'Dancing With the Stars': Leah Remini Brings Backup, Amber Riley Wows, Snooki Surprises

The 17th season kicks off with a teary Jennifer Lopez rooting for a pal, low scores for Bill Nye and an early favorite in the "Glee" alum.
ABC/Craig Sjodin
Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani

Dancing With the Stars kicked off its 17th season Monday night, lavishing one couple with one of the biggest premiere scores ever in the process.

Glee vet Amber Riley and partner Derek Hough pulled a cumulative 27 with their cha-cha, easily positioning themselves as favorites for the season and besting last-place Bill Nye the Science Guy by a margin of 13 points -- almost the sum of his scores.

PHOTOS: The Cast of Dancing With the Stars Season 17

Some of the night's bigger moments went to those in the middle of the pack, though. Leah Remini, making her DWTS debut her post-Scientology-split publicity tour, pulled a respectable 21 with partner Tony Dovolani. The actress announced her goals as "losing weight" and "not looking silly." And though she remained stoic throughout her critique, pal Jennifer Lopez was caught in the front row, wiping away a foxtrot-induced tear.

Sharing Remini's 21 was Valerie Harper. The 74-year-old Mary Tyler Moore Show actress, this season's oldest competitor by about two decades, talked candidly about her terminal cancer diagnoses from earlier in the year before a somewhat labored foxtrot. The judges were forgiving. "How can you criticize a national treasure?" asked Bruno Tonioli.

Apparently, you cannot.

Comedian Bill Engvall and retired wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson joined Nye at the bottom of the leader board. Their stiff renditions earned 18 and 17, respectively, from the judges.

In the middle of the pack, but perhaps one of the bigger surprises of the night, was Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. The Jersey Shore star did not follow in the shoes of her uncoordinated co-star Mike Sorrentino, who tanked on the show back in 2010. Scoring a 23 with partner Sasha Farber for her cha-cha, Polizzi even prompted some arguing among the judges when Tonioli did not grant her the same high scores handed out by Len Goodman and Carrie Ann Inaba.

This season's big changes go into effect next week, when the new once-a-week format will see one couple sent packing during the two-hour performance show.

See the current week-one rankings below:

Amber Riley and Derek Hough (27)
Elizabeth Berkley and Valentin Chmerkovskiy (24)|
Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff (24)
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and Sasha Farber (23)
Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke (23)
Christina Milian and Mark Ballas (22)
Brant Daugherty and Peta Murgatroyd (22)
Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani (21)
Valerie Harper and Tristan MacManus (21)
Keyshawn Johnson and Sharna Burgess (17)
Bill Engvall and Emma Slater (18)
Bill Nye and Tyne Stecklein (14)