Thanks to reality TV, we get to see celebrities – with either a natural talent for dancing or with two left feet – get their groove on the stage with bona fide dancers. On Dancing with the Stars, celebrities are paired with professional dancers in hopes of being the last pair standing. The winners get a cash prize and the mirror ball trophy. Ever since ABC first premiered the show in 2005, some pretty notable celebs have competed for the chance to take home the trophy.
It’s been 28 seasons, and the show doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Like most reality shows, this one has its secrets too. Viewers have long speculated that parts of the show aren’t as honest as the producers make them appear to be. From fibs of spray-tanning to actually rigging the show, this one is for the show’s fans as well as those who are simply curious about what really goes down behind the scenes of America’s guilty pleasure TV show.
The Contestants Get Scripts
Sorry to burst your bubble, but the term “reality television” is a little deceptive. It’s rare for these kinds of shows to be completely sans script. Producers simply want to make sure there is some drama to keep audiences interested. I guess they assume that, without their help, the contestants just won’t be naturally entertaining – or, at least, not enough.
The rehearsal scenes, for example, have lines scripted for the celebrities. Contestant Wendy Williams confirmed it on her talk show. Wendy Williams is known for her outspoken candor on The Wendy Williams Show. She seemed like the perfect, lively candidate for Dancing with the Stars’ 12th season in 2011. At least, that’s what the producers thought before she got eliminated in week two…
She Didn’t Play by “The Rules”
The former shock jock said that she would likely have stayed longer if she had played by “the rules” and read the lines ABC wanted. While appearing on Today in 2014, Williams said that the popular dancing competition is scripted. “I know this as a participant, OK. I’m reading… ‘Wait, this is not how I’m feeling today, and I wouldn’t say that. I’m not going to say that,’ I would tell the camera, so instead, I would say what I want to say.”
She thinks she would have fared better if she added a “little bit more sassafras.” According to Williams, they were writing her script to be an “Angry Black Woman.” As it turns out, the contestants get storylines, too…
They Get Storylines, Too
Most reality shows have scripts that are based on what is actually going on in the lives of the participants. For Dancing with the Stars, it can mean looking at and addressing any rumors circulating. At other times, it can mean focusing on couples that have formed either before or during the show.
Producer Rob Wade explained: “You go into [a season] with preconceptions of what couples will be like, but things change.” He described how producers saw paparazzi shots of one pair, James and Petra, on a date way before the show even started. So they used it as a story point. It was a genuine moment then when he found out that was his partner. According to Wade, they “don’t script it or do anything in that sense.”
The Longer They Stay, the More Money They Get
Yes, the contestants on DWTS get paid. And the longer they last on the show, the more they get. So, how much are they cashing in? Variety magazine revealed that the stars receive a sign-on bonus of $125,000 just for showing up to the initial rehearsals and the first two weeks of filming. Not too bad, right? The contestants get additional payments for every week they continue based on a pay scale.
According to a Gawker report, some have seen payments of $10,000 beyond week two, $20,000 for making it to week four, five and six; $30,000 for weeks seven and eight; and another $50,000 for the final two episodes. It makes sense now that the stars seem so desperate to stay another week.
All Four Put in the Same Hours
DWTS crowned former Bachelorette Hannah Brown, the Season 28 winner. Still, the star didn’t take home a bigger paycheck than Kel Mitchell, Ally Brooke, and Lauren Alaina (the other finalists of the seasons). It’s because the pay scale is based on the weeks spent on the show – not who ends up with the trophy.
It only makes sense, considering that all four stars put in an equal number of hours. According to sources, there’s a cap on how much money a star can make on the show. For Season 28, the maximum amount was reported at $295,000. In previous seasons, though, it’s been much higher, reaching upwards of $345,000. Either way, the 25-year-old winner took to her Instagram page to share the big news with photos of her and her pro-partner, Alan Bersten.
