“Dancing with the Stars” season 21 resumed Sept. 21 on ABC with the first round of a special two-night Hometown Glory event featuring the couples performing routines inspired by the celebs’ roots. The evening was jam-packed with plenty of action, including crazy commentary from panelist Bruno Tonioli, much-improved scores, and the fledgling season’s first elimination. Here’s how it all went down.
Singer Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess kicked off the festivities with a jive dedicated to the Tampa, Florida native’s teacher Sandy Karl, whom he credits with transforming him into “Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys.” Their “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” dance was cute, but it lacked oomph. Nick’s kicks and flicks weren’t as precise as they should’ve been.
Julianne Hough called it a “little bit messy” but still thought it was a good start to the night. Bruno Tonioli noted “you were bouncing so much that you lost the footwork” at times, but he appreciated the “performance value.” Carrie Ann Inaba, finally, termed it “rough” and said she was surprised to see “such a consummate performer” struggle. Nick and Sharna scored a 21 out of 30 possible points.
Up second in the running order with a rumba were celebrity chef Paula Deen and Louis Van Amstel. The always-effervescent butter-loving cook dedicated the number to the “magical” town of Savannah, Georgia where she got her start. When it came down to the brass tacks of it all, their “Midnight Train to Georgia” dance wasn’t perfect, but it was good; probably better than anyone expected it to be. And wowzers, Paula has some legs!
Bruno called it “a lovely journey on the Polar Express” before noting a few flubs, but praised Paula for taking them to Georgia. Carrie Ann was “really impressed” and said she was “like a whole different person” after a disappointing week one debut, but told her to work on her turns. Julianne appreciated how she improved and showed her “true self.” They nabbed 19 points for the effort, which represented a four-point improvement over their Sept. 14 quickstep.
Week one’s most-tweeted star, social media sensation Hayes Grier, danced next to celebrate his small, North Carolina hometown via a foxtrot with Emma Slater. With Hayes mom in the house and emotion a’plenty flowing between the two, a cover of the country hit “This is How We Roll” served as the musical backdrop for the motorcycle-themed ditty.
Carrie Ann wasn’t thrilled with the motorbike prop because she wanted to just see him dance. Julianne “couldn’t stop smiling” and called them “so nice to watch,” but told Hayes to work on consistency throughout his routines. Bruno, finally, likened him to “a young Tom Cruise in ‘Risky Business'” and appreciated his “ballet dancer” arms. But it wasn’t all roses: he also told Hayes to work on his rise and fall motion, and to keep his bum under better control. Hayes and Emma notched a 22.
The Windy City of Chicago was the next honoree as legendary singer Chaka Khan stepped up to perform a “Chicago” foxtrot with Keo Motsepe. It wasn’t exactly a repeat of their week one cha cha, but it wasn’t a whole lot better: Chaka forgot her choreography a few times. But at least she had fun and smiled throughout. That’s worth something.
Julianne mused that it took Chaka a minute to actually begin dancing, but thought she did a nice job once she did. Bruno said it was “like cruising along the majestic Lake Michigan”: she hit a few rocks, but didn’t sink. Carrie Ann praised her for not blowing her mistakes out of proportion, and told her to really memorize her choreography for the Sept. 22 live show. Chaka and Keo scored 15 points, which is –quite amazingly– actually two points better than their week one mark.
After Tom Bergeron visited with sometime “DWTS” pro Kym Johnson at the All Access desk, singer Andy Grammer and Allison Holker kept the ballroom hopping with a New York-inspired “Only the Good Die Young” jive. It started off with what Len Goodman would call “too much bandying about” and it felt frenetic, but Andy’s enthusiasm was infectious. He pours his heart into everything he does.
Bruno loved the attack and the energy and made a confusing reference about vegetarianism, but chided Andy for losing time too often. Carrie Ann said he has “a lot of potential” but thought it was a “mess.” Julianne, at last, liked how sharp the kicks and flicks were out of the gate, but like her co-horts, thought it was too messy. Andy and Allison earned a surprisingly solid 21 points.
Sixth in order to hoof it was reality starlet Kim Zolciak-Biermann, who earned an embarrassingly paltry 12 points for her debut dance. Although she grew up in New England, Kim dedicated her quickstep to Atlanta, where “all of my dreams came true.” The dance represented a giant improvement for Kim, who looked awesome and seemed to have fun.
Carrie Ann proclaimed her “in the game,” and Julianne called it “so much better” and told Tony Dovolani to “push her” harder. Bruno offered up his most colorful commentary to date by declaring “she’s alive! She’s alive! It’s the most unexpected comeback since Lazarus!” Kim and Tony nabbed 19 points.
With Kim’s great comeback complete, train hero Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold propelled the action forward with a jazz number to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in honor of Sacramento. They pranced on a front porch and he threw her around like a pro. It was cute. What else can be said here? Alek is a stud. He’s America’s male sweetheart.
