The most popular series on ABC returns at 8 tonight, and the Disney-owned network needs the ratings lift from Dancing With the Stars. The producers have enlisted a wide range of celebrities from rapper Lil' Kim to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to gymnast Shawn Johnson. Pop star Jewel and TV host Nancy O'Dell both dropped out of the show at the last minute, citing injuries sustained while training. A replacement for at least one of the women might be announced during the premiere, said executive producer Conrad Green. In the meantime, Green provided an insider's preview to the season.
Who is the front-runner?
Olympic gold-medalist Shawn Johnson (now that O'Dell has dropped out). Johnson is picking up ballroom quickly, Green said.
She is paired with former champ Mark Ballas, who can do a back flip. "They'll be pushing the envelope physically," Green said.
Who is being challenged?
Football great Lawrence Taylor. "I think he was completely thrown by it," Green said. "He hadn't watched the show much. He just thought it'd be fun." Green says the contest is going to be difficult for Taylor, although he has trained more than any other football player at this stage.
Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go's has had an issue getting dizzy during the waltz. "Can she get through the routine without throwing up on live television?" Green asked. "That's a first I'd rather not have."
Who's the Cloris Leachman in this bunch?
The Oscar-winner generated headlines with her antics. This time around, the show has reality star Steve-O. "He's so crazy. It's a family show, but he's sobered up," Green said. "He wants to prove he can entertain people without being self-destructive." Steve-O also has physical skills after training as a clown.
Funnyman David Alan Grier will perform well and carry the audience along with him, Green predicted. Dancing doesn't come naturally for Wozniak, but Green called him "a sincere, lovely bloke."
The couples with the sizzle factor
Rapper Lil' Kim will be with reigning champ Derek Hough. Green called her funny and upbeat. Their routines? Dynamite, Green said.
Actor Denise Richards asked to be paired with Maksim Chmerkovskiy. "They've got great chemistry," Green said. "I'm hoping she'll really be good. The difficult thing for her has been balance and finesse."
Sex and the City actor Gilles Marini is paired with two-time champ Cheryl Burke. "With Cheryl, it will be sheer sexiness," Green said. "Gilles is enormously charming and fun. Every woman who meets him goes red in the face."
Partners who are a couple
Country singer Chuck Wicks will dance with girlfriend Julianne Hough, a two-time champ. Don't think they have an advantage. They didn't start training until after everyone else because Wicks was performing across the country, Green said. "It's an interesting dynamic to see a couple talking to each other about dance," Green said. "It feels very intimate. It's nice to see that side of Julianne. He's one of the funniest people we've ever had on the show. I don't know how good he'll be as a dancer."