Paula Deen? Kim Zolciak? A 'Vine Star'?! Does DWTS Need a Time-Out?

After 21 seasons, Dancing With the Stars fans know better than to expect a “Who’s Who?” of A-listers when ABC unveils the cast for its biannual reality staple. As the network dragged out news of the show’s fall 2015 lineup over the past week, however, the response from the DWTS faithful went something like “Who? Who?” followed by the telltale “whaa whaa” of a sad trombone.

Aside from R&B legend Chaka Khan and Victor Espinoza (the jockey who guided American Pharoah to the first Triple Crown win in 37 years), the Season 21 cast is chock full of “celebrities” only identifiable with the help of Google (“What’s a ‘Vine star’ Hayes Grier?”) and/or names that require a Clorox Disinfecting Wipe every time they’re typed or verbalized (oh, hi there, Paula Deen!)

The sad smorgasbord of Carlos PenaVega, Alexa PenaVega, Gary Busey, Kim Zolciak Biermann and Bindi Irwin — just to throw a few more wet towels into the heaping pile on the laundry-room floor — got me wondering: Is this the best the show’s casting department can do?

After all, the 13.3 million total viewers and 2.3 demo rating pulled in by last May’s finale were still as spicy as a well-executed samba — so how come nobody along the lines of prior standouts like Jennifer Grey, Apolo Anton Ohno, Hines Ward, Amber Riley or Meryl Davis is in the mix this time? Heck, even a campsterpiece like Lisa Rinna, Kirstie Alley or Carson Kressley might’ve saved Season 21 from the dark cloud of “who cares?” descending over the Alphabet network’s Monday-night proceedings.

What about an All-Athletes Edition? Or a “regular folk” cycle? (The waitress at our local French bistro is a budding flamenco enthusiast, and I can assure you she’s got at least as much personal magnetism as Nick Carter.)

If I can think of a couple ways to shake the cobwebs off the show’s formula, how come DWTS’ EP Rob Wade & Co. are content to rest on their piles of sequins and boas?

 If I ran ABC, I’d give Dancing With the Stars a cycle off. Or putting it another way, I’d give it an extra six months to brainstorm more intriguing tweaks to its formula and to track down more unexpected “celebs” (or celeb-adjacents) to make its results less predictable.

To refresh your memory, here’s this season’s full lineup:

Alek Skarlatos partnered with Lindsay Arnold
Alexa PenaVega partnered with Mark Ballas
Andy Grammer partnered with Allison Holker
Bindi Irwin partnered with Derek Hough
Carlos PenaVega partnered with Witney Carson
Chaka Khan partnered with Keo Motsepe
Gary Busey partnered with Anna Trebunskaya
Hayes Grier partnered with Emma Slater
Kim Zolciak Biermann partnered with Tony Dovolani
Nick Carter partnered with Sharna Burgess
Paula Deen partnered with Louis van Amstel
Tamar Braxton partnered with Valentin Chmerkovskiy
Victor Espinoza partnered with Karina Smirnoff

Take our polls below to tell us whether you’d give DWTS a vacation, how many of its celebs you recognized (without the help of a search engine) and what “Special Editions” might reinvigorate your interest? Then hit the comments and expand on your thoughts!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Eric says:

    I fail to see a problem. I don’t understand what people expect. They are in their 21st cycle. It’s hard to come up with a really good list of celebrities when you’ve done it 20 times already. That combined with the fact that I’m sure there are a lot of celebrities that turn down the opportunity. At this point, you kind of just have to take what you can get. It’s been like this for seasons now and I don’t think it’s ever going to change. Taking a cycle off won’t do anything and doing a “Special Edition” season won’t bring in viewers. Nobody wants to see an “All Athletes” version. Why? For the very reason you are complaining. Most people won’t know the majority of the athletes and it will be a turn off for the viewers. Nobody wants to see a “Regular Person” season. Why? For the very reason you are complaining. People won’t know who they are and won’t be interested in seeing random people they don’t know dance. Besides, that’s not the point of the show. The point is to see “celebrities” dance, not regular people. I think people just need to accept the stage this show is in. They kind of just have to take what they can get, whether it’s good or bad. They are never going to get any A-list celebrities on this show and there is only so many C-list and D-list celebrities that are wiling to participate. So they have to search even further down to scrape a cast together. It just is what it is.

