Carrie Ann Inaba has already dubbed last week's "Dancing With the Stars" Season 14 premiere "the best first episode ever," but does the reality judge think it's going to stay that way?
"I have a feeling that because they're so good, we as judges will be able to raise our standards of judging," Inaba told The Huffington Post. "I think that will make it more competitive between them, and we'll be able to get into the details of each dance."
For fans of the reality competition series who have cried out for more dancing -- and less hand-holding -- this news should should come as a welcome change from last season, which saw a few less-than-stellar celebrities staying more than midway through the season. In fact, last season's schizophrenic judging even caused one pro -- Maksim Chmerkovskiy -- to lose his cool and blow up at the judges.
Ever since their heated exchange, some viewers believe that Inaba has been unfairly critical of the outspoken pro, and now, the "DWTS" judge wants to clear the air once and for all.
The Huffington Post also chatted with Inaba about which "Dancing With the Stars" contestant truly surprised her on the dance floor and which star was "like the Beatles" when he stepped into the ballroom.
I need some of your happy pills. During the premiere, you were absolutely glowing, you were so excited.
[Laughs.] You know what? I've been really happy because I took a slight change of direction in my life. I've really become super active in rescuing animals, and it has made my life feel so much better. I can't even express to you how happy it has made me. It's funny that you said that because after the show, I had so many friends call me and say, "You look so happy!"
Seriously, though, you were on Sherri Shepherd's level of excitement.
It was really nice to see that kind of dancing. We have not, in the history of "Dancing With the Stars," had an opening night like that ever. It's exciting to watch great dancing.
Are you worried that they won't be able to top themselves? I mean, we had two 26s in the first week. Where can they go from there?
You know what I think is going to happen? This is just my opinion, but I have a feeling that because they're so good, we as judges will be able to raise our standards of judging. I think that will make it more competitive between them, and we'll be able to get into the details of each dance. There was a year when Drew Lachey was headed to the finals, and we were able to give him specific corrections, and those corrections helped him win. I'm excited for that this year. We'll be able to go into specifics, like, "On that move, your shoulder was here," or "Watch your spot," or "Maybe turn it a little quicker." I'm excited to get that in-depth because not all seasons can we do that. It would just go over people's heads.
We know that everyone did really well in the first week, but who were you surprised by?
I was surprised by Jack Wagner. I did not expect him to be quite as dashing on the dance floor. [Laughs.] But I was floored by Gladys Knight.
I have such a soft-spot for Tristan already, but Gladys and Tristan are like a power couple unlike any other.
I agree! Tristan has turned out to be quite a star on "Dancing With the Stars." He has great energy, and he's really patient with his partners, but he's got a wonderful sense of humor. He's a really good teacher, and I like his choreography, too. So I think it's going to be fun to watch him and Gladys go through this journey because Gladys is a really good dancer.
She was incredible! She just has so much natural rhythm.
That's what it was! It was true rhythm, from the core of her being. She just became one with the music, and I love that. I love when people have that instant connection to the music. It just takes it to another level, and that's Gladys Knight's style. I think Gavin DeGraw also had an interesting connection to the music as well -- a really good connection and interpretation of the song. He's not quite as naturally gifted in the arena of dance, but it will be really exciting to see him progress as the weeks go on because he obviously comes from no dance experience. He's also quite a shy person who doesn't often get out from behind the piano, so I think "Dancing With the Stars" will be a good season for him ... if he can hang there with the big boys.
Well, maybe his familiarity with music will help him.
I think so. For instance, Donald Driver has great energy when he dances, and he has some great moves, but I don't know if he was as connected to the music as let's say, Gavin DeGraw was. I thought that Gavin's performance was actually better overall than Donald Driver's, but it wasn't necessarily better dancing. There's so many different elements that we get to look at, so I think this season will be a really fun season for all of us.
Speaking of fun, let's talk about William Levy.
Okay, let me just tell you that the ballroom went insane when he walked out. He came out during the commercial break, and the room went insane. I've never ever heard it like that. It was crazy. Women were screaming, "I love you! I love you!" It was like the Beatles had arrived. It was very exciting. He's very modest, and I think he's got a good head on his shoulders. If he gets to stay, I'm excited to see how he's going to progress because I think he's got room to grow, but he started out really strong.
Now, let's talk about the professional dancers. When it comes to the Chmerkovskiy brothers, we all know that Maks is a powerhouse, but I think his younger brother Val could give him a run for his money this season.
[Laughs.] You know, I've judged Val in competitive events at the USA Dance Nationals, and I awarded him the Carrie Ann Inaba Star Quality Award two years ago, so I'm very familiar with how Val dances, and he is absolutely at the top of his game. Maks has been doing our show and not competing as much, so I'm going to agree that Val is definitely going to give Maks a run for his money.
Now, I have to say that there are some fans of the show who truly believe that you have some sort of grudge against Maks. Do you want to squash these rumors?
Oh my god, no, I don't hate Maks! That's so funny. I do think that people get so heated, and I get some vile emails and tweets and Facebook messages from fans of Maks who are so supportive of him. So maybe that's why they're made because publicly, it looks like there are some negative words being thrown, but they're not between Maks and I. Maks said some things last season, but I totally understand it. I know how hard it is for these dancers to work, and I love and respect them all. They all work so hard. It is not an easy show to be on. You give everything you can to these celebrities who may or may not know how to dance, and it hurts sometimes. But, no, there's no feud going on between Maks and I.
"Dancing With the Stars" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.