DWTS Celebrities: “What do you mean, I’m a Ringer?” Part 3

This is the 3rd and final part of the series where I take a look at the partners the pros have had and their “ringer” status. Part 1 discusses how I define a ringer – you can find it here —> I’m a Ringer?? Part 2 discusses the female pros and their partners and how I labeled them – I think it’s pretty clear that they’ve not been quite as blessed as the men. Reasons for that should be self evident – female celebrities are more likely to have some sort of dance experience, even if it is taking ballet or tap as a child.  NOTE: This was mostly written before the pairings were announced for Season 14 – those pairings certainly change the game for lots of pros. Lots of potential ringers on this season.

I strongly recommend you read the first two parts before you comment – I don’t want to have to reiterate everything I wrote MONTHS ago. :-)  Also, be wise and don’t complain about the length, admit that you didn’t read it all, and then argue with me – that will just earn you scorn and an eye roll.  I know this is long – I considered breaking it into two parts, but then I figured it’s still long in two parts. People will either be interested or they won’t.  :::shrug:::  Also take note that I, personally, don’t care about ringers themselves. I think a season without them is deadly.  What I DO care about is hypocrisy, revisionist history and the fairy tales that some like to spread about who has had ringers and who hasn’t.

From where I sit, there are two types of ringers – and then there’s just being blessed. Fanbase ringer (ie. Donny Osmond, etc.) or Experience Ringer (Mel B, Nicole, Sabrina, etc.), and lucky get (Lalia, Brooke, Gilles, JR). Just because someone happens to be a great dancer doesn’t mean they are a ringer. When someone is blessed with a partner who can dance, it doesn’t mean they were handed a ringer. That particular argument is so illogical that it’s hard for me to take seriously. If they actually seriously auditioned people to be on this show by making them dance with a pro for an hour or two, it would be understandable. But they don’t stand people in a room with a pro dancer and then say, “wow, she’s got some moves, let’s give her to Maks” or “she sucks, lets give her to Tony.” It doesn’t work that way. If it did, they wouldn’t be able to get people on the show. And can you imagine a pro like Tony sticking around if that was the approach they took?

As it happens, and as many people connected to the show have reiterated, the process of how a pro gets a celebrity often has to do with height, personality, looks, chemistry and the cast as a whole…and this becomes obvious as the show progresses. They are actually quite good at matching people up. I would imagine they give this a lot of consideration as it impacts, or has the potential to impact, ratings.  You’re going to try to avoid having a bunch of pairings that make people go “eeewww” or get seriously pissed off. I think you need to limit that to one couple per season. Can you imagine what it would be like for every pro on a season to have a partnership similar to that of Hope and Maks??  I would want to stab my eyes out with a fork if they were ALL like that and there was no Carson/Anna or David/Kym. Seriously – think about it.  So, it may be good to have ONE Maks/Hope – gives people (me and Courtney) something to talk about, rant about, get passionate about, etc. (This is separate from a discussion of whether Maks finally went too far or not – I don’t think that’s what the producers intended.)

Let’s look at Season 6, for example.  People would point to Shannon Elizabeth and say, “She’s too tall for Derek” – but she got him as a partner anyway, even though she is taller than him when she wears a certain heel on her shoe. Barefoot, she’s an inch shorter. So, why did Derek get her and not one of the taller guys?? Well, as we’ve seen through the past many seasons, Derek tends to get the older than him, needier (that’s not pejorative in this instance), very beautiful women. That’s not ALWAYS the case, but it often has been. They either look beautiful together or they mesh well on a personality level (obviously Shannon did both) or they have the potential to create fireworks.  But not only do they have to consider the pro and the celeb when they give a pro a partner, they also have to look at who signs on to the season as a whole.  Who else was on Season 6, in terms of female celebrities??  Kristi, Priscilla, Monica, Marlee, Marissa…all rather distinctive “types” in one way or another.

