Will the youngest competitor ever on Dancing with the Stars end up being the best?
The show returned for season 16 Monday night, and there were some thrilling surprises, relieved celebrations and disappointing scores handed out during the two-hour premiere.
Keep reading for a full report. Spoilers ahead!
Sixteen-year-old actress Zendaya of Disney Channel’s Shake It Up proved herself in the ballroom with a stunning contemporary dance that had her leaping off the judges’ table and into their hearts. She and partner Val Chmerkovskiy earned the night’s biggest score of 24 points to kick off the season.
“Amazing!” said judge Carrie Ann Inaba. “You are a fantastic dancer with a maturity that is unexpected out of a 16-year-old.”
At the other end of the spectrum was comic D.L. Hughley, who prepared by smoking a quick cigar, then proceeded to choke on the dance floor.
He received just 12 points and withering criticism from the judges, including Bruno Tonioli, who said: “You terminated the cha cha cha.”
“I have some bad news,” added Inaba. “You’ve got to go back to work and practice a little harder for next week.”
Hughley, a standup comic, snapped back: “That’s the equivalent of bullying a second grader.”
The emotional highlight was a poignant winter-themed contemporary dance by Dorothy Hamill, the 1976 Olympic skating gold medalist who underwent surgery for breast cancer five years ago.
“That dance should be designated as an area of outstanding beauty,” said Len Goodman, who along with the other two judges awarded her 21 points.
The biggest surprise was comic Andy Dick. Long troubled by drug and alcohol abuse and a spate of bad publicity, Dick donned a top hat and tails for a foxtrot that managed to be charming, sophisticated and silly all at the same time. He received 17 points.
“I really enjoyed it in a crazy way,” said Tonioli.
Country singer Wynonna Judd made up with attitude what she lacked in daring during a gospel cha cha that brought cheers from her mom Naomi and sister Ashley in the audience, along with her husband Cactus Moser, who lost a leg seven months ago in a motorcycle accident.
“You can give it a little more, just give it more,” said Inaba. “You got it, honey, it’s there.”
In other dances:
• Kellie Pickler kicked off the show with a smooth foxtrot that earned 16 points and showed great promise. “You’ve got sass and you’ve got class,” said Inaba.
• Real Housewife Lisa Vanderpump brought her amazingly calm dog Giggy into the ballroom – host Tom Bergeron joked the dog looked “hammered” – then performed a respectable 18-point foxtrot.
• The Bachelor‘s Sean Lowe impressed with a promising foxtrot that garnered 19 points.
• Soap star Ingo Rademacher soared with a 20-point contemporary dance that Tonioli called “very raw.”
• Boxer Victor Ortiz’s stiff foxtrot got him 18 points and praise for showing his boyish charm.
• Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman showed off her sexy side in a dangerously low-cut costume that had Tonioli joking, “You’re ready to burst out big time.” She got 21 points for her cha cha.
• Football star Jacoby Jones electrified the audience with a groovin’ cha cha that got 20 points but left Goodman cold. “It was all icing and no cake,” he grumbled.
Dancing returns next week with more performances on Monday, followed by the season’s first elimination on Tuesday.