You know, ever since Skating With Celebrities ended on Fox a few years back, I’ve felt a little empty inside. Sure, I can get my jollies watching celebrities embarrass themselves on a multitude of reality shows and in red carpet interviews, but there’s something extra special about watching them careen around on ice skates pretending to be Peggy Fleming. Thank God the dry spell is over. ABC has answered the call with Skating With the Stars. It’s like Dancing With the Stars only even more humiliating. It’s like a train wreck with a sweet, caramel filling. <--because caramel makes everything better.
This show will pair six “stars” with six figure skating professionals in a five week competition. Okay, I know some of the skaters haven't actually turned pro, but I'm not going to call them "skating amateurs." Just go with me on the whole "pros" thing. Each week, the pairs will perform a new routine, with new required elements, and will receive scores for technical and artistic merit from a panel of three judges. We’ll get to the judges in a bit.
Mere seconds after the end of Dancing With the Stars, we meet our host, Vernon Kay. You may recognize Vernon from his stint hosting Hit Me, Baby, One More Time a few years back. Mainly though, he’s a British TV personality, so you probably have no idea who he is and that’s not really important. What is important is that he will bring much-needed eye candy to the show. I mean, Jonny Mosely is about it for beefcake on this show. I’m not going to be drooling over Dick Button here and Vince Neil is a bit past his expiration date, so Vernon, it is.
Vernon starts out his hosting duties on the set of DWTS and he guides us through the backstage area to the Skating studio, located conveniently next door. ABC has spared no expense in building a 3,200 square foot ice rink…..a round 3,200 square foot ice rink. Not oval: round. This could get interesting.
Before the show has even started, we get our first clip package. This one features our stars falling down and showing their general lack of coordination. This is probably so that we see how much worse they were five weeks ago when they still look like giraffes on figure skates later in the show.
Before we are introduced to the six pairs who will be competing for the cheap, glittery trophy (you know there has to be a cheap, glittery trophy), the six pros perform a number to show us that they can actually skate. Later, when they have to skate with their celebrity partners, we can think back on this routine and remember what real skating should look like. In case anyone was wondering, they seem to have brought the screaming DWTS audience over to this studio. I am unthrilled.
In addition to being round, the performance ice also has a ramp that runs around a group of audience members, sort of like a luge track. Apparently, Jonny Mosely wiped out there during rehearsals, so stay tuned for more carnage. To me, the ramp feels a bit “Starlight Express”-y, but it could be fun
Who ARE All These People?
Now it’s time to meet our pairs. Each duo skates down the Ramp of Death, performs a little trick and then takes their place on the ice. It’s just like DWTS, really, except with ice. If the formula works, why change it?
This seems as good a time as any to introduce our
future emergency room patients“stars.”
How you know her: Rebecca has played Greenlee on All My Children off and on for years. She was also married to Bachelor Bob Guiney until recently.
Train wreck factor: Pretty low. Rebecca looks pretty coordinated. She’s also very pretty and has a great figure, for those of you watching the show to see cute girls in tiny costumes.
How you know her: She was the non-housewife on The Real Housewives of New York. She’s also written a book and had her own reality show.
How I know her: the commercials for her various shows on Bravo, since I’ve never watched any of them.
Train wreck factor: It’s a 50/50 chance here. She could prove to be totally spastic on skates. Still, she’s got a rockin’ bod, especially for someone with a 6 month old baby, so at least she’ll look good flopping around on the ice.
How you know him: Jonny won the Olympic gold medal for moguls skiing in the 1998 Olympics.
Trainwreck factor: It’s even money here, too. Jonny's skiing background could work for him or against him, it’s too early to tell. The fact that he’s an athlete means he’ll work his tail off, so look for him to improve.
How you know him: Vince is the lead singer of Motley Crue. I’m sure he’s been to rehab multiple times and slept with more women than Tiger Woods.
Train wreck factor: Too soon to tell. Vince figure skated as a kid, so he might still have some skills.
Brandon Mychal Smith
How you know him: Brandon stars on the Disney Channel show Sonny With a Chance.
How I know him: Google, just now.
Train wreck factor: Very low. With a background in roller skating, Brandon looks pretty solid on ice skates.
How you know her: Back in the 80’s Sean starred in movies like Bladerunner and No Way Out. She also is about eight shades of crazy.