Monica Seles is 5’10” tall, so she can’t go to Louis, Mark or Derek. That leaves Tony and Jonathan, of the male pros who were on that season; she went with Jon.   Priscilla and Marlee are both older, significantly older than the 22 year old Derek and the 21 year old Mark were at the time, so it’s likely that they go with pros who are slightly older, or who appear older, than Derek and Mark; so they are partnered with Louis and Fabian, respectively. That leaves Shannon, Kristi and Marissa for Tony, Derek and Mark.  So why did Shannon go to Derek and not Tony?  Since it seems to me the “obvious” pairings based on height would be Mark/Marissa, Derek/Kristi and Tony/Shannon, why didn’t it happen that way? Well, I’m just guessing, but I would bet there is a personality factor at play here. I think they were hoping for the Derek/Shannon showmance angel.  That pairing then seems a bit obvious to me, since Tony is married and Mark really is too short for her. That leaves Mark and Tony and Kristi and Marissa; again, it seems like the resulting pairings should have been reversed. So, what gives??  Honestly, I have no idea. I figure there is some method to the madness that isn’t always obvious. I’m inclined to think that Marissa lived in NYC, which was convenient for Tony since his family lives there as well. And that leaves Mark with Kristi.

In any case, you can probably do that little exercise for every season of the show, which would make a lot more sense than just whining about how Derek always gets the dancers – when in reality, that honor goes to Maks. :-)  Of course, none of the above takes into account the HUGE factor that certain celebrities can request and receive the professional dancer of their choice.  The producers have come right out and said that Derek and Maks get requested. Through various sources (including the celebs themselves), we know what Derek, Mark and Maks have all been requested by celebrities they’ve danced with.  Nicole, Jennifer, Ricki, Kirsti Alley, Erin…just a few of the celebs who have put in requests. I also think (but don’t actually know) that Lil’ Kim requested Derek.  Chelsea said she requested Mark, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Kristi Y asked for him after Sabrina’s season – but I don’t know that for certain. This is a factor that you just can’t ignore – it has a huge impact on the rest of the pairings for a given season. If Nicole asks for Derek and Erin asks for Maks…well what are you going to do?? Say no? Especially since, at that point Derek had had NO ringers and had only won one time. What is the rationale? “Oh, sorry Nicole, we’re going to pair you with Tony cuz he’s had a run of crappy partners and we psychically know that you’re going to be fabulous and it’s his turn to win.” Hate to break it to you, but they don’t CARE if Tony has never won. They care about getting good/controvertial/exciting celebrities on their show and if it means promising Derek or Maks, that’s what they’re going to do.  For all we know, Kate asked for Tony.

But that’s slightly off topic.  Only slightly. The subject is and always has been the silly tendency of fans to point and scream ringer at anyone who is partnered with Derek, crying that he is favored by the producers. I would argue (especially after last season) that Derek is certainly popular and they want him to stay, but Maks is favored just as much as Derek is.  Why? Well, Maks threw a tantrum of epic proportions and is back on the show (thanks to Melissa??). Edyta?? Not so much. She was all signed up for a season and then something went down. Bye bye Edyta. Rumor was that Kym asked for more money and they had her sit out for a season. But Maks gets a pass. Why? Ratings win – who cares if Maks came out looking worse to a lot of people, it got people talking. The ratings didn’t go up, compared to the previous season, but people were talking.  But I digress…let’s really take at who has danced with who over the course of 13 seasons:

And in case you need a reminder on how I’ve defined and ranked ringers:

(the green shading is the person who won that season)

I’m now going to engage my psychic abilities (heh) and wait for the cries of “You didn’t make Ricki a ringer!!” – you’re right, because she wasn’t. If I make her a ringer, I have to make Brandy a ringer as well. Learning a dance or two for a movie doesn’t cut it, especially not when the dancing is not even as good as many people do in clubs on a regular basis (sorry Ricki). Brandy even learned to waltz! But in a movie, where you get many many takes to get it right and you can “fake it till you make it” – it hardly counts. Unless we’re talking Step Up or Cobu, of course. :-)  And it’s a slippery slope; if I make Ricki and Brandy ringers, I kinda have to make Debi Mazar a ringer for her string of appearances as a hip hop girl in Madonna videos. But, as I discussed in an earlier chapter, I try to balance out past experience with age.  I didn’t make Florence Henderson a ringer, for example, for her Broadway experience because it was so many, many years ago, although I did make Marissa a low level one for lots of Broadway experience – *recent* experience.  You’ll note that I did make Jennifer a ringer – but because of her fanbase, not her experience. Same as Ricki and Brandy – it was a movie and it was 25 years ago.  Her fanbase isn’t probably the size and right demo as that of Donny Osmond, but it’s still significant when compared with other people on her season.

