James Hinchcliffe won over the judges in his “Dancing with the Stars” debut Monday night. Now it’s up to the vote of fans to keep him on the hit ABC dance competition show.
Hinchcliffe, the Verizon IndyCar Series driver for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and professional partner Sharna Burgess tied for the highest total score from judges among the 13 couples on the opening show of Season 23 with a foxtrot that earned three ratings of “8” and another of “7” on a 10-point scale. The sum score of 31 equaled that of Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez and pro partner Val Chmerkovskiy.
“First lap, first class,” was how judge Bruno Tonioli summed up the Hinchcliffe-Burgess performance.
The combination of judges’ scores with that of fan voting determines which couples remain on the show in succeeding weeks and who is eliminated. Phone voting – call toll-free to (800) 868-3405 to vote for Hinchcliffe and Burgess – ends 60 minutes after the broadcast in each time zone. Online voting, which runs through 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, is available on ABC.com and the “Dancing with the Stars” Facebook page. Fans may vote 13 times each by phone and online.
With friends and fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi in the studio audience, Hinchcliffe looked cool and collected throughout the dance. Judge Julianne Hough, the former dancer who teamed with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves to win Season 5 competition in 2007, was highly complimentary of Hinchcliffe -- even though she was the only judge to not rate him with a score of "8."
“That was an absolute calm, graceful, smooth, beautiful breath of fresh air,” said Hough. “If we are all smart right now, we need to keep an eye on you.”
Fellow judge Len Goodman admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect from “a guy who drives a car for a living,” but the Brit was impressed by the Canadian’s foxtrot.
“James, I’m telling you that was knockout, it really was,” Goodman said. “That was terrific.”
Hinchcliffe and Burgess have squeezed in workouts the past two weeks between Verizon IndyCar Series races. They will continue to train this week until heading to Northern California on Thursday, where Hinchcliffe will return to the cockpit of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda in the 2016 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma that runs Sept. 16-18. The next “Dancing with the Stars” live episode is Sept. 19.
Following their dance, Hinchcliffe and Burgess visited “Dancing with the Stars All Access,” the online companion show to the ABC broadcast. There, the Mayor of Hinchtown credited his partner for the successful showing.
“I’ve got the best teacher, which was a help from the get-go,” Hinchcliffe said. “For me, it was just taking the instructions and applying them piece by piece, step by step. The hard part was getting the flow, getting the emotion out of it a little bit – knowing when to be serious and when to smile; the performance side.”
Burgess said Hinchcliffe ratcheted up his musicality for the live performance, to which he replied, “I don’t even know what musicality means, but apparently I turned it on.”