Train wreck factor: Even if Sean skates like Michelle Kwan, she’s still a train wreck, so it’s a win-win for me.
Since we’re going Mousketeer Roll Call here, let’s meet our judges as well.
How you know him: Johnny is figure skating’s “bad boy.” Only in figure skating can a bad boy wear full makeup and feathers.
Skating cred: Johnny has won three U.S. Championships, skated in two Olympic games and medaled in the World Championships.
Johnny tells us he’ll be looking for a connection between the pairs.
Laurie Ann Gibson
How you know her: You probably don’t. She’s a dance choreographer who you may have seen on So You Think You Can Dance.
Skating cred: None.
Laurie Ann claims she brings and expert opinion on choreography since skating is just like dance. Uh-huh.
How you know him: Dick has been commentating figure skating since skate blades were made out of dinosaur bones.
Skating cred: Tons. Dick won two Olympic gold medals (1948 and 1952) and 5 World Championships (1948-52)
Dick says he’s looking for musical interpretation, posture, position, technique, flow and uniqueness. He then tells us that a great skater leaves the sport better for having been a part of it. I’m thinking that definition is a bit lofty in this situation, Dick.
Ice dancer Tanith Belbin will serve as the color commentator on the show, which basically means that she’ll look at replays of various parts of the routines and make supportive comments….kind of like your mother, only hotter. Tanith explains that, each week, the pairs will have to complete certain required elements in their routine. This week, they must perform a one-foot assisted glide and a spin, either 2- or 1-footed. The spin can also be a side-by-side spin or a pair spin.
Whew! That’s a helluva lot of introduction there! Let’s get to the skating!
Brandon Mychal Smith
Brandon’s partner, Keauna McLaughlin won the US National Championship in pairs in 2008 and 2009 with Bethenny Frankel’s partner, Ethan Burgess. She is a dead ringer for DWTS pro Cheryl Burke. It’s un-nerving, really.
Brandon tells us that he’s feeling confident. He thinks his roller skating experience means he’s got this locked up. Unfortunately for Keauna, Brandon is all play in practice – she can’t get him to settle down and get serious. Apparently, he was right about the roller skating. His spins are already pretty good.
Brandon and Keauna skate to "American Boy" and he looks pretty confident on the ice. He even does a little lift with Keauna on his knee. They get through the spin and the one-footed glide with no problems. It’s more dancing on figure skates, but he’s a charmer and he stays on his skates.
Dick Button: Very impressive start. Dick comments on Brandon’s “spiffy personality” and says that, while Brandon looked comfortable most of the time, she should work on flow and movement. For next week, Brandon should work on his spiral more, but he’s off to a very good start.
Laurie Ann calls the routine magical and fantastical. I call her nonsensical. She can’t believe Brandon has only been skating for 5 weeks. And already I can’t stand her.
Johnny Weir notes that Brandon needs to work more on his focus and compliments Keauna for reeling him in a bit. There were balance checks in some spots, but it was a really good first effort.
Tanith Belbin shows several moments from the routine and says supportive things. Really, even though I like her, it’s kind of worthless.
Dick Button: 6/7
Laurie Ann Gibson: 5/7
Johnny Weir: 5/6
Brandon says he had a great time and really felt the energy from the crowd.
Sean’s partner is Denis Petukhov, was an ice dancer in Russia, who then came to America to skate with partner Melissa Gregory after his partner in Russia quit the sport. Together with Melissa, he has won US Championship medals and competed in the Olympics. Sean thinks her chances in this competition are excellent and claims she edges out the others with her talent, looks and toughness. Cue the practice footage of Sean wearing crazy hats and screaming at herself. Sean seems to be channeling Norma Desmond….only crazy. We learn that Sean’s been skating with a chair in practice in order to stay on her feet. They probably told us that so we’d think her routine was pretty good ‘cause, you know, at least she’s not skating with a chair.
Sean and Denis skate to “Bubble” by Colbie Caillait and the routine consists mainly of Sean being pushed and pulled around the ice. She does complete the one-leg slide and a pairs spin.
Johnny Weir, who you just know idolizes crazy Sean, calls her elegant and says she’s (and I’m not kidding) channeling bunnies frolicking across a beautiful meadow. He thinks the music selection and choreography were perfect for her and advises her to work on the sturdiness of her movement.
