March 17, 2014 11:23pm PT by Natalie Stone
'Dancing With the Stars' Recap: Season 18 Kicks Off With a New Look
Dancing With the Stars kicked off season 18 with new contestants, a new co-host and a new band.
Sportscaster and season-10 finalist Erin Andrews debuted as co-host alongside DWTS veteran Tom Bergeron Monday evening, with new bandleader Ray Chew, who replaced Harold Wheeler and his live orchestra, with a smaller live-performance group.
Singer Jason Derulo opened the night, accompanied by the show's 12 pro dancers, with a live performance of his newest single, "Talk Dirty." First up on the dance floor: Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes, who kicked off the evening with partner Tony Dovolani dancing the cha-cha, earning a score of 21.
"I am so out of my zone up in here. The only dance experience I have is dancing at home and the club," Leakes said. Determining which is more intimidating, dancing in front of a live audience or fighting with her costars, Leakes told The Hollywood Reporter: "Oh, definitely dancing in front of a live audience. I can go up against those women."
Big Time Rush star James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd, friends prior to being paired up, danced the foxtrot and also earned a 21 from the judges. Child star Danica McKellar and Valentin Chmerkovskiy's foxtrot performance put them into a third place tie with 24 points, along with Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and Paralympic bronze medalist Amy Purdy and reigning champion Derek Hough.
"We'll definitely hit some snags for different dances that require a different sort of mobility, but then we're just going to figure it out and get creative with it," Hough said of dancing with his double amputee partner. "It's a challenge in the sense that I have to rethink certain things — that's all it is — but her ability and her timing and her rhythm are fantastic."
Former Los Angeles Kings player Sean Avery and U.S. National Champion ballroom dancer Karina Smirnoff earned 20 points for their contemporary performance, just below The Price Is Right host Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke's 21-point foxtrot.
Teen sensation and Australian singer Cody Simpson joined the stage with new DWTS pro dancer Witney Carson for the cha-cha, which earned 22 points. The lowest-scoring duo was Star Wars' Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater with 15 points, but the pair had the most memorable theatrics of the night, joined on stage by R2-D2 and two Storm Troopers.
Diana Nyad, known as the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida, paired with first-time DWTS pro Henry Byalikov, earned 18 points for their foxtrot. "My mom was a ballroom dancer. She's not with us anymore, but I tell you something, if she were alive, she would be thrilled by millions times more that I'm on this show than I swam from Cuba to Florida," Nyad told THR.
Full House alum Candace Cameron Bure and partner Mark Ballas took second place with 25 points for their contemporary dance to a cover of Ellie Goulding's "Burn."
Olympic ice-dance gold medalist Charlie White competed against his longtime ice-dancing partner Davis, topping the competition with the highest score of the night, 27 points, with Sharna Burgess.
Though many assumed White's ice dancing skills were an advantage, Burgess negated those claims. "Charlie pretty much has to forget everything that he's learned from the ribcage down. It's definitely been a challenge for Charlie to take on some [ballroom] techniques, but he's definitely applying himself."
Beginning next week, a live elimination will take place during the two-hour telecast.
Dancing With the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.