‘Dancing With The Stars’: Where Bad Reputations Go To Be Revived. But Why?

Paula Deen is rumored to be considering a spot on the next season of 'Dancing With the Stars.' Why does the show attract so many people in need of a reputation revival?

Kellie Pickler accepting the Mirrorball Trophy as winner of this year’s ‘DWTS.’

After the craptastic couple of weeks Paula Deen had, where in the world would she go? Disneyland? Home to Savannah? Off the grid to the outback of Australia maybe? No. Dancing With the Stars.

Word is that Paula Deen could be on the next season of the dance program. The Huffington Post went to ABC directly with the rumor. Their response: “We don’t comment on casting until we officially announce.”

As that story points out, DWTS has a history of bringing on controversial stars. Kate Gosselin and Bristol Palin are noted. In an interview with Rob Shuter that we’ve previously linked to, Jon Gosselin, now reeling from accusations that he’s responsible for the fall of the house of Ed Hardy, says he would consider a spot on the show.

In fact, the show has become a place for both exposure and redemption. Andy Dick, who has been arrested for allegedly dabbling in drugs and groping underage girls, was on this season. Nancy Grace, known for her bombast on HLN as much as her “journalism,” was on a previous season. David Hasselhoff, whose drinking problem reportedly cost him a television job and fueled an appearance on Entertainment Tonight in a home video shot by his then-16-year-old daughter, has also been on the show.

So what is it about DWTS that brings out everyone in need of, not just a career revival, but a reputation revival?


Full disclosure: I’ve never watched a full episode of Dancing With the Stars. But its popularity isn’t lost on me. Entertainment media covers it closely, so much so that it seems the professional dancers become stars in their own right. That said, it’s definitely a place where a D-lister can get in front of lots of potential fans.

Second, curiosity seems to drive a lot of what happens on the show. Viewers tune in because they want to find out what happened to someone they remember from “that” movie/show/album. Or they want to see what happened to that train wreck of a celeb who, last we heard, was on page 25 of OK! magazine six months ago. Once they get a glimpse, viewers wonder whether these “stars” can really dance. So they tune in. The next thing they know, they’re rooting for someone, casting votes, and having positive thoughts about someone who they hadn’t previously been thinking about at all.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, being on DWTS means a low-level celebrity is in on the joke. Viewers and critics aren’t laughing at these contestants. They’re laughing with them. No matter how serious or tawdry their troubles were, now we’re all getting a giggle out of watching them try to tango in some garish sequined outfit. It’s a way of getting everyone back to the same light-hearted spot, which happens to be in your home, on your couch, with a glass of wine.

The question is whether this is something that could work for Paula Deen. All of the other people we’ve mentioned have had personal problems — addiction or bad relationships, for instance. Deen’s problem is an accusation of racism, an accusation that alienates a portion of the DWTS audience in a deep way. I’m not so sure she can dance her way out of this one by the time the next season kicks off. Or whether the show wants to risk its own reputation by giving her the chance.