    • MelindaB says:

      Exactly! How is a Vine personality worse than a YouTube star? A Real Housewife worse than a Bachelor? The daughter of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is a nobody? Gary Busey and Chaka Khan? Alek Skarlatos is an “everyday person” who happened to do something great that put him in the public eye, and on the show.

      None of those groups in the poll would appeal to me–the appeal is the wide diversity of contestants.

      • Regene says:

        And the choir said ‘Amen’

      • Ron says:

        And Bindi also isn’t *just* the daughter of Steve Irwin. She’s a conservationist herself, as well as an Emmy-award winning host for the children’s series she hosted a few years back.

        • Deb Gib says:

          Oh, please. To lots of people she is an nobody.

          • Citygirl says:

            She is too young to be on the show as is that Vine kid.

          • The show is called dancing with the stars not dancing with whoever not dancing with heros but dancing with the stars and they seem to have forgotten that. I am sure there are several stars out there that would be on the show. I would also like to see the show go back to dancing and not all the special effects. Straight up ballroom dancing i am ok with street but no more of this other junk. If you are doing a Viennese Waltz that is what I want to see same thing with t he other dances. Do it correctly or stay home.. Do not make your own rules.I loved Mark for a long time and now I do not want to see him anymore he is one that like to make his own rules. I agree Bindi is a nobody most of the cast is this year.

    • Sally McLinn says:

      I also think a lot of celebs/stars turn them down. I’m surprised that rappers aren’t in the mix.

    • mcslammer says:

      So then why bother?!!

  2. *Personally* believe this is the best cast in a year or so. The past 2 seasons have failed to attract more than one “big name”, yet they have Nick, Chaka, Tamar, Andy, Paula this season; all household “names”. It’s still stable in its 21st season and far stronger than anything else ABC would even attempt to put in its timeslot, so I don’t see the major problem at all.

    • dan says:

      Tamar and Andy are not household names. I had to ask my teenaged daughter who Andy was and she asked me who Tamar was (I said that Tamar is the sister of a somewhat famous singer from the 90s, but otherwise I have no idea who she is). I understand that they can’t get 12 or 13 household names, but when Chaka Khan, Gary Busey and Nick Carter are the most famous in the cast then you have problems.

      • Jess says:

        there’s nothing wrong with NIck Carter. And quite honestly he’s the reason I will be tuning in this season. He’s been a household name since 98. He’s not the only boy band-er that they’ve had over the years. I’m surprised they didn’t ask him sooner.

      • NP says:

        Wow! Andy has some major songs the radio and you don’t know who he is we’re most excited for him and he’s one of the most high profile names on this season

    • Bob Backus says:

      1 is a household name, many many others are “WHO?” Chaka is a relic from the 80s, and the one that everybody would know you don’t even mention. Nutty Busey.

  3. Angela says:

    Yeah, I’m not overly wild about the lineup this season, either. Eric is right that they take who they can find, sure, and I don’t often mind that I don’t know some of the celebrities being picked. Sure, it’s great when I do know and like a famous person who’s on here, but there have been celebrities whom I’m just hearing about through this show that I came to enjoy watching, too.
    But even so, the ones I am familiar with for this season’s lineup, I’m not all that eager about (Bindi and Chaka being possible exceptions). Maybe I’ll wind up liking one of the ones I’m not familiar with, who knows, but as of now, I look at the list and kinda go, “Meh.” *Shrugs* I’ll check out the season premiere, see how they do and who impresses me, and go from there.
    As for the suggestions of themed picks, I like the musicians one, just ’cause I’m a music lover in general. Though regular folks could be kinda fun, too.

  4. Pete says:

    I don’t think the problem with this cast is their “star” status but that a lot of them seem like they will not be able to dance at all.