In Case of (Celebrity) Emergency
Given the fact that celebs are the contestants, schedule problems, and last-minute quitting is part of the package. So much so that they have an “in case of emergency” protocol. The producers line up extra celebs just in case their first choice doesn’t work out. Producer and casting director Deena Katz explained to Glamour: “I don’t think we’ve ever told this… I had another celebrity in a trailer that had been rehearsing for a week. He had a wardrobe and everything just in case.”
In the second season, rap artist Romeo Miller (Lil’ Romeo) was scheduled to compete with Tatum O’Neal, Jerry Rice, and Drew Lachey (who won). Before the season started, though, Miller suffered an injury. So his dad, fellow rapper Master P, stepped in to replace him.
Taking One for the Team
Master P joined the show and was partnered with Ashly DelGrosso-Costa. Although he was no dancer, he got some extra points for being a stand-up dad and taking one for the team. And he even made it week four, which is longer than some might have ever expected. But, unfortunately, the rapper is still remembered as one of the worst contestants to dance on the show
He would often receive only four points from every judge. One performance earned him a sad score of two – from both Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli. “I know people were going to make fun of me and laugh,” the dad said. “But I say it’s worth it because I wanted to make sure that we brought that light and hopefully bring some of the people back together. And it worked.”
He Declines Every Season
There are some certain famous faces that producers really want but have yet to reel in. Bill Clinton is one of them. Each season, the former president is offered a chance to be on the show, but he consistently declines. Chances are he’s never going to accept. “You know, I ask Bill Clinton every time,” Deena Katz told ABC News.
“But this time, I actually didn’t ask him because I thought he might be a little busy,” Katz revealed that she also approaches numerous Olympians every year. She managed to snag Shawn Johnson and Misty May-Treanor, and Evan Lysacek. For these hard-to-get famous people, it’s about putting the call out there and hoping for the best.
Spray Tan Sundays
Have you ever wondered how each DWTS celeb has the perfect glow and toned abs? Zena Shteysel, the show’s head makeup artist, has a strict weekly routine. Part of preparing the cast for the show is making sure they got their tan on. “We have what we call spray tan Sundays, where everyone comes in on Sunday to get tanned,” she told InStyle. If you ask Zena, there’s a reason for this: “Spray tanning is a major part of the grooming process.”
She says it helps hide imperfections and creates the illusion of tighter looking bodies. Apparently, they use up to five gallons of spray tanner each season. There have also been some tanning mishaps. In 2017, Big Brother star Hughie Maughan mistakenly used leg tanner on his face, which left him with a comically orange look.
How They Pair Them Up
Knowing that they have scripts and storylines, you might expect celebrities and dancers who don’t see eye to eye get paired to create drama. But, this is actually the last thing producers want. Rob Wade told E! News that they pair them based on height, build, personality and compatibility.
“We don’t pair people who aren’t going to get on,” he explained. He says it’s too intense. “It’s not like The Bachelor or something, we couldn’t do that.” According to Wade, that would just be a miserable experience for the celebrity, for the team, and for the viewer. Reality TV can be nasty for sure, but you don’t want to see two people who don’t like each other dancing together. Wade said they had made that mistake before.
The Casting Process
If you’ve ever wondered what the percentage of pro-dancers the producers ask to be on the show is and the number of celebs that ask to be on it, here’s something to note. Katz revealed that they rarely ever take celebrities that agents/managers/publicists pitch to them. There was an exception, though.
Stacy Keibler was pitched to Katz. “Mostly, the ones that are pitched to me aren’t the ones that end up on the show, but it has nothing to do with them,” Katz explained. She said there’s a lot of strategies that go on with casting. Fans love to pitch their favorite actors and actresses to Katz. Number one on the list? According to Katz, it’s Jennifer Aniston. Aniston just doesn’t seem to be interested…yet.