Psychic abilities again – “But..but…Jennifer went to performing arts high school!!”  Guess what? So did Brandy. I imagine they aren’t the only two. At least in Jennifer’s case it was more than 30 years ago. Like childhood ballet, I just don’t think it counts. If we start counting stuff like that, ALL the women will be ringers. I took lots of dance classes as a kid. Am I a ringer?? LOL. Right.

I wavered back and forth many, many times on whether or not Hope was a fanbase ringer…and in hindsight I wonder about Rob Kardashian as well…finally I made the deduction (using the evil hindsight) that Hope shouldn’t have stayed nearly as long as she did and she wouldn’t have, if not for fanbase (and some help from the judges).  She’s a half a ringer, I guess. :-)  I will say, I also wavered a good bit on Marissa, but gave in when I saw that she was on Broadway for a few years in two different shows (Hairspray and Grease).  The difference between a movie and a live broadway show are obvious – in a movie you can do 50 takes to get it right. Broadway? You best know how to dance. Or do THE dance, in any case. Broadway folks are much more likely to be good with choreography.

Now, when I look at all the male pros and their many partners, one thing immediately strikes me: Maks, Tony, Mark and Derek have been VERY blessed when it comes to partners. ALL of them.  But Derek isn’t at the top of that list.  He’s had two ringers – Nicole and Jennifer (and both asked for him) – and he’s been blessed with Brooke, Lil’ Kim, Ricki and Jennie. While I loved his partnerships with both Joanna and Shannon, if you watch their dances back you realize that Derek is very clever at hiding weaknesses; neither woman was a fantastic dancer although they did well enough and stuck around for a while. Joanna’s latin dances, in particular, all had a sameness about them, mainly because I think her range of movement was pretty limited. She stuck around because of Derek and because there were worse people on that season. But all people seem to remember is that Futuristic Paso (which was brilliant) and seem to think she was a “dancer” – nope, a model. And that dance turned out brilliant because Derek shadowed Joanna the whole time. The producers indicated as much during the “Top 10 Dances” deal in a later season. So, each pro works with what they have and there is only so much they can do – but Derek has found a way to be rather clever about it.

What about Maks??  Because he’s never won, does that mean none of his partners were ringers?? By my count he’s had 4.5 ringers and he was very blessed with Lalia Ali, Brandy, and Misty May. Bad luck about Misty May. Hell, the ONLY partner he’s had that was downright BAD was Denise Richards (well, and Hope, but he did take her much farther than she should have gone).  But really, is 7 very good to great partners out of 11 seasons anything to complain about?? Hell no! And yet…  We could debate forever why he hasn’t won with those partners, but it’s usually a case (IMO) of better partnerships in a given season beating him not necessarily on dancing, but on personality.  Mel B and Lalia Ali spring to mind. They got beat by Helio/Julianne, and Apolo/Julianne – two powerhouse couples with personality to spare, and plenty of ability. It sucks – but it’s not Derek’s fault. :-)  As for Erin? Well, that was a ringerful season and she was the minor one of the group composed of her, Nicole and Evan.

Mark? Has had three ringers of varying degrees, one of which was probably the only person (or one of two) in the history of the show who was guaranteed to win based just on her name being announced.  Kristi, that is. :-)  Shawn came close to that level of combination of training and fanbase, but not quite to Kristi’s level.  Shawn and Kristi are the Olympians who have fanbases that closely align with the DWTS demo; Shawn’s skews a good bit younger, though, but those kids will vote with scary passion. :-)  He was blessed with Chelsea and Kristin, of course. Doesn’t matter that Kristin got eliminated early, she was still a good partner for him to get.  I see lots of complaining about Melissa Joan Hart and Shannon Doherty; hate to break it to those complainers, but those two ladies are no different on paper than Jennie Garth and Shannon Elizabeth.  How far each of them went in a given season has to do with a huge combination of factors including who else is on a given season, personality and chemistry with their partner.  It does NOT mean that Mark paid some special dues that Derek didn’t. Derek just paid them earlier.

