NEW YORK – Busy cancer patient Valerie Harper leads a class of 12 amateur hoofers in the upcoming 17th season of “Dancing With the Stars.”
The cast was revealed Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” For a show that has reached an increasingly older audience, ABC added an injection of youth with reality stars Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of “Jersey Shore” and Ozzy’s kid Jack Osbourne. The new season of “Dancing” is set to kick off with a two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Sept. 16.
Harper has defied odds with her survival since being diagnosed earlier this year with brain cancer. She recently filmed a movie role and joined a Nick at Nite reunion of “The Mary Tyler Moore” cast.
A brain scan last month showed improvement for the 74-year-old former sitcom star, whose doctors say her cancer is getting close to remission. She will have her next scan in October.
The whole lineup this year will be:
Harper: She’s paired with Tristan MacManus.
Elizabeth Berkley Lauren: The “I’m So Excited” alum of “Saved By the Bell” (and in later years, the pole-dancing cult wonder of “Showgirls”). She’s paired with Valentin Chmerkovskiy.
Bill Nye: The science guy. He’s paired with Tyne Stecklein.
Corbin Bleu: One of the non-Zac Efron male stars of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” franchise. He’s paired with Karina Smirnoff.
Polizzi: She’s paired with Sasha Farber.
Brant Daugherty: Best known for his role as Noel on “Pretty Little Liars.” Considering how fans of the ABC Family drama rally around social media, be ready to get to know his name. He’s paired with Peta Murgatroyd.
Bill Engvall: A comedian currently lending his voice to the animated series “Bounty Hunters” on CMT. He had a sitcom on TBS and some comedy specials on Comedy Central. Do a Google image search. It’ll click. He’s paired with Emma Slater.
Leah Remini: Best known as a Scientology escapee. Others might know her as the wife in “The King of Queens,” or as one of the co-hosts who got scrapped from CBS gabfest “The Talk.” Or Jennifer Lopez’s bestie. And she briefly appeared opposite Berkley in “Saved By The Bell” during the beach club phase. She’s paired with Tony Dovolani.
Keyshawn Johnson: Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver. He’s paired with Sharna Burgess.
Christina Milian: She used to dip it low, now she talks about tweets as the “social media correspondent” on NBC’s “The Voice.” She’s paired with Mark Ballas.
Osbourne: He’s paired with Cheryl Burke.
Amber Riley: She plays the diva-in-training Mercedes on “Glee” (aka the other girl who can belt a song) She’s paired with Derek Hough.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Harper said that so far, she’s not taking any precautions when she’s rehearsing.
“I just try to stay healthy and continue to lose weight so I look halfway decent in the costumes,” she said with a laugh.
Although still a ratings winner for ABC in its 16th season, the celebrity dancing contest has seen its overall audience decline and grow older, an issue for networks that get higher commercial ad rates for younger viewers.
“Dancing” will now air once a week on Mondays rather than Mondays and Tuesdays.
“One day a week is fine with me! I need more time to rehearse,” said Milian.
“You get all the action in one night. It’s all killer, no filler,” said Ballas.
And with younger contestants like Bleu, Daugherty and Riley, the show might skew to a more youthful demo.
There are changes behind the scenes, too. There are new professional dancers, plucked from the show’s troupe. Contestants are starting off with a four-hour rehearsal limit per day that will hopefully cut down on injuries and fatigue.
The pros were mixed on whether they liked the time constraint and said it could change as the season goes on and they have to do more than one dance per show.
The one thing the audience likely won’t see is twerking, a dance that’s been in the spotlight thanks to Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.
“I don’t think that’s relevant to anything that has to do with class,” said Chmerkovskiy. “I keep it classy. I want my partners to keep it classy. Twerking is not on the menu.”
Includes reporting by Yvonne Villarreal of the Los Angeles Times.