Following a round that was much-discussed last fall — thanks to such contestants as Chaz Bono, Ricki Lake, Nancy Grace and the eventual winner, war veteran-turned-actor J.R. Martinez — “Dancing With the Stars” starts its 14th ABC season Monday, March 19. Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke Charvet return as hosts, with Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli judging again.
And the new competitors? As usual, the mix includes actors (“Family Matters” alum Jaleel “Steve Urkel” White), singers (Gladys Knight), athletes (tennis icon Martina Navratilova), celebrities known mainly for being themselves (“Extra” co-host Maria Menounos) and the now-requisite Disney Channel star (Roshon Fegan of “Shake It Up!”).
Also on board: “Little House on the Prairie” staple Melissa Gilbert; “Melrose Place” and “General Hospital” veteran Jack Wagner; singer Gavin DeGraw; “The View” co-host Sherri Shepherd; Donald Driver of the Green Bay Packers; telenovela star William Levy; and opera’s Katherine Jenkins.
“I’m a private guy,” White tells Zap2it, “and I have no problem saying I’m old-school, adapting to a new regime of celebrity. The real reason I’m doing the show is the fans. There’s been an outcry for my participation in the show, and the second my mother found out about that, she started sending me emails en masse … as if she needs any other reason to contact me. It’s her favorite show.”
White realizes “Dancing” will let him take steps toward being known for something other than his most famous role.
“Quite frankly, in the last couple of years, going outside my comfort zone and doing things I haven’t even been trained to do have brought me the most success.” Such was the case with his participation in Cee Lo Green‘s music video “Cry Baby”; White hopes for more success by hosting the Syfy game show “Total Blackout” starting April 25.
For Menounos, being in the “Dancing” spotlight is turnabout, since she has reported on the show.
“It was never fully my assignment,” she notes. “There are certain reporters whose beat was ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ and I’d done it on occasion. I was there for the season finale last time for ‘Extra,’ and I remember Tony (Dovolani, one of the series’ pro dancers) being like, ‘You should do the show!’ “
As with White, Menounos knows what “Dancing” visibility could do for her profile.
“It’s one of the biggest shows on television, and for ‘Extra’ as an entertainment-news show, it’s one of the No. 1 things we cover.” Since its host Mario Lopez was the third-season runner-up on “Dancing,” the syndicated “Extra” is sure to pay much attention to Menounos’ prowess.
“I grew up cleaning nightclubs with my parents, who were immigrants to this country,” she says. “We couldn’t afford dance classes or gymnastics or any of those things other kids could do; while they were cultivating those skills, I was cultivating a work ethic.”
For all the rehearsal time involved in “Dancing With the Stars” — now seen in repeats on Game Show Network, too — White has other irons in the fire.
“I’m actually kind of busy right now,” he reports. “I’ve got a movie going into production, and I’ve got the Syfy series coming out. And with ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ they said, ‘We’ve always got your name on our board. What do you think?’ It’s just funny how when it rains, it pours.”