09/16/2013 AT 10:00 PM ET
Dancing with the Stars brought out some unexpected stunners – and a standing ovation that drew tears – on Monday night’s season 17 premiere.
Although early favorite Corbin Bleu wowed the crowd as predicted with a 24-point contemporary dance with partner Karina Smirnoff, it was Amber Riley, 27, who landed the near-perfect score.
Earning three nines, Riley’s dance with Derek Hough had Bruno Tolioni calling the Glee actress the “tigress of season 17.” Fellow judge Len Goodman said excitedly, “I’m palpitating, perspirating and flatulating.”
As could be expected, the emotional highlight came from Valerie Harper, diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, who brought Carrie Ann Inaba to tears with her 21-point foxtrot with Tristan MacManus that received a standing ovation from the audience. Although the judges respected the effort, Tonioli critiqued the actress’s shoulder movement.
Elizabeth Berkley also pulled off an impressive routine, scoring three eights for her contemporary with Valentin Chmerkovskiy. Inaba told the former Saved by the Bell star that she is “far superior” to her Showgirls days.
But a night of high scores didn’t go without low ones.
Bill Nye took the evening’s lowest ranking, with a mere 14 points out of 30 for his science-themed cha cha with partner Tyne Stecklein. Tonioli slammed the performance, telling Nye, “You had all the elements in there but they were all backward and forward.”
Keyshawn Johnson and Sharna Burgess didn’t fare too much better. They scored 17 points for a cha cha that Inaba critiqued for being “a little stiff” in the beginning.
Jack Osbourne brought his mom to tears in the audience when he danced to a 23-point foxtrot with Cheryl Burke that Inaba called “nothing but class.”
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi wowed the judges who gave her 23 points for a lively cha cha with partner Sasha Farber that Goodman praised for her footwork.
Christina Milian and Mark Ballas danced a 22-point contemporary that Tolioni “loved,” but Inaba panned for a lack of connection with the audience.
Brant Daugherty and Peta Murgatroyd danced a 22-point cha cha to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines that Goodman called “fabulous.”
Leah Remini (who got some audience support from BFF Jennifer Lopez) and Tony Dovolani danced a 21-point foxtrot that Goodman said was “a little too careful in some places.”
Bill Engvall and new pro Emma Slater scored 18 points for their foxtrot that was admired by judges but didn’t end up getting the pair high numbers.