Atlanta’s NeNe Leakes was the first to dance Monday night, winning praise from the judges for her energy and personality, as Season 18 of ABC’s ballroom reality competition “Dancing With The Stars” began.
"The Real Housewives of Atlanta” series star took to the ballroom floor with professional partner Tony Dovolani for the DWTS season debut Monday night on ABC. Other celebrity contestants include 2014 Olympic gold medal skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and comic and “The Price is Right” host Drew Carey.
Leakes’ intro package was up first, giving viewers a look at who she is and how she got acquainted with Dovolani, who appears shorter than Leakes, especially in the requisite high heels.
“I just want to get it right, I just want him to be happy with me,” said a determined Leakes during rehearsal.
Before the broadcast began, she tweeted: “It's time 2 shake what my mamma gave me. Feet don't fail me now.”
Her score of 21 points out of a possible 30 put her in the middle of the pack. Leaders were 2014 gold medal ice-dancer Charlie White with a 27; former child actor and "Full House" star Candace Cameron Bure with a somewhat surprising 25 out of 30; followed by White's skating partner Meryl Davis, former "Wonder Years" child star Danica McKellar and paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy, all with scores of 24.
Leakes and Dolovani were the first pairing to dance, doing the cha-cha-cha. Leakes was decked out in a white, mid-thigh dress complete with fringe and matching fringe on her shoes.
The judges gave her mostly positive remarks, since it’s early going.
Head Judge Len Goodman said, “That’s the way to get the party started. It was like an all-you-can-eat buffet of fun and entertainment. Great start, well done.”
He gave them a 7 out of 10.
Next, Judge Bruno Tonioli said, “I feel you have so much to give. There is plenty more to come there. I love your energy.”
The bouncy Italian judge also gave the duo a 7.
Finally, Judge Carrie Ann Inaba said, “You have this incredibly larger than life personality and it shows. You are a big large sensuous voluptuous woman…” she cautioned, worried that Leakes not overshadow the shorter Dolovani.
Inaba also gave them a 7, for a total of 21 points out of 30 possible.
Leakes teared up during the praise from the judging panel.
Host Erin Andrews asked Leakes why she was emotional, when she’s used to a tough give and take on “The Real Housewives.”
“Me and Tony worked so hard, I just want to make Tony proud,” Leakes said.
Leakes has branched out into acting on shows like "Glee," “The Game” and “The New Normal.” She is also the author of “Never Make the Same Mistake Twice,” discussing her fractured childhood, abusive relationship and struggles with being a single mother.
Other celebrity contestants include:
· Former professional hockey player Sean Avery
· Actress and former “Full House” star Candace Cameron Bure
· Heartthrob singer with Big Time Rush James Maslow
· Author and former child star of “The Wonder Years” Danica McKellar
· Endurance swimming legend Diana Nyad
· Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy
· Teen singer Cody Simpson
· “Star Wars” actor Billy Dee Williams
Tune in to “Dancing With the Stars” Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET onWSB Channel 2 to find out which couple is the first to get the boot.
How to Vote for NeNe
In a tweak to the show’s format, a twist called “The Switch Up” has been added. This lets viewers vote to change the pairings of celebrities and professional dancers, says ABC.
Viewers may cast their votes for their favorite teams via phone on Monday nights during and up to 60 minutes after the end of the “Dancing with the Stars” broadcast in each time zone. Online voting at www.ABC.com and on Facebook athttps://apps.facebook.com/votedwts/ is open for 24 hours, beginning from the start of each episode on the East Coast at 8 p.m., ET.
Earlier DWTS coverage on Patch: