It's only night one, but fan and judge favorites are already emerging.

By Robyn Ross
September 15, 2015 at 02:53 AM EDT
Credit: ABC

Hi, Dancing friends! Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Robyn, and not only am I thrilled to be your new cha-cha queen, but today was also my first day working at Entertainment Weekly. (Yes, they threw me right in there!) I’m a self-proclaimed Dancing fanatic who got into the show just a few seasons ago and life has pretty much never been the same since. I once got a dancing lesson from Derek Hough and it may have been three of the best minutes of my life. So with that said, let’s get to the big season 21 premiere!

The night begins with a pre-taped, beautifully shot, opening performance on the streets of Hollywood that leads right into the dancers live on stage. Hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews then waste no time before introducing the first pair.

Victor Espinoza and Karina Smirnoff

Triple Crown winner Victor rides in on a horse and immediately Karina remarks that she’s way taller than he is. Victor shares that jockeys have a lot of concussions so his biggest challenge will be his lack of short-term memory. Paying homage to his profession, Victor enters the ballroom dressed like a sparkly jockey and immediately goes for it by getting down and I have to say I’m into it. “That was definitely a fun and interesting way to start the season,” Julianne says after their salsa number before awkwardly adding, “I thought things would be all stiff down there.” We’re not sure where you were going with that J, but moving along! Bruno says he’s excited for next week and then gets bleeped out, and Carrie Ann says his energy is so focused and so bright despite it lacking in the salsa part of it. Prediction? Victor is going to become a quick fan-favorite.

Judges’ Score: 15

Tamar Braxton and Val Chmerkovskiy

The co-host of The Real and the reigning champ are already acting like a married couple and you can tell they’re both going to push each other in the best way possible. Their first dance is the Quickstep and can I start by saying how dapper Val looks in his black and white tux? Tamar also impresses by keeping up with a tough first number. Bruno agrees that she had a “brilliant beginning” and Carrie Ann adds that she was blown away. Julianne shares a little criticism to keep her frame back, but all around the two get high praises.

Judges’ Score: 23

Chaka Khan and Keo Motsepe

First off, Chaka reminds us that she’s a bona fide superstar who has sold 70 million albums and has won 10 Grammys. Keo then tells us he’s a prince. Um, what? How did I not know this? Also, I really enjoy Keo, and I hope he makes it further than his first few outings on the show. What Chaka lacks in actual moves, Keo manages to make up for with his bare chest, and although Carrie Ann notes how much fun they were clearly having, Chaka will need to remember more of her routine next week. Julianne wants her to fill some space with her hands and Bruno says that the Cha Cha starts with the foot placement and Keo has to get her technique down.

Judges’ Score: 13

NEXT: Bring on the bosom

Hayes Grier and Emma Slater

Wanna feel old? Just google Hayes! “Emma feels old around me. But she doesn’t look 26 if that makes her feel better.” Hayes, never say that again. But with his insane social following, he’s going to be around for a while so let’s see if he’s got the chops to back it up. Performing the Cha Cha, the duo play off the whole high school locker scene theme and although Hayes feels a bit stiff, I think he’s got lots of room for improvement… or at least “hit the quan.” Yeah, I said it. Julianne agrees he has some natural ability and needs to focus on his core and Emma. Bruno calls him a boy wonder, but needs him to be sharper. Carrie Ann, natch, makes a somewhat inappropriate comment about if she were only 30 years younger. But that’s why we love the Inabs, right? She also, by the way, urges him to open his eyes.

Judges’ Score: 21

Andy Grammer and Allison Holker

Andy Grammer, who introduces himself as the “Honey I’m Good” singer, opens up about losing his mom recently and doing the show in her honor. Aww! They Foxtrot, and although Andy is nervous about only being a musician, he proves he can dance a bit, too. His arms feel stiff, but he’s most definitely a performer with his facial expressions. Carrie Ann says he needs to work on his connection with Allison, which Julianne actually disagrees with, and Bruno says that while he’s dashing (that he is!) and confident, he was “a bit jerky.”

