March 04, 2014 6:00am PT by Michael O'Connell
'Dancing With the Stars' Sets Season 18 Cast: NeNe Leakes, Sean Avery, Winter Olympians
Dancing With the Stars unveiled the 12 new couples to compete on the series when it returns for its 18th season this month. One of the biggest names is returning pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy. The fan favorite is back, starting with the March 17 premiere, after a two-season absence.
Among the celebrity additions is the usual mix of sports stars (Olympic figure skaters Charlie White and Meryl Davis, NHL alum Sean Avery), TV veterans (The Wonder Years' Danica McKellar, Full House's Candace Cameron Bure and The Price is Right host Drew Carey) and tween-friendly actor-singers who the show's older-skewing audience doesn't know at all (James Maslow and Cody Simpson).
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Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer who completed the Cuba-to-Florida trek, is one of the more left-field entries, while NeNe Leakes, of Real Housewives fame, is par for the course. Clocking in at an admirable 76 years old, Lando Calrissian himself, Mr. Billy Dee Williams ranks as the oldest person in the cast this season.
That leaves wild card Amy Purdy. The snowboarder, activist and one-time Amazing Race competitor is the first contestant with two prosthetic legs to be featured on Dancing With the Stars. Now 34, Purdy had both of her legs amputated below the knee due to a form of bacterial meningitis she had when she was 19 years old. The only other person on the series to compete with a prosthetic limb was former model Heather Mills back in 2007.
Purdy gets one big advantage in her partner, five-time winner Derek Hough, but even partnerships aren't a sure thing this season. ABC also used the cast announcement to reveal a slight twist in the competition. At one point in the season, after the duos have settled into their working relationships, fans will vote on partner swaps for one week of the show.
The couples of Dancing With the Stars' 18th season:
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough
Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater
Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas
Charlie White and Sharna Burgess
Cody Simpson and Witney Carson
Danica McKellar and Valentin Chmerkovskiy
Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov
Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke
James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd
Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani
Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff