The glitz, glamour and all-important cheesiness of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” returns for a fifth season Monday night. And just to mix things up this time, Monday won’t introduce viewers to the full 12 pairs of bedazzled contestants. The first hour is ladies’ night, followed by the gents Tuesday. Then on Wednesday it’s the ceremonious trimming of the fat, where the first and easiest cut is made to this season’s hefty lineup.
As usual, all the pre-show buzz has focused on the celebrities — though for the record, that word is being used to varying degrees of accuracy when describing this bunch. Albert Reed? Who? But the stars only make up one half of the pairs foxtrotting their way around the dance floor. In fact, there’s really no such thing as a women’s or men’s only performance night, unless one completely ignores the stars’ partners.
Won’t somebody think of the pros?
And all too often the pros are ignored. When voting time rolls around, Tom Bergeron may instruct viewers to select their favorite couple, but with few exceptions, it’s really the stars the fans are voting for. The pros aren’t really being judged on their dancing skills anyway. They are after all, pros. A portion of the vote may be a nod to the chemistry they share with their respective amateurs, or how effectively they’ve trained their celebrity charges. But they can’t teach them to be lithe or graceful. Or more popular, for that matter.
Pity the prosYet it’s the expert soft shoes who get rewarded or punished for just those things. Back in the second season Ashly DelGrosso stayed in the spotlight for several weeks, despite being saddled to the worst dancing partner since… well, ever in Master P. Their constant low scores were nothing compared to his huge fan base. Conversely, last season saw Alec Mazo and a perfectly adequate Paulina Porizkova exit after the first vote, presumably for no other reason than Paulina’s long-expired pop culture relevance.
Sure, after the first few cuts the popularity factor dies down and skills becomes more important, but what about the poor pros that don’t make it that far? They lose out to the luck of the draw. Though it’s hard to say how much luck has to do with it. How do producers choose which dancers land the cherry B-listers and who gets stuck with the C through Z crowd? It appears that partners are selected via a super-secret process that no one but the parties involved fully understand.
Why not just assume it goes something like the final round of picks for “American Idol”? Imagine the professional dancers split up into two rooms. Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris visit one room, pretending to have some bad news before beaming, “Maks, congratulations! You’ve got Mel B! Cheryl, ready to go for a three-peat with Mr. Las Vegas?”
While they’re all busy high-fiving each other, the other room is treated to the darker news. “Alec, it’s Josie Maran for you. And Anna, we’re sorry. It’s some guy named Albert Reed.” The tears flow.
Win some, lose some
Who got lucky?
It’s hard to ignore the appearance of preferential picks. Did Maksim Chmerkovskiy get the sweet selection of Scary Spice to ensure that the portion of the audience that tunes in to see his fine form sticks around for a while? (And, if so, kudos. Have you seen him? From behind? Zounds!)
Could win-friendly Cheryl Burke be any happier to score Wayne Newton? At 65 the “Danke Schoen” crooner may be past his prime, but he’ll bring in the votes. The granny-panty throwing masses from Nevada alone will ensure they stay in good standing.
And plenty of the other dancers have nothing to complain about. World Rhythm Champion Tony Dovolani is paired up with the elegant and popular Jane Seymour. Retro-fondness will no doubt keep Marie Osmond through the early stretch, much to the appreciation of Heather Mills’ ex-teammate Jonathan Roberts. If the recent trend of sports stars claiming the win continues, both Karina Smirnoff (“Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, Jr.) and Julianne Hough (Helio Castroneves) are sitting pretty.
Then there are the in-betweens, the sort-of famous faces that won’t be an immediate threat to their partners or much of a benefit, either. Maybe some of Ian Ziering’s “90210”-alumnus luck will rub off on Jennie Garth, leaving Derek Hough in a respectable place for his first season. And with several middle-of-the-road finishes behind her, Edyta Sliwinska should at least maintain her A-OK streak with soap star Cameron Mathison.
But viewers might as well get their goodbyes ready for some of the less fortunate cast members. While Alec Mazo accomplished a controversial win in the first season with Kelly Monaco, he’s not likely to compete on finale night with Josie Maran. Heck, if last year’s viewers didn’t register his supermodel partner Paulina, the less famous Josie won’t do Alec any favors. And fat chance to newcomer Mark Ballas with Sabrina Bryan of “The Cheetah Girls.” She may come with the advantage of a dance background, but her pre-teen fans hardly hold the biggest share of the “DWTS” voting bloc.
It won’t be any better for Jerry Springer’s old cha-cha chum Kym Johnson, who’ll dance alongside billionaire blowhard Mark Cuban. Unless, of course, he pays off the judges. And the entire viewing public. And the less said about poor Anna Trebunskaya the better. Paired with Albert Reed, of previously mentioned barely there fame, Anna’s odds for making it past the first cut are right up there with Albert’s odds of being recognized by anyone. Better luck next season, Anna!
Ree Hines lives in Tampa, Fla., and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.