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As ‘American Idol’ falls, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ gains momentum

Rumer Willis. She’s the one.

The Vegas oddsmakers and I seem to agree. The daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore is the odds-on favorite to win the “coveted mirror ball trophy” on Monday’s final results show of “Dancing With the Stars.”

In other finale news, I forgot to see whether the odds wizards have put any numbers on whether or not Don Draper will survive the final seconds on this evening’s series finale of “Mad Men,” but now that we know that his ex-wife – played by January Jones – is dying of lung cancer, I’d be willing to bet that her funeral will figure prominently. It would certainly make sense as a genuinely climactic ending for a series that has always been so vehemently – and influentially – devoted to anti-climax.

In the meantime, “Scandal” went out Thursday night with first lady Melly as the new senator from Virginia but tossed out of the White House by her POTUS husband, along with presidential chief of staff Cyrus. Let’s not discuss whether a U.S. president would be making out with his longtime girlfriend on a White House balcony in full view of the world’s paparazzi. “Scandal” is one of the concrete bastions of anti-realism on TV, so let’s not stint in granting them immunity from plausibility at the end of a TV season.

What I would love to have seen the Vegas oddsmakers predict would have been how much longer “American Idol” would survive before it was announced last week that after next year it is going to that TV Forest Lawn in the sky to dwell with the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour” and “Star Search.”

I find it telling that one network is so eager to kiss “American Idol” goodbye while, on another, “Dancing With the Stars” is flourishing and setting itself up as a national theatrical franchise, with touring productions all over America. (They kicked it all off, you may remember, in Niagara Falls.)

My estimable colleague Jeff Miers has already had his brilliant and entertaining say on the rather unfortunate influence of “Idol” on the music business.

I’ve never been able to watch the show after the initial auditions are over. But I have nothing but affection for the opening and often hilarious “cattle call” days of “American Idol” each season before a select group of contestants battles “seriously” to see who can headline a million-dollar gig in Vegas and win the Wizard of Oz affections of Clive Davis.

“American Idol’s” record of producing American idols has been spotty since Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. But you have to admit that “Idol’s” record is still more convincing than that of “The Voice,” whose audience seems to be much more hale and hearty.

What’s appalling to a lot of us to watch is the 450-hp crassness of the show’s yearning for Idolhood, which seems to be about as soulless a professionalization in the music biz as you could imagine. The idea that at the end of a TV season you’ve won the fleeting affections of Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul is enough to make real musicians by the dozen understand that the price of fame can indeed be through the roof and up into the ionosphere.

What makes “Dancing With the Stars” such a growing smash is that we all know no actual “stardom” attaches to the “stars” once they’ve won the “coveted mirror ball trophy.” All they’ve really done at best is win the right to tour with the show’s professional dancers – the ones increasingly becoming the show’s “stars.”

That’s because 90 percent of the show’s supposed “stars” aren’t stars to begin with. Nor is American “stardom” what they’re after.

Some of the athletes are, indeed, real stars on “DWTS” – notably Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith in the NFL. And every now and then a real “star” from elsewhere – a Patti LaBelle or Kirstie Alley or Cloris Leachman – will try to trip the light fantastic in choreography that’s way out of their league. But mostly they’re there for the show’s not-so-secret agenda, which is mainstreaming American affections for people who are generally marginalized – transgenders (Chaz Bono); visibly scarred war veterans (J.R. Martinez and current arm and leg amputee Noah Galloway); daughters of the Internet; and TV political punchlines (Bristol Palin and “Duck Dynasty” clan member Sadie Robertson).

“Dancing With the Stars” is a genuine weekly remedial education in how mass American affections can be wrested from the infernal pits of pop distaste and rejection – or just simply neglect.

When, for instance, you’re watching Galloway “compete” without a left arm or left leg in a dance contest, you know that what you’re watching isn’t dance in the most conventional sense. But whatever it is you’re watching, you’d have to have a heart of carbonized steel to watch him do it and not be profoundly moved by the sight of it. Whatever he’s doing out there, he’s been shining a constant weekly light on the people this country asks to fight its wars, and what they endure and triumph over in almost superhuman ways.

It belongs on television.

As a nonfollower of tabloids and Internet gossip, I never knew that the current “DWTS” favorite Rumer Willis had been the butt of foul tabloid and Internet accusations of “ugliness.” She always seemed to me from pictures to be a kind of visual illustration of how genetics works. You can SEE both her parents in her face. The trouble with that kind of Hollywood aristocracy is that you’re visible from birth and therefore open to all the mind-boggling freelance malice that Internet scrutiny has awakened throughout the world.

That, too, is part of the durable secret agenda of “Dancing With the Stars” – to awaken the anesthetized hearts of the heartless and to inform those still in possession of humanity and compassion in this world that there’s TV for them, however much of an increasing minority they are.

So, for pity’s sake, pick up the phone, dial up the number and cast your vote, will you?