The year 2020 has seen lots of changes, and Dancing With the Stars Season 29 has not been immune.
Longtime favorite hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews are gone, replaced by Tyra Banks of America’s Next Top Model fame.
Judge Len Goodman is out, stuck in the UK thanks to quarantine rules, and dancer Derek Hough has taken his seat.
Even the live audience has disappeared, making us wonder who decides which comments get the virtual boos or cheers.
TV Fanatics Christine and Kerr dive into this new, quarantine inspired season and try to decide what’s working, what’s not, and who should take home the mirrorball.
First up, Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews are out. Tyra Banks is in.
Christine: I really miss Tom! He was such a professional and made every word seem like effortless conversation. I know Tyra is still finding her way, but I never realized how scripted this show was until it sounded like she was reading off a teleprompter.
Kerr: I don't know much of Tyra. I had to look her up and then remembered her from Coyote Ugly, which I enjoyed in the theater blah-dee-blah years ago.
Christine: OMG! Coyote Ugly, there’s a blast from the past.
Kerr: I was thinking last night, though, Tyra’s new role is a rather cheesy one, but she pulls off the cheesy in almost a natural way. Her weird Mario Bros. look was an interesting addition to '80s night. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy that one.
Christine: Some of her outfits are fun, but the constant costume changes can be distracting. I’m tuning in to see the dancing, not how outrageous they can dress Tyra.
Kerr: When she over-explained the weird live glitch from last week, though, that felt forced. She was ensuring she wouldn't get the blame for her cue screen showing the wrong names at elimination time. I don't know that any of us blamed her or anyone else, but bringing it up again was awkward.
Christine: There was probably chatter online, so I’m guessing they wanted to address it. There are always conspiracy theories about producers trying to steer the results of these things. Personally, I think it was just a technical snafu like they said. Embarrassing but not controversial.
Who is your favorite dancer so far this season?
Kerr: I have to say Nev's chest hair, without a doubt. It's all that can be seen on that huge dance floor; it's impressive and pleasantly distracting. But Nev really does quite well. As do Justina, Skai, and Kaitlyn. But all four of those performers have dance experience, some of it rather extensive.
It's concerning that they compete with folks like Vernon, who seemingly has none. I'm not someone who can satisfactorily adjudicate dance, even though I had to take four years to get my degree, including a full year of ballet (yikes!). But those that have dance experience on DWTS clearly have a leg up on the others.
Christine: Yeah, they do, but that happens every season. If they only chose celebrities with absolutely no dance experience, they’d be cutting out a lot of potential names, and they can’t afford that.
Kerr: I was rooting for underdog Anne, even more so after her story detailing FOX Studios' firing of her from her contract and forcibly removing her from her own film premiere after insisting on bringing then-girlfriend, Ellen DeGeneres, as her date. Sidenote: this story was brave of ABC to air, considering their recent merger with FOX, yes?
Christine: I’d never heard that story about Anne Heche being blacklisted. It's infuriating to think that crap was still happening not all that long ago. Anne went from being an actress on the rise to dropping out of the spotlight, and now I know why. It made me mad, hearing that story and even more disappointed that she was voted off.
I love Justina Machado. She puts it all out there for every dance, and it’s so much fun to watch. I’m also enjoying Skai Jackson as I’ve been watching her on the Disney Channel since she was pretty little.
And I love Johnny Weir. I’m a figure skating fan, so Johnny is the reason I tuned in this season. He and Tara Lipinski’s figure skating analysis is always so darn fun.
Your turn TV Fanatics! Who has been your favorite Dancing With the Stars contestant this season?
Has someone surprised you? Someone you didn’t know, didn’t think you’d like or would do well, but proved you wrong?
Christine: Justina Machado! I love how she doesn’t hold back. Her personality and determination light up that stage.
Kerr: Agreed! Justina is wonderful! She really brings it every week and is just a joy to watch. It's actually a skill to appear like you're having fun and pretending it's easy, while conducting difficult choreography while smiling with "ease." She is a master of it, as is Nev.
The reason those two stand out is it truly looks easy when they do it, glossing over competitors attempting the same. Nelly and Jesse get the steps out, but they feel more tense in their presentation facially and bodily.
Christine: Yes, I like Nelly every time he’s out on stage, but you can tell he’s really working for it, but I can appreciate that. It wouldn’t be realistic if everyone made it look effortless.
Kerr: Johnny did a wonderful job last night -- the first time I felt so -- and I bet it was at least partially due to partner Britt's bringing him to the ice rink as prep.
I was presuming an award-winning ice skater would cinch this sort of competition, but I realize ice skating and dancing share some similar techniques but are immensely different after all.
Johnny’s wide gait during dancing is something that I'm sure helps him win in his field but can be a detriment to his dance performances. He's learning well and improving greatly, which is exciting to watch.
Christine: Yes, Johnny started off far slower than I expected, and I think Britt was right to bring him back onto the ice for practice. He really got his mojo back, and now I see the Johnny Weir I know and love in those performances.
He’s not quite up to par with Adam Rippon’s performances a few seasons back, but he’s getting there.
Does anyone make you cringe? Anyone you can’t wait until they get off the stage? Pet peeves this season?
Kerr: Jeannie and Johnny don't always bleed sincere for me. I was interested in hearing their stories, though.
And I have to wonder if Jeannie's tough-love mom is playing that role for television more so than she would in life. I've known parents like that, of course, and have no doubt Momma Mai is indeed a tough-love enforcer. But on TV, it seems a bit of a put-on.
Can I just say to someone now, please, how much I loathe the sappy bits where the celebs tell their stories in the studio and the dance partners end up hugging them as they cry? Gaaawwddddd!!! I want to throw something at the TV every time!
