WHENEVER I POST SOMETHING about Dancing with the Stars on my Facebook feed— something like “Eagerly awaiting tonight’s DWTS Finale…go Rumer!”—my friends assume I’m being sarcastic. Not so! DWTS remains a staple in the Olear house, the only show on television religiously watched and enjoyed by the entire family.
Let me explain its appeal:
The formula for many of these shows, The Voice and American Idol and so forth, is that a slew of talented individuals emerge from obscurity and break out as stars in front of a nationally televised audience. Dancing with the Stars does not work that way. Although many not-very-famous contestants are abetted by the notoriety that comes with a successful run on DWTS, its formula is inverted. Here, athletes and actors, musicians and moguls, viral faces from YouTube and Vine, has-beens and up-and-comers—but all of them celebrities in some form, however degraded—are basically stripped of whatever it is they do well, and have to instead…dance. These people, all of whom have been the beneficiary of much public adulation, are suddenly placed in positions of extreme vulnerability. Paired with astonishingly creative professional dancers, who show them the ropes, the “stars” must transcend their limitations to shine.
When it works well, it’s a wonder to behold. Meryl Davis won an Olympic gold medal in figure skating, so she’s not uncoordinated. But she is not a dancer. And yet somehow she managed, with the divine aid of the mancrush-worthy Maks Chmerkovskiy, to do this:
If the end of that dance doesn’t give you chills, you are made of stone.
Another fun part of the show is, you don’t really know a “star” until you watch them on DWTS. Going into last season, I thought for sure I’d hate Rumer Willis, but after spending three minutes watching her package and her dance, I did a complete 180 and cheered wildly for her the whole run (my wife almost fainted—not figuratively—when she eventually won the Mirrorball Trophy). Conversely, one clip of Keyshawn Johnson, one of my favorite all-time pro football players, was enough to turn me off to him forever. The slate of stars might not look like much—this season is particularly devoid of big names—but it never disappoints.
This is because the show is anchored so ably by its hosts, the just-this-side-of-raunchy Tom Bergeron, and the always-very-funny Erin Andrews, who does the “sideline reporter” job about as well as it can be done here; the judges (although this season is the first without Len Goodman, who is the greatest); and the troupe of professional dancers. Artists like Derek Hough and Witney Carson and Sharna Burgess and Mark Ballas are not content to go through the motions. Here is Ballas and Sadie Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, doing a freestyle dance in homage to the Mario video games:
When my son, who loves both Mario and DWTS (but is not keen on disclosing the latter), saw that, his head almost exploded like a Ba-Bomb.
For those of you unfamiliar with the format, the stars and their pro dancer partners dance each week and are given scores by the judges. The audience can also vote for their favorites. To win the coveted Mirrorball Trophy, the dance partners need to get the best scores AND the most votes. So it’s part popularity contest, part talent show.
This is my fourth season watching, and I’ve observed certain trends. Every season, the contestants seem to break down into five groups. After watching Monday’s premier, I’m now ready to present my projections for Season 21, with the candidates presented in the order in which I predict they will be eliminated:
This group consists of contestants who are either terrible dancers, or mediocre dancers who lack the popular support to make the cut. They are the first to go. For example, last season Michael Sam, the first openly gay pro football player, was a contestant. Nice guy, terrific story. But he wasn’t that great of a hoofer, and because he never really played pro ball anywhere long enough to develop a fan base, he was doomed to bow out in the early rounds.
13. Kim Zolciak Biermann, with Tony Dovolani
I’d never heard of her, but apparently she’s a “real” housewife. She cried before, during, and after her dance, if one can even call her being lifted around by Dovolani “dance.” The judges gave her all fours (a lousy score, something that has not happened in my four seasons watching the show), and the audience is not likely to show her much love.
12. Victor Espinoza, with Karina Smirnoff
As a jockey, he led American Pharaoh to the Triple Crown. I wouldn’t bet on him here, though. Next to Smirnoff, he looks like a child. And whatever physical control he has over his body in the equine world does not translate to the dance floor. I was embarrassed for him.
