At Monday night's Dancing with the Stars, the fun began even before the big band blasted its first notes. But to get the whole picture, you need to understand a few logistics: ABC's Dancing is shot live at CBS Television City (which rents out its popular Los Angeles sound studios) and in the very same building as Fox's American Idol. What that means is that in the corridors, washrooms and elevators, stars can collide.
Dovolani congratulated Lewis on last week's performance and said that Lewis was one of the few singers to get good feedback from the judges on his singing. To which Lewis replied, "American Idol isn't a singing competition; it's a marketing competition. If it were just about the singing, that would be one thing. But you have to be an all-around performer." Dovolani agreed and asked Lewis to come to the Dancing performance show. But the Idols are kept on a tight leash and Lewis couldn't stay.
If he had, he would've seen that it was Billy Ray Cyrus' night. No one expected the country star — the one Bruno Tonioli likened to "a big bear lost in a swamp" — to improve. Cyrus is the first to admit that he has two left feet. He counts out loud when he dances. He can't seem to keep up with the blazing speed of his professional partner, Karina Smirnoff. But tonight, Cyrus came out and stunned the crowd with a remarkably proficient quickstep. Halfway through, the audience started cheering, willing him to keep going. And when he finished, everyone was on their feet giving him thunderous applause. It was the only standing ovation of the night, and the only time that host Tom Bergeron had to wait to survey the judges because the crowd wouldn't calm down. "I'm so happy for Billy Ray," said judge Carrie Ann Inaba after the show. "I didn't think he had it in him."
The only other dancers who came close to inspiring that kind of enthusiasm were Laila Ali, the boxer whose sensuality and charisma is truly astonishing ("She's a nonobvious front-runner," says Inaba), and Joey Fatone, who had more screaming fans in the stands than anyone else. He also seemed to have more famous friends, including British singing sensation Robbie Williams and America's own Boyz II Men. Lead singer Wanya Morris came away so inspired that he's hoping to be asked to dance next season. "If they allow me to be a part of it, I'm gonna go for it," said Morris. "Of course, I'll have to drop about 179,000 pounds, but I'm gonna do it."
Reminded that last season's champ, Emmitt Smith, wasn't exactly rail thin, Morris said, "Yeah, but Emmitt's got muscle and muscle moves different. You can spin muscle and muscle stays still. You spin this (indicating his abdomen), and I'll keep spinning all the way around. You know what I mean? It stays in motion."
Other famous faces ringed the dance floor. Sela Ward was there to root for her old friend Billy Ray Cyrus. Chuck Woolery was there to give moral support to his Game Show Network colleague Shandi Finnessey. Perhaps Chuck should get out there and try a tango? "I don't dance, don't ask me," said Woolery, mimicking the famous song. "I wouldn't have the guts to do that, I really wouldn't. There are certain things in life you are destined to do. For me, this is not one of them."
It's a safe bet that Heather Mills, who is dancing on a prosthetic left leg, doesn't think she was destined to dance, either. What was fascinating about being in the audience tonight was overhearing some of the initial animosity directed toward her, centering on her bitter divorce from the beloved former Beatle Paul McCartney. One man said that in his Internet circle, she is referred to as "Stumpy McGolddigger." But after her mambo, which included a back walkover and so much shimmying that you forgot she was disabled, the daggers were put away. "You've got to give her props for the dancing," said the man, truly impressed.
Inaba was horrified, hearing that nickname. "That dance left me speechless. What Heather did was harder than any other girl's routine and she nailed it. People should just grow up a little and have a little more pride in themselves. Because what you call other people is only a mirror of yourself."
ABC's Dancing with the Stars airs Monday at 8 pm/ET, and Tuesday at 9 (results show).