Here are five words guaranteed to strike fear in the heart of any reality competition fan: “We’re doing a kids’ version!”
ABC on Sunday debuted Dancing With the Stars: Juniors, an offshoot of its long-running mothership series that features pint-sized celebrities (or the pint-sized sons and daughters of celebrities). But even though the word “junior” typically elicits groans when attached to any show title, the miniature version of DWTS served up even more energy and unbridled joy than the all-adults iteration — and that’s really saying something.
In the interest of not being a monster who harps on the weakest Juniors dancers — they’re just kids, sheesh! — let’s break down the four strongest performances from the premiere:
4. Mackenzie Ziegler and pro Sage Rosen (Foxtrot with mentor Gleb Savchenko) — It benefits Mackenzie, of course, that she’s one of the oldest contestants in this cast, which means she can handle more mature, complex choreography. Plus, the pop singer is trained in jazz and contemporary dancing, and her sister is dance prodigy/Sia’s BFF Maddie Ziegler, so Mackenzie has had some exposure to this world already. That certainly showed in Sunday’s foxtrot, which was exceedingly graceful and composed, despite the inclusion of more modern, not-actual-foxtrot choreography at times. Judges’ Score: 22/30
3. Miles Brown and pro Rylee Arnold (Salsa with mentor Lindsay Arnold) — Truth be told, I felt winded just watching this routine. Miles was all over the dance floor, delivering ultra-sharp hip swivels and well-executed tricks throughout this salsa. Every now and then, the black-ish star’s energy veered into too-many-Pixy-Stix territory, but I suspect that had a lot to do with Night 1 jitters. (Seriously, though: Can you imagine your 13-year-old self tackling ballroom dancing for the first time in front of millions of people? These kids deserve all the props in the world, as far as I’m concerned.) Judges’ Score: 22/30
2. Ariana Greenblatt and pro Artyon Celestine (Cha-Cha with mentor Brandon Armstrong) — Most of the Juniors contestants seemed understandably nervous and giddy on Sunday, which sometimes spilled over into their performances. (Case in point: MasterChef Junior champ Addison Osta Smith, who could be seen counting her steps aloud during her dance.) But Stuck in the Middle actress Ariana kept her composure during this cha-cha, delivering just the right amount of speed and sass when the choreography called for it. Also, that floor spin she and Artyon pulled off? Ah-mah-zing, as Happy Endings‘ Penny would say. Judges’ Score: 24/30
1. Mandla Morris and pro Brightyn Brems (Jive with mentor Cheryl Burke) — Why, yes, Mandla is the son of Stevie Wonder, in case you were wondering where he received his insane sense of rhythm and musicality. Mandla seemed a bit reserved in rehearsal, so I was worried that his jive would be a bit sluggish — and if there’s one dance style that really can’t drag, it’s the jive. But Mandla came to the dance floor with energy in spades, and he met Brightyn step for step in a content-heavy routine. Judges’ Score: 24/30
Also, an honorable mention goes to spelling bee wunderkind Akash Vukoti, who performed a heart-meltingly sincere foxtrot with pro Kamri Peterson. If his post-dance interview didn’t get you a little misty-eyed — “[Dance] just makes you happy and basically makes you have some of the best times of your life!” — I’d suggest seeing a medical professional about your cold, black heart.
But the world of televised reality competitions is a harsh one, even for the littlest dancers, which meant two couples were sent home at the end of Sunday’s premiere. Here’s how the results shook out:
Addison Osta Smith (MasterChef Junior winner) and pro Lev Cameron
Tripp Palin (grandson of Sarah Palin) and pro Hailey Bills
OK, your turn. What did you think of DWTS: Juniors‘ first outing? And do you think the right pairs were eliminated? Drop a comment below!