My early prediction for this season of Dancing with the Stars: Kirstie Alley is a contender. It’s not because she’s a great dancer (she’s surprisingly okay), but because she a) has good name recognition and b) has relatability. Those factors matter as much as – and maybe more than – dancing ability on this show. One of Dancing‘s favorite tropes is the contestant who came on the show to lose weight and get in shape, and it has helped everyone from Jerry Springer to Kelly Osbourne get further than they expected on the show. That has a lot to do with the fact that Dancing‘s average viewer is a middle-aged woman, and those viewers like being able to relate to a contestant’s story. (That’s one reason why supermodels like Paulina Porizkova and Josie Maran, as well as reality starlets/pinups like Holly Madison and Kim Kardashian never fare well on this show, their mediocre dancing nonwithstanding). Unlike American Idol, Dancing with the Stars is a place that rewards older contestants for their hard work. Donny Osmond was 51 when he won his season, and Florence Henderson was an audience favorite, even though her dancing skills were lacking.
Kirstie seems to know this, and she’s playing it up beautifully. “I think if I was 22 and a size 2, this would be easier,” she said while struggling with a dance move. “If someone told me to haul ass, it would take two trips.” Partnered with mega-hottie Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who has quite a following of his own, she has a tremendous amount of potential. Kirstie has made a cottage industry out of her weight struggles, profiting off everything from a Jenny Craig endorsement, a bikini-wearing appearance on Oprah, and a TV show called Fat Actress. She knows how to turn her weight struggles into tabloid headlines, and if she plays her cards right she could also turn them into reality TV victory.
And it seems like Dancing knows her potential, too. Pairing with her Maks was a calculated move – they know he has a big fanbase who will vote for him no matter who his partner is, and he’s known for saying controversial things in the press that bring more attention to the show. The first episode’s music was also a clue: celebrities whom the show favors get more recognizable pop songs. Kirstie and Maks’ cha cha song was Cee-Lo Green‘s “Forget You.” Having the audience already singing along is a great way to lure them into liking a performance. As for the actual content of the dance? She was okay, but there’s potential. And one of the best ways to win this show is to start off in the middle of the pack and have an improvement/redemption arc. Kirstie’s definitely the one to watch this season.