Welcome back to the ballroom, dance fans. It’s Dancing with the Stars season 21 and there’s a little something for everyone as the 13 new couples take the stage for the first time to vie for the Mirror Ball Trophy.

'Dancing with the Stars' Season 21 Premiere Recap: The First Dances

This season has a 15-year-old social media star, a 71-year-old Oscar-nominated actor, a married couple, and four singers, just to name a few of the stars. As for the pros, after a two-year absence, Louis van Amstel, Anna Trebunskaya, and Lindsay Arnold are all back alongside the usual faces. So let’s get right to the action.

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Len Goodman is gone so Emmy-winner Julianne Hough is taking over as head judge. The scores and votes from tonight will lead to one couple being eliminated next Monday, with a second elimination the following day on another night of dancing with the Top 12.

Victor Espinoza and Karina Smirnoff: Salsa

Victor’s face comes up to Karina’s chest, which is clearly gonna be a problem. Also, as a jockey, he has suffered concussions that have damaged his short-term memory. The dance is absolutely ridiculous with lots of jockey moves like he’s riding a horse. He’s pretty awkward and not very good, but very enthusiastic and funky. Julianne Hough loved the entertainment and was surprised he was so loose and not stiff. Bruno Tonioli points out how the content wasn’t that strong. Carrie Ann Inaba loved the energy, even though there was no actual Salsa.

Judges’ Scores: 5+5+5=15

Victor stands on a box during his interview with Erin Andrews, which makes me chuckle. But that score and going first could easily find him being the first star eliminated.

Tamar Braxton and Val Chmerkovskiy: Quickstep

Tamar wants to get her groove back after having a baby. She thinks the reigning champion is like her annoying little brother. A Quickstep in week 1 is brutal, but Tamar handles it quite well. She’s got a lot of pep and sass with solid dance moves. Bruno loved all of the content and speed, but there were some foot problems. The judges are all very impressed with what she pulled off given such a hard style in the first week.

Judges’ Scores: 8+7+8=23

I’m loving Tamar’s attitude, especially since it’s something Val hasn’t really dealt with in a long time in a partner. I didn’t expect 8s already, but I’m glad Julianne is taking over Len’s grumpy voting streak.

Chaka Khan and Keo Motsepe: Cha-Cha-Cha

Chaka is happy to have a partner who is tall, dark handsome and a prince. He’s also happy with his partner, which I assume is a change of pace from Charlotte McKinney. But yikes, this is very, very, VERY bad. She seems lost and confused the whole time, walking around and not sure what to do or where to look. The judges love her personality, but they admit that the steps were a hot mess.

Judges’ Scores: 5+4+4=13

Oh no, This is only the 20th time in the history of the show someone has scored that low.

Hayes Grier and Emma Slater: Cha-Cha-Cha

The 15-year-old Vine star is in teenage boy heaven with Emma. She feels like an old lady talking to him. They play a cheerleader and a football player in the routine and Hayes has a few good, smooth moves, but there are also some clunky parts. He definitely has potential. However, I want to point out that he’s 15, so playing the dance as a love story is kind of creepy. Last season with 14-year-old Willow Shields they went out of their way to avoid sexualizing her, but I guess it’s OK to play up the horny teenage boy angle. They’re impressed with him, but need him to open his eyes. Carrie Ann says if she was 30 years younger, she’d still be too old for him.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+7=21

Solid scores, but I’m not comfortable with all of this talk about “the ladies.” The kid is 15! If Len said to Willow what Carrie Ann said to Hayes, he’d be in jail.

Andy Grammer and Allison Holker: Foxtrot

They’re a fun and goofy pair. He’s doing this for his mom who died six years ago, but she loved dance. Andy does an OK job, but his extensions don’t seem that solid. He’s rusty, but like Hayes, he shows potential. The judges found it too poppy, but they liked his charisma. Carrie Ann wants them to work on their chemistry, but Julianne liked the chemistry.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+7=21

He’s definitely a sweetheart and a very nice boy with a nice sense of humor.

Paula Deen and Louis van Amstel: Quickstep

Paula is crazy and loves shoving Louis’ head on her bosom. It’s all about moving her body, but she gets very easily distracted. It’s probably the slowest Quickstep I’ve ever seen. Paula says her underwear was white when the dance started, but not anymore. Oh Paula, if you want to rehabilitate your image, maybe don’t use the word “white” in week 1. The judges kind of like her, but she was too tense and scared and it messed her up a bit.

