"Dancing with the Stars": The rise of the Kirstie Alley Cat

The cast of season 12 of "Dancing with the Stars."
The cast of season 12 of "Dancing with the Stars."

(CBS) There's a misconception about ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." It isn't a show about professionals dancing with stars. It's a show in which stars are re-created by virtue of their ability to dance.

Pictures: "Dancing with the Stars" Season 12
Timeline: Highlights of past "Dancing" seasons

So all the whining that preceded Monday's debut of the show -- whining about there being no real stars -- entirely misses the point. There are never any real stars. Just some people who would like to be stars for a while after the show ends.

What's important is who will come out of these twirlings with a new face and perhaps a new body. For the fans, what's also important is that there not be a foregone conclusion.

Last year, it was fairly obvious that Jennifer Grey was supposed to win. This early revelation makes the show less exciting for its audience, whose average age exceeds 50. They know from excitement but can't always remember it.

So here were the exciting debutantes in order of appearance.

1. First up was Chelsea Kane, who was on the show because she once kissed Joe Jonas. "And it didn't suck." What a relief! Kane is big on the Disney Channel, which means that she's paid by ABC.

The last truly great Disney star who performed in this show was Sabrina Bryan. She had the same professional partner, Mark Ballas. She was shamefully ejected far too early.

Kane, who admitted to musical theater training, has the same ridiculous confidence as Bryan. Her foxtrot was assured, professional and just a little too good for program one. Ballas last year had the privilege (?) of dancing with Bristol Palin.

2. Wendy Williams. She's supposed to be too loud and too much. Here, her cha-cha was too quiet and not enough. Sometimes, those who supposedly have large personalities are entirely incapable of expressing those personalities through dance. Kim Kardashian comes to mind. Williams' performance reminded one of James Franco at the Oscars when he wore the dress.

3. The NFL has a stronger record in negotiating "Dancing with the Stars" than it has in negotiating. In the early years, Jerry Rice was as dexterous as a deck plank but did very well. Emmitt Smith was charming and soulful and actually won the whole thing.

In years since, Warren Sapp and Jason Taylor have not disgraced themselves. So here we had the Steelers' Hines Ward. His professional partner, the extraordinary Kym Johnson, an Australian, made him feel at ease. "I've had Warren Sapp," she said.

Ward danced his patterns with a style one doesn't normally associate with Steelers, except in "Flashdance."

"I was looking at your bum," head judge Len Goodman told him. There could be no greater endorsement from the British than that.

4. Models don't do well in this show. Strangely, they tend not to move fluidly when they have to prance with someone else. Petra Nemcova tried hard -- especially difficult for someone whose pelvis was broken in four places by the 2004 tsunami. The foxtrot doesn't tend to offer much in the way of exuberance and she got to the end without major mishap or major excitement.

5. Romeo, rapper and, um, actor, was the next dancer. His father, Master P, stepped in for him many years ago when Romeo was supposed to be on the show and got injured. Master P was so much not a master at dancing that some thought he should have minded his P and stayed in the queue.

Romeo didn't find the cha-cha natural. Here, again, was a man of allegedly large personality who, once on the dance floor, showed movements of very limited size. Still, he was better than his dad.

6. Former boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard, just like former contestant and boxer Floyd Mayweather, prefers his shoulders to be touching his ears at all times. He tried to relax.

But during his foxtrot, it was as if his body was had been possessed by a scarecrow. This would have frightened Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns. This would have frightened Marvin Hagler. This would have frightened the Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

7. Kendra Wilkinson probably danced for her supper once or twice at the Playboy Mansion. She describes herself as a "booty shaker" whose "hips don't lie." Neither lying hips nor lying eyes have a place in the cha-cha.

Wilkinson promised "classy hot." Though she seemed to enjoy some warmth from the audience, Kendra looked like a pole dancer who suddenly realized that she is not wrapped around a pole but a Dutchman. Her partner, Louis Van Amstel, did his best. He might have needed several Amstels after this. Still, Hugh Hefner was in the audience to support his dancing bunny.

8. Ralph Macchio was in "The Karate Kid," parts I, II and III. He is, allegedly, 49, yet his face smells like teen spirit (and looks it, too). So it was inevitable that his professional partner, the redoubtable Karina Smirnoff, would be a rather aggressive Miyagi.

Macchio's foxtrot was wily and charming. Though judge Bruno Tonioli accused him of having a "creepy hand," Macchio was still awarded the best scores of the night.

9. Chris Jericho is a former WWE wrestler who hosts a game show in which people stand at the top of a skyscraper and answer questions (and of course it's on ABC). He claims there's not much difference between wrestling and dancing.

Personally, I wasn't aware that they were both fixed.

Jericho began his cha-cha on his knees. Perhaps he should have stayed there. For, in truth, he ended up proving that there is little difference between his wrestling and his dancing. He grappled his partner, the great three-time winner Cheryl Burke, twisting her, lifting her and - one thought - almost throwing her. There just wasn't much that one could actually describe as dancing.

10. It was hard to focus on Psycho Mike Catherwood, a so-called radio personality, once one had discovered that he spent one show drinking breast milk.

His professional partner, Lacey Schwimmer, is a generous and energetic companion. Sadly, in his foxtrot, Catherwood succeeded only in making "The Situation," a contestant last season, look good, which I never thought possible. Watching Catherwood was like watching a tree that had been seconded to the Bolshoi Ballet and asked to dance the Nutcracker.

11. And so we came to Kirstie Alley, who, since "Cheers," has seemed to be more famous for diet plans than film roles. "If someone told me to haul ass, it would take two trips," she offered during training, which didn't bode well.

But those producers and editors are crafty, because when Alley hit the floor and cha-cha'd, it was like a Sugar Ray Leonard upper cut. She didn't allow a single inch of her body to slacken for a moment. Though her movement could have been even more expansive, she showed a sense of rhythm and timing that was as beguiling as it was unexpected.

No one will be removed this week. Next week, they all get the chance to demonstrate their wares again so that each can reveal their prowess in both ballroom and Latin. Still, on this evidence, it looks as if one or two stars might be reborn, at least for a little while.

Top Three: Kirstie Alley, Ralph Macchio, Chelsea Kane
Bottom Three: Wendy Williams, Chris Jericho, Mike Catherwood

Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog, Technically Incorrect.

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.