Lower the disco ball, uncover the vat of spray tan, and ready those score cards. It's time for Dancing with the Stars! Welcome to the ballroom, where sequins and neon are the new diamonds and black, and where the goal is not a million bucks, a gold medal, or a record deal. And therein lies the pearl of this oyster.
The stars might sign on to this show for selfish reasons — to get back in front of the camera during prime time, to build public support after messy legal proceedings or substance abuse struggles, to promote a new album, reality show, or autobiography, or to dance off some extra pounds caused by retiring from professional sports or having a baby — but the ones who find themselves still alive in the competition after two or three weeks realize they're getting a lot more than they expected. So every season, we the viewers get to watch these transformations — from offensive lineman to quickstepping king, from aged comedienne to tango goddess, from pop singer to paso doble diva. It's inspiring every single time to see these people, who are really just as average as us when it comes to dance, try something new and surprisingly challenging, and become a star.
ABC is promoting this season as the one where "love is a battlefield," as three real-life couples (and one messily divorced one) throw down on the dance floor. Pish-tosh. Pros Karina and Maks were a couple last season, too, and what about long-time lovers Jonathan and Anna and Edyta and Alec? PUH-lenty of the pro/star pairings have led to show-mances (Derek Hough and Shannon Elizabeth, Mark Ballas and Sabrina Bryan, and Mario Lopez and Karina Smirnoff, just to name a few). Let's face it: dancing, with all its touchy-feely maneuvers and hot and sweaty activity, makes you horny, baby!
Romantic pairings aside, this season promises some spark, as always. Here's a faithful DWTS blogger's predictions for this season's partners.
Li'l Kim and Derek Hough: The previous season's pro winner and runner-up are usually given handicap partners to prevent back-to-back victories (think Karina getting Billy Ray Cyrus after being paired with Mario Lopez or Edyta dancing with/around Jeffrey Ross after making it to the finals with Jason Taylor). This isn't always true of course, as both Cheryl and Hough's sister Julianne have both won back-to-back titles. Li'l Kim could go in the way of Mel B., using her stage confidence and natural rhythm to give the choreography her own hip-hop flair, or it could be more like R&B star Mario, who never succeeded in translating popping and locking to floating and gliding. I'm guessing the latter.
Steve-O and Lacey Schwimmer: Known for making himself puke and getting his teeth knocked out through a ridiculous variety of bonehead stunts, Steve-O seems like a punishment for maverick newbie Lacey, who claimed the judges' harsh criticisms last season were her "hazing." However, she defied expectations of this gross-out star when she characterized him as a "workhorse," "a gentleman and "adorable" in a recent People magazine interview. Perhaps this clown school graduate has a few tricks up his sleeve, but I can't picture anything that resembles grace exuding from him.
Nancy O'Dell and Tony Dovolani: Ah, the mom contestant! How we love them for their multi-tasking and hot post-pregnancy bods! (Or do we hate them for those things?) Nancy's ability to stand up straight and gossip to the camera gives us no indicator of her dancing skills, so we'll just have to wait and see if Teeth, er Tony, can encourage her to I'm-Every-Woman confidence, if not technically perfect dance moves, as he's done with Melissa Jaret Winokur and Susan "The Head" Lucci.
Lawrence Taylor and Edyta Sliwenska: This NFL Hall-of-Famer better turn out to be an Emmett or Jason Taylor, or I'm going to royally ticked off for our Polish Dancing queen. After getting stuck with a stinker last season, she deserves a chance at the trophy, as the only dancer to compete on all seven seasons. Taylor, who's recovered from public struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, doesn't have the squeaky-clean image of the formerly mentioned NFL stars, but perhaps his status as Hall of Famer New York Jet will win him some fans.
Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas: Everyone's immediate favorite will no doubt be this adorable gold-medal-winning gymnast. I just hope former winner Ballas, prince of manic facial expressions (his dad Corky being king), can teach his partner that a cute smile and stiff limbs might be appropriate for waving to an Olympic crowd, but not for ballroom.
