Welcome back, dance fans! It’s the 18th season of Dancing with the Stars and there are some big changes. The Harold Wheeler Band is gone. Brooke Burke-Charvet is gone. And the permanence of partnerships is gone thanks to the upcoming Switch Up twist.

However, Maks is back as a pro partner, Erin Andrews is the new co-host and, if you liked the Winter Olympics, we have two Sochi gold medalists plus a Paralympian and a former hockey player. Cold-weather athletes are well-represented this season, as are ’90s sitcom stars and teen heartthrob pop stars.

Tonight the 12 new couples hit the dance floor for the first time with either the Foxtrot, Cha-Cha-Cha or a Contemporary routine. Can anyone match or beat the first week 27 from Kristi Yamaguchi and Amber Riley?

LIVE…from Hollywood…it’s Dancing with the Stars!

The show opens with a live performance by Jason Derulo telling all of the pros to “Talk Dirty to Me.” He’s clearly learned how to perform from the male pros, because halfway through he rips his shirt open.

Rule Changes: We find out that there will be a lot of guest judges throughout the season. Also, the scores and votes from tonight alone will decide who goes next week. So they’ve dropped that idiotic twist where the scores from next week would be added to this week’s viewer votes.

NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani: Cha-Cha-Cha

The Real Housewives of Atlanta is all about personality. Her biggest competition is the ice dancers and she wants to “kill they ass.” She’s certainly game and brings a ton of excitement to the dance. It’s not bad, though she clearly has a few awkward moves and I really dislike her abrasive personality. The judges love her sass, energy and larger-than-life personality, but point out her footwork faux pas.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+7=21

I should add that Erin seems to be doing a pretty good job so far. She has confidently stepped into her new role as co-host.

James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: Foxtrot

It seems Peta and James went on a date a little over a month ago before they became partners, but then he went on tour and never called her. Ooh, that’s interesting and adds an exciting bit of personal drama to this couple. I think he moves quite nicely and I’m already in love with their chemistry. Not only do I want them to do well, but I want them to have a second date and become a couple. The judges point out a few places for improvement, but they respect that he clearly tried hard to get the technique right.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+7=21

Come on, that was better than NeNe, right? James is refusing to answer any questions about the dating situation.

Danica McKellar and Val Chmerkovskiy: Foxtrot

Danica is such a massive nerd about DWTS and she’s so excited to meet Val. It’s like a ’90s teen rom-com where the hot, cool dude finds the “nerdy” chick and turns her into a bombshell. It’s adorable and precious and I’m happy I’m rooting for them to win. The judges are being very helpful by pointing out the one or two things each contestant needs to work on (her shoulders and overly expressive face). But they all love her exuberance.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+8=24

YAY! She’s so incredibly happy to be there.

Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff: Contemporary

He’s a “bad boy” of hockey, but not really (except for when he called 24‘s Kim Bauer his sloppy seconds). Honestly, I find him kind of low-key and boring. It’s really impossible to tell if he’s any good based on this routine. He seems talented, but mostly Karina does something, Sean runs to her, picks her up, carries her and puts her down. I don’t see a whole lot of actual dancing in this, though he’s quite intense. The judges are fascinated by him.
Judges’ Scores:7+6+7=20

Sean is really awkward, but in a loveable way. I think he might have brain damage from hockey fights. The dance was inspired by his favorite movie, Footloose, which he’s watched about 100 times in the last two weeks.

Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater: Cha-Cha-Cha

He’s 77 with arthritis in his back and two hip surgeries. He might be one of the worst dancers ever, just walking around the stage not doing anything. But they dance to the Star Wars theme and there are Storm Troopers, Ewoks, R2D2 and Emma is wearing Princess Leia’s slave outfit. The judges try to be polite, but he sucked. At least Emma knows how to make it memorable.

Judges’ Scores: 5+5+5=15

The audience boos, but honestly, that score is generous. I expected a 4.

Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: Cha-Cha-Cha

It’s time for the first professional, one half of the Olympic ice dancing gold medalists. At least the show is open about how Meryl and Charlie worked with Derek Hough on their routines. Her voice is kind of annoying, and she reminds me of Shosh from HBO’s Girls. This is SOOOO unfair becuase she is SOOOO good. If you’ve never seen this show before, you wouldn’t know which one is the pro. Len says she’s “nice on ice,” but also “good on wood.” Seriously, let’s just give Meryl and Charlie an express pass to the finale.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+8=24

WTF? Are the judges purposefully underscoring her to offset her skills?

Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: Contemporary

D.J. Tanner from Full House is now a very moral mom who won’t be wearing any sexy outfits. The routine starts with them laying on the ground, and that part is cool. It has a very empowering feel and the judges are in love with her. Like with Sean, it’s hard for my to judge this Contemporary routines, but it was definitely better than his.

Judges’ Scores: 9+8+8=25

Really? D.J. is better than Meryl? Then we learn that Jeremy Miller dumped Candace to date Danica back in the day. DRAMA! Also, why are they ragging on poor Ben Seaver from Growing Pains?

Cody Simpson and Witney Carson: Cha-Cha-Cha

Witney asks if the 17-year-old Australian pop star has a girlfriend. He does, but I see jealousy in that poor girls’ future. Why is this season so obsessed with dating? Peta and James, Witney and Cody, Danica vs. Candace, Meryl and Charlie…it’s like The Real World. He has some pretty sweet dance moves and I like it. The judges are harsh on his footwork.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+8=22

I’m pretty sure Cody is trying to score a threesome with his girlfriend and Witney.

Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke: Foxtrot

The comedian who does a lot of improv is out of his comfort zone, but he’s very funny and charming during rehearsals. They do a Monopoly-themed routine, which is cool. He’s not bad, much like Cheryl’s previous partner, Jack Osbourne. The judges really like him, especially the fact that he’s trying to add content and not relying entirely on comedy.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+7=21

The audience boos. Wow, that’s a decent score to boo.

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: Cha-Cha-Cha

I have to assume she’s one of the least famous people to ever be on DWTS, but also one of the most inspirational (but not the most, because that honor belongs to Valerie Harper). She’s a Paralympic snowboarder with two prosthetic legs. This is quite the challenge for Derek, added by the fact that she won a bronze medal in Sochi three days ago. Considering that she has no legs, she’s amazing. There’s definitely a stiff, tentative, awkward, somewhat jarring movement to her, but that’s to be expected. Derek does a lot of the work and almost never lets her go. The judges rave, and despite Len’s promise that they won’t judge her any differently than the others, that’s an obvious lie when Carrie Ann Inaba nearly bursts into tears.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+8=24

The women are crushing it this season. Female stars are now the top four.

Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov: Foxtrot

She swam from Cuba to Florida in 2013. That’s nice, but we just saw a girl with no legs, so it’s hard to find her inspirational. She’s a big fan of DWTS, like Danica. She’s OK for an older lady, but she’s not that special. She’ll be gone soon, and I’m just happy Tristan MacManus didn’t come back this season, because he would’ve been stuck with her and been eliminated early again. Even the judges’ comments are kind of lukewarm.

Judges’ Scores: 6+6+6=18

That’s about right.

Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: Contemporary

Sharna definitely won the partner jackpot this season. In a weird way, while Contemporary might be easier for actors, the freedom is probably harder for Charlie. He moves nicely and really shows off his strength. I don’t think it’s that amazing, mostly because it’s very contained. The whole thing takes place in a small circle. The judges love it and Len disagrees with me, thinking Contemporary was easier for him.

Judges’ Scores: 9+9+9=27

Wow, Meryl got underscored and Charlie got overscored. He then tries to act as if being a professional ice dancer isn’t as big a benefit as it obviously is. I mean, this is only the third time in the history of the show that someone scored a 27 in week 1. The fact that two of those are professional ice skaters says a lot.

Next Week

Next week the stars will all be dancing in the style they told producers they most wanted to do before rehearsals began. So here they are:

NeNe Leakes: Jive
Amy Purdy: Swing
Meryl Davis: Swing
Candace Cameron Bure: Rumba
Danica McKellar: Samba
Drew Carey: Jive
Sean Avery: Salsa
James Maslow: Salsa
Diana Nyad: Cha-Cha-Cha
Billy Dee Williams: Tango
Cody Simpson: Tango
Charlie White: Tango

The Leaderboard

I’d be shocked if the person eliminated next week is anyone other than Billy Dee or Diana, though I guess Sean could be in the mix.

For the Leadboard, I’m adding the percentage of the total points, which is the number that will be added to their percentage of the public vote to decide the elimination.

27 (10.3 percent): Charlie White
25 (9.5 percent): Candace Cameron Bure
24 (9.2 percent): Danica McKellar, Meryl Davis, Amy Purdy
22 (8.4 percent): Cody Simpson
21 (8 percent): NeNe Leakes, James Maslow, Drew Carey
20 (7.6 percent): Sean Avery
18 (6.9 percent): Diana Nyad
15 (5.7 percent): Billy Dee Williams

(Image courtesy of ABC)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.