a week to prepare to follow the orders of their song and ”Just Dance,” so maybe I should cut them some slack. Nah. I got a Kim Kardashian vibe from Holly — not the porn star kind, just the going-through-the-motions, thinking-about-the-dance-too-hard kind. Holly does seem more jazzed in general than Kim was, so that might buy sheer-shirted Dmitry a few more weeks. Shame spiral time: Holly’s orange fringed dress was easily my favorite of the night. I’d love to wear that frock while typing these recaps, if only because it’d be so uncomfortable that I’d finish way, way sooner. Speaking of Holly and fashion, those ratty tee/satin mesh shorts/high socks getups she sported during rehearsals reminded me of my own fashion sense during high school. No, I was not on crack during high school.

Denise Richards and Maks: 18/30 Well, that rehearsal segment was pretty brutal — the most endearing part about it was Maks imploring Denise to give him a ”high ten,” while the worst of it involved Denise crying and apologizing for annoying Maks, which obviously is only going to annoy him further. Duh. This does not bode well. Denise exhibited an…interesting sense of rhythm during their cha cha cha, and only fully relaxed during the half second she was resting in a full splits, because damn, that s—‘s impressive and she knew it. Bruno counseled Denise to think of dancing like acting: ”Once you get on top of a performance, you have to stay on it.” Denise certainly followed that philosophy during that brief shot of her slyly turning around to the camera while clutching a disco ball. Channel the disco ball. It could be that simple.

Belinda Carlisle and Jonathan: 17/30 With her constant threat of “needing a bucket,” Belinda seemed to be channeling her own inimitable 1988 single, ”I Get Weak.” (How come she didn’t mention her solo career instead of just The Go-Go’s? That Heaven Is A Place On Earth cassette tape changed my life, man.) Backstage before taking her turn, Belinda looked like a cross between Jennie Garth — due to extreme nerves — and Priscilla Presley — due to the fact that she looks almost exactly like Priscilla Presley. DANCMSTR called Belinda and Jonathan’s waltz performance ”an overall good job on an elegant dance,” but crotchety Bruno had to go and compare Belinda to Cloris Leachman. Actually, I’m surprised Cloris wasn’t planted in the audience along with Brooke, Maurice, and the other esteemed alums. Cloris and Marlee’s combined enthusiasm would make a tremendous SuperFans section.

Steve-O and Lacey: 17/30 ”I’ve got disadvantages for days,” warned the former Jackass star. ”I’m very Caucasian.” Like Lil’ Kim, Steve-O laid his past indiscretions on the line for America to harshly judge: He was out of control, using drugs and alcohol, and recently landed in rehab. The showrunners may wish to incorporate one of Steve-O’s direct quotes into their next promotional campaign for luring in prospective ”high”-profile talent. ”Dancing with the Stars: A way to prove that even though you’re sober, you haven’t lost your mojo.” Steve-O’s waltz was a lot better than his and Lacey’s scores would suggest — the orchestral Godfather theme sounded perfect, Steve-O grinned devilishly in character as he kissed Lacey’s hand, the audience seemed consumed in a massive giggle fit…they even incorporated a handstand/walkover at the beginning. I’d say that qualifies as ”putting his foot in the waltz’s butt,” wouldn’t you?

NEXT: L.T. drops the ball

Lawrence Taylor and Edyta: 16/30 This could be the first season in which the football player doesn’t make it to the finals, and don’t think the intense pressure of living up to this proud football-playing tradition has escaped Mr. L.T. The two-time Super Bowl champion’s cha cha cha was ”a little too small” (said Carrie Ann), lacking in crispness (said DANCMSTR), and, according to Bruno, ”so bad that if you threw it away, I couldn’t find it.” Watch your back, you simile-loving Italian pipsqueak. At least Edyta did her part to help the couple’s cause, by convulsing around LT while tangled in beige netting, and by feeling up her own breasts in the alluring visual for her mini-bio. ”I always bring seduction to the dance floor.” We believe you. Come on, Lady Legwarmer, whip your latest hulk into shape!

Ty Murray and Chelsie: 14/30 The two contestants with the lowest scores last night were the ones I found most endearing, possibly because they were just so out of their elements. And in ”King of the Cowboys” Ty Murray’s case, I happen to be terribly amused that joining the cast was probably his wife Jewel’s idea, and now she’s not even a part of it. So there he is, just so cowboyish, quiet and alone. (And yes, Carrie Ann, CUTE!) Ty joined his partner, So You Think You Can Dance‘s Chelsie Hightower, for a cha cha cha appropriately set to ”Train In Vain” by The Clash. Ty could have some potential; the most glaring problem with his performance to me was that he refused to stop looking at Chelsie for a second, even when they were supposed to be doing solo work. I loved Ty’s unintentionally brilliant comparison of ballroom dancing to his own area of expertise, bull riding: ”You’re never completely ready. It just becomes your turn.” I’d like to see this cowboy do some cape work.

Steve Wozniak and Karina: 13/30 These two are so ridiculous together that they’re kind of my favorite couple so far. Come on, Woz has to stick around until week 3, if only so that Karina can incorporate his Segway into a paso doble à la Adam Corolla on his unicycle. The Apple co-founder is an all-out geek, and if his shirts weren’t all soaked in sweat in the exact same ”problem patches,” I’d want to hug him for it. Karina’s general impatience and ”WTF is this guy on about?” face while Woz talked about how ”dancing is sort of analog” were priceless, as was her delightfully awful Male Pattern Body Hair-themed cha cha cha costume. Plus, Woz kept speaking out of turn, eventually letting it slip to Tom (and the nation) that he was ”having so much fun they’re testing me for drugs tomorrow.” I love this man. His dance wasn’t great, but the guy did knee spins! And Tom’s clearly not out of Apple-centric jokes yet. I advise the viewing public to take a ”five-minute thinking break” and mull this one over.

Okay, DANCMSTRS, what did you think of the season 8 premiere? Is Melissa an early lock for the finals? Can Steve-O and Lil’ Kim win over new fans of the ”wholesome” variety? Are you jealous of Cheryl for getting to towel off Gilles? (Yes.) Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Dancing With the Stars

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