The easy joke that I’m sure I’ve made many times before is that Dancing with the Stars doesn’t actually cast stars: it finds people who, at best, want to be stars again or in the future, or who are stars to a niche group. Perhaps that’s just celebrity now anyway: famous to a few.
The cast of Dancing with the Stars season 29 is similar—there are no A-list celebrities—but it’s still a compelling group, at least insomuch as it has managed to generate plenty of conversation and coverage today.
While Dancing with the Stars says it is introducing some “cha-cha-changes,” its casting is following its usual patterns. There’s ABC synergy, with Holey Moley sideline reporter Jeannie Mai and Disney Channel star Skai Jackson. There are several “oh yeah, I forgot about that person,” including Backstreet Boys’ AJ McLean and actor Anne Heche. As always, Dancing has cast former pro athletes, in this case NBA star Charles Oakley and NFL star Vernon Davis.
DWTS is also again leaning heavily on reality TV for its stars. Of the 15 cast members, six are known for being on reality TV shows. There’s Cheer coach Monica Aldama, whose Netflix show was a breakthrough hit earlier this year, before the world went to shit, and Selling Sunset’s Chrishell Stause, whose soapy wreck of a Netflix show has been a hit since the world went to shit.
The Bachelor Nation slot is filled by Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe, who was previously announced as a cast member, having previously announced that Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss blocked her from doing DWTS in a previous season.
The cast member who was trending on Twitter all day yesterday was Carole Baskin, who was accused of murder by the star of Tiger King, Joe Exotic, and also by the show’s producers, who crafted an entire episode that turned her into a villain, because Netflix decided viewers would be better off with some misogyny than with details about animal abuse at Joe Exotic’s zoo.
Olympian turned commentator and host Johnny Weir has been cast, and gives Dancing with the Stars an(other) opportunity to do what the UK version, Strictly Come Dancing, has just done for the very first time: have a celebrity and pro of the same sex. (In the UK, Olympic gold medalist and boxer Nicola Adams told producers she wanted to be paired with a female partner.)
Catfish host Nev Schulman, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former cast member who also said she was also sexually assaulted by a crew member but then cleared of wrongdoing by an investigator MTV hired.
One of the show’s biggest names is Grammy Award-winning rapper Nelly, whose recent headlines include settling a lawsuit with a Seattle woman who said he raped her. He’d been previously arrested and, as the Seattle Times reported, a “police investigation found probable cause that Nelly committed the alleged assault, but prosecutors decided against charging him, citing a lack of cooperation by his accuser.” Two more women came forward saying he sexually assaulted them; Nelly settled a lawsuit related to that last year.
What ABC and BBC Studios did not do this year is cast any polarizing political figures, like last fall’s casting of Sean Spicer. So perhaps they’ve learned that they can get attention without also rewarding awful people. Well, never mind.
ABC doesn’t have to cast actual stars: all it has to do it gets people curious enough to tune in, or, at the very least, talking or writing about them. Dammit.
Dancing with the Stars 29’s cast
Here is the cast, along with their ABC bios:
One of the most successful athletic coaches in the country, Monica Aldama became an overnight sensation after starring in the hit Netflix docu-series “Cheer,” which chronicles her tremendous leadership in building one of the country’s most successful cheerleading programs from the ground up. Celebrated for her hallmark phrase, “You keep going until you get it right, then keep going until you can’t get it wrong,” Aldama is her students’ biggest advocate, always encouraging them to be the best versions of themselves. She has been with Navarro College for 25 years and has led the cheer squad to win 14 national championships, and was inducted into the inaugural class of the Navarro College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019. A true force and inspiration that has captured the hearts of the world, she brings her empowering messages on leadership, resilience, teamwork and success to audiences worldwide. Aldama also shares messages of inclusivity and acceptance, drawing on her experiences working with racially diverse, LGBTQ+ and low-income students in an insular, small town.
Carole Baskin is the founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, the world’s most influential, accredited rescue facility for exotic cats. She and her family volunteer for the Tampa-based nonprofit as unpaid staff and have 100+ volunteers and a dozen interns from around the world. Successfully rehabilitating and releasing a number of bobcats and other native animals since 1992, Baskin and the organization have been featured on CNN, Animal Planet, Discovery, People Magazine, “The Today Show,” Sports Illustrated, local media outlets and many more national and international programs. She also recently gained public attention in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” Netflix’s documentary series about Oklahoma-based private zoo operator Joe Exotic in a true murder-for-hire story from the underworld of big cat breeding. Over the years, Baskin has lectured in Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Australia and countless cities across the U.S. as the host of Big Cat Rescue’s Cat Chat Show, a live interview with cat experts from around the world. Additionally, she lectures at universities, law colleges and in numerous animal association conferences on cage construction, legislative affairs and sanctuary standards.
