When it debuts season 12 tonight, “Dancing With the Stars” will have no Bristol Palin or Kate Gosselin on the cast to goose ratings. But the usual motley crew of actors, athletes and “personalities” did secure a few colorful characters (Wendy Williams, Chris Jericho, Kirstie Alley), though nobody who would normally generate any extra “buzz.”
Here is my semi-annual attempt at handicapping the dancers with limited information. ABC provided preview videos of each of the 11 contestants practicing (I’ll include a few here). I’ve used those, the backgrounds of each of the 11 and past voting patterns to guide me into three silos:
Likely to finish high up on the leaderboard
Hines Ward – The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and UGA grad has a warm smile and athletic prowess that should take him far in the competition. NFL players have a loyal following and tend to do well on the show.
Chelsea Kane - Unless you’re a Disney Channel fan (or a parent of one), you probably have no idea who this is. But don’t under-estimate the power of the Disney machine, where hard work and perserverence as well as talent are a premium. Kyle Massey, Monique Coleman and Sabrina Bryan are alums who have done well in the past (though Bryan was cut earlier than expected.)
Romeo - His dad Master P took over for him five years ago when he got injured. Arguably, his dad was one of the worst dancers in the history of the show. So does this mean Romeo will follow his Master P’s very clunky footsteps? Doubtful. Given his youth and R&B/hip-hop cred (think Brandy, Mya and Mel B), he could be around awhile.
Chris Jericho – He is an enormously popular wrestler in WWE land. And he’s working with Cheryl Burke, who has won three times before. It helps that he possesses a good sense of humor and knows the show. In his rehearsal footage, he makes a crack about Master P. Jericho doesn’t look half bad here:
In the middle muddle
Wendy Williams - Wendy is a sassy talk-show host who’s on the rise. She will likely be a lot like Niecy Nash, who finished fifth thanks more to her personality than her dancing. Williams’ fan base may keep her around far longer than the judges’ scores.
Kirstie Alley – The early rehearsal video of the former “Cheers” star is scary bad. She looks really out of shape and spends more time joking than dancing. (Poor Maksim, her dance partner, who is normally a tough cookie.) It seems clear she’s going to need her fan base and quick wit to keep her afloat for a few weeks here. (Fellow “Cheers” alum John Ratzenberger surprised everyone with his verve and attitude and made it all the way to week 8.)
Sugar Ray Leonard – He always struck me as charming and charismatic. Though he’s now in his 50s, he also looks like he’s stayed in shape. Former box Evander Holyfield struggled on “DWTS” and Floyd Meriweather came in 9th, but Sugar Ray seems a little looser on the dance floor.
Ralph Macchio – Macchio, thanks to “The Karate Kid,” is a 1980s icon who has had only a few notable acting gigs since then. He’s still very boyish and looks like he’s in reasonably good shape. And maybe those ancient karate moves will translate into dancing moves? (Early rehearsal footage is not terribly encouraging.)
Probably out early
Mike Catherwood – Mike who? He is a co-host of the radio show “Loveline” and has a local show in Los Angeles. Nobody knows who he is, he appears to have no athletic background and will likely follow in the shaky footsteps of Kenny Mayne from season 2 and be out first. His early rehearsal footage looks painfully bad.
Petra Nemcova - Despite a sad story about her fiance dying the Thailand tsunami, sympathy won’t get her votes. Models have a poor track record on the show. Past models Paulina Porizkova, Shandi Finnessey and Shanna Moakley have all been eliminated in three weeks or less.
Kendra Wilkinson -As one of Hugh Hefner’s girls on “Girls Next Door,” she got her own spin-off show “Kendra” because she came off as sweet and approachable. Whether that translates into votes with “Dancing With the Stars” fans is debatable given the past history of folks like Kim Kardashian (out week three) and fellow “Girls Next Door” alum Holly Madison (out week four).
“Dancing With the Stars,” 8 p.m. Monday, debuting March 21 on ABC. No results show Tuesday, March 22. First elimination is Tuesday, March 29.
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By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog