One after another, they came out on the dance floor, and either surprised or dazzled us. Judges, pros, hosts, audience members — okay, everyone — was stunned by the across-the-board display of raw talent on Dancing With the Stars' Season 14 premiere.
"I've never seen anything like it," said pro Mark Ballas, who taught classical singer Katherine Jenkins how to do the fox trot and ended up tied for first place with 26 points. "We've never had a first night like this, ever, on the show. Everybody upped their game from dress rehearsals."
Jenkins, who came out looking like a modern-day Marilyn Monroe, danced so effortlessly that it made you wonder why she makes a living standing still in front of a microphone. Actor Jaleel White, leaving his goofy "Urkel" roots far, far behind, closed the show with his elegant fox trot, also scoring 26 points, and was compared by two judges, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli, to a phenomenal hoofer, the late Gregory Hines. "I thought I was watching White Nights, " said Inaba, referencing to the 1985 dance thriller starring Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The smooth moves came as a huge relief to White and his pro partner, Kym Johnson, who suffered a major wardrobe malfunction just two minutes before they were set to dance. "There was a big rip in my skirt," says Johnson, "big enough to put my foot through, so we were backstage and the wardrobe people were going crazy, trying to sew it back up. And I was trying hard not to let Jaleel see it, because I didn't want him to worry."
White was already worried. In dress rehearsals earlier in the day, the flouncy white skirt, covered with ruffles, had freaked him out. "We didn't practice with a skirt like that," says White. "We practiced in sweats. That was a lot of skirt." Says Johnson, "I told, him, 'It'll be fine.'"
But there was little evidence of opening night jitters from this new cast. After the show, the buzz among staffers was about how this was a completely different bunch from last season: No divas, no drama, no reality stars, no nonsense. "These are pros," said one staffer. "They know what it means to work for a living, and they're here because they really want to learn how to dance, not because some manager told them they needed to do it for their career."
Add to that, a layer of pure star power. Green Bay Packer Donald Driver let it rip in a cha cha that got the season's first standing ovation. Latino star William Levy had the ballroom in a frenzy with his resemblance to Ricky Martin and a leading man kind of confidence in his cha cha with pro Cheryl Burke.
And then there was the legendary Gladys Knight, who put the Pips to shame with a cha cha that belied her 67 years. Her pro, Tristan MacManus, says he'd be honored to go out on the road with her and be a Pip. "No, no, no," said Knight, who will be on the road for the duration of the competition, rehearsing in cities across America between singing gigs. "If you're coming with me, I want you to dance."
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