Ribeiro is this season’s ringer, and not just because of the Carlton. His first big role as a child was the lead in the Broadway show The Tap Dance Kid, which I presume involves tap dancing. He was a backup dancer for Michael Jackson, and even released a book about break dancing. Rebeiro will also be paired with So You Think You Can Dance alumna Witney Carson, so their shared dance vocabulary should be vast. As long as he can connect with the audience, I expect Ribeiro to make it to the finals.
Duck Dynasty fans will recognize Sadie as the granddaughter on the show. She publicly defended Phil Robertson’s bigoted statements that capsized the A&E docu-series, which could alienate the audience. Robertson will be partnered with Mark Ballas, which means we could be in a redux of the Bristol Palin voting patterns. Also, with this being an election year, politics may play a larger role in how her narrative plays out. I’m guessing her aptitude will be a secondary consideration, which means she may be sticking even if she can’t dance.
Antonio Sabato, Jr.
Former Calvin Klein model and soap opera star Antonio Sabato, Jr. will be partnered with Cheryl Burke. They drew cha-cha-cha as their first dance, so the stars are aligned for maximized sex appeal out of the gate. Body-ody-ody is enough to get past the cannon fodder phase, so Sabato should be able to get to the halfway point if his skills are average. If it turns out he has skillz, Sabato could be a dark horse on the way to the Mirrorball Trophy.
Tavis Smiley is the out-of-left field casting for this season, and I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around it. Aside from Bill Nye, PBS hasn’t been a major source of casting so it is hard to prognosticate how the DWTS fandom overlaps. Smiley will be partnered with Sharna Burgess, who’s still relatively new to the ballroom. However, she did well with Andy Dick, so maybe she will be able to build up Smiley’s profile. If this show were a science experiment, this pairing would be the control group.
Lea Thompson’s casting checks so many Dancing with the Stars boxes: sentimental favorite, ABC/ABC Family/Disney synergy, audience surrogate, and probably the most game to being on the show. Although her partner Artem Chigvintsev is new to the U.S. pros, he was a pro on the U.K.’s Strictly Come Dancing, winning his first season and finishing second his fourth season. If Tom Bergeron ever mentions a “shocking elimination,” it’s going to be Lea going home.
I continue to be fascinated with Dancing with the Stars’ relationship with auto racing. However, Waltrip is somewhat of a “bad boy” in the world of NASCAR, amassing several fines including the largest fine in the organization’s history in 2013. He’s partnered with Emma Slater, who previously worked with Bill Engvall and Billy Dee Williams, so she has a knack for working with partners completely out of their element. Waltrip’s progress will most likely depend on his personality—if he’s like Sean Avery last season, Waltrip will be out the door quickly.
Going home first: Tommy Chong
Final Three: Lea Thompson, Alfonso Ribeiro, Jonathan Bennett
Winner: Alfonso Ribeiro
The dancing begins at 8 p.m. Eastern on ABC.