(LOS ANGELES) — The new cast of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars delivered on high expectations during Monday night’s season 14 premiere, with judges calling it the best opening night in the show’s history.
The cast features sports stars, singers and old and new favorites.
Extra co-host Maria Menounos and her partner, three-time Dancing champion Derek Hough, earned 21 points for their cha cha. The judges — Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli — told Menounos that her timing was good but they encouraged her to open up a little more.
She earned 21 out of a possible 30 points.
Actor and singer Jack Wagner’s springtime-inspired foxtrot earned overall praise for the judges for its feel-good factor, and even though Goodman thought Wagner’s technique was poor and his footwork “haphazard,” the actor earned 23 points.
“You can act and you can sing, and boy can you dance,” a smiling Inaba told Wagner after his performance.
Donald Driver brought the audience to its feet with his cha cha full of flair and sizzle. But judges said the NFL champion’s energy may have overpowered the dance.
“You’re a diamond in the rough — energy, power and presence … The attitude is right, but you have to refine it,” Tonioli told the Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver.
The audience loved Driver’s routine, and booed when his scores — three 7s — were awarded.
Singer Gavin DeGraw drew mixed reviews, and a score of 20, for his romantic foxtrot. While Tonioli found that DeGraw stiffened at the wrong moments, ruining the flow of the dance, Inaba said she though the dance flowed well, and praised the interpretation even as she faulted his hyper-extended arms.
Roshon Fegan’s smooth, hip hop inspired cha-cha was another crowd-pleaser, and it won strong reviews from Inaba and Tonioli.
“I like your cool, youthful flavor. Keep it up,” Inaba said, but Goodman, the head judge, differed.
While he acknowledged the Disney star’s obvious dance skill and the high performance level, he said the routine had “a little too much hip hop” and not enough cha- . Judges awarded Fegan 23 points.
Sherri Shepherd, co-host of The View, beamed when the opening lines to her routine’s song, “Sherry,” played. Her elegant foxtrot earned warm praise, and 23 points.
“You can move very, very well, you’re light on your feet, your timing was good and you light up the room,” Tonioli told Shepherd.
Melissa Gilbert danced the cha cha, and even though judges pointed out some shortcomings, they told the Little House on the Prairie actress that she performed a difficult routine well.
Inaba told Gilbert she had “great potential,” while Tonioli called it a “very inspiring first performance.” When her scores were read — she earned a total of 20 points — there was some booing in the audience.
William Levy, the actor best known for his work in telenovelas, danced the cha-cha. The heartthrob earned uniform praise from judges, and the second-highest score of the night — 24 points.
Inaba and Tonioli thought tennis legend Martina Navratilova’s foxtrot was elegant and refined, but Goodman found the dance lacking.
“It was close but it wasn’t quite there for me. It was …too careful,” he said.
The panel awarded Navratilova 20 points.
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins wowed the judges with her elegant foxtrot. Goodman praised her musicality and “lyrical movement,” while Inaba said it was “the best first dance on the first episode ever.”
Tonioli raved: “That was exquisite. The style was impeccable, the quality of movement was surreal.”
She earned 26 points — the highest score of the night up to that point.
R&B legend Gladys Knight brought the audience to its feet for a sustained round of applause, and her routine won her 23 points.
“The legend has got the moves!” Tonioli said, while Goodman said Knight’s dancing was natural and rhythmic.
The final dance of the night belonged to Family Matters actor Jaleel White. The actor is best known for playing the clumsy geek Steve Urkel in the hit sitcom, but there was no evidence of clumsiness on the dance floor Monday night. White was the picture of elegance, and the judges rewarded him for his performance with 26, tying him with Jenkins for first place.
“I loved the routine … it had elegance, it had sophistication,” Goodman said.
Tonioli paid White a high compliment when he told him: “I thought I was watching the great Gregory Hines.”
The stars will dance again next Monday, and their scores from this week and next week will be combined. One star will be voted off March 27.
Elimination in the competition results from a combination of judges’ scores and audience votes. The celebrity with the lowest combined scores is sent home, until three stars remain. They and their partners compete for the championship.
Last season’s winner was actor and Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez.
Monday Night’s Scores:
Gavin DeGraw and Karina Smirnoff: 20
Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd: 21
Roshon Fegan and Chelsie Hightower: 23
Melissa Gilbert and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 20
Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas: 26
Gladys Knight and Tristan McManus: 23
William Levy and Cheryl Burke: 24
Maria Menounos and Derek Hough: 21
Martina Navratilova and Tony Dovolani: 20
Sherri Shepherd and Val Chmerkovskiy: 23
Jack Wagner and Anna Trebunskaya: 23
Jaleel White and Kym Johnson: 26
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com
Brian Stelter, CNN
Jackie Wattles, CNN