Laurie Ann says it’s magical to be in Sean’s presence. Forget Laurie Ann being this show’s Carrie Ann: she’s this shows Paula Abdul. Laurie Ann calls the routine dreamy and elegant and then calls Denis a gentleman for the way he carried Sean around the ice. She probably didn’t realize how funny that is.
Dick Button claims to have fallen in love with Sean a long time ago. He then cleverly (ha) works the names of several of Sean’s movies into his critique, including a little gem about how in a competition, you get into it and there’s no way out. Har. Dick tells Sean that her extension is exquisite, but urges her to be less tentative. “Take off your girdle and let her fly” he crows. That’s one piece of advice I hope she doesn’t take. This is a family show, Dick.
Tanith points out a “Shoot the Duck” move and cartwheel lift that took a lot of strength to execute…moreso on Denis’s part than on Sean’s, no doubt.
Laurie Ann: 6/7
Johnny : 5/5
Total score: 34/60
Sean’s sons are in audience. She says she hopes she’s done them proud and admits she has a new-found respect for their skateboarding.
Jonny’s partner, Brooke Castile, is a former pairs skater who, along with partner Ben Okolski, won a U.S. National Championship in 2007. Brooke is clearly pretty smitten with Jonny from the get go, although Jonny says his first time on the ice was pretty awkward. This is probably more a comment on his skating skills than his partner, since she’s pretty adorable. Brooke tells us she couldn’t have asked for a
hotterbetter partner; Olympic athletes know about having a good work ethic. Unfortunately, Brooke says, everything that helped Jonny in skiing hurts him in skating and his biggest problem is spinning.
Skating to “Higher Ground” (more the Red Hot Chili Peppers version that he Stevie Wonder version). Jonny and Brooke’s routine is high energy from the start. Jonny does okay with the dance moves and looks pretty solid on his skates. They are the first couple to use the Luge Track of Death around the back of the stage and, this time, Jonny doesn’t fall the way he did in rehearsal. Cue generic statements from Tanith. Okay, I like her, but this commentary is useless.
Laurie Ann says they took her breath away and calls the routine dynamic and amazing. She tells Jonny to work on his dancing and rhythm for next week.
Dick notes that Jonny is known for having the best knees in skiing. He wants to see how Jonny transfers his skiing technique to the edging technique of skating. For next week, Dick urges Jonny to work on his posture.
Johnny says he loves the way Jonny terrorized the ice. He meant it in a good way.
Tanith points out pairs spin and says something positive.
Laurie Ann: 7/6
Host Vernon asks if there are any disciplines in skiing that translate to skating and Jonny admits he thought there would be more. He knows how to crash, but the balance is more precise on the ice. Vernon then makes some vaguely flirty remark about how great Jonny looks in leather.
"And now for something you'll really like!"
In what is the highlight of the evening for me - including DWTS - Johnny Weir performs his "Pokerface" routine. Love him. Love this song. Love this routine.
Rebecca is partnered with pairs skater Fred Palascak, who has competed at U.S. Nationals and at the U.S. Olympic Festival. Rebecca can actually skate a bit, much to Fred’s surprise. Rebecca admits that she’s been obsessed with skating since she was a kid and says she and her sister used to play “pairs skating” when they were little. Rebecca is so eager in practice that Fred realized he’s going to have to hold her back a bit. She struggles with cross overs, a basic element of skating, but she’s trying hard. As a reward at the end of their first practice, Fred spins Rebecca around in an airplane spin. Her sister is going to be so jealous, she squeals.
Rebecca and Fred skate to “Closer.” She has lovely lines and, hallelujah, she points her feet! The one foot glide is very good, as is their partner spin. So far, this seems to be the most technically difficult routine. Her acting background is definitely helping with the performance aspect of the competition.
As an aside to ABC soap fans, there’s Ian Buchanan and Finola Hughes in the audience cheering Rebecca on.
Dick compliments Rebecca on her very elegant positions, beautiful posture and pointed feet. He urges her to be less tentative next week and to work on her edges and stroking.
Johnny purrs that the routine was so hot he almost sweated out his weave. Rebecca looked like a real skater and it looked like a real partnership. She has great extension.
Laurie Ann likens Rebecca to a beautiful ballerina, with her pointed toes and effortless arms.
Tanith comments on some of the lifts in the routine.
Laurie Ann: 7/8
Rebecca says that, although she competed in skating competition at age 7, she doesn’t remember it. She admits this whole thing is a surreal experience.