Julianne praised him as Lindsay’s equal but told him to work on his hands. Bruno said that their week one success was “not a fluke” and admired Alek’s ability to “combine power with grace” and “honesty.” Carrie Ann loved it and loves Alek. They posted the highest mark of the night to that moment, a 23.
After falling short during her week one battle-of-the-jives against hubby Carlos PenaVega, actress Alexa PenaVega hit the floor with Mark Ballas in search of redemption, salsa style. The ever-creative Mark dressed Alexa as a leopard in the jungle for their Ocala, Florida-inspired routine, and it was hot. That girl shook it like a salt shaker.
Bruno dubbed her “pantera Alexa” and called the dance “wild and wonderful.” Carrie Ann declared “you set this house on fire” and admitted that she’d been worried. Julianne called her “sexy, strong, and sassy” and praised Alexa and Mark’s connection just a week after she questioned it. Their romp in the jungle netted them 24 points.
With no ado, jockey Victor Espinoza and Karina Smirnoff kept the night moving along with a jive inspired by his humble beginnings in Mexico. The adorable jockey opened his “La Bamba” number with an encore performance by his bionic hips, but it kind of went downhill after there. He seemed to have trouble keeping up with the tempo, but he’s just so cute and intrinsically likable that it’s hard to care.
Carrie Ann wished she could score the happy jockey on “enthusiasm and cuteness” but pointed out that he went off time (and did a bunch of other things wrong). Julianne called it “fun and festive,” and Bruno declared “La Bamba’s gone bananas” and likened Victor to “a jumping bean.” The pair scored 17 points.
Singer Tamar Braxton, who hails from Severn, Maryland, was up next with a cha cha to “We Are Family.” Tamar and the ladies of the “DWTS” troupe opened the number in style before reigning pro champ Valentin Chmerkovskiy slid into the scene. Tamar has terrific stage presence and she knows how to put on a show, but the troupe felt like overkill. Just let the competitors dance already.
Julianne said Tamar was “in her element” during the cha cha, but told her to work on her legs a little more. Bruno called it “luminous” and “luscious” and appreciated how well she finished her movements. Carrie Ann, lastly, called her “something else” and said she’s “in a class of your own,” but didn’t really buy their connection while in hold. Tamar and Val tied Alexa and Mark for the high-water mark with 24 points.
With Tulsa (and who knows what else) on the brain, Oscar nominated actor and colorful commentor Gary Busey followed with a foxtrot alongside Anna Trebunskaya. The “Wouldn’t it be Nice” romp through Gary’s high school years was sweet. Not particularly technically sound, but definitely sweet. And Gary’s declaration that he loves “DWTS” and is “here to stay” made it even better.
Bruno praised Anna as “a miracle worker” for creating a dance that actually resembled a foxtrot. Carrie Ann praised him for not missing a step and then cackled in that special Carrie Ann way. Julianne loved how he exudes “the energy of a 12-year old boy” and gushed about his charm. Gary actually hooted with delight as the judges revealed his score: an 18.
With time waning and the season’s first elimination still to come, the evening’s penultimate couple, Big Time Rush star Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson, hit the ballroom with a foxtrot inspired by Columbia, Missouri. Set appropriately to Blake Shelton’s “Home.” It had a nice flow to it. He’s still a contender.
Carrie Ann praised Carlos for the entire effort and (not surprisingly) called him a mirror ball trophy contender. Julianne appreciated his “ease and natural ability” as well as his connection with Witney, but told him to keep his shoulder blades together. Bruno dubbed him “the Latin lover” and likened the dance to a “classic movie romance.” Carlos and Witney made it a three-way tie for the top spot on the leader board with a 24. But could it possibly stand with wildlife conservationist Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough, who scored a tie for first place during week one, up to dance last?
Irwin, 17, remembered her upbringing in Australia as she shared her love of AC/DC with an unsuspecting Derek. They went on to dance a powerful tango to “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Bindi is amazing. It’s gratifying to see a nice girl finish first. That’s it.
Julianne liked seeing her “fiery, feisty” side and said she loved the dance. Bruno called her a “rock chick” and said she’s “turning into Mad Max” but warned her against throwing away her frame. Carrie Ann shouted something unintelligible that was probably “you rocked our world.” Bindi and Derek earned the night’s best mark of 25 points –including the first nine, from Carrie Ann– to win week two.
With the competition complete, Tom and Erin Andrews revealed the identities of the endangered couples: Chaka and Keo, and Gary and Anna. With little ado (and with Gary trying to figure out what was going on), Chaka and Keo were booted from the competition. Chaka said she “absolutely enjoyed” being part of the cast, and that she felt she “did him a disservice” as a partner. From Lolo Jones to Charlotte McKinney to Chaka Khan, Keo’s track record isn’t good.
The evening may have ended, but the week is just beginning for the 12 remaining couples, who will perform yet again during another live show on Sept. 22. Who will fall victim to elimination next on “Dancing with the Stars” season 21? Tune in a 9 PM ET/PT Tuesday night and find out as the pro dancers celebrate their own hometowns.