Judges’ Score: 21

Paula Deen and Louis van Amstel

Paula welcomes Louis with her signature scream and apparent penchant for embracing him in her bosom. Louis says he’ll need a lot of patience for Paula and her distractions! On the dance floor, it’s hard to tell with that long dress how Paula’s footwork is keeping up with the Quickstep, but you have got to give it up for her enthusiasm as she was all smiles. Carrie Ann says it didn’t quite come together, and Julianne says Week 1 is done and she wants to see the Paula we know and love. Bruno adds that she was holding him so tight she almost broke him. Paula then asks for another chance, and Tom awkwardly cuts her off. It’s a live show after all!

Judges’ Score: 15

Alexa PenaVega and Mark Ballas and Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson

It’s the show’s first married pair! This could be awesome or disastrous, right? Both are nervous about how handsy the other is getting with his/her partner, and they better get over it fast! I should also mention here that I’ve been a fan of Carlos’ since his early Big Time Rush days so team Carlos and Witney all the way. He’s up first for the couple and his Jive is on point. He’s not at Alfonso status quite yet, but I can see him getting there by season’s end. And yes, I predict both he and Alexa will make it to the final four. Julianne calls Carlos the most natural performer we’ve seen thus far and that he “looks like a man.” Bruno can barely contain himself and Carrie Ann says his musicality was off the charts.

Before we get his score, it’s Alexa’s turn. She’s also got the Jive. Although she’s a tiny beat off here and there, she too is pretty impressive. Plus: Mark’s man-bun for the win. Her kicks and flicks were good, says Bruno. She’s got a sensuality and a strength, Carrie Ann says, noting her stray arm. Julianne comments that it was one of the hardest jives she’s seen, but that she and Mark need to be more connected. (Not sure Carlos would approve that message.)

Judges’ Score for Carlos: 23

Judges’ Score for Alexa: 22

NEXT: The wonder from Down Under

Kim Zolciak and Tony Dovolani

We know the former Real Housewives star is a baby-making machine, but can she dance? Well, she certainly can cry. She gets emotional about her nerves immediately. The salsa is a bit hard to watch — I felt like it was on slow motion half the time, but I think if Kim can loosen up and let go a bit, she could improve. After the dance, Kim cries some happy tears and Carrie Ann stresses she needs to go for it more. Julianne reads my mind and Bruno wants her to deliver and sell it.

Judges’ Score: 12

Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough

Okay, let’s just talk about how adorable Bindi is. Or maybe it’s her accent, but still, with Derek, the two are a great pair, right? I just love how much Bindi got into it and she held her own with the steps, too. Julianne loved it all as well and says it was the best performance of the night. Carrie Ann says she’s a superstar and she’d like to be her best friend (get in line, girl), and Bruno says she’s the wonder from Down Under.

Judges’ Score: 24

Gary Busey and Anna Trebunskaya

Well, this is going to be something. Gary worries he’s too slow, but seems to really jive with Anna and her words of advice. I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of his dance. A for effort? We know Gary is going to be limited in his moves, but we’ll always be able to count on his soundbites, that’s for sure! Carrie Ann loved that he was 1,000 percent and Julianne says he’s larger than life and stole their hearts. Bruno, meanwhile, loved watching him.

Judges’ Score: 15

Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold

Here’s where casting on this show can get interesting. Just a few weeks ago none of us knew who Alek was and now he’s an American hero with no media training or background dancing! It’s also nice to see Lindsay back as a pro, and there’s something that seems to work nicely with them as a pair. As for his first Foxtrot, not bad! Tom thanks him after the number and Carrie Ann is practically in tears saying he took her breath away. Julianne says Lindsay’s choreography was beautiful, and Bruno adds that Alek was born to ballroom.

Judges’ Score: 22

Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess

Full disclosure: I was always an NSYNC girl. But I still have a place in my heart for BSB (no you saw them in concert recently!). Sharna, too, is excited about her boy band partner but who wouldn’t be? Nick’s Cha Cha is pretty outstanding; the guy’s still got it! But really, can a man in a beaded blue suit do wrong? Julianne says he was on it — and he made her blush — while Carrie Ann says he started a little out of sorts (before killing it in the end). And Bruno, of course, gave us a good “Backstreet’s Back!”

Judges’ Score: 24

That leaves Nick and Bindi at the top of the leader board with Kim at the bottom. Who will advance and whose dancing dreams will be crushed? Share your comments on the premiere below!

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