Approving Their Outside Work
The show is a big hit, of course, and part of its success is the roster of professional dancers. However, the dancers’ contract is reportedly restrictive regarding what they can and can’t do outside of the show. “They have to get approval for any outside jobs, and are very limited by what they can do now that they are big stars,” an insider source told Fox News.
One of the show’s biggest dancers was Julianne Hough, who reportedly had to turn down some work when she was a dancer on the show. “They’ll approve the odd movie, but she’s had to turn down other things, including a sitcom role on a competitive network,” the same source explained.
Going in a New Direction
It looks like DWTS is cleaning house. After Tom Bergeron‘s shocking announcement that he’s leaving ahead of Season 29, ABC confirmed that co-host Erin Andrews is also leaving. ABC and BBC Studios made a joint statement: “Tom Bergeron will forever be part of the Dancing with the Stars family. As we embark on a new creative direction, he departs the show with our sincerest thanks and gratitude… Erin will also not be returning.”
Bergeron tweeted: “Just informed @DancingABC will be continuing without me. It’s been an incredible 15 year-run and the most unexpected gift of my career. I’m grateful for that and for the lifelong friendships made. That said, now what am I supposed to do with all of these glitter masks?”
An Unfair Advantage?
Many fans know Heather Morris as Brittany Pierce, the ditzy cheerleader on Glee, but many viewers of DWTS were shocked to learn that this triple threat had an impressive background in dance long before becoming a star on the 24th season in 2017. She was a former backup dancer for Beyoncé, meaning Morris certainly wasn’t an amateur, unlike her fellow celeb contestants.
This led to some complaints from disgruntled fans. According to one on-set source, her fellow cast members that season saw her background as “unfair” and a “huge advantage.” Similarly, just months before 2018’s season, Instagram influencer and model Alexis Ren revealed that she was a classically-trained ballerina. DWTS viewers aired out their frustrations on social media. “Why isn’t anybody complaining about her dancing experience as a ballet dancer?” one fan wrote. Another wrote: “I thought this show was for stars that never danced before?”
Those who last long enough on the show are bound to experience what happens when you’re physically and mentally exhausted. When producers were asked how often celebs come to them if they’re upset about footage that’s aired, Katz revealed that they usually come to her, and then she gets upset with Rob Wade (in a teasing way).
“I’m like everyone’s mom,” Katz said. “So when someone is hurt or crying, it’s instinctual to say, ‘Don’t shoot this,’ but then I have to remember it’s a TV show, and I have to allow it.” She tells the celebs that if they say it on camera, it’s likely to get airplay. But if something really awful happens or is said, they won’t use it.
The Rebellious Accusations
Rebellious soccer star Hope Solo is known for creating drama, so it’s not really surprising that she left Season 13 ready to dish out some gossip. Two years after competing on DWTS, the athlete released her 2013 memoir, Solo: A Memoir of Hope. In it, Solo accused her dancing partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, of slapping her across the face during one of their practices.
The footage has apparently been lost (according to Today). During that same season, Chmerkovskiy infamously blew up at one of the judges, Len Goodman, after he reviewed the duo’s rumba negatively. Solo claimed that the dance-pro purposely caused this drama to ensure their place on the show after supposedly seeing a “secret memo” from producers who allegedly wanted to cut the two from the show. Chmerkovskiy denied Solo’s allegations.
DWTS Season 19 winner, Alfonso Ribeiro (also known as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Carlton), knows that when it comes to winning, there’s more than meets the eye. When speaking with AOL about the show in 2016, he revealed that “it’s not about the best dancer.” He said it’s more about the “journey” and “personality.”
He may have been alluding to the show’s tendency to push drama and “showmances.” Regarding his own win, Ribeiro explained that he used the show’s point system to his advantage. “There’s a lot of manipulating going on with the producers, about what weeks you’re doing which dances, and are you doing your best dances early, or are you saving them for later.”