It is phony and annoying. And in real life, I'd prefer the dance coaches to be more, "Wow, yeah, that sucks. So the step-ball-chain bit goes like this...."
Christine: Yes, the break-out-the-tissues moments are so scripted and overplayed. I know they want us to feel connected to the dancers, but I wish they’d find a better way.
Kerr: Don't beat me (unless it's a way I like).
Christine: As I don’t know how you like it, we’ll just let you continue…
Kerr: I’m not saying I don't enjoy listening to the stories, because I do. I just cannot stand the gross tactic of Disney-fied victimization of humans -- even celebrities -- for the sake of boosting ratings.
Every time one of the coaches reaches out to sympathetically touch or hug a celebrity after one of these stories, the celebrity oft has a perceived look of, "Please don't touch me. Please?"
Of course, I am totally inferring that, but with multiple cameras and production crew folk standing there in the studios watching, I can't imagine those moments are sincere. And most of the dance partners, I imagine, don't have the acting chops to pull it off.
Christine: It’s not just you. Sometimes these stories resonate, and at other times I want to fast forward and get back to the dancing.
Kerr: Did anyone else notice when Jesse MetCalfe was talking about being an "outsider" growing up and admiring Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club that he sort of implied he became a young bully?
He admitted he learned to be hard on others before they were hard on him, or did I hear that wrong? There was something off about that segment. But I do love the stud, I can't help it.
Christine: I’m so glad it wasn’t just me! All I could think during that story was, “So you admired the guy who was the jerk in The Breakfast Club and put his hand up Molly Ringwald’s skirt under the table? Eww.”
I generally like Jesse Metcalfe, but that story made me cringe.
Also, I hate it every time Derek Hough calls Skai Jackson “honey.” She’s the youngest person on that set, and I find the pet name really condescending. I’d love to see Skai call him out on it on camera, but that probably won’t happen. Skai deserves better.
Kerr: Another pet peeve is how the directors of photography pull away from the choreography and footwork to show fancy camera moves and the elaborate stage designs. Incredibly distracting, and we want to see the dancing most of all!
And what's with the canned audience? They are recorded, I presume, as there is nobody there watching! So who is deciding what audience reactions to synthesize, and how much does that sway viewer voting?
We hear excited cheering during certain moves and disappointed booing during negative judge criticism. Is all of that fake? Because it sucks!
Christine: Yes! I was thinking that too. Who decides if the fake audience cheers or boos, and how is that affecting the voting at home? I understand that they don’t want silence in the background, but there has to be a better, fairer alternative.
Was there anyone you were relieved to see voted out? Who do you think needs to go home next?
Kerr: So the weird thing is I only really watched this season (I was a DWTS virgin!) to see how Carol Baskin -- whom I would imagine Don Lewis' family would rather refer to as the Lioness Murderess -- handled herself.
I am a fan of guilty-pleasure train-wrecks, and I was shocked to learn that ABC would bring on a "celebrity" who is known only for being an alleged murderer. Yes, she was in a hit docu-series as a friend to big cats everywhere, but the show's popularity was sewn from the allegations against her.
When I did tune in to watch her, I found her embarrassingly awkward, uneasy, and cringeworthy. It was good to learn about a potentially abusive upbringing through which she was prohibited from dancing at all, ever. That may have been a sordid premonition for her future.
But crying dramatically for the protection and care of "the cats" when she cannot seem to bring legit tears for the passing of her disappeared husband made me scream. I confess I wanted to continue watching the train-wreck, but I don't believe she deserves the attention.
I'm glad she was voted off. Her shaky dancing was clearly the reason for the voting-off, but the off-the-floor footage and live interview segments must not have helped garner any additional at-home votes.
Christine: I must admit, I never watched Tiger King, but I knew who Carol was going in, and she performed much as I expected -- poorly. I found it kind of laughable because when she danced, they’d move the cameras around her at an almost frenetic pace to make it appear she was dancing more than she was.
Kerr: Nelly is quite the wonder to watch, and he is so likable. But his structured dancing skills are sloppy, no?
Even when he was lauded with praise from the judges as dancing a "proper samba," his big hunky legs were getting in the way of tight movements. His movements don't look sharp to me, and maybe that's the samba technique, but I think he has at least another week or two in him.
Christine: I know Nelly’s music but never considered myself a specific fan, so this is the first time I’m seeing him as a person and not a voice.
He seems like a nice guy who is trying really hard, and it’s starting to come across in his dancing, but he’s definitely not a natural at it. That said, it’s something that makes it all the more interesting to watch.
Kerr: Vernon was in the bottom two this week, and I think he might be next. I almost felt he was giving up a little this time, in his heart.
Christine: Agree, I don’t think Vernon is long for this ballroom.
I also think that AJ McLean’s Backstreet Boys' fame will keep him in this competition longer than it should.
And, I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something about Monica Aldama that bugs me. Even though she dances well, I find myself almost irrationally hoping she gets voted out.
Kerr: Sidenote: it was embarrassing to have the represented hard rock songs on 80s night to be those of Bon Jovi and Journey. Where were the Motley Crue, Ozzy, and Judas Priest hits??
Christine: LOL. I grew up in the ’80s, and was hoping to hear some Duran Duran, even though it’s not really danceable, which is probably the same reason we didn't hear any Motley Crue, Ozzy, or Judas Priest.
Who are you rooting for to win the Mirrorball?
Kerr: Nev's chest hair! But I'd have to say -- for realz realz -- Nev or Justina, even though I feel it unfair they both have dance experience.
Christine: I’ve got a few favorites this season, which normally doesn’t happen. Johnny Weir, Skai Jackson, Justina Machado, Jeannie Mai, and even Chrishell Stause, who played a character on Days of Our Lives that I hated, but I’m enjoying her and her dancing in the ballroom.
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C. Orlando is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow her on Twitter.