Annie Barrett
March 20, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Dancing With the Stars”: A whole new disco ball game

An enormous pink ruffle starred as ”an outfit,” two plastic bobbleheads foxtrotted to ”The Power of Love,” and Karina Smirnoff scored fewer points than a one-legged woman. It can only mean one thing. It’s season 4 of Dancing With the Stars! Liiiive! Carrie Ann Inaahbah!

Let’s start with the most abysmal: Billy Ray Cyrus. Len called his cha-cha ”more like a hoedown,” and as usual Bruno provided the most vivid comparison: ”It was like a crazy bear lost in a swamp!” This routine did feature the first (and likely Karina’s only) splits of the season, and a cringe-inducing wig malfunction, so I guess it wasn’t completely worthless. But Billy Ray ruined it when, during his Samantha interview, he said, ” ‘I Want My Mullet Back’ is on my new album, and it’s also on ringtones.” I don’t keep abreast of Billy Ray, so my first thought was, No way. That’s not the name of a real song, and by mentioning ringtones, Billy Ray is simply commenting sarcastically on our hyper-commercialistic society….


Moving on to the slightly less horrible…Heather Mills! The good news: Despite the constant teases on ABC’s commercials these past weeks, one of her endless supply of pre-shoed artificial legs did not fly off her body, ricocheting past Carrie Ann’s judging paddle and landing at the perfect angle from which to shoot both the leg and the Heather. Not yet, anyway. I don’t presume the right to comment on her character, but dancing-wise, I just didn’t find her engaging. She’s a bit cold, much like the ”ice cream sundae” she compared her outfit to. (Personally, I would have gone all subcategory on her and said banana split.) The far more likable Leeza Gibbons did okay in her foxtrot with Tony — as Bruno said, she just needs to relax and she might be fine. In other words, ”The execution was so tight, it was like a Hitchcock movie.” Annnd…there has now officially been a comparison of Alfred Hitchcock to Leeza Gibbons. I didn’t think it would ever happen! Leez’ll probably stick around for a while, which is fine with me because her zany rehearsal outfits thus far have included a Waldo-striped shrug and a big sack dress with a white bow, and I bet there’s more where those came from.

I don’t see Shandi Finnessey staying in the competition for too long. Not famous enough, kind of a klutz, and I’d find it really hard to believe that anyone’s buying into the kindling of her fake showmance with self-proclaimed ”hot, young” dance partner Brian. I happen to find her presence on this show hilarious, but that’s because I watch a lot of Game Show Network — yes, even the more unfortunate shows like the ones she hosts; you know, only when I’ve left the TV on in the background. She never knows any pop culture references on PlayMania (and I’m talking really, really obvious songs), so it made perfect sense that she confused the Macarena with a margarita. The wardrobe department mistakenly dressed this nice-abbed beauty queen in a classy, long, attractive dress — a technical difficulty that I’m sure shall be rectified immediately.

Clyde ”the Glide” Drexler was adorable, rocking the same Pro Athlete Crisp Orange Shirt as season 3’s Emmitt Smith. I have a special bond with the Glide because his two-page pullout in Sports Illustrated for Kids was totally tacked onto my wall in seventh grade. (This was a phase. I hung up choice inserts for like half a year, then realized my ”display” looked horrible and tore them all down. Still, Clyde the Glide!) He does need to own his height more on the dance floor, but that’s kind of tough unless you’re around other tall people instead of shrimps. I loved how he almost ripped Samantha’s arm out in order to hoist the mike up to his level.

I dug John Ratzenberger‘s attitude. Seriously, why should he be nervous? I love how he’s approaching the show with such a sense of humor. The guy’s a great sport for agreeing to join the party two weeks later than everyone else, and pretty light on his feet to boot. His comic timing, as well as crafty phrases like ”I’m doing this for all the baby boomers everywhere,” should propel him along. In fact, I think he may have just won. As a side note, Edyta’s legwarmers, one of the 10 reasons I’m a ”Dancing” Fool were in full effect right from the start!

Okay, we’re starting to get into ”good dancer” territory. Apolo Anton Ohno performed well (let’s hear it for him!) — he got all the steps right, at least, and I thought it was hilarious how the judges kept telling him to correct his stooped-over posture. Of course! He spends most of his time speed skating at a 45-degree angle toward the ground. It just didn’t occur to me that something that obvious would be the problem. Color me amused! I wonder how long before Tom and Bruno start making ”Oh yes!” jokes. Thirty seconds?

Paulina Porizkova didn’t score too well, but she’s one of my favorites of this new group solely based on her calming aura and down-to-earth personality. Oh, and here’s another really shallow reason: Her dress was one of the few nontacky ones we’ll ever see on this show! I loved her banter with Alec about how they’d both left communist countries only to confront now ”the system” of ballroom dancing, and how she willingly acknowledged her occasional clumsiness. She could definitely improve and become well-liked over the next few weeks, but she may succumb to a Giselle Fernandez-like run — good enough not to leave, not exciting enough to stay.

Ian Ziering tied Apolo for third place after his cha-cha with the show’s resident MVP, Cheryl. Does everyone realize Steve Sanders is currently 43? He looks almost exactly the same as — or a bit better than, if you ask me, especially sans permed mullet — he did on 90210. It’s alarming. He and Joey Fatone will be battling it out for cheesiest performance each week. Since Ian was a bit stiff (he was the first to dance), Joey gladly stepped in and completely camped it up for his cha-cha with Kym. I couldn’t find anything wrong with this dance. I mean, Joey had ironed-on bling on his vest, Kym wore white tasseled trousers, and they looked like they belonged at a disco in any decade other than this one. That’s pretty much the definition of this entire show. I commend Joey and Kym for delving into its true meaning so quickly.

I saved my current fave for last: the gorgeous, strong, surprisingly graceful, and sweet-as-can-be Laila Ali. This show has been waiting for this specific woman. She’s easily the best female role model of the bunch, on any season. If the Ziering and the Fat One split their votes, Laila could pull ahead. Not to mention she’s paired up with Maksim. And she’s Slezak’s official pick. Forget it. She’s gonna win.

What did you think of the season premiere? Who was under-scored and who needs to get on the first plane back overseas, I mean home? And which couples do you want to see through to the finals?

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