Last year, I made the mistake of predicting the outcome of Dancing With The Stars before watching any of the competitors. That was a disaster of epic, Charlie-Sheen-as-a-babysitter proportions. However, after the first viewing, my revised handicapping was pretty darned good, if I do say so myself (and I must, because no one else will). I picked Jennifer Gray, Kyle Massey, and Brandi Norwood to finish in the top three, and nailed two of them. Would have been three, but who could have predicted the Bristol Palin juggernaut?
So, illogically emboldened, and having watched TWO dances this season, I now offer my expert opinion as to how this season will unfold, thereby saving you the trouble of having to actually watch it unless you don't have anything better to do, in which case I'd advise you not to admit it.
But first...let me just observe that this year's cast is remarkable in that there are no "sleepers," no dancers in amateur clothing. I think everyone is equally new to dancing, and while that doesn't imply that they're equally talented or motivated, this should make the competition much more, uh, competitive than in the past.
And, for whatever reason, it seems that the judges have also elevated their expectations. Some of the performances in the first week would have been lauded in the fourth or fifth week of earlier seasons, and they were met with disapproval by the judges. Len, in particular, seems to be more surly than usual, and out of step with the other two judges.
OK, here's my handicapping, based SOLELY on dancing ability and potential (that is, I'm ignoring the "Bristol Palin Factor," although the only person who might benefit from it is Kirstie Alley). The celeb name is first, followed by his or her pro.
- Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas - Chelsea is terminally cute, and has a wonderful on-floor personality. I think she's athletic and coordinated, and danced much better than her early scores indicate. Top 3 finisher, if Mark's weird choreography doesn't sink her.
- Chris Jericho & Cheryl Burke - OK, this guy's a shocker. Great personality, great moves, and apparently highly motivated. Humble for a professional wrestler. I like his chances; he could well be another Emmitt Smith, but at least a top 3 finisher. (As an aside, I wish to go on record as saying Hollywood could do a lot worse than to recruit actors from the pro wrestling ranks. The Rock has established himself as a potential A-Lister, and Paul Levesque (aka Triple H) turned in a surprisingly nuanced performance in The Chaperone. I'm not a pro wrestling fan, but I'm beginning to be a fan of pro wrestlers as actors.)
- Hines Ward & Kym Johnson - Another very likable and motivated guy. Kym is a great partner for him, and I think he's a top fiver.
- Kendra Wilkinson & Louis van Amstel - Playboy bunny with self-esteem issues. Go figure. And yet...she's not a bad dancer, by any stretch. Top seven.
- Kirstie Alley & Maksim Chmerkovskiy - Kirstie made a terrible impression during the cast introductions, and, frankly, everyone thought she would be this season's Cloris Leachman...you know, the obligatory "oh isn't she so brave for trying this" celeb. But Kirstie is a hoot, and is working her butt off (literally?). Big fan base (no pun intended), and I think she'll be a top fiver.
- Mike Catherwood & Lacey Schwimmer - Lacey got to the finals with Kyle Massey last year, but poor Mike is beyond her capabilities. He'll be gone after tonight. And it's a shame, because he's a likable guy, too.
- Petra Nemcova & Dmitry Chaplin - Supermodels typically don't do well in DWTS and Petra won't be the exception. Her tsunami-related backstory will get her some fan votes, though, and she doesn't suck at dancing, so she'll be around a couple more weeks.
- Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff - Ralph's the mystery man. He certainly wowed the audience with his first two dances, but the second one wasn't great, and the judges called him on it. I don't know whether he can continue to measure up week after week. I'll leave him in the top five, but he could squeeze into the top three.
- Romeo & Chelsie Hightower - You're probably comparing him to Kyle Massey, but he's no Kyle. He doesn't have the personality to get the fan votes like Kyle did, but is probably as good a dancer. Gone in six weeks.
- Sugar Ray Leonard & Anna Trebunsakaya - I had high hopes for Sugar (as Bruno calls him), but, sadly, he's this year's David Hasselhoff. TKO in three. (And it's a shame because we really need to see Anna every week. IYKWIM.)
- Wendy Williams & Tony Dovolani - She's not quite as annoying as Niecy Nash, but every bit as dramatic. Can't judge her fan base, but based on her dancing, she'll be the second one to go.
OK, it's probably hard to figure out my predicted lineup based on the preceding, so here's a more direct version...my predicted order of finish. Check me in May!
Update: The numbers in parentheses show the actual week of exit for each celebrity.
- Chelsea Kane - Finals - #3
- Ralph Macchio (8)
- Chris Jericho (5)
- Hines Ward - Finals - #1
- Romeo (7)
- Kendra Wilkinson (6)
- Kirstie Alley - Finals - #2
- Petra Nemcova (4)
- Sugar Ray Leonard (3)
- Wendy Williams (2)
- Mike Catherwood (1)
Should you have the good sense to disagree with my predictions, please leave your own in the comments.