Even though ABC's Dancing with the Stars just announced 11 new boldface names willing to take on its challenge, the big news lies in who won't be coming back.
Towering hunk Maksim Chmerkovskiy — whose outsize ego, brusque style and penchant for tantrums livened up even the sleepiest seasons — won't return to ABC's reality TV hit, confirmed by the list of participants released by the network this morning. Longtime dancer Chelsie Hightower also won't be back.
Unveiled on Good Morning America on Tuesday, the cast list reveals the show's ongoing difficulty in attracting marquee-level talent. Country star Wynonna Judd, comic-turned-tabloid news casualty Andy Dick, comic D.L. Hughley and 56-year-old ex-Olympian Dorothy Hamill are among the biggest names in a cast awfully short on pop culture buzz.
Otherwise, the show is filled with a typical collection of "stars:" reality TV participants (Real Housewives Lisa Vanderpump), athletes (boxer Victor Ortiz, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, NFL wide receiver Jacoby Jones) and actors from a soap opera and a Disney show. They get their first-ever American Idol alum in Kellie Pickler and youngest participant ever in 16-year-old Disney kid Zendaya Coleman.
On the show since Season Two, Chmerkovskiy never won the show's coveted mirror ball trophy. Still, the Ukrainian dancer was a key cast member, not just for his sex appeal to the show's mostly female viewership, but for his ability to earn headlines with outrageous behavior. His dances with partner Erin Andrews led to constant rumors they were romantically linked — which both denied — while his fights with Kirstie Alley helped her become one of the show's most popular dancers.
"I just want to set the record straight to all of my amazing fans that I will unfortunately not be returning for this season of Dancing with the Stars," Chmerkovskiy, above, said in a statement published by People magazine. "I've been a pro dancer on the show for about seven years now and am eager to explore other opportunities that have been made possible because of Dancing with the Stars. I'm going to take this time to dive into producing and acting, while fulfilling my sponsorship obligations."
DWTS comes back to new episodes March 18.