Bristol Palin gets viewers heated up on 'Dancing with the Stars'
It's the most important vote since the mid-term elections. It's a bellwether for 2012. Expect instant analysis from political pundits.
We're talking, of course, about ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." ABC's ballroom dance competition series has paso-dobled its way to the top of the TV ratings based on its quaint escapist appeal, but this season, with Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol among the "celebrity" dancers, it has become the most politicized non-political race of the year.
Bristol Palin is no hoofer. Week after week, the McCain campaign do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do poster child turned celebrity-in-training has wound up with the fewest points from the show's professional judges -- and, week after week, the tally of votes from viewers pulls Bristol back to safety. Other, far better celeb dancers with higher judge scores, are sent packing.
Who survives and who gets the hook each week on the show -- based on the Brit-hit "Strictly Come Dancing" -- is determined by some closely held formula that factors in both the judges' points and viewer votes. Ever since the show debuted in the summer of 2005, the network and producer BBC have steadfastly refused to disclose how America has voted. No tallies, no state-by-state breakdowns, no nothing.
While Fox's ratings behemoth "American Idol" has slipped badly in the ratings the past couple seasons, "Dancing" continues to find new fans. In its 10th edition, last spring, the ABC contest clocked its biggest audience ever -- nearly 22 million viewers each week. This season it's averaging around 21 million -- but that number will likely climb if Bristol makes it to next week's finals.
Tuesday night, viewers will find out if Bristol is going to make it to next week's final round; the winner of the coveted yet hideous Mirror Ball Trophy will be announced next Tuesday.
But already, the survival of America's top "teen advocate" to this week's semi-finals round has some accusing that social-networking conservatives have been voting for her mother, not her.
"By all means, let the Republicans conspire to fix this meaningless election...If Bristol Palin wins, while the judges gag at her weak performances, then finally, we'll be able to explain politics to the apolitical using concepts that they can understand!," liberal blog "the Daily Kos" boo-hooed last week.
Since the latest edition of the show debuted, in September, political Web sites promoting Sarah Palin's career have been getting out the vote for Bristol, including instructions on how to cast multiple votes via telephone, text message or online for hours after each Monday's performance show. "She's in the final four. Congratulations Bristol," read the home page of Conservatives4Palin.com, which has every week instructed followers how and when to cast multiple votes for their gal's -- daughter.
The most popular non-political explanation for Bristol's improbable success: She's a plucky underdog. She's The Cinderella Girl -- just like Susan Boyle, only younger, prettier, and without the jaw-dropping talent.
"Dancing" executive producer Conrad Green says he has no way of knowing why people cast their votes for certain celebrities in the competition. But, he is obviously tickled that they do, gushing, "Bristol has been fascinating to watch dancing. We've gradually seen her blossoming as a person to become less and less shy...She's an enormously relatable person."
Additionally, Bristol's complete lack of sophistication -- in marked contrast to this season's other C-list dancers -- her occasional homesickness, and her voice like clotted cream -- have caused the show's many older female viewers to break out in a bad case of "gone maternal," Green asserted.
"She reminds them of their children and their grandchildren."
While he won't acknowledge the show has become politicized this season, Green noted that "for anyone who says she's got the Republican bloc, she would also be losing a lot of Democratic votes." For all we know, that may, in fact, be the case. But if Democrats are casting their votes against anyone named Palin, they don't appear to be well organized. Last week, for instance, four non-Palin competitors may have split any anti-Palin vote out there: pop singer Brandy Norwood, actress Jennifer Grey, Disney teen star Kyle Massey, and former NFL star Kurt Warner, who was sent packing.
This is not the first time politics has insinuated itself into the show like a snake into the Garden of Eden. In the fall of 2006, controversial former House majority leader Tom DeLay sent out a blast e-mail asking his supporters to vote for country singer Sara Evans, who was competing on the show, because Evans -- then married to a GOP fundraiser with political aspirations -- represented "good American values" and because "we need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television" -- a reference to Democratic former Cincinnati mayor turned "ultra-liberal talk-show host" Jerry Springer, as he was described by DeLay.
Evans wound up quitting the show abruptly in order to divorce said husband after finding, Evans claimed, scads of photos of her husband, nude and aroused, on the family computer. DeLay himself competed on the show last season but only lasted a few weeks before resigning from that post, too, after suffering stress fractures in his feet.
But this is the first time the show has featured the daughter of a presumed presidential candidate -- seen wearing a Tea Party T-shirt on the show during rehearsal last week that clearly read: "Party Like It's 1773 with Rainy Day Patriots" -- the same week producers pixilated whatever was going on on the front of Kyle Massey's T-shirt. It's also the first time a presumed presidential candidate has been seen in the audience many weeks rooting for her daughter, in taped sequences at home, being interviewed by show host Tom Bergeron, watching her daughter rehearse, congratulating the show on reaching its 200th episode, etc., eliciting death where is thy sting-ish comments from ardent fans of the escapist fare.
"I will never be watching Dancing with the Stars again...Are people afraid to get rid of Bristol?," ranted an exasperated fan on a "Dancing" chat room.
"I have enjoyed the show and the judging since the program's inception. If this [voting for Bristol] continues next week...I will be finished watching and many folks I know agree," wrote in yet another.
"Dancing" exec producer Green disputes the idea the Palins have gotten special treatment on the show. He notes that the season in which Kelly Osbourne -- another young woman famous for her parents -- danced on the reality show, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne were often seen in the audience, Sharon was interviewed by Bergeron, and the Osbourne parents also were shown at home.
Green says that so far as he is concerned, a celebrity is a celebrity, and his only concern is about their ability to draw viewers to the show.
Anyway, he added, he would love to have a Democratic political figure compete on the show, "but Bill Clinton turned us down very politely...I think [the casting director] got as far as 'Dancing With.' He would be my ultimate booking on the show."
What if Bristol wins? This question was just a laugh line until last week when she made it to the semi-finals. If the very thought seems an outrage, Green offers an outlet: "It's a very simple solution: Mobilize to vote for someone else." Green said he's been astonished when he's encountered people angry about seeing so much of the Palins on this edition of the show, "and I ask who they voted for and they say, 'No one'."
Typical. Even stargazing suffers from turnout problems. Says Green: "It's like an election."
(Scroll to :42 for clips of Bristol's "DWTS" performances")
Lisa de Moraes
| November 16, 2010; 12:05 AM ET
Categories: Dancing With the Stars
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