by: Sarah Seero
“Dancing with the Stars” has been a staple on ABC for years now. The premise of the show is simple; Celebrities are paired off with professional ballroom dancers to compete for America’s votes and judge’s scores to win a trophy. Some years, the celebrities are better known then others but this helps to play into America’s apparent fascination with relatable, “Average Joe” celebrities. Sometimes, the competition isn’t always about the best dancer, but it’s about that celebrities fan-base or whether America finds them relatable that can dictate who gets voted to stay for another week.
Kailie Annetts, a writer for Narcity, asserts, “There is something about knowing [celebrities] are an awkward human being [like the rest of us]”. Despite having millions of dollars in the bank, finding something in common like eating the same kind of chips is something that makes you feel like you have a special bond with that celebrity, Annetts explains. After all, in magazines all the time there’s a page “Stars they’re just like us” that shows celebrities doing average everyday tasks. Ruth Graham explains that “the ‘Just Like Us’ framework [paparazzi’s] throwaway shots narrative momentum, turning them into proof of a star’s off-screen relatability. But this “Just like us” framework translates into our other media as well, after all America also has a fascination with reality TV for similar reasons. This can clearly be seen on “Dancing With The Stars” as the show starts to move away from the best celebrity dancers winning the coveted mirror ball trophy.
In recent seasons of the show, celebrities with dancing backgrounds have often started to get criticism as people question the fairness of them being on the show. In Season 19, Alfonso Riberio, of “Fresh Prince of Bel- Air”, who went on to win the season with professional partner Witney Carson, ran into this criticism. Riberio is not the only one, Season 22’s Paige VanZant, a UFC fighter who won runner up with pro Mark Ballas, had 13 years of dance experience under her belt and received similar criticism. More recently, in the current season airing, Heather Morris has received tons of backlash for going on the show as she was a Dancer on Glee and a backup dancer for Beyoncé. It’s interesting to note that despite the adverse reaction from people about their dance experience VanZant and Riberio made it to the finals, while Morris was voted out seemingly early in the competition, leaving many shocked. Even host Tom Bergeron commented that “In 24 seasons, that is probably the most vocally unhappy reaction we’ve gotten about a result”. Despite the calls of Morris being on the show unfair, her leaving the show was met with large amounts of shock. However, there are other factors that come into play. After all, Morris’s Co-Star, Amber Riley went on to win the competition in her season when Glee was still on air. Riley was on Season 17 of “Dancing With The Stars” which aired in 2013, Glee ran from 2009-2015 meaning that it was still on the air and still had a large fan-base when Riley was on the show. Now years removed from the show, Morris didn’t have enough votes to complement her high scores and keep her in the competition.
One theme that has emerged over several seasons now, is the average Joe contestant or the underdog making it far past where they are expected to in the competition. This feeds into America’s fascination with the “celebrities they’re just like us” mentality. For example, Season 21’s Alek Skalartos, an army man who rose to fame after becoming a hero in the train incident from Paris to Amsterdam. Skalartos was billed as the “everyman” contestant in season 21, skyrocketing to fame shortly before the cast of “Dancing With The Stars” was announced for the season. Rebecca Martin, of Wetpaint even states that Skalartos is “the closest thing this show has ever seen to a bonafide everyman contestant” Martin continues to explain that Skalartos didn’t only have no dance experience, but he had no experience with the media period, making him “relatable in a way no other celeb has ever been”. Not only was Skalartos learning to navigate the dance floor, he was learning to navigate the media after his heroic deeds. And while years later he may not be all over the news anymore, he was when he was on the show and later on tour with the cast. Even his partner, Lindsay Arnold commented that “”The fact that he came into this with no experience, not even just with dancing but with this whole [entertainment] world … I feel like that’s what America loves so much about him. He’s just a normal guy who’s just working through all of this craziness. It’s fun, because he gets to share this journey with so many people.” This shows that Arnold understands Aleks “everyman” appeal that shows that someone who is seen as a hero or as a celebrity, or at least famous enough in the media to be on “Dancing With The Stars” is just an average person, just like those that tune in to watch the show every week. While Arnold, admits that as of week 9 that Alek is “not the best dancer left in the competition” he did end up making it pretty far placing in the top 3 in the competition overall. Skalartos making it that far in the competition could be an indicator of America feeling connected to these “everyman” contestants and finding them relatable.
Skalartos is not the only “everyman” to compete on the show, there is definitely an argument that this seasons “everyman” is bull-rider Bonner Bolton. Bolton suffered a near fatal bull riding incident before going on the show making it harder for him to dance as he thought he would never be able to walk again. Bolton outlasted Morris in the competition as he was just eliminated this week after judge Len Goodman’s harsh commentary that he had gone “too far” in the competition. This shows that not every average Joe celebrity will have as much success with the show as Skalartos did, but they can inspire people with their time on the show and last for a while, potentially beating out better dancers.
While there is no one indicator about how to pick a winner on “Dancing With The Stars” every season is different. A combination of inspiring viewers, appealing to America and being able to relate to them on some level, gaining enough votes and of course high enough judges scores can get celebrities farther than they think they can go. There have been a few shocking eliminations over the years like with Heather Morris, but all in all dance experience can either help or hurt depending on how big your fan base is. Overall, there is something to be said about average “everyman” contestants being able to beat out a backup dancer for Beyoncé. I think that’s what keeps the show interesting. While I may not always agree with the results, “Dancing With The Stars” should perhaps rethink the title as it isn’t always the best dancer, or the star of the most popular show or sports team that wins. Sometimes a fan favorite or an underdog can sneak into the finals. Relating to the audience may not always work, but then again neither does having dance experience.