Bill Engvall was one of the weakest hoofer hopefuls on the season premiere of "Dancing With the Stars," and heading into the semifinals, he is firmly in the back of the pack. But that's only where judges' scores and unbiased eyes are concerned. And as any "Dancing" fan knows, that's not all that counts.
It's a lesson Christina Milian learned back in week five of the competition, when unlike Engvall — who's yet to earn a perfect paddle — she nabbed the first 10 of the season, only to be sent home after the dance. It's also a lesson fresh in the mind of Elizabeth Berkley, who earned a matching set of 10s just before saying so long at the end of the quarterfinals.
Unlike Engvall, they had all the right moves on the dance floor. And unlike the ladies, Engvall has all the right fans to keep him in the competition.
Viewer votes really do matter on "Dancing With the Stars." In season five, fans brought dancing dud Marie Osmond all the way to the finals, and in season 11, they did the same for the not-so-sure-footed Bristol Palin. Soon a devoted public might just ensure a spot for Engvall in the season 17 finals.
It wouldn't shock one "Dancing" pro if that's exactly what happens.
“Bill’s just so relatable,” two-time champ Cheryl Burke told TODAY. “He’s your everyman. Our viewers are Middle America. Bill’s a normal guy. People just love him. They also love to see a journey and that’s what they’re seeing with Bill and (his partner) Emma (Slater).”
And Engvall is well aware of that advantage too.
“I thought we were going home,” Engvall told us after Berkley's exit. “The real credit (for us staying) goes to my fans. Every day, guys and gals watch to see what we’re going to do, and it’s paying off.”
According to Slater, that's understandable. “Bill brings a massive amount of entertainment to the show,” she said.
There's no arguing that point. From the awkward charm he brings to dance floor to his fearless approach when faced with ridiculous routines (ahem — "Cheeseburger in Paradise" tango), he knows how to please the crowd. But why is entertainment value and fan support enough for him (as it was for Osmond and Palin during their respective seasons), but not for everyone?
Last season, actor-comedian Andy Dick packed plenty of entertainment, if not great moves, into his performances. He also brought a personal redemption story that had viewers rooting for him from the start. And yet, he made it only to week seven. What's different this time?
Scores. Engvall's may not be high compared to his fellow competitors, but they're higher than Dick saw during his season.
“There is something about this season where the scores across the board have been a lot higher,” Sharna Burgess, Dick's pro partner, recently told TODAY. “Andy and I, last season, were getting 6s and 7s and at one point a 5. If I’m being truly honest, I don’t think that he was any worse than Bill. Andy was a great performer (on the show) — the same as Bill. I don’t understand why it’s changed, but there’s a difference.”
And while it's a difference that's worked in Engvall's favor this long, he and his partner aren't making any assumptions about how it will end. In fact, they’re one of the few pairs this season who show up at the studio each Monday with packed suitcases just in case they get the ballroom boot.
“I bring a bag each week,” Engvall assured.
If he doesn’t put that bag to use on Monday night, then he's in the finals and one step closer to the mirror-ball trophy.
"Dancing With the Stars" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.