What about poor, poor downtrodden Tony? Yes, I am being sarcastic. :-)  Tony has been given two moderate ringers…but at least three other dancers with a high degree of potential. He just couldn’t do anything with them. Chynna? Audrina?? Stacey??  All awesome dancers.  Yes, he had Jane and Susan who were both older, but they also weren’t crappy dancers. Of course, Tony also had two problem children in Wendy and Kate – but who else are you going to pair those two with?? Maks would have killed Kate and I think Wendy was too tall and built for anyone else.  Besides, Maks had to have Erin and Kirstie those seasons – poor guy. ;-) In any case, Tony is a bit of a victim of the pretty girl who can dance but isn’t really that memorable syndrome.  It’s not enough to be a great dancer on this show – you gotta have the full package, as we’ve said numerous times.

As for the rest of the guys….they’ve all had good and bad partners, but it’s also rather clear that they aren’t the go-to guys when it comes to the draws for the show. As much as I like most of them. But even Dmitry has gotten (or almost gotten) three good partners on his three seasons. One was a huge ringer (Mya), one was a good dancer sans fanbase and the third wasn’t a good dancer…but she was also a last minute replacement for someone who WAS (supposedly) a good dancer.  Louis has had some interesting partners…no one amazing, but he’s also the shortest pro connected to the show, so what are you going to do?  Alec got a pretty Olympian, Toni Braxton and he won with Kelly Monaco – his main complaint would likely be that they didn’t use him enough.  Really, if you want to feel sorry for a pro, give it up for Jonathan. He’s had a long list of…not great partners, but even he had a ringer in Marie Osmond. She was around for weeks longer than she should have been.

So, why the hue and cry about Derek and his partners? Well, I have a few theories.  One is – he’s damn good. He can take a Joanna Krupa to the semi-finals when similar dancers paired with Tony or Mark get eliminated much earlier – even if they are better dancers. Take Audrina for example – bigger fanbase than Joanna, better dancer than Joanna. So what happened? Same question regarding Chynna.  But even still – Maks has had more ringers than Derek and has had as many partners who were just good dancers – has he not won because Derek got all the good partners??  That’s clearly not the case. And it’s not like he’s always an early exit, either.  I think the reasons for his not winning are varied and complex – he’s certainly had worthy partners.  I think you would have to analyze every season on a season by season basis to figure it out. I already mentioned his seasons with Lalia and Mel B. Then there’s Erin who was on a ringer-ful season. Kirstie? Well, she took second place, but she was not the dancer that Hines was – it’s even arguable that she should have gotten second, but she is extremely popular – she beat out better dancers, yet I heard no complaining. Brandy? Well, Brandy’s problem was that there was a very noticeable fade into the wood work during the semi-finals. She was up against three people who were powerhouses for different reasons and she just didn’t stand out.  You could almost see that one coming-in fact, I think Courtney and I did see it coming. :-)  Why does this happen?? Well, that’s a good question and not an easy one to answer. You really have to work to not fade into the woodwork against the joyful Disney kid, the movie icon and the political hot potato. No easy task.

So what about Season 14?? Based on all that I outlined above, who has the ringer(s) this season? Or does it not matter since it isn’t Derek?  Once again, the only complaining I see on twitter is that Derek got the young beautiful partner “again”. So, are people so easily brainwashed into thinking things that are clearly not true??  Because, by my rough guess (since I haven’t researched it…yet), Maks has a fanbase ringer of questionable level, Kym may have a fanbase ringer, Mark might have an experience ringer of a lower level, Chelsie has an experience ringer of a lower level…hell, Tristan might even have a fanbase ringer!!  So you tell me – I dare you.  :-) Who are the ringers this season??