Oddly enough, Vince actually competed as a figure skater when he was a kid. There’s even photographic proof in the form of a picture of Vince standing atop a podium, knee deep in his awkward phase. Sadly for Vince’s partner, Jennifer Wester, none of that skating experience seems to have stuck around. Jennifer is an ice dancer who competes with her partner, Daniil Barantsev. Vince admits that skating is a lot harder than he remembers it. Jennifer says that Vince’s biggest challenge is his balance, although he’s not learning the choreography very quickly either.
As Vince and Jennifer take the ice, Tanith tells us he’s fallen more in practice than everyone else combined. I hope he can’t hear her commentary, because that’s not really helpful.
Skating to “I Like the Way You Move,” Vince and Jennifer play it very hard rock, complete with a little head banging. Jennifer looks a bit like a Varga girl, but Vince is all rock n’ roll….or at least as much as he can be in a sparkly shirt. They get through all of the required moves, but Vince looks pretty tentative. Not Sean Young tentative, but it’s not great. Still, you got to love that he’s out there working it.
Johnny gives Vince credit for getting back on the ice after so long away. Vince felt a bit too tentative and like he was following Jennifer around on the ice. A lot of male viewers couldn’t blame him for following her around.
Laurie Ann calls Vince a great performer and then gives him advice on his turns. She tells him to focus on one spot while turning. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s the rule in skating – in dancing, it is, but I thought that wasn’t the case with skating. Don’t you NOT pick a spot? If you spotted while spinning so fast, you’d get really dizzy, right? Someone educate me, please!
Dick respects Vince for taking on this competition. This is a nice way of saying “You suck. Get ready for a participation trophy, ‘cause you won’t be winning this thing.” Dick urges Vince to be fearless next week, lecturing him that any man afraid of making a mistake, will never make anything
Even Tanith isn’t all that positive about Vince’s performance.
Laurie Ann: 6/6
Vince is circumspect about the low scores: he’ll just have to work harder for next week, he says.
Just when I’m wondering how they will fill another 30 minutes of show, here comes a ginormous preview for the upcoming season of The Bachelor, complete with montage of various bachelorettes slapping and/or berating Bachelor Brad. I might actually enjoy this season!
According to Host Vernon, Bethenny is a “reality superstar,” although her partner, Ethan Burgess admits he’s never seen any of the shows she’s starred on. Of course, those aren’t really shows that guys watch. Apparently, Ethan was a skating double in Blades of Glory, which immediately elevates him in my eyes. I practically know that movie by heart. Ethan compliments Bethenny – she had a baby only 6 months ago and she looks incredible. She jokes that Ethan may have to pretend he’s gay so her husband doesn’t get jealous. Bethenny tells us she has skating experience…..on the ice at Rockefeller Center as a kid. That’s probably not going to help, but she’s still having a good time. She jokingly calls Ethan her “ice husband.”
Bethenny and Ethan skate to “Right Round” and, although she gets through the routine, it looks a bit like she counting. The most difficult parts of the routine don’t require much from her – they’re generally lifts or assisted spins. There are obviously lots of Bethenny fans in the audience because the crowd loves it.
Laurie Ann thinks Bethenny did a fantastic job for only having 5 weeks of practice. She tells Bethenny to work on relaxing her shoulders for next week.
Dick tells Bethenny she looks spectacular and has the perfect skating figure. She’s one skinny babe, he says. The way she spins and moves with her partner shows that she really trusts him, but Dick urges her to be less static next week. She looked a bit like she was walking on egg shells.
Johnny agrees with the other judges: Bethenny’s body is sick. He tells her to give her all in this and be fully there in the routine. She needs some work, but looks great.
Tanith thinks Bethenny looks very comfortable in her partner’s arms. Still, those lifts required a lot of strength on Bethenny’s part, not to mention daring.
Laurie Ann: 5/5
Bethenny says that they may suck, but they can be better next week. Host Vernon thought they deserved better marks, but I think he was looking straight down her top when he said it.
So, that’s it for week one! Here’s how the leader board looks after one routine:
Rebecca and Fred: 45 points
Jonny and Brooke: 40 points
Brandon and Keauna: 36 points
Sean and Denis: 34 points
Bethenny and Ethan: 29 points
Vince and Jennifer: 28 points
Next week, the pairs will perform another routine and one duo will be eliminated.