Pairings have been announced for Season Nine of Dancing With the Stars, which premieres September 21 on ABC. The series has been around long enough now to where some of its pro dancers are better known than some of the alleged stars. The right professional might be able to drag a decent amateur across the finish line in first place, or give a few extra weeks to someone who would otherwise be totally hopeless. Here's a quick rundown of how each star might be helped -- or not -- by their partner.
Aaron Carter/Karina Smirnoff: Who did Karina piss off among the DWtS brass? She has been saddled with duds Rocco DiSpirito and Steve Wozniak the previous two seasons, and now has to deal with Carter who, while much younger and more musical, seems unlikely to be a fan favorite. Still, it's a net plus for Carter; while Karina hasn't had a high placing since her ill-fated love match with Mario Lopez, she is well-known and relatively popular.
Natalie Coughlin/Alec Mazo: Alec was the half of the first-ever winning pair on DWtS, but since then he has been only an occasional participant and has yet to even make it back to the second half of a season. Coughlin may not need a boost from a partner, though; female athletes are red hot on this series.
Mark Dacascos/Lacey Schwimmer: Someone from the newest generation of pros is going to break through with a victory eventually, and perhaps it will be Lacey, who came close with Lance Bass and did better with Steve-O than anyone could have dreamed possible. Dacascos might have the fancy footwork to emerge as a Season Nine darkhorse.
Tom DeLay/Cheryl Burke: As an ex-politician in his sixties, it's safe to say DeLay needed a huge break with his partner, and he got one with Cheryl, who, with the departure of Julianne Hough, is the only female pro left on DWtS who has ever won. A cautionary note, however: Cheryl has made it to the top five every season but one: the season she was partnered with Wayne Newton, who is a lot closer in age to DeLay than is, say, Gilles Marini. Her magic can only go so far.
Macy Gray/Jonathan Roberts: Poor Jonathan. He was the co-star for both the Marie Osmond and Heather Mills freakshows, and his last two times on DWtS, he hasn't been able to even get a second week. Now he's been given the assignment of trying to make Gray look both graceful and likable. If I were Jonathan, I'd encourage his partner's trainwreck potential; it might be the only way she's memorable enough to last into October.
Ashley Hamilton/Edyta Sliwinska: This is the one pairing that could have been guessed at ahead of time, since Edyta famously partnered with Hamilton's father George back in Season Two. Edyta has a strong following befitting the only pro dancer who has been a part of every DWtS season, but she has never won and has advanced to the finals just twice. The virtually unknown Hamilton is not going to be the man to help her break that streak.
Melissa Joan Hart/Mark Ballas: Hart was already a strong contender, and now that she's partnered up with Mark, the hottest pro on the show, she is likely the female favorite now. Mark carried both Shawn Johnson and Kristi Yamaguchi to the crown; add to that the fact that fans have been following Hart from her teen years into motherhood, and this might be an unstoppable pair.
Kathy Ireland/Tony Dovolani: Tony has become the show's go-to male to partner up with "older women" (yes, I know Ireland isn't literally old), and he is going to be a major asset for his partner, given that both models and the middle-aged have had occasional problems on DWtS. Affection for Tony could certainly carry over for Ireland, not that I wouldn't be voting for her anyway.
Michael Irvin/Anna Demidova: Anna is the newcomer to the pro cast this season, so unless she is immediately identifiable as equal to Cheryl in talent, she's not going to give any sort of boost to Irvin. Of course, as a former NFLer, Irvin could probably get to midseason dancing with the limo driver who takes him to rehearsal.
Joanna Krupa/Derek Hough: As a model without a strong public profile, Krupa would ordinarily be in serious danger of leaving early. She likely still is, but drawing Derek, who has never finished lower than sixth, is an enormous break for her. What's more, Derek won partnered with Brooke Burke, whose pre-DWtS resume strongly resembles Krupa's. This pair could surprise.
Chuck Liddell/Anna Trebunskaya: Anna has never been paired with someone who seemed like a strong preseason bet to go anywhere, although she did manage to make a surprise appearance in the finals with another athlete, Jerry Rice. I don't see her as a major asset to Liddell, whose fans will have to be dragged into watching DWtS kicking, screaming, and eye-gouging.
Debi Mazar/Maksim Chmerkovskiy: Mazar almost qualifies as a ringer, given her background in the 1980s New York club scene. As one of the oldest stars in the field, she is likely to pick up some sympathy points; and it helps that she is paired with Maks, who is just about the prettiest man in America and is well overdue to win one of these seasons.
Mya/Dmitry Chaplin: Dmitry seems like a solid bet to develop into the next big male star of DWtS, although he didn't have much of a chance to prove it last season with last-minute replacement Holly Madison. Mya comes out of the pop generation where video dancing skills were as important as vocals, so this might be a case where the star will be able to help the pro build a reputation.
Kelly Osbourne/Louis van Amstel: When Louis popped up choreographing on So You Think You Can Dance this past season, I just assumed his time with DWtS had ended for good, but he's back for Season Nine. Not that Kelly Osbourne, whose family name is more associated with music to commit arson by, is going to keep him busy for very long. Still, fans will be happy to see him back, and that might buy Osbourne a little time.
Donny Osmond/Kym Johnson: Kym's record on the show is only so-so -- two visits to the finals in six seasons -- but she struck gold by getting placed with Osmond, who seems certain to make a deep run despite the drawback of his age (Osmond is 51 and no one over 40 has ever won DWtS). Osmond could dance with Miley Cyrus's pole and still have a decent shot of winning it all.
Louie Vito/Chelsie Hightower: Chelsie had a terrific run in her debut season of DWtS, getting one week from the finals with the frankly mediocre Ty Murray. She is probably a minor asset for Vito, but the snowboarder is so incredibly obscure that I doubt she is going to make much difference. Maybe he can take Chelsie to the slopes. They likely won't miss any of the snowboarding season.