Snooki, Avril, Sean Kingston and the Royal Couple
The audience for “Dancing with the Stars” has grown this season, and the crush of the media at the final night seems to have grown along with the size of the crowd watching. Reporters perch on small folding chairs during the show in a small area just outside the doors of the studio with the crowd spilling over into the lane the stage hands use to push the sets into and out of the huge room. We watch on TV monitors and hear the muffled roar of the crowd applauding from time to time in the studio.
I am not a cynical man by nature, and 30 years of covering Hollywood has not hardened me. made me skeptical, but I like to think that’s healthy. I do love the excitement of showbiz, and though I am not a special fan of “Dancing with the Stars,” and don’t make it a habit to watch the show in its entirety (I see excerpts each week), there’s no doubt that I do look forward to covering the finals in Hollywood.
The essence of shows like this is contained not so much in the dancing as in the humandrama. On the floor, the emotions of the moment are very human and very real. So-called “reality” TV is famous for amping up the drama which is why those quotation marks go around the word! But, what’s genuine is the effort required to transform stars from other fields into believable dancers, and the joy they feel when, with the help of their professional dance partners, they pull that off.
Hines Ward told me hearing the judges give Kym and him a perfect score is like scoring a touchdown at the Super Bowl, and he oughta know since he was MVP there for The Steelers. He told me the injury his partner suffered a couple of weeks ago left him frightened last night. I looked into his eyes and I saw the fear there, but that didn‘t stop them.
Chelsea Kane’s young life has been transformed by the show. That is not an exaggeration. Think about it: she was known pretty much only by pre-teens thanks to her appearances with The Jonas Brothers on The Disney Channel. Win or lose tonight…she’s just leapt up the ladder of fame much quicker than she could have leapt anywhere else. When stars tell you they’re “grateful” as she did last night, I am always suspicious (heard it once too often from stuck-up stars), but in her case—I believe her.
Finally, nobody has transformed more this past season than fan favorite, Kirstie Alley. I have known her for almost 30 years, and I love her take on this town (she’s REALLY skeptical). Bruno told her last night she had his “respect”. Kirstie told me, she’d rather have a score of 10 from him… Kirstie and Maks will be dancing together at Manhattan Center and she made me promise to go and see her. Who am to say ‘No?’ On a more serious note I asked her if she realized that so many fans see a bit of themselves in her, and she said she was, of course, well aware of that and felt good about it adding, “I always feel happy if I have inspired somebody to achieve, especially if it’s something they think they can’t achieve.” That said, I think she gets the biggest kick out of the fact that last year she was one of tens of millions of women sitting on the couch wondering how the contestants managed to perform all those routines, and this year? She’s among the final three!
Funny ole world, ain’t it?
I wish every fan of “Dancing with the Stars” could attend a taping just once. It’s old school razz-a-ma-tazz BIG TIME show business, and I love it. It’s the only stage I have ever been in that looks larger in reality than it does on TV. The physics of TV almost inevitably mean you will cry out, “it’s so small” after entering the studio of your favorite show. That’s not true here in this huge building that houses “Dancing With the Stars” in one half (an ABC show) and “American Idol” (Fox) in the other, and it’s all in one place at “Television City” owned entirely by CBS!
Producer Andy Savas and I spent an afternoon outside the stage observing plenty of activity. Co-host Brooke Burke’s beautiful, black, Maserati convertible with cognac leather seats was parked directly in front of the entrance to Stage 46. It was located right in my line of sight. I am a car guy so it was hard looking at it, parked right where I had to stare at it enviously while I waited to go live. Judge Bruno walked by with a spring in his step and his shirt open to his naval. He smiled and gave us a wave flexing his tanned pecs to the ladies as he passed. These folks live the So-Cal lifestyle to the max.
Us? Not so much. I’m writing this from a cramped “press room” located steps from the stage. It’s really just a few rows of fold-out chairs behind some curtains on a concrete floor. They get cleared away after the show for a brief press availability with each contestant that follows every show. Salsa and chips are on the bill of fare. But, as Amy Astley says, “we are nice!”
And they are. The ABC folks: Amy, Peter Noll and John Chavez take great care of us where it counts: making sure we get the maximum access to the contestants and to the venue. Their job is harder than it looks: access to the stage and the performers is SEVERELY restricted because every effort by every person in this building is directed to staging the DWTS finale. The show must go on but it also comes first & foremost as you might expect for a broadcast that 20 million + people watch.
The pressure is enormous, but the most relaxed guy in the building is host Tom Bergeron. I ran into him grabbing a paper plate full of grub at the lunch break in the all-day rehearsal. He’s even nicer than he seems on TV, and he is the opposite of the guy who “goes Hollywood” (and believe it -- I have known my share of those). I was born in New Hampshire, and he met his wife there. He was working on the radio. She was on-air at a small, local station. Tom has long maintained a home in one of the most beautiful parts of that state. He goes there regularly, though not as often as he would like. All you really need to know about him is—that’s what we were talking about a few hours before he was going to host the finale of one of the highest rated shows in America.
We had a few minutes with professional dancer Cheryl Burke who has coached two stars to victory. One was former NFL great Emmit Smith (in Season #3) so I asked her why athletes do well in the competition and her answer surprised and interested me: she explained it’s because they are used to being coached and to following a training regime. If Hines Ward wins Season 12, that would mean HALF of all DWTS winners will have been athletes.
We slipped inside with the first audience members and, boy, are those lucky folks with tickets anxious to get inside. A couple of well-dressed ladies attempted to cross between me and the camera lens while we were on the air. The way they saw it—I was blocking their access. Perish the thought!