“Dancing With The Stars” has slots to fill. Every season, they try to make it seem like they’re choosing “stars” based on their immediate relevance and for variety, but every season, you’re reminded that they have a limited number of types who are cast, and the new season, announced during Monday night's finale of "The Bachelor," is no different.
The most controversial name is Kate Gosselin. She's there to be the polarizing one. Like Tom DeLay, Denise Richards, and Kim Kardashian before her, Kate is there strictly because some people will recoil at the sight of her. Her dancing ability is a closed book for the moment, and notoriety is unlikely to get her to the final stages of the competition, but her name recognition should keep her safe in the opening rounds.
The "Dancing" raid of the “Beverly Hills, 90210” dressing rooms of the past continues with the appearance of Shannen Doherty. Doherty must surely be the Moby-Dick for producers who have spent previous seasons settling for her onetime co-stars Ian Ziering and Jennie Garth. Her reputation as a buster of chops precedes her, much as distant rumbling precedes an invasion by Godzilla, so many will tune in to see whether she can be made to tango properly or will simply bite off the head of her partner. (She will also undoubtedly hope to outlast her long-ago ex-husband Ashley Hamilton, who lasted three days on the show last season.)
Filling the obligatory NFL spot is Chad Ochocinco — if you’re not familiar with him, he legally changed his name from Johnson to “Ochocinco” because his jersey number with the Cincinnati Bengals is 85. Which really translates as "Ochenta y cinco," not "Ochocinco," but whatever. “Dancing” essentially has a big football player every season, because it nearly always works — from Emmitt Smith to Jason Taylor to Warren Sapp to Michael Irvin, the NFL guys have been among the most popular contestants year in and year out. Ochocinco actually represents a stepping up of the casting game in this regard, because he's a current player with a big personality, while most of the past players (aside from Taylor) have been retired.
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There's always a sex symbol of the past who's there to comment on how moms can still look beautiful, and believe it or not, it's good old Pamela Anderson. “Home Improvement,” “Baywatch,” that sex tape — she has done a remarkable job remaining in the public eye for someone with so few actual accomplishments. Believe it or not, at 42, Anderson actually does qualify for that “older former model” slot they’ve sometimes filled in the past with women like Rachel Hunter and Paulina Porizkova — both of whom were younger on the show than Anderson is now.
His gold medal's still glinting
The run on Olympians — like "Dancing" winners Kristi Yamaguchi and Anton Ohno, among others— continues too, with gold-medal figure skater Evan Lysacek joining the group fresh off his win at the Vancouver Games. Expect Lysacek to do very well. There are few ways to bring in anyone as fundamentally overqualified for this show as a gold-medal figure skater — at least Yamaguchi was a few years removed from her medal run. It’s hard to imagine Lysacek not excelling in the technical aspects and making it all the way to the finals, but whether he has the likability it generally takes to actually win the competition will be a different question.
Also from the sports world, though from a different sector, is Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who became a lot more famous recently after having to deal with a video of her that was taken through a hotel peephole and later made public. Andrews could do well for the same reason the NFL players do well: sports fans are loyal and surprisingly likely to cross over to "Dancing With The Stars," for reasons unknown. She's on the low side of name recognition for this season, though, so her fate could easily depend entirely on her actual performances, as crazy as that sounds.
There's generally one spot for a star of either American soaps or telenovelas, and this year's went to Aiden Turner of "All My Children." Turner may be popular in daytime, but handsome young men who aren't terribly well known have proved to have the same vulnerability to early exits as beautiful young women — consider model Albert Reed, who went home second in the fifth season. (If you're thinking, "Albert who?", you are thinking what many "Dancing" fans were thinking at the time.)
One pleasant surprise for people who don't want the whole thing to get too stodgy is Niecy Nash, who's on "Reno 911" but is also familiar to fans of the Style network's "Clean House" as its host. Nash may or may not turn out to be a natural dancer, but anyone who's seen her lay into a family that's letting the clutter accumulate in the garage knows that she takes no guff, and that can be a very useful "Dancing" trait.
Also on the list is Nicole Scherzinger, lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. If Lysacek is the ringer on the men's side, she's the ringer on the women's. Sure, trained stage dancers will always tell you that the kind of dancing they do has nothing to do with ballroom, but people who have learned choreography always have an advantage over people who haven't, whether it's the same sort of choreography or not. Scherzinger, though, could easily fall victim to a situation where her name recognition isn't high enough to protect her, and too many people who know about the Pussycat Dolls aren't big fans.
Perhaps the season's head-scratcher — from a "Why would this person do this?" perspective — is astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. While Aldrin might seem like a noncontroversial figure, he's also remembered for punching a guy who doubted the moon landing really happened. So, a word to the woman partnered with Aldrin? Don't make him angry, no matter how well you want him to perform the paso doble.
ABC saved its supposed big reveal for last, and it's a risky move. With just eleven spots in the cast, they chose to hand one to Jake Pavelka, the moon-faced goober who had just finished up his run as "The Bachelor." The network tried a "Bachelor"/"Dancing" crossover before with plucky Melissa Rycroft, who was brought over to "Dancing" just after her "Bachelor" fiancé dumped her. But Melissa, it should be noted, was a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and a fine dancer, while Jake is barely coordinated enough to swing his new "fiancée" around to the strains of "On The Wings Of Love."
Favorites are easy to spot: Lysacek, Scherzinger, possibly Aldrin for a while. There are likely to be few huge surprises — it's a cast full of the same people they've had before, only with different names.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com
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