The revolution took place a couple seasons ago when the definition of the word “star” on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” was peacefully overthrown.
That season’s winners of the coveted Mirror Ball trophy were Maksim Chmerkovskiy and his partner, Olympic ice-dancing gold medalist Meryl Davis. Those who had long psyched out the show’s winners to be those who combined dancing ability with the most heart-rending or appealing backstory were forced to consider this: a very good dancer who, incredibly, performed on artificial legs didn’t win.
The winners were Chmerkovskiy and Davis. And the major personality and star of that pair was Chmerkovskiy, the show’s most tempestuous and attention-getting professional dancer. It was HIS backstory that triumphed over all – the charismatic professional who had never won in all his previous seasons.
The “star value” of an Olympic ice dancer wasn’t the deciding factor by a mile. It was Chmerkovskiy’s own stardom and the show’s carefully calculated implication that the dancing couple were a couple offstage that carried the day.
The overthrow had happened.
A bit of backtracking took place on the show last season when it was obvious that no one else on the show could beat the combination of dance talent and fan base possessed by Alfonso Ribeiro, a former co-star of Will Smith’s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and a man whose openly declared supporters, somewhat surrealistically, included former Vice President Dan Quayle.
So successful, though, have the show and its professional dancers become in America’s celebrity sweepstakes that this evening’s beginning of the “Dancing With the Stars Live” 39-city tour at the Seneca Niagara Casino was a sellout more than a week ago.
Ribeiro, the irrepressible Mirror Ball champ, will be there with his professional partner, Witney Carson. But after that, the show will feature the professional dancers who have much-exceeded the stardom of many of those who are supposedly “stars.”
Most importantly, the 90-minute live show will feature Chmerkovskiy’s younger brother Valentin and his partner Emma Slater, along with professionals Mark Ballas, Keo Motsepe and Sasha Farber. After Ribeiro, fan favorites Val Chmerkovskiy and Mark Ballas are those carrying the lion’s share of the show’s popularity on the tour.
One of them – Val Chmerkovskiy – was trapped into a publicity conversation by a shameless longtime watcher of the show – me– to comment on his various pet theories. Chmerkovskiy was nothing if not polite and gentlemanly discussing it all.
On the idea that he’s one of those whose celebrity on the show is exceeding that of the stars.
“It’s humbling [if it’s true]. I’m not the kind of person who takes credit for things. I’m just somebody who’s very passionate about what I do. What’s important is the effort that we put into every dance that we do.”
On the reality of the filmed “packages” we see on the show which reveal snippets of rehearsal and ultra-carefully selected clips of “real life” outside the show. It is classified as a “reality show” after all.
“Sometimes it’s not the exact reality [that you see] that’s true. They sometimes emphasize parts that I didn’t think needed emphasizing.”
On those on the show who might possibly be a bit less endearing than the way they’re pictured.
“I’ve got nothing to hide. I don’t shy away from my reality. I’m not just this, I’m not just that. I’m a lot of things. Not everyone can be a sweetheart.”
On the occasionally visible tensions between the Chmerkovskiy brothers and some of the show’s judges.
“I take it very seriously. I wish I didn’t.” (Kiddingly) “There’s politics in everything. Somebody’s probably sleeping with somebody.”
On whether any of his partners on the show ever disappointed him.
“Every partner has challenged me a bit. … For me dancing is about men and women coming together.”
On whether or not there are off-camera friendships between the show’s professional dancers and its judges.
“I feel there’s a certain natural distance that must be kept away from them.” He exempted from that Julianne Hough, a judge last season but before that a “peer” as one of the show’s professional dancers.
On whether his lifelong violin-playing will be part of “Dancing with the Stars Live.” (He and professional dancer Ballas have a trio with Ballas on guitar and another guitarist.)
It will. “I will never turn down a challenge.”
On whether or not he’s ever shocked when a season’s new contestants are announced.
“Yeah, many times.”
On my theory that the show is reality television’s most committed show in getting America’s prime-time audience to stretch its sense of what’s normal and “acceptable.” (Previous contestants have included transsexual Chazz Bono, Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol and one season’s winner, burn-scarred Iraq War veteran and soap opera actor J.R. Martinez.)
“We’re a very compassionate country … We are still the most liberal-minded country in the world. … I’ve been pleasantly surprised by many people on the show and how they wound up doing.”
On those contestants on the show with whom he’s developed offstage friendships:
Chmerkovskiy named two – former football-playing contestant Jacobi Jones and his brother’s winning partner Meryl Davis.
Let the gossip about the doings of the show’s stars commence.