  5. m3rcnate says:

    Haven’t watched since like season 2, but yeah my biggest issue (even back then) was this being “Dancing with the STARS!” and then a bunch of C-list at best “stars” come out.
    You realize the dancers are now bigger stars than the “stars”? That is INSANE lol.
    Overall, yes, i agree, put the show on hiatus (distance makes the heart grow fonder) and work overtime on casting and return with a “All Pro Athletes/Olympians” edition with some real stars that people will be surprised to see.
    If i was a star my biggest reason for not wanting to go on the show would be 1) Being surrounded by reality stars and “vine stars” and nobodies, the company i am surrounded by making me look bad. 2) The judging isn’t consistent, there are legitimately people who come on the show who are borderline former dancers and get raved or bashed, and there are noobs who are horrible who get pity points.
    However, as you pointed out, the show gets amazing ratings and i imagine is SUPER cheap compared to scripted drama’s with their large cast of actors and sets and writing staff etc. So per usual, networks will drive it into the ground squeezing every last penny they can get out of it, it just isn’t in big cooperate’s nature to think creatively like you just did, to stop, pause the series, take time to improve it, come back bigger and better than ever.

  6. This year they apparently decided to bring on the crazy, although I don’t think Deen or Busey will last very long.

  7. Sara says:

    Oh come on, Gary Busey is potential gold!

  8. Cass says:

    I don’t think it really matters how famous the contestants are, just how willing they are to put in the work and put out good performances. Last season I had no clue who Riker Lynch was and had a less than favorable opinion of Rumer Willis and those two were a joy to watch week after week.

    • Buffy0531 says:

      I so agree with you Cass! I fully expected Rumer to be an entitled brat (that’s what tabloid headlines do to you without you even realizing it), and had no idea who Riker was. I love seeing the ‘celebrities’ who want to win, work their butts off and have fun and excel. It doesn’t have to be some super-popular star -though when I mentioned to my 12 year old daughter that Hayes Grier was going to be on, she squealed – as long as they make the effort! I watch because of the dancing…the show has made ballroom dancing mainstream, and I love it!

  9. Kake says:

    Hey, I thought this is the most exciting lineup in years! The only thing I thought they stretched was the marine.

  10. Chris says:

    Really tvline and michael?!? You don’t even cover the show that much. You give us a break! This is a great lineup!

  11. Mark says:

    If they just shook things up by giving Derek one of the older, less athletic partners that would be a start.

  12. LoloCurray says:

    Nah nah honey, I’m good

  13. LoloCurray says:

    Also, don’t try to sound too much like E! with all the “What’s a ‘Vine star’ Hayes Grier?” nonsense.

  14. John K. says:

    At the very least, I feel like “Do they have their own Wikipedia page” should be the first criteria to qualify as a star on this show. And by that definition, Hayes Grier and Alek Skarlatos would be disqualified. Hell, Michael Ausiello has his own Wiki page.

  15. LC says:

    Nick Nolte, Chaka Kahn, and Paula Deen not withstanding, it looks to me like the show is looking for a younger demographic. My 15 year old daughter recognized over half the cast. I knew about 5.

  16. craig says:

    I think it’s a pretty great lineup. Looking forward to this season.

  17. C says:

    I don’t really watch this show, or this line up too much either, but I think Nick Carter is a big enough get. Backstreet Boys are still doing great.

  18. danoregon says:

    You wonder who was on the bubble but got bumped by Alek Skarlatos. A month ago he was bumming around Europe. Pretty cool deal. At least there aren’t any Bachelor retreads.

  19. Jacqi says:

    For the first time in awhile I am excited for this season. I was thinking about taking the season off but Nick Carter is on and they sucked me back in. I am excited to see Nick, Bindi, Kim and Alexa. I also think Andy will do well. And I bet that Alex guy does well with his heroism on the Paris train (vets tend to do well). Heres hoping Gary gets kicked off ASAP!

  20. Karen says:

    Most seasons start out almost this bad, but then after we get to know them for a few weeks, we usually find a few favorites to root for. Besides, the Pros are as much of a draw now as the “stars” are, maybe more so. At first I said I wasn’t going to watch this season, but I know I will. But I will be watching on taped delay, and I reserve the right to fast-forward through the parts that are too painful to watch.

    • brenna says:

      I agree Karen, and was going to comment something very similar to this.

