Fifteen-year-old “social media sensation” Hayes Grier of Mooresville made his debut as a celebrity contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” Monday night, and for the most part, he was handled with kid gloves.
Professional dance partner Emma Slater – more then a decade older at age 26 – choreographed a relatively simplistic and straightforward cha cha routine set to OMI’s “Cheerleader,” using rows of high school lockers as a backdrop and four backup dancers as a distraction.
And when the report cards came back from judges Julianne Hough, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli, Grier and Slater earned about a C: Their combined score of 21 out of 30 was tied for seventh-best out of the 13 pairs.
Hayes, who left Davidson Day School after the 2014-2015 school year and has since moved to Los Angeles, wore jeans, Converse shoes and a football jersey bearing his last name and a No. 7 – the same number worn by his older brother Will, starting quarterback this year for the Florida Gators. Slater had on a cheerleader-type top with a plunging neckline and an exposed midriff, along with a skirt that flew up to reveal spandex underwear.
The performance started with Grier holding a notebook in one hand and Slater’s hand in another, then he walked over to put the notebook in a locker; inside was a photo of Slater and the words “Call me” with a heart. For a beat, he stared at it wistfully.
After about just 45 seconds of actual dancing, Hayes appeared to let out a big sigh of relief as his real-life cheerleaders – including mom Elizabeth Grier-Floyd, stepdad Johnny Floyd, brother Nash Grier and sister Skylynn Floyd – gave a standing ovation.
The judges’ feedback for the teenage lord of six-second Vine videos was generally soft and mildly flirty.
Hough: “There’s two things I really want you to focus on. One, you have to focus on your core strength, because right now you’re a little loosey-goosey here. But you have the potential. Second thing, open your eyes. You have beautiful eyes. ... You went off a little bit with timing, but if you open those eyes: golden.”
Tonioli: “You’re definitely worth more than six seconds. I could watch you for an hour. Your musicality just seems to be so natural. You have to be a bit sharper at times. You’re not used to sustaining a performance for a long time, so when you do your moves, don’t throw it away. Hit it, and focus on it, and kill people at home.”
Inaba (who is 47): “If I was only 30 years younger, I’d still be way too old for you. I’m very depressed right now. ... Anyway, (I hope) I’m not weirding you out. Sorry, mom! You are so fun to watch, because you’ve got this youthful sort of gawkiness. You’re still a little gawky in your body, but I think that there’s so much room to grow.”
After heading backstage, Hayes’s 17-year-old brother Nash – also a social media star – rushed in for a hug and ABC’s audio briefly cut out, suggesting someone said a bad word.
Then co-host Erin Andrews summed it all up for us: “Social media – I know that’s your world – blowing up right now. Girls saying they can’t breathe. ... And you have Carrie Ann throwing herself at you. ... So all in all, forget the scores. This has been a great night for you.”
Hayes Grier responded the way you might expect a 15-year-old boy being fawned over by very pretty and famous much-older women would: “Yeah, yeah, great night. If I can get some – a few ladies, you know, that’s a good thing for me.”
We’ll find out next week whether “Boy Wonder” (Tonioli’s nickname for Grier) will advance to Round 2...