By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
They have gold medals, platinum albums, a shiny championship boxing belt and a Super Bowl ring.
Now, they'll be after another piece of glitter, the mirror-ball trophy given to the winner of ABC'sDancing With the Stars.
Eleven stars and their professional partners, announced this morning on ABC's Good Morning America, will compete for that prize when Dancing's 16th season begins March 18 (8 ET/PT).
The new class includes athletes (skater Dorothy Hamill, NFL star Jacoby Jones, boxer Victor Ortiz and gymnast Aly Raisman), country singers (Wynonna Judd and Kellie Pickler) and comedian/actors (Andy Dick and D.L. Hughley). Rounding out the field are actors Ingo Rademacher (ABC's General Hospital) and Zendaya Coleman (Disney Channel's Shake It Up) and reality star Lisa Vanderpump (Bravo's The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills).
"I'm very excited about them. There's a really good balance and a really good energy. I'm fascinated to see how some of the people are going to turn out. I think there's potential for a lot of great dancing, a lot of humor and reconnecting with a lot of people that America is very fond" of, executive producer Conrad Green says.
Some choices, he says, are especially timely, such as Jones, whose touchdown catch and kickoff return led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory earlier this month. Some are timeless, such as Hamill, who so many "have a soft spot in their hearts for," he says. Wynonna and Vanderpump have separate but strong female followings, while the 16-year-old Zendaya, Dancing's youngest contestant ever, could have strong appeal with younger viewers.
Green won't comment on those who were rumored to be on the show's wish list, including Honey Boo Boo's mother. "There are a lot of stories out there of people we've approached. Some are fairly accurate. Some are completely inaccurate."
Dancing is going back to its standard form, newbies taking to the hardwood with professional partners, one cycle after a fall all-stars competition of returning celebrities that may not have been all the network hoped for in buzz or ratings. The all-stars finale, while still approaching a potent 17 million viewers, was down about 15% from the previous fall closer.
Green is happy to have done the all-stars edition but isn't certain whether that format will or even could be done again.
Lacking brand new dancers may have been one factor in the all-stars ratings decline, Green says, but he points out that the show had to face new fall competition in NBC'sThe Voice, which it beat in viewers, and that ratings have been softer for reality competitions in general.
"In retrospect, we underestimated how important it is to have new people, to have people starting from zero. There was a feeling almost from the start of All-Stars that we'd started almost halfway through," he says. "What was great about All-Stars was we were able, because everybody was so good at dancing and had done the show before, to raise the standard of dancing to a level we haven't seen before."
The new dancers all have their reasons for taking the plunge.
Platinum-selling country artist Wynonna, who had been asked in previous years, says she decided to accept this time after spending many months caring intensively for her husband, drummer Michael Scott Moser, who lost a leg in an August motorcycle accident shortly after their June wedding.
"I went from hanging up my cute, little newlywed clothes that we were going to be wearing while we travel and do things as a married couple and I turned into the nurse/mom/wife/caregiver. And I think I forgot myself. I just wasn't putting myself on that list," she says. "After meeting with the folks from Dancing With the Stars, I said, 'You know what. I'm going to do this, because I'm ready to be hyper-focused on something for me.' ... It's about self-care."
Although Wynonna may be out on the floor with just her partner, she knows she has support: from her mother, Naomi, whom she expects to be in attendance, to her confidante, former Dancing participant Kirstie Alley, to her devoted country fan base.
"I know (Kirstie and I) are a lot alike in terms of constitution, extremely strong women. We're definitely sassy and have attitude, but it's not arrogance. It's a confidence you get as you get older, a sense of who you are," she says. "I know I have the most incredible fans. Country music fans are unlike any other genre, period. I know I have love and support from these people, whether I'm on the charts or not."
For comedian Hughley, the decision was about confronting his fears.
"I'm 48, so the idea of being able to do the things that horrify me are the only things that appeal to me these days. I started taking flying lessons because I'm horrified of heights, so this just seemed like a natural thing to do because I'm horrified of dancing," he says. "The idea of doing only things you're comfortable with I think is cowardly. I'm in horrible shape, I hate dancing, but I hate being beaten by young dudes in tight, sequined shirts even more. I have chicken legs and a lion's heart."
Hughley, who had just taken his first Pilates class, says he's going to win. "I promise you I'll be the worst dancer the first couple of weeks that there's ever been on the show, but I will work my (butt) off and I'll have a good time."
Housewives' Vanderpump, who hasn't danced since her school days, is a Dancing fan excited about being part of a competition known for its style.
"It's such a glamorous show. How many shows have that kind of pizzazz nowadays? It's almost going back to that Hollywood glamour. So few areas on television actually have that high-quality razzmatazz, which I think is fabulous," she says.
She's ready to work hard. "I'm going to take the bull by its horns and add this to my repertoire. But we'll see. I need to get through the first week. I need to get through the rehearsals."