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'American Idol,' 'Dancing With the Stars' Détente: What Gives?

There was a time when the two competing shows were mortal enemies, now 'Idol' cast-offs are singing on 'DWTS' and dancers are sitting in the season 10 audience. How did this cold war thaw? Idol Worship investigates.

Ryan Seacrest and Mark Ballas

Anyone who’s followed both American Idol and Dancing with the Stars knows that the two hit TV shows have long shared a CBS Television Studios stage (No. 36 for Idol, the adjacent 46 for Dancing), a parking lot and perhaps a pair of restrooms. But other than physical proximity, the two entities were barely considered frienemies. 

For years, Dancing talent wasn’t allowed into the Idol inner sanctum, where the studio audience sits, and Idol talent -- and sometimes press! -- were discouraged from sauntering over to the other side and feasting on Dancing’s omnipresent Mexican buffet. As for legitimate music artists who wanted to perform on either show, it was just that: one or the other.

Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge experienced this exclusivity clause firsthand last year. After performing her hit “Come To My Window” on Dancing, she was hoping to appear on the Idol finale with runner-up Crystal Bowersox, who had named Etheridge her personal idol, and even performed the same song during season 9 (it was Crystal’s Contestant’s Choice pick), but both were told it could not be.   

However lately, it seems the ice has thawed between the two competing programs. Not only did Mark Ballas and his Dancing father Corky wind up seated behind the judges for Idol’s Top 7 show last week (the younger Ballas tried to look cool, calm and collected, but still turned his head at every opportunity to check out his surroundings), but tonight, Idol season 10 cast-off Pia Toscano (who’s said to be dating Ballas, Jr.) and season 4 alum Constantine Maroulis will take the DWTS stage for part 2 of the show’s guilty pleasures theme. Maroulis will sing a classic rock medley with cast members from the musical “Rock of Ages,” Toscano will perform her Idol go-to number, “I’ll Stand By You,” while accompanied by Ballas and dancer Karina Smirnoff. Although it should be noted: Toscano also made a cameo in a video clip showing several DWTS stars singing Rebecca Black’s “Friday."

So how did this détente come to be? You could say it started with Idol host Ryan Seacrest. In summer 2010, he copped to having a cozy relationship with ex-DWTS pro Julianne Hough, whom he, somewhat creepily, met when she was 18 and just starting on the show next door. Ballas took it to the next level, by first dating Idol Top 24 contender Joanna Pacitti, who was disqualified from the competition in season 8 when it was revealed that she was friendly with several 19 Entertainment staffers, and now Toscano, who many thought was favored to win Season 10.

Speaking during a conference call with reporters last week, Idol executive producer Ken Warwick explained how the Toscano booking came to be. "Conrad Green, who is the executive producer of Dancing with the Stars, worked with me on World Idol, which we filmed in London years ago, so we know each other on a personal level," he said. Warwick called the network barriers that encourage intense competition, "a lot of nonsense... It doesn’t affect us. She’s out of the competition. It’s not unfair in any way.  They asked us if [Pia] could go, and we had a little conversation, and we said, yes, she can do that."

Maroulis has his own take. “Ultimately, it’s a sign of the times,” he tells THR. “I think the rules change every year, the industry changes every year. When I was on Idol, we weren't allowed to do anything until the end of the year, now they’re making records before the season is even over. I think it’s awesome."    


Things get even kookier behind the scenes, where the two shows have ostensibly swapped music bookers. Steven Schillaci, who booked the musical acts for Idol through season 9, is now handling those duties at Dancing (you can thank -- or blame -- him for guilty pleasure night) and Suzanne Bender, who booked the last few seasons of DWTS, has moved over to Idol. Put things in swingers' terms, and it’s turned into one heck of a key party.  

ABC and Fox would not comment specifically about the relationship moving forward, but Maroulis had this to offer: “Year by year, I think people have learned that they might as well help each other out. Maybe this is a little taste of what’s coming down the road. There’s so much information and opportunity out there, you might as well get a hold of it as much as you can. And it’s great for someone like Pia to be on a show that includes Backstreet Boys, Hanson and New Kids on the Block. For the powers-that-be to allow that freedom is a great thing.”  

What do you make of the cross-network love? Was it just a matter of time?