The new season of the long-running ABC show “Dancing with the Stars” kicked off Monday, as two Olympic gold medalists, a teen pop star, two teen idol actresses and a veteran actor dazzled on the dance floor.
The show started a live performance by Jason Derulo, who got the crowd riled up with an energetic rendition of his hit “Talk Dirty to Me,” but the real talk came from an excited judging panel over the new cast for Season 18 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
In two “Dancing” firsts, double-amputee snowboarding champ Amy Purdy, who lost both of her legs as a teenager and pushed to become a world-champion adaptive snowboarder, was the first paralympian to compete.
Together with her partner, 5-time and returning champion, Derek Hough, they received a standing ovation from the crowd and impressed the judges with a 24.
Like others before her, Purdy said “DWTS” is “a great opportunity to show people not so much what I personally can do, but rather to show them that the only true disability is in our minds.”
The Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes gave all her passion to the Cha Cha Cha with her partner Tony Dovolani, performing to “Give It 2 Me” by Robin Thicke, and scored 21 points.
“I tell you what – that’s the way to get the party started,” Len Goodman said. “It was like an all-you-can-eat buffet of fun and entertainment!”
Stoic hockey bad boy and former Red Wing Sean Avery was intense and didn’t mince words, saying he was sure he and partner Karina Smirnoff would get a score of 27 (they earned 20).
Billy Dee Williams danced at 77 years young, which impressed Goodman, but fellow judge Bruno Tonioli joked he would never forgive the “Star Wars” star for betraying Han Solo. Williams and Emma Slater scored the lowest of the night at 15.
The biggest winner of the night turned out to be Olympic ice dancer Charlie White, who tied for the show’s best premiere score with a 27, after judge Carrie Ann Inaba called his performance “poetry in motion.”
“You’re an artist, the attention to detail on Week One is incredible,” said judge Bruno Tonioli of their contemporary dance to Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” the last of the night’s 12 performances.
White’s ice dancing partner Meryl Davis – who was dancing with Maksim Chmerkovskiy – got all eights to land her in joint third place, with Carrie Ann calling the pair’s cha-cha-cha “really exciting to watch”, but admitting: “I guess I should have expected it – you’re a gold medal champion.” Davis and Chmerkovskiy earned a modest score of 24.
The second-highest ranking of the season premiere went to “Full House” star Candace Cameron Bure and partner Mark Ballas. Coming off as excited and sincere, the mother of three earned a 25.
Along with a new cast, a big change was Erin Andrews taking over as co-host, replacing Brooke Burke-Charvet. Andrews interviewed the pairs as they exited the dance floor – something that suits the veteran ESPN sports reporter, says ABC News.