Round two of the seventh-season premiere of "Dancing with the Stars" started off on the right foot Tuesday night, as most of the ballroom babies were given a second shot to show the judges what they can do. With the first-night jitters out of the way, some stars shined, some fell behind and one kissed his dancing shoes goodbye.
The first cut wasn’t exactly the deepest; it was just the most obvious. The judges had their say Monday night, when they gave comedian Jeffrey Ross the lowest scores seen on the show since the days of Master P and Tucker Carlson. Viewers, evidently, were in complete agreement.
The roastmaster’s pre-performance eye injury failed to muster up enough sympathy votes to keep him around, and frankly, that’s a good thing. A scratched cornea doesn’t account for a lack of rhythm and a fumble-footed cha-cha-cha.
No one seemed surprised by the elimination, least of all Jeffrey himself, who admitted he’s more of a “ha-ha-ha than a cha-cha-cha.” Really, he’d have to be.
From bad to best
The leaderboard saw some shifts after the remaining celebrities took the floor for their second-chance dances, but the top scorer remained the same. After receiving more than her fair share of praise Monday night, Brooke Burke proved she could earn those accolades after all.
“Sen-sa-tion-al!” Bruno Tonioli exclaimed after Brooke and partner Derek Hough wrapped up a high-energy and unexpectedly graceful quickstep. And if the 23 points Brooke landed after her debut dance night seemed over-the-top, she owned the 26-point follow up.
It seems like every season some stars start the show with backstory aimed at tugging at the audience’s heartstrings (Ow! My cornea!), but Toni Braxton’s efforts to regain her confidence in the face of heart disease (microvascular angina) is a real inspiration.
In rehearsals, the R&B singer appeared cautious and winded, but once she hit the floor, Toni was all grace and precision. With the help of partner Alec Mazo, she ended the routine with a 23 out of 30, one point up on her previous effort.
The take-two opportunity paid off for Maurice Green, who proved his faulty foxtrot might have been a fluke. The Olympic sprinter gained three points on his last dance, matching Cheryl Burke mambo move for mambo move in an upbeat routine that incorporated hip-hop elements — a modern take that impressed the audience, but left Len Goodman grumbling.
“Why did you do the ‘Free Willy’ step?” the head judge asked, referring to a move known to most as the worm. “I don’t want all that nonsense.”
Len and the gang liked what they saw from Warren Sapp. In a quickstep that didn’t come to him as naturally as his cha-cha, the retired defensive lineman proved he’s packing 300 pounds of agility. And as Carrie Ann Inaba pointed out, he didn’t miss a step.
Warren’s posture and technique still needs improvement, but Kym Johnson deserves kudos for choreographing a fun routine that played to the big man's strengths. So far that seems to include a surprising knack for musicality and a plus-sized personality, both of which played a part in earning him a score of 22 for the night.
What were they thinking?
The dancers aren’t the only ones who need to polish their technique. The judges made some iffy maneuvers of their own when it came time to raise their paddles. For Cody Linley, that worked in his favor, as he somehow raked in 23 points for a quickstep that couldn’t have been worth five more than his cha-cha. Maybe the panel just fell for the fact that it’s hard for anyone to look bad bouncing alongside Julianne Hough.
It was another generous review for Rocco DiSpirito. A lackluster, not-so-hip shaking mambo, had Len pouring on the praise. Rocco may have what it takes in the kitchen, but if the celebrity chef doesn’t spice it up on the dance floor, he won’t be dancing with the B through D-listers long, no matter how many 21s he gets.
Not all the dancers benefited from the panel’s wacky paddles. Lance Bass quickstepped his way around the stage with ease alongside pro partner Lacey Schwimmer. Sure, the former ‘N Sync’er has room for improvement, but the performance at least measured up to his previous effort. Well, by any measure other than the actual scores, which had him down a point with a six, seven and an eight. The officials couldn’t even agree with each other that time.
Another strong competitor who couldn’t break out of the 21 rut was Misty May-Treanor. She and Maksim Chmerkovskiy wowed the crowed with their mambo moves, but the effort didn’t pay off in the numbers.
“That was much better than last night,” Carrie Ann raved. An odd review, considering she then handed the volleyball champ the same score as she had the night before.
A mixed bag
When they were at top form, the judges recognized the most improved hoofer in the game. Susan Lucci gained seven points from her 15-worthy Monday night dance debacle with a quickstep that showed where her talent really lies. As Len predicted, she’s made for the sweeping moves and elegance lines that ballroom has to offer.
As for Ted McGinley, he may not be the mambo king, but with his nerves in check, and loads of help from Inna Brayer, he at least looked more confident on the dance floor. The looser shoulders and better footwork couldn’t distract the judges from Ted’s overall awkwardness, but a 19 was an advance for the man’s man.
Some stars made headway in the dancing redo, and others brought more of the same. In the case of Cloris Leachman, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The mambo wasn’t made for her. Not even close. But who else could say they predated their dance?
For sheer gutsy humor and hammy fun, a 16-point finish was all the living legend needed. Besides, no one’s voting her off yet. Her shtick could wear thin on some ballroom purists, but for now, she provides much needed comedy relief.
While Kim Kardashian finished two points ahead of her 82-year-old competition, she failed to use her well-publicized backside in the mambo, where the rear view counts. Mark Ballas tried to draw the attention from the “Keeping up with the Kardashians” star with his own mad moves, but he’s not working with Sabrina Bryan or Kristi Yamaguchi this time, and it shows.
Another one bites the ballroom dust Wednesday night. Who will it be? It’s hard to say this time. While Kim would make a worthy elimination, chances are her reality TV fan base will keep her in the game a little longer. At this point it’s still a popularity contest, so, sorry, Cody.
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to msnbc.com