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Now in its 13th season, one thing is certain about ABC’s smash ratings hit Dancing With the Stars: With the possible exception of Jersey Shore, it has mastered the art of self-promotion better than any other reality show.
By unveiling a misfit cast of current and where-are-they-now celebrities, former politicians, sports personalities and those whose prolonged 15 minutes of fame may be less than understandable weeks prior to the premiere, a flurry of media stories is all but a certainty.
PHOTOS: ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Season 13: Rehearsals
This year, of course, most of the pre-show attention was focused on the inclusion of transgender activist Chaz Bono, Sonny and Cher’s daughter-turned-son. As executive producer Conrad Green learned by selecting such past cast members as Heather Mills, Tom DeLay and Bristol Palin, a little controversy ensures that headlines about the show run bolder and its ratings inch higher.
Predictably, several religious groups have argued that giving Bono a platform to dance is a stamp of approval for a “lifestyle choice,” just as many liberals complained when DeLay strutted his stuff wearing a gaudy red and white button down shirt with a GOP logo on the back.
PHOTOS: ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Season 13 Cast Official Photos
The genius part of the early rounds of Dancing, however, is precisely the head-scratching diversity of talent — for lack of a better word — that hits the floor. Who knew such a varied group of people all secretly craved to learn ballroom moves? That’s just one reason the show is a hit with social conservatives and drag queens alike.
On Monday’s season opener, Los Angeles Laker forward Ron Artest, who days earlier changed his name to Metta World Peace, stumbled his way through a cha-cha-cha.
Sanctimonious Headline News prosecutor Nancy Grace actually seemed to be enjoying herself with her handsy Irish partner despite the fact that she showed no discernable dancing ability.
PHOTOS: ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Season 13 Cast
Newly sober actor David Arquette cut a convincing rug (or hardwood) in his tux and tails.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy alum Carson Kressley mangled a cha-cha-cha and had to dance with a female partner, but ended up scoring well based on charm points.
Inspired by Kirstie Alley’s DWTS weight loss results, former talk show host Ricki Lake impressed the judges with her version of a Viennese Waltz.
STORY: ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Premiere: What the Viewers Are Saying
Iraq War vet and actor J.R. Martinez, U.S. Women’s Team goalie Hope Solo, model Elisabetta Canalis, former Wilson-Phillips singer and Billy Baldwin wife Chynna Phillips, “reality TV star” Rob Kardashian and Kristin Cavallari rounded out the campy, clumsy fun.
But the premiere really built up to the performance by Bono, who, in his lead-in segment, didn’t shy away from his sex change. By turns self-critical and proud, Bono addressed the issue head-on, explaining to the audience that he’d started off life as Sonny and Cher’s daughter, Chastity, before undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
STORY: ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Alum Wendy Williams Doesn’t See Chaz Bono Going Far
As for his dance moves, Bono more than held his own, turning in a spirited if not especially nimble cha-cha-cha.
“I think people have been waiting all night to see you Chaz, and you did not disappoint. You can dance!” judge Carrie Ann Inaba said.
Spawning a whole new flurry of headlines, Bono’s performance perfectly demonstrated the quirky, democratic value of Dancing With the Stars. Whatever social or political baggage each contestant brings to the program, it’s really those scant moments on the dance floor that matter.
To hear judge Bruno Tonioli tell it, on that score alone Bono more than made his statement. “I had no idea you were so cuddly and cute!” Tonioli quipped.
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