There are two things that stand out about the Season Eleven contenders on Dancing With the Stars, officially unveiled on Monday night. First, it's a group that skews much older than the usual DWtS cast, despite the inclusion of two teenagers. Four of the twelve new dancers are at least 50 (a DWtS record) and two others are over 40. Seasons Two and Four were the only other editions where half the amateur dancers were over 40. Second, who is the favorite going to be? There's no "ringer" along the lines of Nicole Scherzinger, Evan Lysacek, or Kristi Yamaguchi; and no one like Donny Osmond who seems assured to get to the end on star power alone.
Which is not to say that Season Eleven will be lacking in that star power. Against all odds, DWtS again seems to have come up with a cast that balances show business legends, musicians both younger and older, athletes, reality mainstays, and tabloid curiosities. Whether any of them can dance is an open question, but how did Helio Castroneves look three years ago at this time? Here's a quick rundown of the new cast, along with a guesstimate of how everyone might fare (we should have more of a fix on everyone's potential once pairs are revealed):
Michael Bolton: The younger contestants in this cast won't have any firsthand memory of Bolton's heyday on the charts, and he's probably the first singer ever on DWtS who is more annoying than the show's house vocalists. Dance music was never his forte, to put it mildly, and he's in the same demographic (and is probably beloved by the exact same people) as the more prominent David Hasselhoff. He's going to have his work cut out getting out of the first three weeks.
Brandy: As a teenager, she had a promising string of pop hits and was the star of Moesha>, but her career has never really recovered from the twin blows of no longer being an ingenue, and the 2006 auto accident that resulted in the death of a motorist and indirectly led to her departure from America's Got Talent. She was never much of a dancer in her days making music videos, but the same was true of Mya> and she came awfully close to winning. Pencil Brandy> in as the next-to-last woman standing. Past connection with DWtS: Season Seven 11th place finisher Kim Kardashian first became famous by making a sex tape with Brandy's brother.
Margaret Cho: The history of DWtS and stand-up comics is that they make more impact as part of the Jeffrey Ross/Kenny Mayne "loser's club" than they ever do as competitors. Cho> can be counted on to be extremely funny as long as she's part of the cast, but unless she has well-hidden talent as a ballroom dancer, I would expect her to be the first one voted out, sad to say.
Rick Fox: A lot of DWtS contestants are very well known for just one thing, but Fox> is slightly known for several things: a decent ex-Los Angeles Laker, an occasional actor, the ex-husband of Vanessa Williams (who would be an excellent get for DWtS one of these years), the current boyfriend of Eliza Dushku. Two factors working against him: he's not especially famous, and his height could create serious problems in the more rhythm-oriented dances.
Jennifer Grey: My guess is that the Dirty Dancing star is going to win this season. While that movie was a while back, it's such a touchstone for so many, and the death of her co-star Patrick Swayze is still so recent, that emotion alone might carry her to the final week even if she's not all that great (it worked for both Osmond siblings). Grey's age of 50 would typically be a big negative, but she won't stand out as much with so many other middle-aged (and above) folks in the cast. And we can't forget that she's the daughter of a legendary Broadway song-and-dance man. Even if Dirty Dancing was an aberration in her acting career, you have to figure something rubbed off. If she winds up partnered with Derek Hough (as has been widely rumored), you'll know for sure what the show thinks of her potential.
David Hasselhoff: Unfortunately for The Hoff, Germans aren't allowed to vote on DWtS, or we could engrave his name on the trophy right now. It's hard to know how audiences will respond to him. He's tried to market himself as something of a camp teddy bear, but memories of his bitter divorce and of his teenage daughters having to beg their drunken dad to pull himself together are still very fresh. He's extremely ingratiating, though, and if he can promote his DWtS experience as part of his journey out of the darkness, I can see him making a deep run.
Florence Henderson: She begins with the big advantage of everyone knowing who she is, and the even better advantage of being totally non-controversial, unlike Bolton (whose music is obnoxious) and Hasselhoff (a wreck of a personal life). But while she looks great for 76 ... well, she's 76. Henderson> performed in musicals as a young actress and might show surprising dance chops, but the pace here has sent professional athletes to the hospital, and at some point the show will surely take its toll. Look for a midseason ouster.
Kyle Massey: Every DWtS season has its Chuck Wicks, its Louie Vito, its "Who the hell is that?" Kids and recent ex-kids would know Massey>, who provided traditional little sibling comic relief on That's So Raven. And he does have something of a career in music, so perhaps he will be able to pick up the nuances of ballroom. But Massey, who just turned 19 last Saturday, is going to have to be real good real fast to overcome his very low profile with the demographic that tunes into this show most heavily.
Bristol Palin: Am I the only person who is wondering how she is going to be introduced every week? "Comedian Margaret Cho!" "Singer and actor David Hasselhoff!" "Er ... uh ... daughter Bristol Palin?" With no performing experience and her obvious discomfort in live settings, it's hard to expect anything here other than a total disaster. But she's got plenty of fans, or rather someone in her family does, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Palin will hang around for a while.
Audrina Patridge: Rumored as a potential contestant for a while now, Audrina> is finally jobless (assuming you ever thought of The Hills as a job) and free to do DWtS. We've seen her in the clubs plenty, but there's no reason to believe she has ballroom experience; and ... OK, how do I put this politely? She seems as if she might have some trouble grasping a new concept right off the bat. Fans have shown a willingness to vote vapid young women off quickly, so she won't have any time to coast.
Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino: I doubt he's ever worn a tux, and he probably thinks a foxtrot is some maneuver to pull a cute girl out of a club. But don't discount his chances completely: he's the only male on this season between 19 and 39, and good-looking men who show a willingness to work can become fan favorites in a hurry. The producers will do their best to protect him, that's for sure. Most DWtS fans would be horrified if they heard the way he talks about women on Jersey Shore, but he'll get repackaged as a male Eliza Doolittle.
Kurt Warner: Can he dance? Could Emmitt Smith? Warren Sapp? Chad Ochocinco? Being an ex-NFLer is a guaranteed ticket to the second half of the season, and he's a former quarterback besides, the first one ever on DWtS. Also, contenders closely associated with religious faith have tended to do well on the show (example: the Osmond siblings), and Warner is one of the most outspoken Christians in sports. I would expect him to finish no worse than second, and a win would be no surprise.