dwts-cast-S15-premiere.jpg“Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars” premiered Monday night (Sept. 24) with stellar performances by the 13 returning cast members — and tough judging.

We caught up with all the dancers and their partners backstage after the show; read on to hear their reactions to the judges’ criticism and scores.

Boy bander Joey Fatone (Season 4 runner-up to Apolo Anton Ohno) and Kym Johnson kicked off the show with a cha-cha to a cover of Michael Jackson’s “PYT.” Although the judges praised Fatone’s showmanship, they scored a disappointing 20.5 (out of 30).

“We’re not in a great place,” the former ‘N Sync star admitted to us later, “[but] it’s nice to get the first one out of the way.” Fatone and Johnson promise “a lot more fun things” to come if fans keep them around. “And Drew Lachey‘s going down!”

Although Season 8 champ Shawn Johnson feels like she’s “cheating on” former partner Mark Ballas with Derek Hough, she and her new partner impressed the judges with their technique, earning a score of 22.

“It was evident tonight it’s going to be a tough competition,” the recently retired gymnast told us. “I was intimidated.”

Judge Bruno Tonioli enthused that Season 5’s Sabrina Bryan and Louis Van Amstel “kicked the booty” out of their 22.5-scoring cha-cha, but Sabrina was also critiqued for “overdancing.” And she doesn’t care.

“I was just so excited being on that floor,” she told us, “there was no holding back. I just couldn’t do it. I will pull back in other dances — it’s not that I’m not taking their criticism — [but] how I performed was how I felt out there: pure joy and happiness and excitement to be dancing with Louis.”

Season 5 winner Helio Castroneves and new partner Chelsie Hightower “got a standing ovation before [they] did anything,” noted kissable host Tom Bergeron after their foxtrot. The judges raved about Helio’s “bright and engaging stage presence” but criticized his footwork and gave the pair a score of 21.5.

“I understand their critique,” Helio told us. “I’ll take it. On the rehearsal we did such an amazing job, [but] I cracked a little bit [tonight].”

READ MORE:Kirstie Alley dishes on Tom Bergeron kiss: ‘He won that Emmy, he needed to be rewarded’

Pamela Anderson and new partner Tristan McManus received the lowest score — 17 — for their sexy chacha.

“Now we’re underdogs,” the “Baywatch” beauty said afterward. “We hope people were entertained enough to keep us on, because it’s not always about the scores.”

Melissa Rycroft definitely doesn’t feel “comfortable” about her 21 score with partner Tony Dovolani.

“It’s scary to see that the competition started at this level…Nobody has the opportunity to have a bad week or a misstep — the talent level is so high.”

Carrie Ann Inaba‘s comment that Apolo has gotten “3,000 times more sexy” since his Season 4 victory was not lost on him or his new partner, Karina Smirnoff. (The pair scored 22 for their cha-cha.)

“How can I get any sexier?” he joked backstage. “I just want to know how sexy I was before. I must not have been very sexy. ‘Apolo, you were like that weird white stuff that accumulates on the side of your mouth. And now you’re like Mentos, it’s fantastic!’ I feel fresh. I feel minty fresh, it’s amazing.”

Season 8 runner-up Gilles Marini and Peta Murgatroyd earned the second-highest score of the night –24 — for their foxtrot, but that doesn’t make them feel any safer.

“We are happy we did good,” he told us, “[but] confident? This is All-Stars!”

Bristol Palin told us she is “thankful” for being voted “most improved” by the judges for her cha-cha with Mark Ballas, even though they ranked in the bottom with a score of 19.5.

“I’m just excited to get past this one — the first one is always the most nerve-wracking.”

Bristol has no regrets about last season, including the infamous gorilla costume.

“People still remember it — everyone still talks about it.”

Ballas explains it was part of their strategy: “Jive was not our finest dance as a team. We knew that. We ended up forgetting the whole routine, but that suit was hilarious, and that made it memorable. If we hadn’t done that, and just gone out and forgotten everything anyway…”

“We would’ve been toast,” exclaimed Bristol.

After scoring 21.5 for his foxtrot with new partner Anna Trebunskaya, Season 2 champ Drew Lachey said the judges are “being fairly tough and much more stingy with their scores.”

But he acknowledges that “they have to…this season there is no safety — there is really no weak link.”

Not even Joey Fatone, he said about his rival boy bander, “even though I am going to have to take him down.”

Original winner Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy wowed fans with their sexy cha-cha, scoring 21.5 from the judges.

“I had a really great night,” the soap star told us, “[but] if it’s our time, we’ll go out with a bang. I don’t think there’s safety ever in this competition.”

Reuniting with partner and BFF Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Season 12’s Kirstie Alley received the second-lowest score, 19, for their foxtrot.

And then she congratulated Begeron for his Emmy win with an extended-version kiss.

But the actress and Maks say “it’s going to be hard” for fans to vote “because everyone’s amazing.”

And no one was more amazing than Season 3 champ Emmitt Smith, who brought down the house with his cha-cha with Cheryl Burke. They received the highest score of the night, 24.5, but now the NFL MVP told us, “We gotta maintain it and take it even higher. That’s the pressure that they put on us.”

Surprisingly, the football star felt more pressure during their rehearsal performance. which all his family and friends came in to watch.

“He was more nervous dancing in front of them than [the live show],” Burke told us.

Who are you rooting for to win? Who do you think will be the first dancer to leave the ballroom?

Posted by:dmoorhouse