Dancing With The Stars Season 18 preview: contenders and pretenders

Actor Billy Dee Williams and pro partner Emma Slater during rehearsal for Dancing With The Stars.
Actor Billy Dee Williams and pro partner Emma Slater during rehearsal for Dancing With The Stars. Photo: ABC

SAN DIEGO, March 15, 2014 –  Season 18 of “Dancing With the Stars” will get underway Monday with a new co-host, a new twist in the competition, and 12 stars including athletes, TV and film stars past and present. It is the most fun part of the season for many fans, preditions as to who will surpass expectations, and who will be a hot mess on the dance floor.

It’s the fish out of water element that fans love most about “Dancing With The Stars” especially when combined with a comeback story. DWTS has launched and re-launched careers: Kelly Osborne, Kirstie Alley, and Rikki Lake credit the show for their current success. Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves is still introduced as “Dancing With The Stars” champion before his racing is mentioned. Season 17 winner Amber Riley proved you don’t have to be stick thin to win.

Communities has a great track record predicting the winners. We got the top four dead right in Season 16, and called the winner in both Season 15 and 17. But admittedly, we were a little off with our top group. Who knew Elizabeth Berkley and Christina Millian would be out so fast, while Bill Engvall stayed in week after week? Still, If you’re a betting person, keep our list handy.

We fearlessly make our predictions in our traditional three categories: The Also-Rans, The Jury Is Out, The Contenders.

The Season 18 competitors are Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff; Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas; Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke; Meryl Davis and Maks Chmerkovskiy; NeNe Leaks and Tony Dovoloni; James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd; Danica McKellar and Val Chmerkovskiy; Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov; Amy Purdy and Derek Hough; Cody Simpson and Witney Carson; Charlie White and Sharna Burgess; and Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater.

Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater in rehearsal for DWTS.
Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater in rehearsal for DWTS. Photo: ABC.

The DWTS Also-Rans: Billy Dee Williams, Candace Cameron Bure, NeNe Leakes, Sean Avery

Billy Dee Williams is the oldest competitor on the show this season by far. We know he is a smooth operator, but his moves might be a tad bit rusty. Partner Emma Slater took Bill Engvall a long way last season. Perhaps she can work her magic again.

Candace Cameron Bure is a former teen TV star who is primarily a wife and mom these days. She may have some basic dance skills, but does she have enough supporters to vote for her? This will be her greatest challenge. She is partnered with Mark Ballas.

NeNe Leakes will bring the drama and you can’t take your eyes off her, but it might not translate well to the dance floor. DWTS producers were smart to pair her up with the most patient partner on the show, Tony Dovoloni. Taming the headstrong Leakes won’t be an easy task.

Sean Avery has an athlete’s advantage of being receptive to coaching. But someone used to mixing it up playing hockey may not be able to loosen up and soften up his moves on the dance floor. But whatever he does, he and partner Karina Smirnoff will be the best looking couple on the dance floor.

James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd during rehearsal this week.
James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd during rehearsal this week. Photo: ABC

The DWTS Jury Is Out: Diana Nyad, Drew Carey, James Maslow, Cody Simpson

Diana Nyad is a world class distance swimmer and the oldest female competitor at age 65. Her publicity photos show her wearing a short skirt with the legs of a 30 year old. She’s in phenomenal condition and no one will outwork her in rehearsal. But she might be a bull in a china shop strong rather than graceful. She is dancing with first time show pro Henry Byalikov, a seasoned member of the professional troupe.

Drew Carey will last for the same reason Bill Engvall lasted so long. He’s wildly popular as host of “The Price Is Right” and his fans will vote, vote vote. Until Engvall, comedians haven’t done so well on the show, but Carey could be the real deal. He’s lost of weight and he’s in great shape, and he’s used to dodging his crazy contestants. He drew Cheryl Burke as his partner, who was succesful with a similar partner last season, taking Jack Osborne to the finals.

Cody Simpson may have 6.7 million Facebook likes and 6.4 million Twitter followers, but will the 17 year old boy singer’s fans step up and vote for him? Will he show enough style and maturity on the dance floor? Younger male singers sometimes have a hard time playing the leading man in the ballroom (Roshon Fagen, Romeo Miller, Aaron Carter). It’s up to Simpson to bring the effort and rally his fans.

James Maslow is a popular singer and actor who should be able to rally his fans to vote. He is a theater veteran and singer used to performing live. The wild card is his partner, Peta Murgatroyd. When she has chemistry with her star partner, they are wildly successful. When things fall flat, she phones it in and it shows.  If we knew which Peta was showing up, Maslow might be in the Contender category.

The DWTS Contenders: Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Danice McKellar, Amy Purdy

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough in rehearsal.
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough in rehearsal. Photo: ABC

Never bet against any Olympic gold medal winner reaching the finals. Meryl Davis and Charlie White should be each other’s biggest competition. They are the best in the world at ballroom dancing on ice. Their skills should translate to the dance floor. The variables could be unlearning decades of technique suited to the ice, the temptation to take charge versus letting their professional partners lead them, and perhaps splitting the votes among their fans. Davis has drawn the most intriguing partner, the volatile and wildly popular Maks Chmerkovskiy; White will dance with Sharna Burgess, who’s done a superb job working with other athletes.

Danica McKellar remains well-loved by fans for her role on “The Wonder Years,” and those fans will vote for her. For all the criticism of Davis and White appearing on the show, McKellar is the competitor with formal ballroom dance training. McKellar trained for a movie role, and she’s remained friendly with her dance instructor. The outstanding DWTS blog PureDWTS.com goes into this in detail, well worth checking out. She has drawn a popular pro partner, Val Chmerkovskiy who will get plenty of votes even if she doesn’t. This pair is the one lock for the finals.

Amy Purdy will be fun to watch. She is a Paralympic snowboarder, outgoing and attractive. She had limited rehearsal time before the first show due to competing at the Paralympic Games in Sochi. Purdy’s strongest asset is her partner, current DWTS champion Derek Hough. He knows how to work with a partner’s limitations, getting Amber Riley through clever routines around a knee injury. He will get the most out of Purdy possible. Hough traveled to Sochi to work with Purdy. His website posts about the experience are worth a read. Purdy should have a few weeks to develop her fan base and it doesn’t hurt that she’s starring in a TV commercial right now.

We are putting a fine shine on the Communities disco ball and will host our first live chat of Season 18 on Monday night at 8 p.m. How will the fresh new competitors react when they are hit with the shine from the disco ball?  Who storms out on to the floor with confidence, and who needs more rehearsal time?

“Dancing With the Stars” debuts Monday night, March 17, at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time on the ABC Television Network.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google+

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