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Tom DeLay OK; Aaron Carter and Donny Osmond Still Got It on 'Dancing' Premiere

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Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, didn’t embarrass himself too badly on the season premiere of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Or perhaps we should say that he did embarrass himself badly, but he did it on purpose.

During DeLay’s first number on the reality show, a cha-cha with his pro partner, Cheryl Burke, the 62-year-old Texas Republican shimmied, waggled his rear end and struck a series of absurd rock-star poses. But he also sneaked in some graceful steps that indicated he might be talented enough to stick around for a few more weeks.

DeLay wasn’t at the bottom in the judges’ leader board at the end of tonight’s episode, during which only the eight male contestants performed. The former NFL star Michael Irvin and the second-generation Hollywood B-lister Ashley Hamilton were tied for last.

The judges’ favorites were a former teen idol, Donny Osmond, and a former preteen idol, Aaron Carter, who scored 30 and 32, respectively, out of a possible total of 40.

As if the show’s usual voting procedures weren’t confusing enough, tonight’s format was different: Four of the male contestants performed a cha-cha with their partners; the other four performed a fox trot. These dances were scored by all three judges on a scale of 1 to 10, with the scores being added together.

Then the four who had performed the ballroom number switched to Latin, participating in a salsa “relay” in which the couples took turns dancing. After that, the four cha-cha couples did a waltz relay.

For the relays, the judges formed a consensus and ranked them from first to fourth places, with the first-place couple getting 10 points and the fourth-place getting 4. In other words, if you were in nth place in the relay dance, your score would be 10 - 2(n - 1).

Those scores were combined with the earlier numbers; the viewers’ votes will be factored in by some mysterious process to produce a loser on Wednesday night’s results show.

Everyone got that?

Season 9 kicked off with the eight professional male dancers descending from the ceiling on a platform, then dancing to “The Boys Are Back in Town.” (Prediction for the female pros’ group dance tomorrow: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”)

Then all 16 couples, the series’ biggest cast ever, walked down the set’s enormous staircase. After they had all been introduced, host Tom Bergeron said, “Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have tonight….”

Aaron Carter and Karina Smirnoff were the first couple to perform. Before their usual rehearsal segment, the stars were seen in a “Matrix”-style 360-degree freeze frame. This worked better with some stars than others.

Then each contestant reminded viewers who he was: Aaron mentioned that he scored his first solo hit at age 8 and that he had a wild side. Appearing on “DWTS,” he said, is part of his effort to turn his life around.

When Karina asked him if he had ever worn shoes with such high heels, he mentioned that he had five sisters. Perhaps to reset the macho needle, he started talking about how distracted he was by his hottie partner. (Do you think he knows she’s engaged to her fellow pro dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy?)

Dancing a cha-cha to Madcon’s “Beggin’,” Aaron revealed some star quality, striking convincing ballroom poses and managing to hold your eye despite Karina’s obvious visual appeal.

The good male dancers can do this. With the mediocre ones, the female pros get all the attention. Then there are some dancers who are so bad that even the best female dancers can’t draw your eye away.

Aaron may be this season’s closest equivalent to a Gilles Marini, last season’s heartthrob and all-around talented dancer. But Aaron was definitely awkward enough to avoid charges that he’s a ringer whose previous professional experience should disqualify him from appearing.

The judges’ comments were positive. Len Goodman said he wished he could say the first dance was first class; it wasn’t, but it was strong. Bruno Tonioli told Aaron he needed to control himself. (Tom said that was the pot calling the kettle black.) And Carrie Ann Inaba spoke for all women of a certain age when she said, “Wow! Little Aaron Carter is all grown up!” She gave him a 7; Len gave an 8; and Bruno a 7.

The next celebrity was one of those people who are famous in their own world but obscure elsewhere. Chuck Liddell is a mixed martial artist and ultimate fighting champion with a scary demeanor. He is well matched with Anna Trebunskaya, an on-again, off-again pro on “DWTS” who’s a favorite partly because the show’s British announcer has a charming way of accenting the second syllable on her name.

