‘Dancing with the Stars: Juniors’ premiere recap: Were the pint-sized celebs as good as the grown-ups? [UPDATING LIVE BLOG]

Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” made its grand debut on Sunday night, October 7. The new series is spun off from the grown-up “Dancing with the Stars,” which has been on the air since 2005 and whose 27th season is currently underway. So how did “Juniors” compare to the mothership series, and how did these talented tykes compare to their adult counterparts? Find out below in our live blog with all the minute-by-minute developments as they happen.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the old show and the new is that “Juniors” has been taped in advance instead of airing live like the original series. That means fan votes won’t come into play for “Juniors” the way they do on the main series. So the kids had better be alright on the dance floor in order to impress the judges.

The “Juniors” judging panel features a trio of “DWTS” vets: Emmy winning choreographer Mandy Moore, Mirror Ball winning pro dancer Val Chmerkovskiy and “DWTS: Athletes” winner Adam Rippon. They’re passing judgment on a roster of a dozen celeb youngsters: actors Miles Brown (“Black-ish”), Ariana Greenblatt (“Avengers: Infinity War”), Jason Maybaum (Disney Channel) and Hudson West (“General Hospital”); reality stars Alana Thompson (“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”) and Addison Osta Smith (“MasterChef Junior”); celebrity scions Tripp Johnston (Sarah Palin‘s grandson), Sophie Pippen (Scottie Pippen‘s daughter) and Mandla Morris (Stevie Wonder‘s son); skateboarder Sky Brown; spelling be champ Akash Vukoti; and singer Mackenzie Ziegler.

Who do you think gave the best performances on night one? And how does “Juniors” measure up to the original “DWTS”? Follow along below starting at 8:00pm (all times listed are Eastern).

8:00pm — It’s showtime! It’ll be interesting to see if there are any significant format differences between this and “DWTS” original flavor besides just the age of the contestants. The opening dance number introducing the cast, pro dancers, mentors and judges certainly feels like classic “DWTS.”

Jason Maybaum and Elliana Walmsley, with mentor Emma Slater (Cha Cha)

8:05pm — “I’m so glad you’re on our team,” says Slater about his young celeb, who claims to have lots of past dance experience … at bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs and weddings. Fingers crossed.

8:07pm — A cute routine to open the show, rough around the edges, but it’s hard to know how to evaluate the tots compared to the adults, especially after just one performance so far tonight.

JUDGES — Mandy thought Jason was “incredible” because he had rhythm and confidence. Val agrees with Mandy about his “charisma and showmanship,” though he wants Jason to focus on his footwork going forward. Adam says, “I really needed that … amazing.”

SCORES — Mandy (6), Val (6), Adam (6) — Total: 18 out of 30

8:10pm — Fairly conservative scores. The judges were gentle and encouraging with their critiques, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to give out high scores just to be nice. I wonder how high the scores will go tonight, or if they’ll stay generally within the 6-8 range as they usually do on night one of the main show.

Tripp Johnston and Hailey Bills, with mentor Jenna Johnson (Foxtrot)

8:14pm — Tripp’s mother Bristol Palin was a finalist on “DWTS,” but according to Jenna his work ethic needs at a little work at first. He’s a rambunctious 9-year-old after all.

JUDGES — Val commends him for leaving his comfort zone to perform. Adam also encourages him: “You did such a great job tonight, and you can’t go wrong with a beige shoe.” Mandy commends the choreography for meeting Tripp at his level and not demanding too much for him, but she wants him to breathe more because he seemed nervous.

SCORES — Mandy (5), Val (6), Adam (6) — Total: 17 out of 30

8:20pm — Those scores seemed fair. He did seem tense, but he kept up with Hailey, and I was worried it would be a mess given the clip package, which made him seem somewhat unfocused. But no matter how far he makes it, can we cut down on Sarah Palin’s screentime? I think she’s had more than enough.

Addison Osta Smith and Lev Cameron, with mentor Keo Motsepe (Cha Cha)

8:25pm — Addison won “MasterChef Junior,” so get ready for lots of cooking puns tonight. She’s trying to learn lessons from her hardest dessert, meringue, which took her 20 tries to get right. And she’s treating tonight’s cha cha with the same dedication.

8:27pm — A solid routine with simple, straightforward choreography. I’d say it was the best performance of the night so far.

JUDGES — Adam can see Addison counting out her steps, so she should curb that, but she did “a great job.” Mandy thought she had “incredible” sass, but she could do better with her partner work; she should match him better. Val agreed that she has the right “charisma” but needs to work on her footwork and technique. Those critiques were tougher than I would have expected.

SCORES — Mandy (5), Val (5), Adam (5) — Total: 15 out of 30

8:30pm — Those numbers were lower than I was expecting, but we’ve learned that the studio audience will actually weigh in after the judges’ scores are in for the last dance, so it sounds like those will be combined with the judges scores. Potentially good news for Addison given her low scores. And perhaps good news for Tripp, unless Bristol and Sarah Palin go rogue and vote for one of his competitors instead — he never needs to know.

