First impressions of 'Dancing With the Stars' season 21

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I was unable to watch this episode live last night because WSB-TV aired the Falcons victory over the Eagles. (Ironically, her husband Kroy Biermann plays for the Falcons.) I apologize for the belated nature of this recap.

"Dancing With the Stars" carted out a potpourri of nuttiness Monday night for its 21st season, most of it coming from Gary Busey.

The three contestants with Georgia ties had decidedly mixed results. Tamar Braxton ("The Real," "Meet the Braxtons") could win this competition, tying for third place. Celebrity chef Paula Deen tied for ninth with Gary Busey and Victor Espinosa. Who had the worst score of the night? Welcome to the dance, Kim Zolciak! The "Tardy for the Party" reality star showed that physical activity isn't her strong suit.

Zolciak's score of 12 is the second-lowest ever for a premiere dance over 21 seasons, tying Tucker Carlson season 3 and only behind the hapless Master P season two (a 10!).

What makes the first episode fascinating is this provides viewers the base-line talent level of each contestant. You can quickly pick out the possible winners and the likely losers. Of course, some people are just popular and can stick around for weeks, no matter how bad they are. (We see you Gary Busey!) And a few talented nobodies do get cut early.

Next week, we'll get two more dances and a double elimination.

Here are how I break them down.

Possible finalists

Nick Carter. He clearly has the most experience dancing as a former member of the Backstreet Boys. No surprise he had a solid performance with his cha-cha-cha. Bruno: "Carry on like this and I promise you, Backstreet's back this week and the next week and the next week, all the way to the finals." Carrie said he started nervous but then let it kick in. Score: 24 (8s across the board)

Bindi Irwin (Steve Irwin's daughter) - She has Derek Hough, the 7-time mirror-ball winner, as the partner. So clearly, the producers knew she could dance. And she can. She has her dad's energy and goofiness. Crikey! She tied Nick for best score of the night. Could she win? Yes! Bruno: "You are the wonder from Down Under." Score: 24 (8s across the board).

Tamar Braxton. The R&B singer and reality star was sharp and clearly came to play with a very difficult quick step. "High octane, high value, high class, incredible amount of content," Bruno Torioli said. Carrie Ann Inaba: "Blew me away." Score: 23 (Carrie Ann: 8 Julianne: 7 Bruno: 7)

Carlos PenaVega ("Big Time Rush" singer and actor) - This dude clearly has the moves and the confidence to win two months down the road. Julianna called him solid: "You look like a man." She wants him to be even more open. Bruno: "I want to see the devil inside you." Carrie: "Your musicality is off teh charts." Score: 23 (Carrie: 8 Julianne: 8 Bruno: 7)

Alexa PenaVega ("Spy Kids" actress) - As part of the first DWTS married couple with Carlos, she isn't quite as disciplined as Carlos. Her jive lacked crispness but she made up for it with energy. And Mark Ballas gave her a tough, tough routine, especially for a first week. Julianne said it was an incredibly hard jive. "She has an amazing presence," she said. Score: 22 (Carrie: 7 Julianne: 7 Bruno: 8)

Middling middle

Alek Skalatos (Legion of Honour recipient who saved a Paris train from a terrorist last month) - He was a "ripped from the headlines" pick. He's likable and humble. And fortunately, he can dance, too, despite the fact he never has before and had no idea what a foxtrot was. Carrie: "You just came out and showed us one of the best dances of the night! You had grace and technique. You are a good student!" Julianne: "Surprise of the night." Bruno: "You are born for ballroom." Score: 22 (Carrie 8 Julianne: 7 Bruno: 7)

Hayes Grier (15-year-old "Vine" star) - He clearly has potential and given his youth, he could improve significantly over time and possibly go far.  "You have natural ability," Julianne said, noting he needs more core strength. Carrie Ann Inaba, who is 47, said even 30 years ago, she'd be too old for him. Score: 21 (7s across the board)

Andy Grammer (singer) - A decent start. He comes off a bit debonair and has some rhythm. His foxtrot was solid. Carrie Ann said he needs a better connection with Allison Holker. Julianne thought there was a good connection and good lines. Bruno called him "dashing" but the footwork was "jerky." Score: 21 (7s across the board)

Paula Deen. The Savannah chef is the oldest dancer in the competition at age 68. She said she last did organized dancing decades ago. She showed signs of elegance and grace. To accommodate her, Louis Van Amstel gave her a very very slow quick step. "I had white underwear when I started but I probably don't anymore," she cracked. Carrie Ann Inaba said there was potential: "It didn't quite come together. Don't follow him." Julianne said she was holding onto him "for dear life." Sure, she got a relatively low score but I have a feeling her fan base may keep her in the competition awhile. Score: 15 (5s across the board.)

Gary Busey (Oscar-winning actor) - Honestly, he is a mess and he can't really dance. But it's hard to resist keeping him around awhile just for the wackiness. I'm not really sure if what he said made any sense but does it matter? Bruno: "Mayhem! Destruction! I kept watching. Bring on the sequel!" Carrie: "You are 1,000 percent!" Julianne: "You are larger than life." Score: 15 (5s across the board)

Probably early departures

Chaka Khan. At age 62, the queen of funk still looks marvelous but her mobility is limited. She didn't do much actual dancing and clearly missed steps. Was that even a cha-cha-cha? Given her popularity, I bet even with low scores, she could last a few weeks if she even improves just a little bit. "A glorious entrance for a glorious woman," Julianne said kindly. "Her personality is superb," said Bruno, who critiqued her dancer to work with her technique.  Classy as always, Chaka didn't take the scores poorly. She understood. Score: 13 (Carrie Ann: 5 Julianne: 4 Bruno: 4)

Victor Espinosa. The Triple Crown winning jockey showed modest levels of enthusiasm but oodles of awkwardness. The jockey's timing didn't seem right at all and there was virtually no actual salsa, as the judges noted. He said his family all dances and he doesn't. It shows. He received a gentleman's 5 from each judge. Score: 15

Kim Zolciak. The former "Real Housewives" cast member on the show never hid the fact she hated exercise. And what little dancing we ever saw was not promising. Sadly, poor pro dancer Tony Dovolani had very little to work with on her ultra-slow, ultra tepid salsa. Sleep like an Egyptian? Carrie Ann said she held back so much. "You were really scared and were doing the bare minimum. Next week, you better go 'Pow!' " Julianne: "That was slow motion." Bruno: "This dance could be grounds for divorce." She cried from the criticism. She said she had a hard time dancing with another man. Score: 12 (4s across the board)

About the Author

Editors' Picks