The couple went for sophistication with their fox trot to “That’s Life.” Chuck was dressed in a suit and hat but rather than looking lighthearted he looked grim and defensive. You couldn’t take your eyes off him, but in the bad way.

Bruno didn’t pull any punches (or kicks or choke holds or whatever else you can use in ultimate fighting). After calling Chuck “the gentle Neanderthal,” he said, “The footwork was poor; the lines were terrible; and the timing went. You’ve got a little bit of work to do, that’s all.” Carrie Ann called him smooth and charming, but said he had to find the “purpose” behind the movement. Len advised him to get in touch with his feminine side.

Backstage, cohost Samantha Harris suggested that the judges might have been scared of Chuck, but Tom said that that fear might be directed elsewhere: “I know Anna. She can hurt people.”

Carrie Ann gave Chuck and Anna a generous 6, while Len and Bruno gave 5’s.

A man who needs a lot of introduction, Mark Dacascos danced next. He’s a martial artist who has appeared in movies and as “the Chairman” on “Iron Chef America.”

His partner is Lacey Schwimmer, the self-described “rebel on the dance floor.” He said he saw her as his new master. It’s hard to picture her as Mr. Miyagi, and a little unpleasant to think of him doing “wax on, wax off” for her.

Appropriately, they danced their cha-cha to “Kung Fu Fighting,” for which the ballroom rebel provided some surprisingly straightforward choreography. Mark wore a movie martial-arts costume with a vest that left his chest bare. His moves were graceful but not timed well enough to the music.

Carrie Ann said she loved the Asian theme and liked Mark’s agility and flexibility, but his arms were a little “woochoo.” Len, as is his wont, didn’t like the gimmick. Bruno said it reminded him of the opening to the Beijing Olympics and told Mark to watch his feet. All three judges gave the couple 7’s, with Len saying “se-VEN!” He does this when he wants to show that his opinion should settle the matter.

Mark pointed out that he’s not used to standing with his shoulders back because in martial arts you crouch to protect your body, but Lacey, he said, “wants me to show my man boobs.”

Ashley Hamilton was described as an actor and comedian, but the show acknowledged that he’s better known as the son of George Hamilton, a season 2 favorite who was in the audience. (No one mentioned his other claim to fame, his brief marriage to Shannen Doherty when he was only 19.) While his partner, Edyta Sliwinska, rehearsed him in an assortment of her trademark legwarmers, Hamilton said that he had been in a wheelchair for almost a year and that he was weaker on his left side. Edyta told him, “I’m Edyta. I only need your right.”

Ashley looked good while dancing his fox trot (to Mika’s “Grace Kelly”), but only when he wasn’t moving. When he was, he shambled about half-heartedly and barely bothered to extend his arms. But his “I’m being a good sport” smile is excellent.

Edyta had also been George’s partner, and the inevitable comparisons weren’t in Ashley’s favor. Bruno said the performance revealed a “total lack of showmanship,” adding, “Your daddy knows how to sell it.” Len thought it seemed that Ashley just wanted to get through the routine, while Carrie Ann sad that he failed to define himself. She gave him a 5, Len a 6 and Bruno a 4 (to audible gasps from the audience).

Donny Osmond was only identified as a “showbiz legend.” He reminded us who he was by saying that his sister Marie had come in third on season 5 of “DWTS” and that she had dared him to do better. Talking about being partnered with Donny, Kym Johnson said, “I am one lucky girl,” and got a big round of applause. Donny further endeared himself to his fans by saying he was embarrassed when he had to hold Kym too close.

Dancing the fox trot to “All That Jazz,” Donny sold every move, even though most of the moves were pretty simple. Some of his facial expressions seemed a little off, but the crowd loved it.

“You can play an audience like a master fiddler,” said Bruno, who then criticized Donny’s hold and posture. Carrie Ann acknowledged that Donny had entertained the audience, but she said he had to work on his technique. Grouchy Len said he didn’t like all the razzmatazz; he gave Donny a 6 (boos), to the others’ 7’s.