Chuck Wicks and Julianne Hough: Okay, who here has ever heard of Wicks outside of his status as Julianne's boyfriend? That's what I thought. But in the world of DWTS, a star is a star, no matter how bright of a star now or then, or what reasons have made them stars (see celebutante Kim Kardashian for another famous-by-association star). Anyhoo, this is a bold move on the part of the pair. If I undertook to teach my significant other my life's passion (writing), we would surely both go mad. Here's hoping our blond dynamo and her country sangin' BF don't go up in smoke right before our eyes.
Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke: Already suffering from an injury to his famous private parts (He was The Guy Who Showed His Thing on the Sex and The City movie), this least-known star is not starting off so well. But he is partnered with two-time winner Cheryl notorious for her get-tough tactics that propel her partners further than is really justified by technique (Sorry Maurice, it's true).
Denise Richards and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: Another female model contestant, Richards could go the way of Stacy Keibler and Brooke Burke and show that her rockin' bod has some moves to go with it, or down the path of Shannon Elizabeth or Josie Maran, who show they're at their best in mannequin poses. The good news: I don't think Maks will put up with too many "It's complicated" excuses.
Steve Wozniak and Karina Smirnoff: I'm betting Karina asked for a short-term partner so she has more time for wedding planning for her upcoming nuptials to fellow pro Maks. What else could explain her being paired with back-to-back "challenging" partners (Last season's was fourth-round ouster Rocco DiSpirito)? The Woz, one of Apple's founders, and thus a mega-millionaire, is one of the rare contestants who really doesn't need this competition for any discernible reason besides his own enjoyment. Who knows, perhaps his skills at Segway Polo will translate to a remarkably balanced dancer?
Belinda Carlisle and Jonathan Roberts: This year's nostalgia competitor, the one that draws in the baby boomers who remember singing along to "Heaven is a Place on Earth" in the 80s, is paired with the best middle-aged woman partner there is. He choreographed Marie Osmond's wild antics into a bizarre ventriloquist routine, and worked around Heather Mills' missing leg. If Carlisle's willing to pose nude at age 42 on the cover of Playboy for the Go-Gos' reunion tour, you can bet she won't balk at shimmying in her skivvys to boost her iTunes sales.
David Alan Grier and Kym Johnson: I'll tell you a little secret: Most guys known for their sense of humor are not the best at physical pursuits. Name one comedian who has gotten past the third week. I don't think there's been one. These are people who, during their high school years, didn't have enough athletic ability and/or clear skin and/or muscle bulk to be popular, so they made fun of other people. Unless our sassy Aussie pro can boost him past the preceding comedians, or this funny man has some moves, I predict him to be one of the expendable contestants.
Ty Murray and Chelsie Hightower: If you knew who Chuck Wicks was apart from Julianne, you might have known who Ty Murray is outside of Jewel. I just learned that he just happens to be in the Guiness Book of World Records for being the youngest ever Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) All-Around Cowboy. Although he's now retired from bull riding professionally, he's still president of the Professional Bull Riders and has appeared or starred in two other reality shows. Pro newbie Hightower is another transfer from So You Think You Can Dance, like Lacey Schwimmer. We'll see if this cowboy can do any gyrating when he's not straddling a bull.
Jewel and Dmitry Chaplin: As a soulful singer, I would think Jewel would be able to channel music through her body pretty well, and perhaps the competition with her hubby will spur (hehe) her on to the finals. She's paired with another series newbie, who also happens to be a transfer from So You Think You Can Dance. I don't understand how Chaplin and Hightower both get voted off this show as contestants, but are good enough to be pros on DWTS. Am I watching the wrong show?
No readers, I'm not, because this show is the one with the live band and novice dancers, whose transformations entrance me every time. See you next week — same time, same place, to report on the two-hour season premiere.
Dancing With the Stars returns for its eighth season on Monday, March 9, 8pm Eastern/7pm Central on ABC.