"I'm about to vomit," said Barbara Chase, moments before the curtain rose on Season 11 of Dancing With The Stars. Chase, suffering from nervous tension, is the proud daughter of "America's Mom," Brady Bunch veteran Florence Henderson, who at 76 is the show's star senior citizen. "She's always stayed in shape," said Chase, "but this is so hard." Is it like going from zero to 60 in terms of her physical stamina? "No, not zero. More like 35 to 60. But still..."
Chase moved off to find her chair, praying that her mother will be able to cut a rug with her cha cha. And she did, showing off a pair of great legs, deliberately stepping on pro partner Corky Ballas for their big finish, and out-scoring singer Michael Bolton, comedian Margaret Cho and actor David Hasselhoff in this fall's field of 12 stars.
But that wasn't the only surprise of the Monday night's season premiere. Disney Channel star Kyle Massey lit up the ballroom with his unabashed and electrifying shimmying. "You're my first crush of Season 11," gushed judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who couldn't sit still while Massey was dancing because she was hootin', hollerin' and clapping so hard. Former L.A. Laker Rick Fox, who towered above petite two-time champion Cheryl Burke, made the audience gasp with his smooth moves. And Hasselhoff couldn't be contained in the Celebraquarium, coming out every few minutes to wander into the audience and blow kisses to friends and fans. Told after the show that Simon Cowell had picked him to win the mirror ball trophy, Hasselhoff doubles over in laughter. "Yeah, but he hasn't seen me dance," said Hasselhoff, whose awkward cha cha couldn't be saved by pyrotechnics. "Simon wouldn't say that now," says his pro partner, Kym Johnson.
Hasselhoff said he was thrown when rehearsals began and he had to wear a microphone pack and be surrounded by cameras. "That first day, coming in and being wired immediately and all the cameras, I didn't have a chance to settle in. I thought, 'Wow, is this a reality show or is this dancing?' I came here to learn how to dance. That was very disconcerting. But then I started to enjoy the process."
As did Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, who's had less rehearsal days than the others because he was tied up finishing the current season of Jersey Shore. His partner, the fiery Karina Smirnoff, has been pleasantly surprised by the situation she's found herself in. "When I heard he was my partner, I thought, 'Uh oh, I've got my hands full,'" she admitted. But Sorrentino says the public only sees a tiny smidgeon of the real guy. "I'm sweet and generous and never argue." And if he did, Smirnoff would kick his butt.