Louie Vito, a diminutive snowboarding champion, said he had never danced and had never even watched an episode of “Dancing With the Stars.” He said he’s five feet six inches tall (“five-six on a good day”), and he looks about 14 years old.

Chelsie Hightower, the former “So You Think You Can Dance” standout who, sadly, reminds male viewers that Julianne Hough is taking this season off, is Louie’s partner. She made him do pushups when he wasn’t listening.

That didn’t seem to help their fox trot, during which Louie basically walked carefully around the floor, stopping occasionally to stand up straighter. The judges somehow found something good to say. Carrie Ann, who was more obscure tonight than she has been in any previous episode, said, “You respected the dance.” Len criticized Louie’s long, floppy hair but then said, “Your technique was very good.” Bruno said Louie was like a little hobbit with dancing potential. Louie got 6’s from Carrie Ann and Bruno and a 7 from Len. (It could have been an eight if Louie had gone out for a trim.)

An actually famous person, the NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, said that he’s always relied on his feet while playing football, concluding with “Feet don’t fail me now!” He said he signed on for “DWTS” because his fellow wide receiver Jerry Rice had come in second on season 2, and this would be the only way he could ever beat Jerry. Michael was at least hoping to beat Jerry’s cha-cha score of 21.

His partner, Anna Demidova, who won the new-pro-dancer contest last season, tried to get Michael to loosen his hips. When their cha-cha started, to “I Feel Good,” Michael did some good James Brown moves, but then lost it when he had to do partner moves with Anna. His posture was bad and he was a little off the beat.

The judges refused to be swayed by the audience’s ecstatic reaction. Len told Michael he needed to be slicker, and Bruno said his footwork was off. Carrie Ann said that at least he has charisma. All of them criticized Anna for not putting in enough “content” (i.e., real dance moves).

A 5 from Carrie Ann and 4’s from Len and Bruno left Michael trailing Jerry Rice by 8 points.

Then came a man Tom called “arguably the highest-ranking star we’ve ever had”: the former House majority leader Tom DeLay. Coming into rehearsal with his sweat pants hiked up over his belly like a grandpa, DeLay didn’t look very promising. He told his partner, Cheryl Burke, that he wasn’t ready to move to the left (he’s a Republican—get it?) and wasn’t prepared to get in touch with his feminine side.

His dance was a deliberate move to shake up his image. He lip-synched to his song, “Wild Thing,” while mimicking all the aforementioned rock-star moves, ending with a big guitar windmill. Every few bars, he did a couple cha-cha steps.

“You are crazier than Sarah Palin,” said Bruno, but he did add, “Actually, the little cha-cha-cha you did wasn’t too bad.” Saying the dance was surreal, Carrie Ann admitted nonetheless that Tom is light on his feet and has a natural grace. “Parts were magic, parts were tragic,” said Len. “The cha-cha-cha part was very good.”

“I’ve got bigger critics than those judges,” said Tom, who seemed pleased enough with a 6 from Carrie Ann and 5’s from the men.

Generally, once you got below the top three dancers, Aaron, Donny and Mark, the judges’ scores seemed random. For example, Louie simply isn’t 6 points better than Michael. Perhaps the scattershot scoring is a way of encouraging viewers to call in and vote for their endangered favorites.

The four men who had danced a ballroom number—Chuck, Louie, Ashley and Donny—then participated in the salsa relay. Ashley again did nothing; Chuck moved slightly more gracefully; Donny had way more content in his piece; and Louie looked notably better, especially since he entered the dance floor doing a back flip.

The four got gang-judged, with generally good results, except for poor Ashley. Len told him, “That was a dance that only a father could love.” From first to fourth, the judges picked Donny, Louie, Chuck and Ashley.

Aaron, Michael, Tom and Mark then did their Viennese-waltz relay. Both of the relays were preceded by tedious trash-talking segments among the contestants. For example, Mark said, “Remember, Tom: It’s a relay, not a DeLay.”

