‘DWTS’ Defends Boring Cast, Plus Who Are the Early Favorites?

by | March 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Dancing With The Stars

Maria Menounos and Derek Hough (Photo: ABC)

It’s time to sparkle, shake, shimmer and shine as “Dancing with the Stars” returns tonight for its 14th edition, with a two-hour season premiere (8/7c on ABC) featuring more than its usual fare of unfamiliar faces battling it out in the ballroom.

The Season 14 cast has been criticized for its lack of “star” power, as many seasons are, although much of the previous heated fan debate stemmed from “lightening rod” contestants such as Kate Gosselin, Bristol Palin or someone with the last name Kardashian. There’s not a controversial or reality TV-tinged dancer in the bunch here, however, a purposeful cha-cha change when casting this edition say producers.

“It doesn’t have to be the biggest name. It’s who you fall in love with on the show,” explains “DWTS” producer Deena Katz to USA Today.

And she’s right. DWTS fans were stomping mad over such “lame” unknowns added to previous casts like Gilles Marini or Cristian de la Fuente, foreign studs who both won over fans before you could say hot to trot and tangoed to the finals. Even last year’s relatively unknown actor/Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez went on to win that mirror ball trophy.

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It’s a “very feel-good season” this time around adds host Tom Bergeron to TV Guide. “There was a real effort to evoke in our fans a feeling of nostalgia.”

There’s certainly a walk down TV’s memory lane among the line-up: We have “Half-pint” from “Little House on the Prairie,” Melissa Gilbert; classic TV nerd “Urkel” in Jaleel White of “Family Matters”; and longtime soap hunk Jack Wagner (“General Hospital,” “Melrose Place”). Then there’s “The View’s” Sherri Shepherd for the comedian entry and “Extra” co-host Maria Menounos as this season’s “hottie,” with singer Gavin DeGraw as the random huh? entry. Legendary singer Gladys Knight fills the “older” slot, while requisite Disney star Roshon Fegan (“Shake It Up!”) fills the “young” slot. In the sports category there’s more nostalgia with legendary tennis star Martina Navratilova, now 55, and in the unstoppable NFL star position we have Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver. In the “never heard of them” category we have William Levy (a hot Latin model/actor type) and Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins. Despite a lack of an American fanbase, don’t count them out: They’re both paired with DWTS pro heavyweights, Cheryl Burke and Mark Ballas, so obviously producers think they have a shot at going far in the competition.

So who’s the biggest underdog? Well, if you ask one legendary champ, it’s her.

“We’re the underdogs,” says tennis ace Martina Navratilova (partnered with Tony Dovolani), who has 18 Grand Slam singles titles to her credit. She tells “Access Hollywood,” “We’re 20-1 underdogs, but you can’t compete against them, because you can’t beat them. In tennis, you can hit the ball and you can win, but this is a popularity contest — No. 1 and No. 2, you cannot effect on how well they dance. We can only do the best that we can, so I’m ready for Monday.”

As for who has the best odds so far? The Vegas odds (which, frankly, don’t have a great track record at DWTS predictions) are betting on William Levy, Jaleel White, Donald Driver and Maria Menounos as the early favorites. In last place, it’s a tie between Gavin DeGraw and Martina Navratilova. Mind you, since we haven’t seen anyone actually dance yet, this will drastically change by tomorrow morning.

“DWTS” premieres tonight at 8/7c on ABC.

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