Dancing With the Stars has built a reputation as a ballroom competition for actors, athletes and musicians, as well as politicians and the sporadic media.
I always say it’s the weirdest dinner you’ve ever had, said co-executive producer Deena Katz. You start out with a group of people that you don’t necessarily expect to be in the same room, and then somehow, once you’ve met them all, it makes sense.
And for the past 15 years, the occasional reality TV star or two has joined in the fun: Keeping Up With the Kardashians brothers Kim and Rob Kardashian, The Osbournes kin Kelly and Jack Osbourne, Little Women: LA star Terra. Jole and her Duck Dynasty daughter Sadie Robertson. Four Real Housewives Lisa Vanderpump, NeNe Leakes, Kim Zolciak-Biermann, and Erika Jayne were on the show (Lisa Rinna competed before Real Housewives of Beverly Hills debuted). Even Jackass’ mastermind Steve-O and Honey Boo Boo herself, Alana Thompson, went for the mirror ball trophy.
But this season, the 29th franchise, which debuted Monday on ABC, will not only be known as the one filmed with a new host, a familiar judge and under COVID-19 compliant guidelines. It will also be the one who shamelessly opened his dinner doors to the very famous faces of reality TV. The group competing on the ballroom floor this fall includes Catfish creator Nev Schulman, Tiger King personality Carole Baskin, Cheer trainer Monica Aldama, Selling Sunset Realtor Chrishell Stause and Kaitlyn Bristowe, the ninth DWTS contestant of the Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise. (Host Tyra Banks, whose Americas Next Top Model spanned 24 seasons, is no slouch when it comes to reality TV credibility, either.)
While Dancing With the Stars has always drawn its reality TV talent from various networks in the E !, Bravo, TLC, MTV, Lifetime and its parent network, ABC this year is best known for featuring three from Netflix, reflecting streamers. aggressive push into unscripted genres. (Renowned Queer Eye Karamo Brown started the trend last year.) It’s a tangible example of how culture as a whole is shaped by reality TV, which, thanks to Netflix, now includes creative documentary series from stars like Cheer and Tiger King. alongside more traditional dishes like KUWTK and Housewives.
It’s really important that this cast has people everyone’s talking about right now, like the season is just a slice of what’s going on right now, Katz told The Times.
The producers of the competition consider the significant proportion of reality TV stars during this season to be another example of the ability of dance competitions to adapt over the years, as it has periodically brought notable names from platforms like YouTube and Vine. And while the long-running series isn’t necessarily authoritative on what is considered cool, browsing its past lists feels like leafing through time capsules of past pop culture phenomena: remember the Americas fascination with Jersey Shore cast members Nicole Snooki Polizzi and Michael The Situation Sorrentino, or Kate Gosselin from Jon and Kate Plus 8 famous?
A long time ago in Season 1 the influencers, YouTube, Netflix, they really weren’t there, so you didn’t have that bigger pool of people to reach than we have now, Katz said. We had to evolve as the culture evolved if we were to remain relevant.
The reality TV stars had to compete with talk show host Jeannie Mai; musicians AJ McLean and Nelly (who had his own reality TV show on BET); former athletes Charles Oakley, Vernon Davis and Johnny Weir; and actors Anne Heche, Justina Machado, Jesse Metcalfe and Skai Jackson. And as with any season, no single person who follows alone can guarantee a championship.
It can’t be just people you know or may have heard of, it has to be people you are going to be with every Monday night, because you want to get to know them more, watch their journey and cheer them on every week, Katz says. You want to laugh and cry with them whether or not you know where they are from.
It’s more important than ever for Dancing With the Stars, one of the few network titles to return to the fall TV show amid the pandemic. On top of everything, they are all wonderful, warm and fun people, said executive producer Andrew Llinares. I think that’s ultimately what we want the show to be right now: a place where, for two hours a week, you can forget everything we’ve been through this year and have a wonderful time.
Except Tiger King, of course. Who could forget that?