No one on this side performed notably better than before; Tom was notably worse. Again, the judges went easier on them in their critiques. They named Aaron the winner, followed by Mark, Michael and Tom.

With those scores combined with the first dances, here’s how the contestants ranked on the judges’ leader board:

Aaron Carter and Karina Smirnoff: 32

Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson: 30

Mark Cascatos and Lacey Schwimmer: 29

Louie Vito and Chelsie Hightower: 27

Chuck Liddell and Anna Trebunskaya: 22

Tom DeLay and Cheryl Burke: 20

Ashley Hamilton and Edyta Sliwinska: 19

Michael Irvin and Anna Demidova: 19

REALITY BITES

On the season premiere of “Survivor,” 20 contestants were dropped off on the shore of the Pacific island of Samoa. Emmy winner Jeff Probst divided them into two tribes, Foa Foa and Galu, and made them elect two leaders. (No one ever wants to be elected leader.) Foa Foa won the first challenge and got the customary flint for fire. At their camp, a villain emerged: Russell, an oil-company owner from Texas who said that he’s already a multi-millionaire and has only signed on to show how easy it is to win “Survivor.” He proceeded to form what he called his “dumbass-girls alliance” with the three younger women in the tribe, then added the “old lady,” a 48-year-old police officer named Betty. Russell told his tribe members that he was a fireman who had survived hurricane Katrina but lost his dog in the disaster. He then sneaked out at night and emptied out everyone’s canteens. After Foa Foa lost the immunity challenge, one of the younger girls, Marisa, told Russell she wasn’t sure about following his lead. So he persuaded the other tribe members to vote her off.

The season finale of “Big Brother” came down to a showdown between two presumed allies, Kevin and Natalie, and Jordan, the ostensibly dumb blonde who had already managed to win one of the three final head-of-household competitions—a quiz, of all things. While viewers waited for the final competition, we saw all three of the finalists promise the other two that they were going to the final two. When Jordan and Kevin faced off in the last competition, another quiz, she won in a tiebreaker. When the jury members came on set to vote for either Jordan or Natalie, host Julie Chen asked Jeff if he wanted to continue his showmance with Jordan outside the house. He replied, “We’ll see if she wins or not.” When Chen asked him if he would take Jordan on the Hawaiian trip he had won earlier, he said, “Let’s say she’s on the short list.” Jordan went on to win the season and $500,000 by a vote of 5 to 2. The charming Jeff had been chosen by viewers as America’s favorite contestant and won $25,000.

It’s always a good show on “Project Runway” when the contestants are challenged to work with unusual materials. Given all the news stories about the possible death of print media, this challenge was topical: The designers were told to make an outfit using copies of The Los Angeles Times. Johnny got in trouble early when Tim shot down his first design, which involved origami birds; he tried to come up with a punk-style dress. After the runway show, where the guest judges were the designer Tommy Hilfiger and the actress Eva Longoria Parker, the top three were Irina, Carol Hannah, and Christopher. Irina, who made a trench coat with what looked like fur trim, won. The bottom three were Nicolas and Johnny, who had been trashing each other for nearly the whole show, and Gordana. After Johnny told a lie about how his original design had been ruined by a steam iron, Nicolas ratted him out, and Johnny was sent auf. A recovering drug abuser, Johnny said in parting, “Giving up addiction was probably either than doing this.”

This week’s guest judge on “Top Chef was Tim Love, a Texas chef and restaurateur. Appropriately, in a viewers’ choice quickfire challenge, the contestants had to make a dish out of cactus. Though Love praised Mattin for showcasing the main ingredient best, Mike I. won. The main challenge was cooking up a meal on outdoor campfires for the staffers at a ranch out in the desert. The judges’ favorites were the battling Voltaggio brothers, Michael and Bryan, as well as Ashley and Laurine. Keeping this season’s theme of sibling rivalry, Bryan’s pork loin won, giving him his third elimination-challenge win. At the bottom were three disgusting-sounding dishes by Mattin, Ron and Robin. Mattin’s three ceviches, one of which made Chef Love sick to his stomach, were judged the worst.

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