Judges’ Scores: 5+5+5=15

At least she’s not as bad as Chaka.

Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson: Jive

The married couple of Carlos and Alexa PenaVega met both of their partners, Witney Carson and Mark Ballas, together. Alexa marvels at how Mark kind of looks like Carlos. There’s already some jealousy going on. Carlos has some amazing moves and absolutely kills it. Everyone else needs to watch out, because he just established himself as the frontrunner. The judges think he’s the best natural performer who looks like a man. Julianne wants him to come out of his shell and give more energy. The judges are very critical about technical issues because they know he can do it.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+7=23

Boo, Bruno. He wanted more devil.

Alexa PenaVega and Mark Ballas: Jive

The wife goes after the husband, doing the same style. She’s also extremely good. This married couple will be around for a while and might even be the Top 2. Bruno loves hot, sexy Latinas. The judges loved it, but Carrie Ann points out a wild arm. It’s definitely going to be a bitter fight with these two.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+8=22

Carlos wins round 1 against his wife, but it’s interesting that the female judges prefer Carlos while the male judge prefers Alexa.

Kim Zolciak and Tony Dovolani: Salsa

The Real Housewives of Atlanta star has six kids. She’s a bit of a control freak and struggles to let go. I already don’t like her. They have a weird ancient Egyptian theme, but the lights and smoke machines pretty much obscure everything. She was passable, but not that good. The smoke was a distraction. The judges thought she was holding back and they want to see her bring some ferocity to the routines. Kim is way too defensive. She’s going to be in trouble with votes.

Judges’ Scores: 4+4+4=12

OUCH! I didn’t think it was THAT bad. And there have only been 10 other times in the show’s history that someone got a score that low.

Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough: Jive

Bindi is positively charming and gives Derek the chance to dust off his Australian accent. The dance is fun and Bindi’s smile lights up the ballroom. She may not be as technically gifted as some of Derek’s recent partners, but she has a ton of personality and you can’t help but love her. The judges rave about her and it’s going to take a miracle for anyone else to take away Derek’s sixth Mirror Ball this season.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+8=24

Huh, I expected a 9 or two after those raves.

Gary Busey and Anna Trebunskaya: Cha-Cha-Cha

Gary is “a bit rough,” according to Anna, which is being polite. He’s totally nuts. Anna knows it’s gonna be absurd. It’s exactly what I thought it would be, a laugh-worthy trainwreck. When it’s over, Gary says “I dance in a cosmos of riddles.” I don’t know what that means, but it seems like a perfect description of what just happened. They appreciate that he committed to it and entertained them, even if it was terrible.

Judges’ Scores: 5+5+5=15

Gary refers to Anna as “From Russia with love.”

Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold: Foxtrot

He’s a train hero who no one heard of a month ago. On the bright side, he owns the fact that no one knows who he is and he can’t dance at all. But he has a strong work ethic. He’s an OK dancer, but I have a serious problem with the fact that he’s just an ordinary guy and has absolutely no business being on this show. I’m also worried that the hero worship factor is going to carry him very far. The judges love him.

Judges’ Scores: 8+7+7=22

He joins the top group. It’s crazy how there’s such a massive gap between the Top 7 and the Bottom 5 so far.

Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess: Cha-Cha-Cha

The premiere night ends with the Backstreet Boy. He’s been in BSB for 23 years, which makes me feel SOOOOO old. Sharna is also a fan girl and a huge BSB fan. He’s got some smooth and sexy move. He definitely has the cool and nostalgia factors to be a major contender. The judges like his flavor and style, with Julianne blushing. Carrie Ann thinks it started off, but then he found his groove and killed it.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+8=24

And he ties Bindi for the lead.

The couple with the lowest combined score and viewer votes will be eliminated next Monday after all 13 couples perform again, and then another couple will be eliminated next Tuesday based on the scores and votes from next week.

For now, we have a somewhat open race as eight couples are all within 3 points of each other at the top of the leaderboard.


24: Bindi Irwin, Nick Carter
23: Tamar Braxton, Carlos PenaVega
22: Alexa PenaVega, Alek Skarlatos
21: Hayes Grier, Andy Grammer
15: Victor Espinoza, Paula Deen, Gary Busey
13: Chaka Khan
12: Kim Zolciak

(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.