Using “The Carlton” Card
Ribeiro knew precisely when to drop his classic Carlton Banks jig into the show, which ultimately guaranteed the win for him and dance-pro partner Witney Carson. He revealed to People: “We had talked about the fact that we were going to do ‘The Carlton’ dance at some point.” He and the producers apparently went back and forth regarding when they were going to do it.
Most fans are under the impression that dance selections are a surprise each week, but it turns out the contestants really do have some wiggle room in influencing the direction. “There’s a lot that goes into pulling out a win on the show versus being the best,” Ribeiro stated.
The Bachelor 2.0?
Reality TV “showmances” often exist to boost ratings. In Season 27, Instagram influencer Alexis Ren was paired with dancing pro-Alan Bersten, and the sparks seemed to fly immediately. After the brunette shared her feelings about Bersten in a confessional, Bersten shared his own during a highly-publicized horseback ride. The duo kissed on camera.
The pair kept up the appearance of being a happy, new couple while the show was on the air. But, things quickly fizzled once the cameras stopped rolling. A month after that on-screen kiss, Entertainment Tonight spoke with Bersten, asking him for an update about their blossoming romance. “You know, we’re talking,” he said flatly. “She’s in Japan right now … so we’ll see.”
It’s All About the Showmance
Bersten’s response kept things hush-hush, but co-star Witney Carson was quick to reveal the truth of the matter. She basically threw their entire relationship under the bus when she said, “It’s like The Bachelor. It never really quite works after the show is done.” It was then that fans understandably found the whole romance to be suspicious.
A source close to the couple told Life & Style that the couple thought these claims were “crazy.” The source said, “They were always totally honest about their feelings for each other.” Whether or not that’s true, Bersten did admit months later that their relationship “didn’t end so well” when he made an appearance on Jana Kramer’s Whine Down podcast. It’s all about the showmance on reality TV.
Staging Wardrobe Malfunctions
In 2017, TV host Vanessa Lachey performed a quickstep routine with her pro-dancer partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Well, the problem was that her skirt fell off only seconds into their routine. According to People, the starlet didn’t skip a beat and finished off the dance with not only high scores but praise from the judges.
Judge Carrie Ann Inaba told her, “It was such a fantastic performance! You are the epitome of class and grace.” Afterward, Lachey joked: “I lose my skirt right in front of the judges. It looks like bribery… Hey, if it’s for extra points, I’ll take it.” An insider source claimed to Radar Online that “Vanessa’s dance… was flawless, but her skirt ripping off was totally staged. She isn’t stupid.”
When Season 11 of DWTS threw politics into the equation, some fishy under-the-table antics were going on. Activist and author Bristol Palin (Sarah Palin’s daughter) was one of the contestants and she got paired with dancing Pro-Mark Ballas. Palin wasn’t the strongest contender, but she somehow managed to place third by the end.
HuffPost reported that her success on DWTS led to mass speculation that conservatives found a way to cheat and ultimately cast an “infinite number of e-mail votes” for Republican Palin. Palin denied the conspiracy claims. “I work my butt off here,” she said in an interview with The New York Post. “I rehearse every day. I am totally out of my element here. I think I deserve to be here.”
A Rigged Vote?
As it turns out, rigging votes isn’t just reserved for politics. In Season 18, Olympic ice dancer Meryl Davis was paired with Maksim Chmerkovskiy to win the trophy in 2014. Although her ice dancing background certainly gave her an advantage, fans had another reason to be angry over her win against competitors James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd.
Apparently, the votes made through the DWTS Facebook voting app might have gone to the wrong team. TMZ confirmed the glitch and reached out to ABC. The network’s representative claimed the votes were counted correctly. TMZ then reported: “The rep blew off the apparent error as a ‘caching anomaly’ that only affected a small number of users.”
