Throughout its 15-season run, "Dancing With the Stars" has dazzled fans with glitzy costumes, flashing lights, spectacular dancing, and generally high entertainment. For all of its popularity and continued success, though, the one area where ABC's hit dancing competition program failed to deliver on its promise was in fielding actual stars on the hardwood. All too often, the folks strutting their stuff on our televisions every week have been "famous for being famous" rather than having attained stardom by virtue of talent and hard work. Reality stars, politicians and other media sensations cluttered the dance card and turned the professional dancers into the true stars of the show, which was perhaps the plan all along.
Nevertheless, the recent "All-Star" edition gave producers the opportunity to distill their diluted star wattage into a mega-dose of celebrities, and "Dancing With the Stars" had the chance to finally make good on its title. As Melissa Rycroft's victory on Nov. 27 illustrates, though, "All-Stars" was really just more of the same.
Fighting her way through a season-long battle with 12 other high finishers from the show's past, Rycroft found herself in a final showdown with Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson and soap opera diva Kelly Monaco. While neither Monaco nor Johnson might be considered celebrities by the average American, they have excelled in a highly public professions, and they are both previous champions of "Dancing With the Stars" (Season 1 for Monaco, Season 8 for Johnson). Rycroft, on the other hand, can trace her fame to another ABC reality show, "The Bachelor." There, Rycroft went through the usual machinations with 24 other young ladies vying for the hand of "The Bachelor" during Season 13, and she actually won only to be jilted for runner-up. An instant reality legend was born, and Rycroft was thrust into the role of "celebrity" by virtue of running the romantic gauntlet.
And so Rycroft was a natural fit for the "Dancing With the Stars" and its somewhat lax definition of its own title. Despite finishing third in her first ballroom go-round, Rycroft garnered enough fans support and buzz to entice producers to invite her back for the "All-Star" edition this fall. Then, as Pamela Anderson, Kirstie Alley, Emmitt Smith, and other established stars fell by the wayside, Rycroft hung on week after week. In the end, her carryover effect and strong ABC draft were apparently enough to carry the day and land her the mirror ball trophy of all mirror ball trophies, despite her humble beginnings at the fame game. We can only surmise that we, the viewers, got what we wanted by boosting Rycroft to the top spot.
In the long term, it seems that "Dancing With the Stars" lost a grand opportunity to reset its premise a bit and strengthen the convictions of its casting for the All-Star edition. With Rycroft running the table, though, it seems that ABC is content to play the hype card for as long as we buy the bluff.