Miles Brown and Rylee Arnold, with mentor Lindsay Arnold (Salsa)

8:35pm — I have higher expectations for this duo. It helps that Rylee is being mentored by her own sister, and that’s one powerful dance family.

8:37pm — I feel like this might be our frontrunner. Miles is the first contestant who I think gave a level of performance that could measure up to the adults. He’d out-score Grocery Store Joe at the very least.

JUDGES — “That was an incredible salsa … You exploded with energy,” says Mandy. And Val thinks he’s a “superstar” and an “incredible dancer,” though he wanted more salsa content from the choreography. Adam thought Miles “killed it.”

SCORES — Mandy (8), Val (7), Adam (7) — Total: 22 out of 30

8:40pm — Highest scores of the night so far by a wide margin. I hope we see more routines that good as the night goes on. We’re just one-third of the way through tonight’s routines, so a lot could still happen.

Sophia Pippen and Jake Monreal, with mentor Sasha Farber (Jive)

8:45pm — Sophia is a model in addition to being the daughter of NBA royalty. Adult models have had a mixed track record on the adult show, and Sophie has never danced with a boy before. Jake explains that the jive is “the fun one” and Sophie looks at him like he’s got two heads. This should be interesting.

8:48pm — Solid performance from the junior Pippen. She nailed most of the steps, but she could use more stage presence; I could sense her thinking through the routine more than really getting into it. If she comes out of her shell more she could be a winner.

JUDGES — Val thought they were a “great team” and “it takes a great team to win a championship.” Adam thought she “came alive” and “killed it” with her performance, “so clean, so sharp.” Mandy admires how well she handed a difficult jive in the first week of the competition.

SCORES — Mandy (7), Val (7), Adam (7) — Total: 21 out of 30

8:51pm — Excellent scores for week one. She was aces at learning her choreography, especially since, as Mandy said, the jive is quite difficult for a first-week dance, especially since the choreography was so jam-packed.

Hudson West and Kameron Couch, with mentor Hayley Erbert (Cha Cha)

8:55pm — “Dancing is a lot like acting, telling a story with your body,” says Hudson, who is pretty good at acting if his Daytime Emmy nomination is any indication. It’s not always an indication, but he is a pretty solid actor judging from his Emmy reel.

JUDGES — “There was so much partner work in there,” says Adam, who was impressed by that in addition to his solid footwork. Mandy “did not expect that” from Hudson, but his timing was “a little funky,” so she gave him tips about improving that when he’s ahead of or behind the music. Val thought he was “a leading man,” though he also notes the problems with his timing.

8:59pm — Hudson reminded me a little of Sophie in that he nailed most of his choreography, which was pretty intricate. I think he has more stage presence than Sophia on this particular night, though Hudson’s footwork looked a little heavy at times.

SCORES — Mandy (7), Val (7), Adam (8) — Total: 22 out of 30

9:02pm — After a slow start, the performances tonight have really kicked into gear, and the scores have risen to match. On an unrelated note, I wonder if this is a kind of audition for Erbert to be a pro on the main show, since she’s the only mentor on this show who has never been a pro on the original series.

Ariana Greenblatt and Artyon Celestine, with mentor Brandon Armstrong (Cha Cha)

9:04pm — Artyon has wanted to meet Ariana “for the longest time,” which for dancers as young as these are might just mean since “Avengers: Infinity War” premiered this summer.

9:05pm — Another contender for the best performance of the night. Great lines, great musicality, and great polish for a dancer that young.

JUDGES — Mandy thinks Ariana is “a little ray of sunshine,” though “we have a little bit of work to do” on the technique. Val says, “You may be small in size, but you dance so big,” and he disagrees with Val about Ariana’s technique; he thought she was spot on, but needs to work more on her partner work. Adam thought “that was awesome.”

SCORES — Mandy (8), Val (8), Adam (8) — Total: 24 out of 30

9:09pm — I’m surprised by how many of these kids have dancing chops that would give adult celebs a run for their money. After the first few performances it seemed like the level competition might not be particularly high, but that changed real quick.

Mackenzie Ziegler and Sage Rosen, with mentor Gleb Savchenko (Foxtrot)

9:13pm — Mackenzie wants to follow in her sister Maddie’s footsteps — literally. Maddie is a dancer, after all. Mackenzie is worried because she has no experience with “ballroom,” though what she doesn’t explain is that she has actually done a lot of dancing in her life thus far, having trained in jazz and contemporary. She’s definitely a ringer.

9:15pm — Okay, that was an incredibly polished performance, but this really doesn’t feel like a level playing field. Especially for a show with child contestants, having such a well trained contestant doesn’t feel like it’s in the spirit of the show.

JUDGES — Val thought it was “an incredible performance,” but then the performance got more modern than he wanted to see from a foxtrot. Mandy thinks Mackenzie needs to use her breath and weight-changes more effectively.

SCORES — Mandy (7), Val (7), Adam (8) — Total: 22 out of 30

9:19pm — Good scores, but not the best scores of the night. I actually appreciate that the judges are holding her to a higher standard since she’s a borderline pro as it is.

Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson and Tristan Ianiero, with mentor Artem Chigvintsev (Salsa)

9:22pm — I have no idea what to expect from this partnership. Thompson has a personality that could overwhelm her partner, her mentor, and maybe the judges. We’ll see if she can deliver actual dancing.

9:25pm — Her performance had solid rhythm and timing, though I thought Tristan did a lot more actual dancing than Alana did. She delivered a lot of personality, but didn’t have as much of the actual choreography.

JUDGES — Adam appreciated how “in character” her performance was, and how she projected that performance to the entire ballroom. Mandy thought the performance was “incredible” because of how much she seems to love life. Val thinks her confidence is “beautiful” and she “owned the room,” though he wants better technique and more partner work.

SCORES — Mandy (6), Val (6), Adam (7) — Total: 19 out of 30

9:28pm — Solid scores, and I have a feeling she’s going to be a crowd favorite, so I’d expect her to stick around once the studio audience vote is factored in at the end of the night.

Mandla Morris and Brightyn Brems, with mentor Cheryl Burke (Jive)

9:32pm — Cheryl started dancing on “DWTS” in 2006 … the year Brightyn was born. “It’s time for you to get busy!” says an enthusiastic Stevie Wonder about his son performing with Brightyn, and Mandla is hoping to step out of his dad’s shadow by showing off his own skills.

9:35pm — One of the night’s stronger performances. Mandla has the chops to go all the way to the Mirror Ball: I loved his rhythm and musicality, and kept up with the choreography incredibly well.

JUDGES — Mandy thought he was as good as a “professional” and kept up with Brightyn every step of the way. Val says, “The superstar status is in your blood. That was the performance of the night for me.” Adam didn’t know what to expect, but it was “absolutely unbelievable” and he agrees with Val that it was the best of the night.

SCORES — Mandy (8), Val (8), Adam (8) — Total: 24 out of 30

9:38pm — With those comments from Val and Adam I thought we might see a 9 or two. I agree with those 8s for that excellent first routine, but 9s would have been going a little overboard.

Akash Vukoti and Kamri Peterson, with mentor Witney Carson (Foxtrot)

9:42pm — Akash is the youngest contestant ever at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but now he wants to prove himself in a non-academy area. He knows the dictionary definition of “tango” — he literally defines it off the top of his head — but whether he himself can dance is another story.

JUDGES — The performance made Val emotional: “Your heart really showed there.” Adam considers him “cute” and “charming” and thinks “everyone in this room has fallen in love with you.” Mandy thought it was an “awesome” foxtrot with incredible control, especially since Akash is only nine-years-old.

9:47pm — I thought the performance was pretty rough around the edges. He definitely needs to work on his technique and keep up with the choreography more, but I’m so charmed by his sincerity that I want him to stick around.

SCORES — Mandy (7), Val (7), Adam (7) — Total: 21 out of 30

9:49pm — Those scores were higher than I expected (I thought we’d see 6s), but Akash is so gosh darn endearing that I’m not mad at it one bit.

Sky Brown and JT Church, with mentor Alan Bersten (Salsa)

9:52pm — Last performance of the night, and I’ve got to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the dancing on tonight’s show. This level of performance definitely hasn’t been child’s play — pardon the pun. Sky is a competitive skateboarder, so JT and Alan are encouraged since she has balance that will translate well to the ballroom.

9:55pm — Great performance to close the show. She nailed pretty much every step, perfect posture and natural musicality. Another one of the best performances of the night.

JUDGES — Adam thought the performance was “so clean” and “so sharp … That’s the way you close the show.” Mandy thought she “nailed” the routine. Val thinks “the Sky’s the limit” and she has great hip action.

SCORES — Mandy (7), Val (8), Adam (7) — Total: 22 out of 30

9:58pm — Great scores, well deserved. I’ve only seen them perform once, but I’m already sad to see two contestants go home already.


9:59pmAddison and Lev (Team Keo), Tripp and Hailey (Team Jenna). I thought Addison was underscored, but with the way the night improved after the first few performers I’m not surprised to see her go along with Tripp. But poor Keo! Even mentoring “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” he can’t manage to avoid being eliminated first. Also counting his performance on the main “DWTS” show, this is his fourth time being eliminated first.


1. Ariana Greenblatt — 24
1. Mandla Morris — 24
3. Miles Brown — 22
3. Sky Brown — 22
3. Hudson West — 22
3. Mackenzie Ziegler — 22
7. Sophie Pippen — 21
7. Akash Vukoti — 21
9. Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson — 19
10. Jason Maybaum — 18
11. Tripp Johnston — 17 (ELIMINATED)
12. Addison Osta Smith — 15 (ELIMINATED)

Be sure to make your predictions so that the contestants can see how they’re faring in our racetrack odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before the next episode airs every Sunday on ABC. You’ll compete to win a spot on our leaderboard and eternal bragging rights. See our contest rules and sound off with other fans in our reality TV forum. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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