"Dancing with the Stars" -- Season 31 Has Officially Begun

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: "Dancing with the Stars" -- Season 31 Has Officially Begun

Season 31 of Dancing with the Stars got off to a great start last night on its new home at Disney+ (the streamer's first live telecast, and the first time DWTS has ever been telecast commercial free), with a location-packed opening number by the season's pro dancers. It was made clear during the premiere that more than the show's platform has changed: For example, one of the 16 competing couples was eliminated on the first night (something the show hasn't done in years), and there was bad news for another. (We'll get to that later.) Another major change was that the show was simultaneously streamed live on both the East and West coasts so that voting (for the first time in the show's history) could be tabulated without delay. The studio audience was also back for the first time since the pandemic started.

A few couples came out of the gate as frontrunners, effortlessly navigating the ballroom with grace and ease. They include singer (and American Idol season six winner) Jordan Sparks, actor Daniel Durant (who despite being deaf, danced like a pro), entertainer Wayne Brady (is there nothing this man can't do?), drag superstar Shangela (who came to win), Bachelorette Gabby Windey (who effortlessly delivered a complex Jive with partner Val Chmerkovskiy, pictured at top), fitness model and actor Joseph Baena, actor Selma Blair (whose Viennese Waltz had the ballroom in tears), and TikTok star Charli D'Amelio, who also came to win, earning the highest score of the night with 32/40 for her Cha Cha.

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"It feels so amazing," D'Amelio mused after the show about landing in the top spot. "I have the best partner that I could have asked for in Mark (Ballas, who has returned this season after several years away). I'm really proud of what we did today, and I'm excited for next week. It's a new style every week, so we're starting from scratch again. But it's going to be fun, and I'm excited."

Jordin Sparks and Brandon Armstrong kicked off the night with their Cha Cha, scoring an impressive 26/40 for their effort. "I loved it," Sparks said of opening the show. "Give me the pressure. I thrive under pressure. When they said, "You're going first," I was like, bring it on. I thrive in a live performance environment, with an audience, the lights, the cameras, the outfit, the makeup … The switch just goes on!"

"She did the best she's ever done on camera tonight," beamed Val Chmerkovskiy of his partner, Bachelorette Gabby Windey, who scored 28/40 for their impressive Jive. "It's really nerve-wracking out there, and people react in different ways. As challenging as it was live, she stepped up to the occasion, and if we could build from that, I think we're in a great place."

The fact that Shangela, alongside her partner Gleb Savchenko, made history tonight as the show's first drag contestant (scoring 28/40 for their Salsa) was not lost when hitting the ballroom floor. "In the rehearsals, I could see this moment coming in my head," she enthused post-show. "But I never could have imagined that it would be as awesome as it was. When the crowd started chanting and screaming for us, it was everything and more. I just wanted to deliver a moment that people could cheer about tonight, and that's what we did!"

Some of the contestants who displayed room for improvement included former Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd, who at 71 is the season's most mature participant. Still, she did manage to Cha Cha her way to a respectable 21/40. The actor was praised for her swagger and elegance but was urged by the judges to find her "inner devil." After the show, Ladd explained that while she is always the angel, we will get to see the devil inside. "Watch next week as it's in there somewhere," she laughed. "I've already seen it," added her partner Louis van Amstel, "and it's fierce!"

Spoiler alert!

The judges' scores saw Sex and the City co-star Jason Lewis and Real Housewife Teresa Giudice at the bottom of the opening night leaderboard. Giudice received the judges' save, and Lewis was sent home. However, he's not retiring from the dancefloor for good. "This is an incredible group of people," he shared after the show. "I've been very grateful to be a part of this, and I am absolutely going to keep dancing. My fiance and I've been talking about that; this was a fear space that I was apprehensive about so, yeah, why not keep going from here and let it bloom into something better?"

Next week the remaining 15 couples will face off in a special Elvis Presley-themed episode.

Dancing with the Stars is telecast live Mondays at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Disney+.

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