Filthy Confessions of a ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Correspondent

It’s Monday, and “DWTS” fans have nothing to watch on TV tonight. Why? The celeb show wrapped up last month, bestowing its mirror ball trophy on Melissa Rycroft rather than hometown favorite Shawn Johnson.

I have a filthy secret to confess: I am a “Dancing With the Stars” geeked-out fan. And with the show finale on Nov. 27, I am among the millions of “DWTS” fans going through withdrawal.

“DWTS” – that’s what true fans call this addictive, hot-mess of a show -- wrapped up its 15th season on ABC with an all-stars version won by reality star Melissa Rycroft, who edged out West Des Moines Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson. The 20-year-old gymnast from West Des Moines won Season 8 of the show.

Yes, it’s cheesy, it’s manufactured, and calling some of the competitors stars is generous. I snickered at some of the skimpy costumes – how many weeks could they make “Sex and the City” stud Gilles Marini go topless? And yet, I hung on every effortless twirl, each smooth lift, and every tearful hug.

Millions of TV viewers were hooked, just as I was.

Blogs and weekly updates sprang up on websites for respected newspapers like the Los Angeles Times. TV tabloid shows including “Access Hollywood” mined the show – from manufactured hookups a la Kelly Monaco and her hunky partner Val Chmerkovskiy, to meltdowns during practice to the serious news that co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet is now battling thyroid cancer.

This season I posted results each night of the show on West Des Moines Patch. But I would have watched regardless so I could trace Johnson’s journey from an Olympic retiree searching for the next step in life to a composed young woman ready to put herself out there for the public to critique.

Dancers? They enthrall me. Broadway musicals? Love ‘em. The yearly telecast on Iowa Public Television of the professional ballroom dance championships? I’m there, glued to the screen.

So, I was intrigued nearly eight years ago when I first saw the promos for this ABC faux-reality show. The creators melded the standards of ballroom dancing – foxtrots, waltzes, sambas and other dances from past eras – with untrained celebrities given just a week to learn the moves.

The result: TV I couldn’t stop watching.

Some of the celebrities just never conquered their two left feet – who remembers Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak lumbering across the floor? Or octogenarian and Des Moines native Cloris Leachman, who sassed the judges after every dance in Season 7, flashed some skin and caused the censors to bleep some of her reactions.

The point of the show is to entertain the audience. Cynics might say it’s to revive sometimes fading careers – former “Baywatch” babe Pamela Anderson comes to mind, as does one-time “Cheers” star Kirstie Alley.

Whatever. I love it because it takes guts.

People who are totally out of their element submit to spray tans, big hair and silly costumes all while trying to pull off complicated dance steps in front of millions of viewers. Then they face critiques from professional judges who hammer them for not smiling, or not extending their arms, or God knows what else.

The roughly $20,000 paycheck per episode isn’t enough to face such national scrutiny, if you ask me.  But, producers are already talking to celebs for Season 16 of DWTS, which will premiere March 18.

I say, “Bring it.”


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