    • AtlLady says:

      Amen, Karen. Those of us who have watched for years know that the dance pros are the “Stars”. It is fun to watch them try to make dancers out of the contestants. It is also fun to “meet” folks who are not well known and pulling for them. Sure, some of them may have two left feet but they can be enjoyable to watch as they improve. Jack Osbourne was a delight and learned quite a bit. Bill Engvall was a goof ball but his grin lit up the ballroom. Tommy Chong was very good considering his age. There are always surprises.

  21. Et al. says:

    With Paula Dean signed on, they might as well have just gone with an ‘all bigots’ edition. Get Hulk Hogan, Michael Richards, Juliana Rancid, Gilbert Gottfried, that hideous county clerk thing in Kentucky, etc. and then force them to partner with someone from the group that drew their ire. I still wouldn’t watch, but it couldn’t be worse than what they’ve gone with.

  22. Andrea says:

    I think this is the best cast they have had in awhile, it’s much better than last season anyways. I mean, they are in the 21st season…what do you really expect of them??

  23. Marianne says:

    I have not watched in a couple of seasons. I have heard of a few of these “stars.” Unfortunately, there isn’t one that really excites me into committing time to watch. I think the show has become really predictable, so it isn’t much fun to watch anymore either.

  24. I honestly would like to file a negligence suit against you for failing to actually discuss how incredibly absurd Alex’s participation in this show is. I feel like you were afraid to diminish his heroism, but not being on Dancing With The Stars does nothing to diminish his heroism. His heroism is always there. He’s not a star. He’s even less of a star than Hayes Grier. Instead, you went for Gary Busey, who has been acting since 1968 and has amassed 165 credits to his name, including AN OSCAR NOMINATION. No, by all means, ignore the guy who saved lives on the train, but the Oscar nominated actor… he definitely shouldn’t be on a show called “Dancing With The Stars”. I’m honestly surprised you were able to get out of bed this morning, after all that shame you must feel knowing that Gary Busey somehow just slid in with only one Oscar nomination. I remember all the seasons past, when you needed at least two Oscar nominations, or some combination of an Oscar win/Emmy win to get onto the show. Oh, wait, that’s never happened. And Alexa Vega has been acting for over 20 years, with 71 IMDB credits to her name, Probably best known for being a Spy Kid, Alexa has also more recently had a recurring role on Nashville (SYNERGY!) and a few movies that have come out within the last year (Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, The Remaining, 23 Blast, Spare Parts, Do You Believe?) All five of those films had theatrical releases from August 2014-Now. Not bad for a prospective Dancing With The Star contestant. If only she had been able to save someone on a train, she would have escaped your persecution.

    • Dave says:

      Geez, someone’s pissed. Let me just say, how dare you trash Alek Skarlatos! He is a veteran who fought in Afghanistan, and saved many lives on a train while risking his own. If you don’t think a veteran of this country and an American hero is a star, there’s something wrong with you. Instead, why don’t you be appreciative of his service. And by the way, his name is ALEK, not Alex.

    • Dave says:

      Btw, to call him less of a star than Hayes Grier shows everybody how unappreciative you are of his service and I find it highly disprespectful. You should be ashamed of yourself for your comments.

  25. Maryann says:

    I don’t mind that not all the “stars” are really all that famous, as long as they have a back story that justifies their being on, which is true of everyone this season. It really doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the show. Getting to know everyone as we go along is half the fun, and some of my favorites in past seasons only had a marginal claim to fame; Rumer Willis was a total joy to watch dance, even though her claim to fame was basically being a celebrity kid. This year, the cast members I am most looking forward to? The triple crown jockey, Bindi Irwin, the hero marine, Nick Carter and Chaka Khan. And it doesn’t matter in the least that for a couple of these, I don’t actually recall their names.

    As for the idea of “theme” casts? I rarely know the athletes that are cast, unless they are Olympians; to me, football and basketball players are basically “unknowns” no matter how famous they are to people who follow those sports. And musicians? As I recall, some of the best singers can be the worst dancers. A mixed bag is definitely better. And as far as regular people are concerned? No, for me, they need to have some claim to fame, however marginal. My fantasy contestant? A seventy-something black grandmother who is an award-winning body builder and trainer who looks like she is half her age; I don’t even recall her name, just the human interest piece that one of the news sites did on her a couple of years back. But it would be really nice to see an older contestant who has the fitness, strength, and flexibility to actually have a chance.

  26. Cindy Goshert says:

    You are missing the compelling aspect that draws so many to the show …that is the chance to see and get to know these “stars” from a totally different perspective. Who hasn’t been totally surprised by how different a celebrity really is shown to be on th e show compared to how they have been perceived. Lastly, the choreography and dancers are amazing!

  27. Laura says:

    Don’t they save more “known” stars for the spring edition so their ratings for sweeps are higher?

  28. Buffy0531 says:

    Somewhat unrelated comment…bring back the “agree” or “like” button TVLine! So many great comments, so little time to respond to them all!

  29. Jake says:

    Once again another stupid show that has been on way past it’s prime, just like Survivor. CANCEL THIS CRAP

  30. atxnole says:

    Cancel the show. It’s garbage. Or at least change it up and partner them with crews from ABDC or something like that which is actually exciting to watch.

  31. Jake says:

    The show never delivered huge stars. Usually Olympians come after Olympic years. And the show has always been heavy on reality stars and retro-stars. This year’s cast showcases racial diversity, background diversity, an oscar-nominee, a world class champion, 3 Grammy nominees ( one who was just nominated last year), a singer with a top 10 single this summer, a topical newsmaker and a former Americas sweetheart that became controversial.

    And if you’re pointing to ratings as a reason to dial this show back then you should really call out your darling SYTYCD which is delivering half the 18-49 rating at a 0.9 just this Monday with less than 4 million viewers. Nigel certainly plays favorites but you’re not far behind.

  32. Drew says:

    Half of the people in Hollywood are racist or otherwise bigoted. Did I miss a part of the Paula Deen story that makes her worse than any of the others?

  33. MM says:

    Never mind the “stars.” I watch for the pro dancers. Will be glad to see Louis van Amstel and Anna Trebunskaya again.

  34. Jared says:

    Fans of the show like the show itself. The dancing, the pro partners, the costumes, the music etc. How “famous” the celebrities are doesn’t really make a difference as far as ratings are concerned. I don’t watch the show consistently, but the All Star edition seemed to have a good mix of people. Maybe ABC should try that again.

  35. Abe Froman says:

    Repeat after me… reality, Vine and YouTube personalities ARE NOT STARS.

  36. Patrick says:

    Offer more money. The problem is that they are trying to do this on the cheap. They know they can dangle a couple dozen grand per ep and get SOMEONE. Or someones that are trying to rehab their images. Offer 200K per episode, and they will get some recognizable names. Trying to do it on the cheap, so that the producers can make more money, is stupid. Disney needs to step in and run this better.

  37. Luis says:

    The ratings will tell whether people care

  38. Lyn says:

    Here’s a thought, fill a season with popular rejects from singing competitions [American idol, The Voice]. Sort of a “well, you didn’t win as a singer, let’s see how you dance.”.

  39. Well, I won’t be watching this season of ‘Dancing With The Stars’ since Paula Deen is one of the ‘stars’. I had no idea of the desperate lack of ‘stars’ in this day and age. ABC – this is a sad decision on your part. I just hope she does not further humiliate herself , as well as her fellow Southerners by running onstage square dancing, flatfoot dancing, buck dancing and clogging all while providing her own musical accompaniment on the harmonica, banjo, washboard or spoons. — and oh, that fake southern drawl: She deliberately takes the simplest one syllable words and turns each into a 3 or 4 syllable word with her wide-mouthed, drawn-out enunciation. It is irritating and embarrassing. Her accent is exaggerated…. yes, she has a southern accent but she pushes it to the extreme for her public persona – for example she says “ole” for “oil,” and “pie-yan” for “pan”. ‘Fake’ does not even begin to describe it. I too am a Southerner – I realize people in the South have ‘drawls’ that differ from state to state, but her exaggerations are irritating and in some circles, contribute to the image that Southerners are hicks or ignorant hayseeds who cannot speak the Queen’s English without butchering it mercilessly. Paula Deen embarrasses not only herself (she’s just too stupid to realize it) but she diminishes and embarrasses others as well. Sometimes, she slips up and speaks in a more standard Southern dialect here and there; then suddenly remembers to overdo her own accent the next second. Remember the public service announcement type of clip, where she spoke about diabetes in a quite serious tone, she seemed to drop a lot of the accent along with her ‘happy deep-frying’ character? Oh, ABC – what have you done?

    • Drew says:

      None of us speak the Queen’s English. We speak American English, which can be quite different at times.

    • The only stupid person I see here is you. Seems you think you are holier than Thou. Why not just shut up your asinine, know-it-all BS. We can all tell by your comment, you are a petty, ordinary, crappy person with the need to make yourself feel better than everyone else…NEWSFLASH: YOU’RE NOT!

    • Really Southern says:

      I, too, am Southern, and happily have never danced, nor known anyone who danced, in the manner you described. You’re doing as much to make Southerners look ignorant as is Paula with that ridiculous fake accent and ridiculous comments she makes. Obviously , she has no sense of what is appropriate to say.. no good manners… no “raising” as my grandmother would have said. But, then again dear, neither do you.

  40. walter pierrot says:

    It does not really matter what you and the public want and think, ABC does as they see fit and as their budget calls for – I think. In any event these “big shots” don’t take in our opinion…

  41. AngieD says:

    I would like to see a all athlete competition because they know how to train, know how to compete and are their own task masters – otherwise, they wouldn’t be successes in their sport. When you look back, the majority of winners are athletes. Add in the runners up and there’s an even greater proportion of athletes. I really don’t care for watching reality stars on the show since I generally don’t know why they deserve celebrity. Of course, there are some exceptions, like Hope Solo, who are athletes that are not well suited to dance….

  42. AngieD says:

    I wish they had paired Keo with Paula – that would play out more to why Paula’s career declined…….although Keo hasn’t had much opportunity to earn recognition to having weak stars…. During group performances, he does stand out.

  43. shar says:

    The only one interesting to me is Nick Carter. I am glad to see Louis back, but dancing with Paula Deen, that won’t last long.

  44. Bob Backus says:

    Aside from Chaka Khan…. sorry but I’d bet there’s a ton o ‘utes that have no idea who she is. I had no idea she was a ‘legend’, just thought she had a few hits in the 80s, definitely not legend material. As for the others “Who?” Just know 1, and thats because of her legal probs.

  45. mary says:

    Ah, Michael I am usually with you…but not this time. All these “celebrities” are in line with all the other seasons. Some we all know, some half of us know, some will depend on our age whether we know them(hello..Vines???). An all sports version might be a little difficult to get the “known” ones together at the same time. Many have gone on to other jobs. Regular folk-well I think a reason DTWTS is still relatively popular is to see celebrities go through the process. Even the Ohio Star Ball which PBS airs is not as popular. And those are pros/pro-ams.

  46. I actually am very excited for this season. I knew who everyone was with the exception of the vine star and the hero of the train hold up who I am glad they are bringing awareness to. Andy Grammar is a big name right now and Paula Deen is not poison to me, I still love her.

  47. Carie says:

    Never understood why they call this “Dancing with the Stars”…What it really should be called is “Dancing with the Has-Beens”. Minus a handful of individuals, there aren’t to many stars on this show.

  48. David H says:

    Some of the best moments on the show were created by people I had not heard of before the sesaon – Melissa Rycroft, Kyle Massey, Chelsea Kane, etc. I watch the show for the dancing, the music and the outstanding host – I don’t need Sandra Bullock or George Clooney in the ballroom.

  49. Azrielen says:

    I’m watching it for Nick Carter and the trainwreck that will be Gary Busey. LMAO

    It does need a break, tho. It needs a few seasons off to freshen up its own idea and presence.

    I would LOVE to see an Olympian season, but only if all the previous figure skater contestants come back!

  50. broncfanwa says:

    i don’t really care who the “celebrewhos” are. i get to watch Val and Tony, i’m happy!