Jealousy Between the Pros
During Season 18, an alleged feud broke out between NeNe Leakes, her original partner Tony Dovolani, and another dance pro, Derek Hough. After Leakes was set to do a routine with Hough during the show’s “Switch-Up” week, she went back to partner Dovolani. However, the pair had an argument during rehearsals over Dovolani’s “jealousy.”
It led to Leakes storming out as she told Dovolani that she didn’t deserve his “attitude.” Clearly upset over how he was being portrayed, Dovolani told Us Weekly about the incident, saying the tension was due to a “combination of exhaustion and good storytelling.” As for his relationship with Hough, the dancer cleared the air on Today: “That package made it seem like I hate Derek. I don’t hate Derek. He’s an incredible choreographer.”
A Reputation for Fakery
Dancing with the Stars’ apparent fakeness isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been talked about for a while. Former football player Emmitt Smith, who won in Season three, has spoken openly about how the show cuts clips and creates scripts. Although Smith had a reputation as an intimidating football player, he never showcased it on DWTS.
There were fans, however, who might remember that Smith looked to be “talking smack” about his competition during a confessional clip. He made it sound like he’s not “intimidated by an actor or Indy racer or speed skater.” Smith cleared the air later on: “First of all, the show’s producers cut it to make it look like I was going after those guys. If you know anything about me, I’ve never been a trash-talker.”
Okay, so fans may be able to rig votes in favor of their favorite contestants, but is the scoring fixed, too? Bindi Irwin, Season 21’s winner, the daughter of the late Steve Irwin, faced a backlash from fans during her run with dancing partner Derek Hough. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the backlash started in 2015 when Irwin was consistently getting perfect scores from the judges.
One of the judges was Julianne Hough, Derek’s sister. Some viewers tweeted how unfair it was for a sibling to be a judge, saying, “Where is the integrity in that?” Another viewer called Hough’s scoring “biased and ridiculous.” The judges apparently ignored Irwin’s mistakes.
“Too Sweet” and “Fake”
Bindi, an actress herself, paid tribute to her late father, which made it seem like the focus was more on her storytelling ability than her dancing skills. The negative press didn’t stop there for Irwin. The backlash continued when she was welcomed back as a guest judge in 2019.
According to The Daily Mail, the Australian was branded as “too sweet” and “fake” by a number of Twitter users. Some flat-out asked her to be more natural as a TV persona. All this negativity resulted in the 20-year-old leaving the judging panel before the show’s finale. Given the star’s age, fans were a bit too harsh with her.
The Worst Dancers
According to Cheatsheet, some of the worst celebrity dancers on the show were Geraldo Rivera, Buzz Aldrin, and Chris Kattan. But Master P took the cake. Rivera was memorable in his multicolored shirt next to Edyta Sliwinska in a pink bodysuit. Rivera received a score of 13. Then there was Aldrin, the former NASA astronaut, who decided to step onto the dance floor in Season 10 with partner Ashly DelGrosso-Costa.
They made it to the third week, but it was the waltz that got Aldrin eliminated. Still, fans cheered him on as he was clearly struggling with the steps. As for Kattan, the comedian joined in Season 24 and was partnered with Witney Carson. He made it to the second week when he performed a jazz routine to “Hey Ya!” To be fair, Kattan came in with an injured neck. So… yeah.
A Noteworthy Departure
Kirstie Alley was on DWTS and was pals with her dance partner, Maks Chmerkovskiy. Their friendship ended after the show, however. Why? Well, it was allegedly because Leah Remini came on the show (who wrote a book about how she left Scientology titled, Troublemaker: Hollywood and Scientology). After that occurrence, Alley cut ties with both Chmerkovskiy and the production.
“Scientology happened,” Chmerkovskiy responded when he was asked about his friendship with Alley. “You can thank Leah Remini for that. A note was sent to a friend telling me I was ‘disconnected,’ as in, I am no longer allowed to be Kirstie’s friend. I find it ridiculous for an adult human being to ‘disconnect’ from someone. But everyone is entitled to their own insanity.”