Based purely on star power, this is one of the dimmest years for “Dancing With the Stars” in many seasons. That doesn’t bode well for ratings.
(”Everyone just needs to take a beat,” DWTS senior producer Deena Katz told USA Today in pure defensive mode. “It doesn’t have to be the biggest name. It’s who you fall in love with on the show.”)
Even then, there are a few potential favorites and a couple of wildcards in the mix. And yes, a relative unknown in war hero J.R. Martinez won last season.
Here is my handicapping for the 14th crew using selected footage from their first rehearsals, who their partners are and all sorts of other semi-arbitrary factors based on past shows.
LIKELY TO LAND NEAR THE TOP
Roshon Fegan. Disney folks tend to do well on the show for several reasons. They’re youthful and multi-talented, can learn dance steps quickly and have TV-ready personalities. Fegan is on a show called “Shake it Up!” Monique Coleman finished fourth season three. Cody Linley also finished fourth season seven. Kyle Massey came in second season 11.
William Levy. I’m placing a positive bias on this Cuban actor finishing near the top not because he was a telenovela star but because he’s got sex appeal, charm and Latin dance steps in his blood. The voters (presumably mostly women) should be excited by his very presence. And he looks good in early footage.
Jaleel White. He has a lot going for him: cult popularity from his days as dorky Urkel on “Family Matters,” his fundamental, spirited likability and his relative youth at age 33. His opening rehearsal footage ABC provided was not encouraging but watch him on this video of Cee Lo Green’s “Cry Baby.” He can follow choreography and has basic rhythm:
Donald Driver – Like Disney actors, most NFL players have done very well on the show. Athleticism is a given and casting tends to look for charm, too. There’s past winners Emmitt Smith (season 3) and Hines Ward (season 12), runner-ups Jason Taylor (season 6) and Warren Sapp (season 7), fourth-place finisher Chad Ochocinco (season 10 ) and fifth place finisher Kurt Warner (season 11). Then again, two did middling: Lawrence Taylor (seventh place, season 8 ) and Michael Irvin (season 9). Still, none have left early.
Melissa Gilbert – Best known as Laura Ingalls in the 1970s show “Little House on the Prairie,” she has since specialized in Lifetime “women in peril” movies and ran the Screen Actors Guild. She’s up there relatively speaking in age (48), but if she shows reveals a warm personality, her fans will vote for her. Then again, expect fireworks now that she’s paired with tough-love dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who has gotten close to winning twice with Mel B and Kirstie Alley but has never taken home the mirror-ball trophy.
Jack Wagner – A 52-year-old soap star on shows such as “General Hospital” and “Melrose Place,” he’s also known as Heather Locklear’s squeeze. Regardless of his dance skills, his fans may keep him alive for a few weeks but for him to go further, he’s going to have to exhibit more than expected for a man his age.
Sherri Shepherd – She is the closest to “controversial” in this group but more for saying inane things on “The View” like doubting the fact the earth is round. She appears nimble in videos and could surprise people despite her less-than-svelte body type.
Maria Menounos - She may be gorgeous and co-hosts “Extra” with former “DWTS” runner up Mario Lopez, but I have no clue if she’s a good dancer. Hot-looking women don’t always do well on the show, but Brooke Burke, another attractive TV host, did win one year. Her biggest upside is her partner: Derek Hough, who has never finished lower than sixth and has won three times with Jennifer Grey, Nicole Scherzinger and the aforementioned Burke.
Gladys Knight – She looked good in the rehearsal footage. As the token elder in the group at age 67, she matches up with the typical viewer of the show. And she is an R&B legend.Those factors would make me think she is virtually guaranteed a middle-of-the-pack finish.
LIKELY TO GO HOME EARLY
Martina Navratalova. While athletes tend to do very well in this competition, she looked surprisingly clunky in the early rehearsal footage. The only other tennis player to participate was Monica Seles, who never looked natural on the dance floor and came in 11th. I just can’t see her lasting very long even though she was a pro for many years from 1975 until 2006 (with some retirement years in between).
Katherine Jenkins – While she’s popular in crossover/classical music circles, especially in England, I don’t think those are circles that would bring in a big voting contingent. I know nothing about her. She could be a great dancer but with no knowledge otherwise, we can expect a relatively early exit.
Gavin DeGraw. Sure, this singer has a couple of major hits under his belt (”I Don’t Want To Be,” “Not Over You”) but he’s hardly a personality the typical DWTS viewer would know. So to stick around, he needs both a sparkling personality and great dancing skills. I’m not sure he has either, even though musicians should have a natural leg up over folks from other genres. Unfortunately, the rehearsal footage ABC provided was not encouraging.
“Dancing With the Stars,” 8 p.m. Mondays, ABC, starting March 19.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk