Pros: Ballroom risk-taker Ballas is one of the more crowd-pleasing choreographers among the DWTS pros, and the audience has shown they’re willing to embrace lower-profile celebs — if they show talent and good humor from the get-go.
Cons: Ballas’ too-frequent showboating tends to upstage his celebrity partners — which could be a big problem considering many reality junkies will be asking “Katherine who?”
William Levy, telenovela actor
Pro Partner: Cheryl Burke
Pros: Um, have you done a Google image search of this telenovela star? And let’s not forget that DWTS has been a great venue for hellaciously hot humans with previously low profiles (see Gilles Marini, Joanna Krupa, Cristian de la Fuente, and Stacy Kiebler). Plus, Cheryl is one of the most consistently good choreographers the show has ever had.
Maria Menounos, Extra co-host
Pro Partner: Derek Hough
Pros: Derek not only knows how to put together impeccable routines that get the judges to reach for their 10 paddles, but he’s great at highlighting the strengths of his various partners. And Menounos certainly has more personality than Brooke Burke, with whom Hough captured the mirrorball trophy back in Season 7.
Cons: After making the finals in the last three seasons in which he’s competed, isn’t it time for Derek to have a non-Top 3 finish?
Gavin Degraw, rock singer
Pro Partner: Karina Smirnoff
Pros: Pop-rock singer has plenty of TV experience: His “I Don’t Want to Be” has been covered a trillion times on Idol and served as the One Tree Hill theme song. And coming off consecutive strong seasons with Ralph Macchio and J.R. Martinez, Karina has never been more popular.
Cons: DeGraw’s low-key personality has always taken a back seat to his not-exactly-danceable music. Judges’ lack of respect for the Lady Smirnoff won’t help, either.
Pro Partner: Chelsie Hightower
Pros: Star of Shake It Up is the season’s youngest contestant, so no complaints about creeky joints or swollen knees from this whippersnapper! Plus, he’s already shown he’s got dance skills on his Disney Channel series.
Cons: His fresh-faced agility could prove irksome as DWTS’ older-skewing audience applies heating pads and ointments to creeky joints and swollen knees. Chelsie, meanwhile, has only cracked the semifinals once in five prior attempts.
Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers wide receiver
Pro Partner: Peta Murgatroyd
Pros: Football pros have a long and illustrious history on DWTS (see prior winners Emmett Smith and Hines Ward, and runners-up Jerry Rice, Jason Taylor, and Warren Sapp). And it’s not like Green Bay fans will be distracted by actual football before the season ends in May.
Cons: Relative newcomer Murgatroyd has arguably the smallest fan base of all the pro dancers, and there are plenty of athletes whose feet have failed them in the ballroom arena.
Melissa Gilbert, actress (Little House on the Prairie)
Pro Partner: Maksim Chmerkovisky
Pros: Maksim’s partnerships are always best when he’s paired with a mature woman who not only stands her ground — but directs some of the ballroom bad boy’s vitriol right back at him. Plus, women of a certain age have been flying high on DWTS for several seasons running (see Ricki Lake, Kirstie Alley, and Jennifer Grey), and pretty much everyone everywhere still has good vibrations from Gilbert’s Little House days, right?
Cons: Nothing lasts forever — except maybe the Mirrorball Trophy. Can an over-40 lady make the finale for the fourth straight season?
Jaleel White, actor (Family Matters)
Pro Partner: Kym Johnson
Pros: Proved adept at physical comedy back in his Family Matters days, and maybe that physicality will translate to the dance floor. Plus, one should never underestimate the power of sitcom nostalgia — or the choreography of two-time winner (and two-time runner-up) Johnson.
Cons: White has been out of the spotlight for a long time now. Has too much time passed to have an active, ready-to-vote fanbase?
Jack Wagner, actor (Melrose Place, The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital)
Pro Partner: Anna Trebunskaya
Pros: He’ll certainly benefit from a big fan base cobbled together from years on a number of different soaps — and Trebunskaya did make it all the way to the finals with Evan Lysacek back in Season 10.
Cons: Men of a certain age often struggle with the rigors of the ballroom competition, and the campy-fun Trebunskaya has a long history of relatively early exits.
Sherri Shepherd, The View co-host
Pro Partner: Val Chmerkovskiy
Pros: Shepherd’s outsized personality and spontaneous humor should serve her well in the all-important area of DWTS clips packages. Plus, she’s got a high-rated daytime talk show with which she can whip her fanbase into a frenzy.
Cons: Comic relief can only get you so far into the competition (ask Margaret Cho and Carson Kressley). Shepherd will have to prove she can move like Jagger if she wants to see the second half of the DWTS season.
Gladys Knight, music legend
Pro Partner: Tristan MacManus
Pros: With his sparkling personality and entertaining routines, newcomer McManus turned out to be the breakout star of DWTS’ 13th season — and carried polarizing Nancy Grace all the way to a fifth-place finish. Knight herself is a living legend: Bonus points if she brings the Pips as a cheering section.
Cons: Knight is pushing 70, and folks with AARP cards often get the “E for effort” placard from the judges — before being shown the door. The “Midnight Train to Georgia” singer will have to be in peak physical condition if she’s hoping to go the distance.
Martina Navratilova, tennis legend
Pro Partner: Tony Dovolani
Pros: Her footwork on the court was unparalleled in women’s tennis — and despite being in her mid-50s, she’s probably in better shape than most folks half her age.
Cons: It’s one thing to have fleet feet — but can she move ’em in time with a beat? Dovolani, meanwhile, has failed to last more than six weeks into a season since his third-place finish with Melissa Rycroft in Season 8.