From the small town of Leduc, Alberta, Canada, to the global stage, Kaitlyn Bristowe is the Canadian girl making waves – in a big way. Perhaps the most controversial and well-liked Bachelorette to date, Bristowe started out with big dreams and ballet shoes. Since the end of her season on the hit ABC series “The Bachelorette,” Bristowe has taken the social media world by storm (with 1.8 million loyal Instagram followers) and continues to showcase her personality and unique perspective with KaitlynBristowe.com. She has launched Dew Edit, a stylish hair accessories line; her own line of wine, Spade & Sparrows; her own digital series; and a country-pop song, which reached No. 2 on the U.S. charts within the first 24 hours of release. Her notoriously unapologetic style has landed her appearances on major network talk shows, including the likes of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “Good Morning America” and “Entertainment Tonight.”
Vernon Davis is a former American football tight end. The 15-year NFL veteran was selected by the San Francisco 49ers sixth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft and played his first 10 seasons with the 49ers. He joined his hometown team, the Washington Redskins, in 2016 and spent four seasons there before retiring after the 2019-2020 season. Off the field, Davis is a budding entrepreneur, dedicated philanthropist and actor.In addition to owning multiple Jamba Juice franchises in Northern California, he also has his very own supplement company, Timeless; is the co-owner of Q-Collar Innovations; and the co-owner and marketing advisor for Pescavor Jerky. He is also partnered in PathWater as well as RASA, and is a limited partner of Next Play Capital. In 2012, Davis created the Vernon Davis Foundation for the Arts as a way to promote art education and art appreciation among youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2019, VDFA evolved into the Vernon Davis Foundation, which services at-risk youth of all interests and demographics.Davis played roles in movies such as “Baywatch” (2017), which starred Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, and “Hell on the Border” (2019). His latest role will be the male lead in the upcoming thriller “Red Winter.”
Anne Heche is an accomplished Emmy® Award-winning actor with a wide-ranging body of work. She can currently be seen in “The Vanished,”where she co-stars with Thomas Jane. Other recent feature films include “Best of Enemies,” where she starred opposite Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell, and “My Friend Dahmer.” Heche also starred in Lionsgate feature film “Wild Card,” opposite Jason Statham. She followed that with the films “Catfight,” opposite Sandra Oh and Alicia Silverstone; “The Last Word,” opposite Amanda Seyfried and Shirley MacLaine; and “Opening Night” with Topher Grace, Taye Diggs and Rob Riggle. Heche’s television credits include a starring role on “Chicago P.D.” as Katherine Brennan. Before that, she starred as Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Patricia Campbell, on the NBC series “The Brave.” She co-created, executive produced and wrote for the NBC series “Bad Judge,” starring Kate Walsh. Heche has three Emmy nominations and one win. She was nominated for a Tony® for Best Performance by a Leading Actress for her performance as Lily Garland in “Twentieth Century.”
At the age of 18, Skai Jackson has already been named to The Hollywood Reporter’s inaugural Top 30 Stars Under 18 List, Variety’s Youth Impact Report, been deemed one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential Teens, and was listed among EBONY’s Power 100 honorees. Jackson became a household name after her starring role as Zuri Ross in the Disney Channel hit series “Jessie” as well as the spinoff series “BUNK’D.” Her performance earned Jackson a 2016 NAACP Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Youth. She is a passionate advocate for anti-bullying and is quickly becoming a role model for younger generations using her large following to stand up to bullies on social media. She hopes to continue to do so with her first memoir, “Reach for The Skai: How to Inspire, Empower and Clapback,” which was released last year.
