Dancing With the Stars Returns: Who Are the Surprise Standouts (and Who Sucked)?!

Season 12 of ABC's hit show premieres and it's looking like a good one

By Natalie Finn Mar 22, 2011 2:20 AMTags

Dancing With the Stars is back and...dare we say it...better than it's been in a long time.

While the cast announcement was the usual head-scratcher, this crop of whodathunkits really brought it Monday for the ABC hit's 12th-season premiere.

So who's already in the running to be the next Fred and Ginger?

Well, Ralph Macchio, as we live and breathe!

The Karate Kid would have been a much bigger hit at the country club if he had been this dashing back in 1984. The baby-faced actor who, at 49, moaned and groaned about his physical capabilities during the rehearsal video, performed the hell out of his debut fox-trot and topped the entire field with a 24!

This could be Karina Smirnoff's year...

And this classic-movie alum was joined in the "wow!" light by none other than Kirstie Alley, who, to be frank, is sizzling at 60. She showed partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy a thing or two about strutting one's stuff out there and, to be even franker, she hasn't been this enjoying to watch since Cheers.

Bruno Tonioli called her show-closing dance the best cha-cha of the night, and fellow judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Len Goodman crowned her queen to Ralph's king with a second-place 23.

Heading on down the leaderboard...

Pittsburgh Steelers standout Hines Ward is already cha-cha-ing in the footsteps of the other football greats who have danced before him, proving himself a force to be reckoned with alongside Kym Johnson. He needs polish and Len told him to work on tucking in his bum, but he should go far. (Not to mention, with the looming NFL lockout, this may be the last chance we have to see him on national TV for awhile...)

Speaking of brimming with potential, E! star Kendra Wilkinson-Baskett didn't just heat up the house (we knew she was going to do that), she rocked it, too. Her movements need refinement, but all the goods are there—the coordination, the hip action, the flexibility, the bod, the personality and the drive.

Like a wild pony with a flowing mane, she just needs to be reined in a bit.

As Tom Bergeron pointed out, Romeo did way more dancing in 60 seconds than his pop, Master P, did in three weeks during Dancing WIth the Stars' second season, when he stepped in at the last minute to replace his injured son.

Well, better 10 seasons late than never. The rapper-actor certainly has the energy and cockiness to succeed, and the musicality and rhythm are there. He just needs to work on his footwork, posture, hold...you know, the dancing part.

Two-time champ Mark Ballas looked visibly pleased to no longer be sharing the eye of the Bristol Palin storm, this season partnering with no-drama Jonas L.A. star Chelsea Kane.

Based on their debut fox-trot, the musical theater vet has a promising future on this show—she's adorable, has a great body and probably could have handled tougher ballroom choreography right off the bat if Mark had chosen to go there.

And while she might not ultimately win, supermodel and 2004 tsunami survivor Petra Nemcova is far too beautiful, coordinated and, most importantly, likable to be voted off anytime soon. She exudes way more warmth than most of the models who have done Dancing in the past.

Wendy Williams looked like exactly what she is: a celeb who came on this show to test herself, prove a few things and have a ball doing it. Except for that last part. The buxom talk show host teared up during rehearsals and came out scared and stiff, despite, as Len put it, "her dumplings boiling over." (And you thought the focus would be on Kendra's ample chest.)

"You need to unleash the beast!" Carrie Ann advised her.

On the other hand, wrestler Chris Jericho looked like he was having a freakin' ball. Despite the brawn, he was also surprisingly light on his feet, and surely Cheryl Burke will get his hips moving eventually.

Sugar Ray Leonard, the young elder statesman of the competition at 54, wasn't perfect, but he was so dashing. He looked way more comfortable during the interludes in his fox-trot than he did dancing in hold, but he was a pleasure to watch throughout.

Let's just say, we didn't think, as Len said, that Sugar Ray's fox-trot was "beer and a pizza" compared to "wine and caviar."

As for the competition wild card, Love Line cohost "Psycho" Mike Catherwood is more than a hot Adam Carolla. He has a long way to go, but we hope those who haven't heard his name before don't discount him just yet. The radio personality used to take a lot of guff on the KROQ-FM morning show for being such a gym rat, but...

No complaints here.

"Thirteen is not high, but it's better than my father, Master P," Mike quipped after getting the night's (but not history's) lowest score.

The judges were in agreement for the most part, with Carrie Ann throwing an extra sexy point a (male) contestant's way every once in a while.

Here's how the leaderboard stacked up:

Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff: 24
Kirstie Alley & Maks Chmerkovskiy: 23
Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas: 21
Hines Ward & Kym Johnson: 21
Chris Jericho & Cheryl Burke: 19
Romeo & Chelsie Hightower: 19
Kendra Wilkinson-Baskett & Louis van Amstel: 18
Petra Nemcova & Dmitry Chaplin: 18
Sugar Ray Leonard & Anna Trebunskaya: 17
Wendy Williams & Tony Dovolani: 14
Mike Catherwood & Lacey Schwimmer: 13

Verdict? Best Dancing With the Stars season premiere we've seen in a long time! No one gets voted off until next Tuesday, so all 11 will be back to perform again on Monday.