11. Chaka Khan, with Keo Motsepe
I feel for you, Chaka. I really do. And the judges adore you. But you can’t dance.
10. Paula Deen, with Louis von Amstel
I knew two things about Paula Deen: 1. She’s a racist. 2. She loves butter. Now I know that she’s crazy and rude and annoying, and also that she can’t dance.
This batch of contestants believes that they are better than everyone else, even though they are not. Worse, they believe that the world is as in love with them as they are with themselves. The American public does not like people like this. Unless, you know, they are billionaire real estate moguls-cum-reality-TV-stars who are running for president.
9. Tamar Braxton, with Val Chmerikofsky
She danced pretty well in Week One, but ruined whatever goodwill she built up as soon as she opened her mouth. She might be good enough to hold on for a few weeks because of judges’ scores, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her fall even faster.
8. Hayes Grier, with Emma Slater
The 15-year-old Vine star, whatever that means, is cute and knows it, which means America wants to punch him in the face. It’s Week One, and he’s already talked about “getting the ladies” and commented on the size of Slater’s derriere. Shut up, kid; the older-skewing DWTS demographic doesn’t care about you or know who who are. Also: DWTS trots out children from time to time, but methinks a young man of this age might have certain anatomical problems. Like, when I was 15, I couldn’t walk past the Victoria’s Secret at the mall without my, er, ardor being readily apparent. And this kid’s supposed to control himself when he’s pressed against Emma in tango hold? This was a terrible idea all around.
Lovers…but not dancers
This is the Michael Waltrip category. We love the guy, and we want him to stick around, so we’ll vote for him even though he’s not a good dancer. But the act only goes on for so long. The viewers almost always vote for excellent dance over who they like, when push comes to shove.
7. Gary Busey, with Anna Trebunskaya
He’s weird, but he’s genuine. If that isn’t enough to keep her around, his lovely shout-out to his late mother this past week is.
6. Alek Skarlatos, with Lindsey Arnold
Skarlatos is one of the Marines who took out the terrorist on the train in France a few months ago. The DWTS audience LOVES military guys, especially genuine heroes, and when they are cute and humble and telegenic and don’t have two left feet, they stick around for a long time.
These are the folks with a legitimate shot at winning.
5. Andy Grammer, with Allison Holker
If his personality is as catchy as his hit song, Grammer looks like a serious contender for the Mirrorball. But that’s a big if. I don’t know if he’s famous enough or a good enough dancer to win. And Holker, while talented, is relatively green, and doesn’t help his cause as much as another dancer might.
4. Carlos PenaVega, with Witney Carson
While young and relatively inexperienced, Carson is one of the best pros on the show in terms of teaching her charges. PenaVega showed real flash last week. He was a bit irritating in the package, and the husband-and-wife stuff might get tedious as the weeks go on, but in a relatively lackluster field, he’s certainly in the discussion.
3. Alexa PenaVega, with Mark Ballas
Carlos joked that if the couple somehow made it to the Finals and squared off against each other, “Whoever loses will never hear the end of it.” Word to the wise, pal. If you find yourself in that position, let your wife win. Trip, yip, skip, whatever it takes. Just do it. Take my word; happy wife, happy life.
2. Bindi Irwin, with Derek Hough
Full disclosure: I never really understood the appeal of the Crocodile Hunter when he was still alive—which is to say, before he was stung to death by a stringray after he got too close to it while trying to shoot footage for his show—and I really am baffled by the apotheosis of Steve Irwin after his tragic passing. That said, Bindi seems to be a joyful, happy-go-lucky kid with “good musicality,” as the judges say. Also, Derek Hough could get into the Finals with an oak tree; he’s terrific, and the judges and audience love him.
But the winner is…
1. Nick Carter, with Sharna Burgess
This is the weakest field in four years, and Carter, partnered by the perennially-underrated Burgess, is in pole position. He’s handsome, humble, well-known, well-liked, and a really good dancer. That’s a winning formula every time.