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Tampa-raised ESPN star Erin Andrews, Olympic skater Evan Lysacek and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger are ones to beat on 'Dancing with the Stars'

ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews got off to a good start Monday on the season premiere of Dancing With the Stars. “I know what good dancing looks like … I just hope I can do it,” she said. DANCING WITH THE STARS - ERIN ANDREWS - Since joining ESPN in 2004, Erin Andrews has become one of the most well-known sports reporters in the country. She teams with MAKSIM CHMERKOVSKIY, who returns for his eighth season. The all-new cast of celebrities and their professional partners hit the dance floor on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” with the highly anticipated two-hour season premiere, MONDAY, MARCH 22 (8:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/HARPER SMITH) ERIN ANDREWS, MAKSIM CHMERKOVSKIY

ABC

ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews got off to a good start Monday on the season premiere of Dancing With the Stars. “I know what good dancing looks like … I just hope I can do it,” she said. DANCING WITH THE STARS - ERIN ANDREWS - Since joining ESPN in 2004, Erin Andrews has become one of the most well-known sports reporters in the country. She teams with MAKSIM CHMERKOVSKIY, who returns for his eighth season. The all-new cast of celebrities and their professional partners hit the dance floor on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” with the highly anticipated two-hour season premiere, MONDAY, MARCH 22 (8:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/HARPER SMITH) ERIN ANDREWS, MAKSIM CHMERKOVSKIY

She wobbled onstage like a built, blond bobblehead — a shock of platinum tresses stuck on top of a curvy frame like a Bratz doll brought to lopsided, sensuous life.

But by the time former Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson ambled off the stage for her first appearance on Dancing with the Stars Monday, she had proved one thing — earning the show's third-highest score despite no dance training, no real dancing talent and a cha cha routine judge Len Goodman crustily pronounced "a mess."

This is how far sex appeal can get you, when applied just right.

Hometown favorite Erin Andrews, the ESPN sideline reporter raised in Tampa and daughter to local TV reporter Steve Andrews, fared well enough herself Monday — tying Anderson's 21 points with an energetic cha cha that earned guarded praise from the show's three judges.

"My greatest fear is not being as good as I could be," Andrews told the cameras during one of the show's "confessional" moments, as clips of her training with legendary tough professional dance partner Maksim Chmekovskiy played. "I know what good dancing looks like … I just hope I can do it."

The opening nights of Dancing always play out like a bit of a testing ground; judges are usually forgiving and gentle — except for Bratty Brit Goodman, who even told 80-year-old astronaut Buzz Aldrin how much he stunk up the joint.

And the night is mostly about separating the real contenders from the hangers-on and the comic relief. Much as these type-A performers and athletes believe they can train and work their way through dancing fumbles, the sad truth is most of them won't get much better than they are right now.

On that score, Olympic skater Evan Lysacek and Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger emerged as the night's top contenders, both in points (Lysacek earned 23, Scherzinger got the top grade, 25) and in style.

Like rapper/singer Mya last cycle, Scherzinger will be the lady to beat — melding serious moves with a sizzling onstage manner and surprising ability to learn more conventional dance styles.

Unfortunately the show's other media magnet, reality TV mom Kate Gosselin, mostly proved the danger that comes from stars of unscripted shows fooling themselves into thinking their tabloid-driven fame actually translates into performing skill. Struggling so hard to look happy she looked like her face might pop off (and helped only a little by her new, longer hairstyle), Gosselin likely echoed the thoughts of many viewers when asking herself during rehearsals, "What am I doing here?"

Many of the other celebrities — actress Shannen Doherty, Bachelor star Jake Pavelka, Reno 911 star Neicy Nash, some soap actor whose name I never learned — were different flavors of mediocre. Barring a mercy vote for his reputation, Aldrin will like take a giant step home next week when the show starts ejecting celebrities, felled by a slightly slower step that he can't cover with flashy hair and a low cut dress.

Tampa-raised ESPN star Erin Andrews, Olympic skater Evan Lysacek and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger are ones to beat on 'Dancing with the Stars' 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 8:19am]

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