It’s an honor to be writing for PureDWTS.com! Having been a regular viewer and enormous fan of DWTS since the second season, and a constant viewer since season four, I have noted a number of trends that have occurred over the various seasons. And I’ve noted that often the biggest factor in viewer’s voting, one that has been a constant throughout each season, has been what I call the Alternate Demographic Factor.
The Alternate Demographic Factor, or ADF for short, aka the specialized fanbase, has decided a number of seasons. And it has a tendency to keep people around longer than they perhaps should.
Last season was a perfect example. Ty Murray made it to the finals, despite the fact that most people had no idea who he was, he was an incredibly stiff dancer, and to be blunt was just really bad about 60% of the time. When the season started, everyone said “Who?”, and “A rodeo guy? What kind of star is that?” and other various sundry things. But by the end of the season, his winning personality and genuine sweet charm had won him a whole new legion of fans. He came back week after week, hanging on over other people he really had no business beating, such as Li’l Kim. Why? Ty tapped into his natural fan base – his fans from the rodeo circuit. These fans saw Ty as their chance to make a mark and a breakthrough to a general audience base. And Ty was the perfect representative of their interests.
Who knew who Helio Castroneves was before his turn on the show? Racing fans – but almost no one else. And Helio and his partner Julianne Hough worked that fan base like never before. Again, his genuine sweetness and undeniable charm helped win over the dancing fans, and he eventually went on to capture the revered Mirrorball trophy as season five’s champion, beating out the people who most fans thought were sure to capture the title, Mel B and Maks.
Season eight also had a huge fanbase issue. Shawn Johnson was an underdog when she first joined the compettition, a 17 year old Olympic gold medal winner who was known for just two days of competition at the Bejing Olympics. But she had a huge fanbase, not just from the olympic fans, but general gymnastic fans, and a midwestern loyalty to Iowa’s favorite daughter. She upset expected champs Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke, and everyone was stunned and amazed, but given the olympic track record, they probably shouldn’t have been.
There have been other demo factors as well. The seniors came out week after week for Cloris Leachman and kept her around much much MUCH longer than they should have; the boy band fans helped both Joey Fatone and Lance Bass make the finals (and genuine dancing talent didn’t hurt either); football fans have come out in droves to support Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp, and 3rd season champion Emmitt Smith, among others. I could go on and on about it, but I think you get my drift here…
Once again, despite the odds and the previous history lessons, the same things I heard last year about Ty Murray I’ve been hearing again since last week’s announcement about a number of this seasons competitors, but most notably two sports figures little known outside their respective sports. As they say, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s exactly what’s happening, with many fans pooh-poohing the inclusion of UFC former champion Chuck Liddell and especially champion snowboarder Louie Vito in this year’s cast.
A disclaimer of sorts here – I have been advocating the inclusion of an extreme sports star on DWTS on our Popcorn N Roses website and Subject:CINEMA podcasts for over a year now, three seasons in DWTS time, and I have focused most of that attenion of Vito because I’m a huge fan of his and because he’d already interviewed for it last year. But I would have been happy with ANY extreme sports star, from skateboarders Bob Burnquist and Bucky Lasek to other snowboarders like Mike Goldschmidt, Danny Davis, Scotty Lago, and Shaun White to BMX champs like Dave Mirra, Anthony Napolitan, Garrett Reynolds, Daniel Dhers, and Jamie Bestwick. But I’m especially happy they went with Vito because he’s a charming, talented and funny guy who puts everything he has into whatever he does. He has a better-than-average shot at making the 2010 mens snowboard Olympic team, and as my wife says, he’s just so gosh-darned cute.
It’s evident that sports fans are especially rabid when it comes to voting for their guys and gals. As long as they don’t embarrass the sport, or don’t look terrible (Ty Murray aside) on the dance floor, their votes have been enough to bring them back week after week. Again, look to the fact that since the show started there have been over a dozen sports-oriented stars in the top four, and FIVE of them – more than HALF over 8 seasons – have been Champions – Emmitt Smith, Apolo Anton Ohno, Helio Castroneves, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Shawn Johnson. Three more were just narrowly beaten for the MirrorBall – Jerry Rice, Jason Taylor, and Warren Sapp. And three more have made the final four – Stacy Keibler, Lalia Ali, and Ty Murray. And consider this – only one Olympian hasn’t won; Misty May-Trainor had to bow out with an injury. Otherwise, I believe it was quite possible that she too would have at least made the final four.
It’s not all about popularity. Many of the stars who have danced on the show were not well known before they appeared except with an already existing fan base. And even those who were, and who were just average on the dance floor – think Marie Osmond, Ian Ziering, or Cameron Mathison – they were kept around by their existing fan base and the new fans they built from the regular DWTS viewers. Cameron and also Marissa Jaret Winoker weren’t terrific on the dance floor, but they had fun, they let the viewers know they were having fun, and that they REALLY wanted to stick around. And the fans delivered as long as they could. And they both made it longer than anyone thought they would, with Cameron getting fifth place his season, and Marissa making the semi-finals in hers.
Back to Louie Vito for a moment – from what I’ve read around the net in the past week, some people, a lot of them big DWTS fans, are already counting him out. But Louie is one of the most savvy extreme guys out there. He has a well oiled fan base thanks to his well designed website, he Twitters regularly, he has a huge mailing list, and has followings on Facebook and MySpace. And that doesn’t even count the many often rabidly loyal snowboarding fans, or fans of extreme sports in general. He is also known to throw everything he has at what he does, which is how he came to be one of the top snowboarders on the contest circuit. He has TV experience, hosting a couple of extreme-oriented tv shows and occasionally doing commentary. And he knows how to market himself. All of which could play a role in how long he lasts, particularly if he turns out to be actually passable as a dancer. Somehow, knowing Louie from being a fan of his for a long time, I have the feeling he’s going to surprise a LOT of people.
Last season, no one I knew had any idea who the heck Gilles Marini was. By the end of the season, he was genuinely a STAR. IN fact, he was THE breakthrough star of the season. And the fans that the stars make while dancing also carry over to their natural fanbase after the exposure. For proof, look to the ratings for the Indianapolis 500- they had been declining steadily for several years, but suddenly took a jump from 4.7 in 2007 to a 5.1 in 2008, after Helio Castroneves won the Mirrorball the previous fall. Was it DWTS fans tuning in? Could be, could be…
All in all, if there’s anything that’s been proven over the past eight season, it’s that ANYONE can make it to the top four. And even the best known or well-loved can take an early fall, like Li’l Kim or Sabrina Bryan. It’s going to be up to the “Nobody knows them” stars – Vito, Liddell, Joanna Krupa, Natalie Coughlin and others – to prove they can make new fans. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Let the dancing commence! Oh, and one other thing…GO LOUIE!