‘Dancing with the Stars’ may bill itself as a splashy dancing entertainment. But once again, after the Oct 7 ‘Most Memorable Year’ show, last night, it proves that it’s the most emotionally resonating confessional since Oprah went off the air.
Bruno Tonioli, Julianne Hough and Carrie Ann Inaba may not think of themselves as shrinks or as huggers-in-chief who can coax personal confessions out of the stars who appear on the show, a la Oprah . But guess what – they are! Over the 21 seasons that DWTS has been on the air, the show has become a wildly emotional forum as stars have opened their hearts and revealed troubled histories and personal dramas to a large TV audience.
Contestant and former US sergeant in Iraq Noah Galloway opened up unsparingly last season about his grievous injuries suffered while on his tour of duty, his emotional breakdown afterwards and long road back to recovery, and he’s just one example. Plus, let’s not forget that he proposed to girlfriend Jamie Boyd on air. Rumer Willis‘ admission, also last season, that she never felt worthy growing up with ultra-famous and successful parents Bruce Willis and Demi Moore , is another.
But last night’s ‘Most Memorable Year’ episode was the epic, peak example of the deeply personal revelations that the show has been able to coax out of celebrities, whose publicists would probably never allow such divulgences in a normal interview. Nick Carter, the former Backstreet Boy, broke down in tears confessing that he probably would have ended up in jail or dead, like so many people he knew, if not for the band. “The boys saved me,” he admitted. It was the substitute family that he found with caring and demanding bandmates, A. J. McLean, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, and Brian Littrell, which saved him from the emptiness and despair he felt growing up in an unsupportive, dysfunctional family.
Bindi Irwin’s ‘DWTS’ Dance Honored Dad Steve Irwin
Bindi Irwin‘s dance dedicated to her father, Steve Irwin, who died at 44 in a tragic accident,was a stunningly cathartic moment. It opened up floodgates of memories that she may not have allowed herself to fully feel otherwise, ever since she lost her father when she was just nine years old. Had she repressed those memories to a certain degree? Hardened herself from fully feeling them because they were just too painful? “You know, it’s been nine years, and I never really dwelled on that point — when he did pass away,” she told the judges as she weeped. “I think that I’m kind of ready to tell that story.”
But like Oprah’s warm voice and sympathetic arms, the lure of expressing themselves through dance has tan intensely therapeutic effect on each season’s cast members. Bindi broke down while Bruno told her that her dad was dancing with her every step of the way. Likewise, Tamar Braxton danced to emotional and physical perfection while her husband, Vince Herbert, 46, played the piano, accompanying the song, “King” that she wrote for him in honor of her gratitude for his life. She almost lost him in 2012, when he developed multiple blood clots in his lungs and had to be induced into a coma in hopes that it would help him survive. “How am I going to live without the love of my life by my side?” she wondered. No wonder Carrie Ann told her, “You reached into my soul with that dance,” afterwards.
‘DWTS’ Is Life-Changing: Celebrities Share Their Emotional Stories
But that’s what DWTS has become expert at — reaching into the souls of its star dancers each season. Andy Grammer celebrated the life of his dear mother, lost to breast cancer; Gary Busey revealed the extent of his traumatic brain injury suffered in a motorcycle accident, and Carlos Penavega confessed that he fell into a deep depression, which he unsuccessfully tried to relieve by smoking pot, after a hit tour with his successful band Big Time Rush.
Now, here’s something really radical that I’m going to say — DWTS has proven to be more transformative to stars than a sit-down with Oprah. After months of disciplined, strenuous dance practice and performance — and for many, a huge physical transformation as they lose up to 25 lbs. of weight — the show has been a career motivator and transformer. Rumer Willis is now living out her dream to sing, dance and get out of the shadow of her parents by starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway. “This has been the best experience of my life. I’m a completely different person than I was three months ago,” she reflected. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder for anything in my life or loved anything that I’ve done more in my life.”
Kelly Osbourne has repeatedly credited the show for a trimmer look but also as a career booster. “It absolutely changed my life, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you today looking like this,” she has said. “It taught me that I was able to go this far, so I can go the rest of the way. It taught me confidence and it taught me dedication, I’m so grateful for them; I really am.” And then look at Alfonso Ribeiro. Not only did the Season 19 winner lose 23 lbs. and get in fabulous shape, he’s back as a guest judge and host this season and has a great new gig as the host of Unwrapped 2.0 on Food Network. Just give me some examples of an Oprah confessional that transformed a celebrity’s life to this degree.
There’s something about that physical and mental commitment, the deadlines and the demand for excellence that DWTS imposes upon its celebrity contestants that has the power to induce public emotional honesty and life-changing makeovers. Let’s give credit where credit is due and say it — DWTS is the new Oprah.
Do you agree, Hollywoodlifers? Let me know.
— Bonnie Fuller