A talented and versatile actress, Justina Machado continues to endear audiences and earn critical acclaim for her work on stage, television and film. She currently stars in the hit comedy “One Day at a Time,” opposite Rita Moreno, as Penelope, a newly single war veteran raising her two children with the help of her mother. In 2018, Machado earned her first Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination for her portrayal of Penelope Alvarez. She was also awarded an Imagen Foundation Award for Best Actress and the show won for Best Comedy. Machado is perhaps most well known for her role as Vanessa Diaz in HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” additionally appearing alongside Gina Rodriguez in the fourth season of CW’s Emmy Award-nominated comedy series, “Jane the Virgin,” and voiced the character Carmen in Disney’s animated series “Elena of Avalor.” In 2009, she made her Broadway debut in the Tony® Award-winning musical “In the Heights,” starring Lin-Manuel Miranda. In 2010, Machado joined the production of award-winning director George C. Wolfe’s “A Free Man of Color.”
Emmy Award-winning host Jeannie Mai can be seen each weekday on the nationally syndicated talk show “The Real” and on ABC’s hit summer series “Holey Moley.” Mai serves as a sideline correspondent for the extreme mini-golf competition series. In 2018, Mai and her fellow “The Real” co-hosts received a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host. A style expert and producer, Mai recently launched her web series titled “Hello Hunnay,” which takes fans on her journey through fashion, fitness, finances and relationships; and also hosts the podcast “Listen Hunnay.”Deeply committed to charities that advance women’s interests, Mai serves as a board member for various organizations, including Dress for Success and Same Sky.As a first-generation daughter of immigrant Vietnamese and Chinese parents, she strives to give back to her homeland by traveling to Asia to volunteer her time with organizations dedicated to helping those who are less fortunate.For the last several years, she has served as an advocate to fight human trafficking and has been an ambassador for the Pacific Links Foundation, Step Up, Nightlight International, Not For Sale and Heartbeat Vietnam. In 2017, Mai executive produced “Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking,” a documentary that investigates the international crisis of human sex trafficking from a deeply personal point of view. She is currently working on the follow-up.
For 27 years, AJ McLean has been a part of the Backstreet Boys, one of the most successful groups in music history. He may be a legend of the ‘90s boyband era, but McLean has always been a cultural vanguard. A multiple award-winning and GRAMMY-nominated performer, McLean has continually delivered the finest pop music one has to offer – tightly crafted songs, floor-shaking rhythms and unmistakable harmonies – making him one of pop’s most influential performers. Along with the other members, McLean received a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame, performed for the president of the United States, and made an unforgettable appearance in the Seth Rogen hit film “This Is the End,” which earned them a Best Musical Moment award at the MTV Movie Awards. McLean’s work with BSB has gone gold and platinum in 46 countries; the group’s first nine albums all debuted in the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 100, and the Los Angeles Times recently raved “the Boys’ talents … will survive almost any pop-culture apocalypse.”
One of the busiest actors in Hollywood, Jesse Metcalfe is clearly among its most coveted stars. Most recently, he was seen as the lead in action-packed thriller “Hard Kill,” opposite Bruce Willis. On television, Metcalfe continues to be featured (and contribute original songs) as former country star Trace Riley of the popular Hallmark family drama “Chesapeake Shores.” Last year, his presence drew audiences to two action films including the thriller“Escape Plan 2: Hades” with Sylvester Stallone and the horror flick “The Ninth Passenger.” In 2006, Metcalfe showcased his comedy chops as the title character in the 20th Century Fox feature “John Tucker Must Die.” Metcalfe recently portrayed a bachelor on the Hallmark Channel’s original holiday movie “Christmas Next Door” and a country music sensation on the network’s original romantic drama “A Country Wedding.” Metcalfe is well remembered for his breakout role as forbidden teen lover John Rowland, opposite Eva Longoria on the Golden Globe-winning ABC series “Desperate Housewives.” He earned a Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Breakout Performance-Male and shared a SAG Award for Best Television Comedy Ensemble. He is also active in several charities including North Texas Food Bank, The Go Campaign, Weingart Foundation and UNICEF.
Diamond-selling, multiplatinum, GRAMMY Award-winning rap superstar, entrepreneur, philanthropist and actor Nelly has continually raised the bar for the entertainment industry since stepping on the scene in 2000 with his distinctive vocals and larger-than-life personality. Currently, Nelly has again topped the country music charts with a collaboration with Kane Brown, “Cool Again,” and hit the No. 1 spot with “Good Times Roll” with Jimmie Allen. Some of his other hits include “Hot in Here”; “Dilemma” featuring Kelly Rowland; “Country Grammar”; “Ride Wit Me”; “Just a Dream”; “Cruise”; “The Fix” sampling Marvin Gaye; and summer sixteen’s dance anthem “Millionaire” with Cash Cash and Digital Animal Farm. He has won three GRAMMY Awards, released six top-selling studio albums, and graced both the small and big screens alongside Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, as well as played himself in BET’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood” with Kevin Hart. Nelly’s “Country Grammar” album and his song “Cruise,” his collaboration with Florida Georgia Line, both achieved diamond status in 2016; and he is only one of seven rappers to reach this honor. He is also the CEO of his own label Derrty Ent. and co-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats with Michael Jordan. Nelly supports Make a Wish and is the only rapper/music artist to own his own college, EI University, which provides education surrounding the music industry and personally provides scholarships for students.
