Megatron becomes ChaChaTron on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, earned a new nickname on his “Dancing with the Stars” debut Monday night

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, earned a new nickname on his “Dancing with the Stars” debut Monday night.

Host Tom Bergeron speaks to Lindsay Arnold and Calvin Johnson.

“Forget Megatron,” said judge Bruno Tonioli. “He’s Cha-cha-tron.”

Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler drafted by the Lions in 2007, has had time to practice his dance moves since he ended his NFL career in March after nine seasons.

Sporting a sparkling blue shirt with his No. 81 on the back, the 30-year-old danced a cha-cha-cha to Flo Rida’s “That’s What I Like” with partner Lindsay Arnold.

The performance earned them a decent 26 out of 40 from judges Tonioli, Len Goodman, Julianne Hough and Carrie Ann Inaba.

Hough said Johnson may have to work on his size 15 feet, but “you just broke the record for the greatest and most infectious smiles I have ever seen.”

“How you manage those feet, I have no idea because you were on it,” Tonioli added, “Not perfect, but your rhythm is there. ... You can dance man.”

That’s exactly what Johnson wanted to hear. In a promo video, Johnson said he’s doing the show to prove to his sister, Erica, and “all those doubters out there” that he can dance. In an interview four years ago, Erica told ESPN that her brother had “no rhythm” and “can’t dance.”

Calvin Johnson danced a cha-cha-cha to Flo Rida’s “That’s What I Like” with partner Lindsay Arnold.

The 23rd season of the dancing reality TV show kicked off on ABC with 13 celebrity contestants including Olympians Ryan Lochte and Laurie Hernandez, actress Maureen McCormick (known for her role as Marcia on “The Brady Bunch”), rapper Vanilla Ice and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Tom Bergeron and sportscaster Erin Andrews are returning as show hosts.

Andrews, who covered Johnson since he played at Georgia Tech, was impressed with his footwork.

“I get it, sequins bring out a different side of you, but I didn’t know you had this in you,” she said.

Johnson gave all the credit to his partner. “I got a great teacher in Lindsay.”

Johnson has a chance to win the mirror ball trophy and bragging rights if he becomes the first of four NFL contestants to be the last dancer standing.

His competitive nature may give him an edge. In 2012, he broke the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season, besting wide Jerry Rice. Interestingly, Rice was the DWTS runner-up with partner Anna Trebunskaya in Season 2.

A major turning point in the show came after Ryan Lochte’s foxtrot with Cheryl Burke. Inaba started to critique their dance to Michael Buble’s “Call Me Irresponsible” when someone began shouting in the background. According to TMZ, a man rushed the stage and was taken down by security. He was part of a group in the audience that ripped their shirts open to show a symbol for “No Lochte” on their chests, TMZ reports.

All this happened with the camera focused on Inaba, leaving the television audience guessing what happened when Bergeron cut to a commercial break.

When the show returned, Lochte — who’s facing a 10-month suspension by the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming for lying about being robbed at the Olympics in Rio — stood next to Burke as he reassured the audience he was OK.

“So many feelings are going through my head right now,” he said. “A little hurt. I came out here and wanted to do something I’m completely not comfortable with, and I did, and I came out here with a big smile.”

Lochte ended up with a score of 24. Race car driver James Hinchcliffe and Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez topped the leaderboard at 31. Johnson tied for third with Kenny “Babyface Edmonds” and Terra Jole, the first little person to compete on the show. Perry came in last at 20.

Arnold, 22, has some experience dancing with athletes. In season 16, she danced with professional boxer Victor Ortiz. They finished in eighth place. Her most successful partner was National Guard member Alek Skarlatos. They finished third in season 21.

Over the last few weeks, Arnold, Johnson and their spouses have also bonded outside of rehearsals. Arnold’s husband, Sam Cusick, recently traveled to Detroit, where he met Johnson’s wife, Brittney, whom Johnson married in June.

Calvin Johnson

“While we were rehearsing in Detroit, my husband actually came out and we got to do barbecues with Calvin and his wife,” Arnold told Entertainment Tonight. “It was fun to hang out with them and get to know them a little better.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who says Johnson’s dancing was “rather smooth” at his wedding, has high hopes for his former player.

“I think he’ll be able to hold his own,” he said last month. “He’s been very good at everything else he’s done. I think he might surprise everybody.”

No one will be eliminated from the show in the first week. However, viewers can vote for their favorite couple.

To vote for Johnson, call 1-800-868-3403 or visit

‘Dancing with the Stars’

8 p.m. Mondays