Photo Credit: Courtesy of ABC
With fourteen seasons down, an all-star version of Dancing with the Stars (Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC) was just what the doctor ordered. Monday night's season 15 premiere featured the usual sparkly garb, fun music and wisecracks from its panel of eccentric judges. But it also offered a parade of past contestants with a proven ability to generate buzz -- whether by dancing well or some other means.
It's simply more exciting when each contestant who takes the dance floor has a DWTS back story already in place. Sabrina Bryan? She was the season 5 contestant who inexplicably got eliminated early on, despite topping the leaderboard every week. Bristol Palin? She was the season 11 contestant who inexplicably remained on the show for several weeks, despite placing at the lower end of the leaderboard. And so on.
With so many lively personalities and skilled dancers, this season the contestants will have to jack up the charisma. There are six former champions here: gymnast Shawn Johnson (season 8), race-car driver Helio Castroneves (season 5), speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno (season 4), boy bander Drew Lachey (season 2), football player Emmitt Smith (Season 3) and model/actress Kelly Monaco (Season 1). Not surprisingly, the premiere episode's top scorer came out of that group: Smith and his parter, Cheryl Burke. "You were born to dance!" Carrie Ann Inaba gushed to the good-natured NFL player, after his Cha-Cha to "Chain of Fools." (Score: 24.5 out of 30)
But Gilles Marini (Season 8 runner-up) and his partner Peta Murgatroyd were hot on their heels. Marini practically glided through their sophisticated fox trot to "Call Me Irresponsible." (Score: 24 out of 30)
Bryan, who was voted onto the show by viewers, also made a respectable showing. She and her partner Louis Van Amstel performed an intense Cha-Cha to One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," which led Bruno Tonioli to squawk, "You went and unleashed fury on the dance floor!" (Score: 22.5 out of 30)
Less impressive was Kirstie Alley. (Her season 12 back story involved some much-hyped dance floor spills, big weight loss and the distinction of being the only one of Maks' partners who actually seemed to like him.) There were no distastrous falls in her first season 15 outing, but dancing among this higher-level group, she appeared to have more style than technical substance. (Score: 19 out of 30) Of course, she later scored a perfect 30 for entertainment value -- when she planted a kiss on Tom Bergeron as a congrats for winning an Emmy.
Considering how much he dominated Season 4, Ono's first outing was underwhelming, too. Paired with Karina Smirnoff for the Cha-Cha, he delivered a performance that allowed Len Goodman to break out one of his sad, Olympic metaphors. "It wasn’t a gold medal performance,” he said. "Maybe bronze." (Score: 22 out of 30)
Pamela Anderson, gorgeous as ever, was nonetheless the night's big loser. During season 10, Anderson pleasantly surprised the judges by mastering the steps (and not just skating by on her sexuality). Not so in the season 15 opener, when she danced the Cha-Cha with parter Tristan Macmanus. "You have a booming body, and we want to see it get the right technique," said Inaba. (Score: 17 out of 30)
A new twist this season: Judges will be able to give contestants half points. Whether or not the change will make much difference in the competition remains to be seen, but as Bergeron quipped, "I know the people who sell us paddles are thrilled."
Ha! He's funny. He totally deserved that Emmy, if not the kiss from Alley!
The show's next episode airs tonight at 8 p.m. Need a refresher on last night's dances? Check out the performance recap here:
WATCH: 'Dancing With The Stars: All Stars' Finale: Find Out Which Celebs Won!