Charles Oakley is a basketball legend and one of the most beloved Knicks players of all time. The ninth overall pick in the first round of the 1985 NBA Draft, Oakley went on to play 19 years in the NBA, 10 of which were with the New York Knicks – and all 10 of which the Knicks made the playoffs. He was named to the NBA All-Star Game and the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 1994, and also named to the NBA All-Rookie Team in 1986 and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1998. As a power forward, he ranked as one of the best rebounders in the NBAand was known for his tough defense, such that he is often referred to as “The Enforcer.” Most importantly, he was beloved by his teammates and always respected by his fellow competitors. Oakley is now a player and coach for the Killer 3s in the NBA Big3 Basketball League. Alongside his playing and coaching, Oakley’s dedication to giving back to the community and passion for cooking led him to start the Charles Oakley Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is focused on helping impoverished and underprivileged communities through direct impact projects with the mission to #OakOutHunger. He has long been an advocate for the cause of hunger relief and has cooked and served thousands of meals as a part of the Foundation’s 2020 Feed America Campaign.
Nev Schulman is an American producer, photographer and TV host. He is best known for the 2010 documentary film “Catfish” and the follow-up TV series “Catfish: The TV Show,” of which he is the host and executive producer on MTV. Aside from his impressive entertainment career, Schulman spends time supporting local organizations and charities in New York City and nationwide. He served on the youth board for the Canadian-based organization Leave Out Violence and hosted the annual Dance Against Cancer. In 2014, Schulman published his first book, “In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age,” in which he gives both personal history and observations gleaned from his work on “Catfish.” “Catfish” is more than just a popular TV series, but it is a commentary on our society today. Because of Schulman and older brother Rel Schulman, the phrase has become widely understood today and since been added to The Merriam Webster Dictionary. Schulman and his wife, Laura Perlongo, host the Facebook series called “We Need to Talk.” Additionally, Schulman and Laura have created a series of socially focused videos online (around issues like parental leave and gender roles) which have garnered over 250 million views.
Chrishell Stause is from Kentucky and can most recently be seen starring in “Selling Sunset,” an original docu-series for Netflix. A realtor in the high-end luxury market, the show follows Stause breaking into the industry. In addition, she has made herself a known name in the daytime community. She has starred on “All My Children,” “The Young and the Restless” and as Jordan Ridgeway on “Days of Our Lives,” which earned her a Daytime Emmy® Award nomination this year for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series. She also recently starred in the Netflix thriller “Staged Killer.” In her spare time, Stause is very active in her charity work. Having experienced being homeless at times during her youth, she is passionate about raising money and volunteering at Upward Bound House. It is an organization committed to eliminating homelessness among families with children by providing housing, supportive services and advocacy. For more information, please visit upwardboundhouse.org.
Johnny Weir is one of the superstars of figure skating and a pop-culture icon. Born in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, he is a two time U.S. Olympian, three time U.S. National Figure Skating Champion, 2008 World bronze medalist, two time Grand Prix Final bronze medalist and the 2001 World Junior Figure Skating Champion, as well as NBC’s lead figure skating commentator, ambassador to the Olympic Games and cultural icon. Weir is known for his commentary and provocative style during NBC’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl, National Dog Show and Beverly Hills Dog Show. He’s also known for producing and starring in the award-winning, EPIX-produced 2014 documentary film, “To Russia With Love”; and for producing and starring in “Be Good Johnny Weir,” and hosting the Facebook Watch series “Trading Faces.” Most recently, Weir starred as Gabe in the Netflix drama “Spinning Out” and hosted Food Network’s “Wedding Cake Championship.” He continues his role as Winter Village Skating Ambassador for Bryant Park in New York City, commentating for NBC’s coverage of the 2019-2020 figure skating season, and dazzling audiences with his skating while on tour around the world.