Thursday, September 19, 2013

Derek and Amber Blow The Walls Off Week One: DWTS Season 17

Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. WOW!

That's all I could keep saying as I was watching, and after I watched, the luminous cha cha that emanated from our favorite Derek Hough and his Season 17 partner, Amber Riley (known for her role in "Glee"). Dancing With the Stars had indeed kicked off its new season.

Amber Riley and Derek Hough blew my mind with this dance. Hello Season 17! Courtesy of ABC.
Mind you, Derek Hough is always one of my favorite DWTS dancers. The precision and groundbreaking choreography he brings to his dances in any season is always a highlight of this show. Even so... Even picking them, sight unseen as one of my favorites going in... Even knowing (and loving) Amber's performances as a singer on "Glee" didn't prepare me for this onslaught of perfection blowing at us in Week One.

So, I'm sorry, I must skip all the formalities for now... I'll get to them, don't worry— and just talk about Amber and Derek. She is standing on the stairs like a bejeweled Mata Hari, all sparkly sequins. She walks down slowly. Derek is walking among the crowd, urging them to clap to the rhythm.

All of a sudden, both of them lock into an exquisitely choreographed set of steps. Let me emphasize AGAIN that this is WEEK ONE. The week that is usually lots of people tripping over each other, and just barely getting over their nerves. (Well, OK, we did have a bunch of that, too.)

And usually, the way this goes is that people practice and practice and practice and by the last few weeks, maybe, they are able to do the complicated syncopated steps that some of these dances require.

Here were these two, doing intricate complicated steps in WEEK ONE. Seriously, I am really blown away by this. And so too, were the judges, who gave them unanimous NINES, unheard of in Week One (from one judge, much less ALL THREE). Well deserved though.

Seek out the video of this dance.

Amber Riley and Derek Hough do a mean cha cha.
Another thing about Miss Amber Riley, she has some similarities with the person I really perceived to be last season's winner, that gawky teenager named Zendaya. Both of them have star quality for days which cannot be contained. She is indeed the one to watch this season, as she left everyone behind eating her dust.

I'm on such an adrenaline rush from even thinking about Amber and Derek's first dance that all the other contestants pale in comparison.

But let me try to talk about some of them. The one thing that a lot of others whom I really liked had in common is that many chose to do Contemporary dance in Week One (often considered one of the hardest styles they do). None of them were as take-your-breath-away as Val's first one a couple of seasons ago, but, for Week One, they were pretty awesome.

Such as this one.

Christina Milian and Mark Ballas do Contemporary in Week One.
Mark Ballas is another of my most favorite choreographers on this show. His choreography is heartfelt, often gut-wrenching, and pushing envelopes that others can only dream of. This Contemporary piece with Chistina Milian is one of those. Beautiful, lyrical, gut-wrenching, erotic, dreamy. Wonderful stuff. Can't wait to see more of them this season.

Pushing her own envelope to open Season 17 was Karina Smirnoff, who had never before done Contemporary. Her choreography (often underrated) was beautiful and groundbreaking in its own way.

Karina Smirnoff does her very first Contemporary dance. Amazing and beautiful.
A dancer that I have really come to love for his inventive choreography, and cannot wait for him to have his own first Mirror Ball trophy, is Valentin Chmerkovskiy (Maksim's younger brother). He is paired this season with Elizabeth ("Showgirls") Berkley, who is trying to live down her past by doing this show. She has an excellent partner with Val. They remind us again in this amazing Contemporary dance that she is, indeed, a dancer.

Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Elizabeth Berkley. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
All of these people created magic in Week One. That wasn't supposed to happen. It was just supposed to be a creaky, let's get to know these people slow churn. Magical poetry is what we got. We are so very very lucky.

We also had our resident hotties who are hot for each other, Peta Murgatroyd and Brant someone.

Peta Murgatroyd and Brant someone. Courtesy of ABC.
And our just plain fun to watch couple: Cheryl Burke and Jack Osbourne.

Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke. Courtesy of ABC.
All the others, I pretty much am just waiting for them to be voted off, in any order. All of the ones above I really look forward to watching each week.

OK, now to the mechanics. New season, new set. Well, kinda. Remember how last season, after every exhausting dance, as the dancers are panting and out of breath, they'd have to run up a long flight of stairs to get to the waiting microphone of Brooke Burke-Charvet? Well, no more, my friends.

This season, they have a red velvet mosh pit right next to the judges to just saunter over and collapse in. Very good, I'd say, for the dancers. Not so good for the viewers. Personally, I really kinda hated it. Previously, it seemed like you could watch the dancers above who were interested in watching their competitors. Now, they are all kinda there, whether they like it or not.

Don't they have a backstage area they can just saunter over to? I hope they refine this idea throughout the season, cause it doesn't work right now.

They also, after seasons of having the judges stage right, have decided to have them stage left, maybe having something to do with the red velvet lounge area being there also. It's disconcerting, but not intolerable.

There is also this kind of morbid thing going on in the cast this season. Jack Osbourne has MS, and wanted to do Dancing With the Stars before he couldn't dance anymore. Um... EW.

And there is this.

 Valerie Harper and Tom Bergeron.
Don't get me wrong, I love Valerie Harper. I don't want her to die of cancer either. I appreciate the deference with which Tom Bergeron and the judges treated her. 

But she's 73 and she really can't dance. She's with the luscious Tristan MacManus, who hopefully will last a few more turns around the dance floor than he did with his last dance partner.

But honestly, enough with the dreaded diseases and near death already.

I am really glad of this. About half the cast are these hokey stunt casting things. Bill Nye, the science guy, who, for example, explained to his hot twenty-something dance partner that winning couples have sexual chemistry between them. Um, EW. Gross, dude.

Or lame football player guy, who unfortunately is with the luscious and wonderful Sharna Burgess, who says to her that Australians are "just the same as British... and all that." Says she, tersely, "That is NOT OK, at all." He should be slapped for his ignorance. And she has to dance with this buffoon? I don't care how many Super Bowl rings he has.

We also had some pros who went back into the troupe, and some from the troupe who graduated into "pro" level. Yawn.

Also quite notable this season is the voting process. The way it worked previously is that the judges would vote, then the people would vote and the following week, we'd see the results of who was voted out. That process is reversed this time.

For example, we have already voted on this first week. The judges (alone) get to see another dance next week, and vote (already one presumes knowing how the public has voted). So they can vote up their favorites higher to keep them on the show longer. Should be an interesting season.

Also, in regards to voting, they are letting the public vote via Facebook, via the ABC website or via phone. Completely gone is the texting option. Which, to me, almost totally takes out the incentive to vote, since I have unlimited texts but have to pay for phone calls. Anyone else like this?

Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, our illustrious judges, who don't change.
Some big changes. Some not so good changes.

But already we have dancers taking risks, wowing us with their choices, taking our breaths away. Methinks it's going to be a fabulous Season 17, all in all.

Karina Smirnoff, mastering her first ever Contemporary dance. Courtesy of ABC.

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