“Dancing” With Who?: Season Fourteen Cast of Reality Ballroom Competition is Hardly Noteworthy

You guys thought you had finally gotten rid of me, didn’t you?

But no, as Dancing With the Stars returns to the airwaves, so do I come back out of the woodwork to comment on it.

When one of the five most recognizable names in the lineup is Jaleel White – who, still, would be better-known if you introduced him as “Urkel” – you know there’s a problem with a show that calls itself Dancing With the Stars. For the last several seasons, it has been questionable whether or not the majority of the cast counts as stars, but for the most part, there has been someone who has ended up standing out and earning the love of the audience through hard work and dedication. But Season Fourteen has gone above and beyond – which, in this case, is not a compliment in the slightest – as far as stretching the definition of what makes a star.

Gladys Knight? Yes, sir, she deserves the title. Martina Navratilova fits the bill as the season’s token star athlete of the past. Gavin DeGraw? …Okay, maybe, but only because he fills the need for a singer. But when you start getting into job descriptions like “Journalist and TV Presenter” (Maria Menounos), and names that have to be Googled to be identified (and even then, go unrecognized), it’s way more than iffy. It’s downright laughable, and this is a cast that, if I wasn’t hopelessly addicted to watching the professional dancers do their thing, and a fan of Tom Bergeron’s, I’d have no desire to watch, personally. And, judging by the responses I’ve heard from fellow fans of the show, and comments from radio DJs, I’m not the only one who sees this as a cast distinctly lacking in true star power.

On the one hand, maybe it’ll level the playing field; it’s no secret that sometimes, the biggest names have gone on to win – or at least, have made it into the finals – simply because of their names, and not because of any discernible dancing ability. (Bristol Palin, anyone? I’m sorry, I’m still bitter.) On the other, is anyone going to care about any of these people save for Urkel – White – and Knight? (And why isn’t Corky Ballas Ms. Knight’s partner, although I’m not going to complain about Tristan MacManus being back for another season!) Sherri Shepherd might be funny, but funny women haven’t fared exceptionally well, no matter how devoted their fan bases may have been. Melissa Gilbert might have the nostalgia factor thanks to her Little House on the Prairie days, but other than that, is there much to be said?

In addition, the cast will feature Donald Driver, wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers (filling the need for a football player), Roshon Fegan (your bi-annual Disney kid), Katherine Jenkins (opera singer), William Levy (your model/actor), and Jack Wagner (your soap opera star). Returning professionals (the real stars in this situation, and always) are Peta Murgatroyd (partnered with Driver, last seen as the partner of Ron “Metta Worldpeace” Artest), Karina Smirnoff (reigning champion with former partner J.R. Martinez, here partnered with DeGraw), Chelsie Hightower (the perpetual partner for the ‘kids,’ and therefore partnered with Fegan), the volatile Maksim Chmerkovskiy (partnered with Gilbert), Mark Ballas (partnered with Jenkins), Tristan MacManus (the charming Irishman last seen with Nancy Grace, here, as mentioned, partnered with Knight), Cheryl Burke (two-time champ, partnered with Levy), Derek Hough (three-time champion, partnered with Menounos), Tony Dovolani (still shamefully lacking his first mirror-ball trophy, partnered with Navratilova), Val Chmerkovskiy (partnered with Shepherd), Anna Trebunskaya (partnered with Wagner), and Kym Johnson (partnered with White.)

I’ve tried before to give up on the show when it’s pulled casting stunts like this – even typing out the list, I can’t get excited about any of the ‘stars’ – but it’s impossible. The sequins and sparkle and undeniable, enviable talent of the professionals sucks me back in every time. So it’s getting a chance, but if ABC doesn’t wise up and at least start getting names that are recognizable, their dance card might find itself full, and no one willing to give them a new one.

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