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REALITY CHECK: 'Dancing With the Stars' cast
August 25, 2008  | By Diane Werts
cloris leachman.jpgNo deaf people or amputees this time. Just Erica Kane and Olympic athletes. And Cloris Leachman. Gloriously fun and foul-mouthed 82-year-old Cloris Leachman!

ABC will reign her in, of course, on Dancing With the Stars. (You can watch her here, unleashed, if bleeped, getting blue about Jack Benny and John Stamos in her latest Comedy Central roast rant.) But Leachman is still a blast, as anybody who's seen her from Young Frankenstein to Malcolm in the Middle can attest. And she'll be testing new DWTS professional Corky Ballas, dad of Mark (winner last time with Kristi Yamaguchi).

Good luck keeping up with that, Susan Lucci. The All My Children star does, however, get to trot with Tony Dovalani. ABC also announced Monday that hot bod Maksim Chmerkovskiy will return after a season off to lead Olympic beach volleyballer Misty May-Treanor.

It's names like that -- and gay *NSYNC-er Lance Bass and hulking NFL lineman Warren Sapp and comic loose cannon Jeffrey Ross -- that make Dancing With the Stars my big exception to the reality/competition rule. Watching "real" people backstabbing and badmouthing doesn't do much for me. Neither do talent contests with "adorable" 4-year-olds or "real-life" makeovers/swaps so obviously orchestrated by producers.

But Dancing With the Stars is a feel-good show of considerable spontaneity that features contestants truly trying to master new skills. They're people who've already accomplished something (except, perhaps, for Hollywood hanger-on Kim Kardashian), and now they're putting themselves on the line in unfamiliar territory. Unlike most folks in reality TV, these celebs really do risk something. Of course they also grab another 15 minutes in the limelight.

DWTS benefits from the genre's best host, Tom Bergeron, who gets off sharp and funny retorts -- live -- while still making the stars feel comfortable, even when they're fainting (just ask Marie Osmond). He has a deft touch that doesn't often get its due. And then there's Samantha Harris, the second-banana fashion-plate we love to hate, a perky grinner just a couple degrees removed from the Paula Abdul model. At least she doesn't babble.

So here's the full lineup of stars for the DWTS season kicking off on ABC Sept. 22:

LANCE BASS - Former *NSYNC heartthrob teams with 2006 U.S. Youth Latin Champ and 2007 World Swing Dance Champ Lacey Schwimmer, in her series debut.

TONI BRAXTON - Grammy-winning singer (Un-Break My Heart) and actress (Beauty and the Beast, Aida), who's been battling heart disease, is partnered with Alec Mazo.

BROOKE BURKE - TV host (Rock Star: INXS) and actress (Miss Guided) dances with Derek Hough.

ROCCO DISPIRITO - Celebrity chef (The Restaurant), promoting his fall A&E series Rocco Gets Real, teams with Karina Smirnoff.

MAURICE GREENE - Sydney Olympics track gold medalist dances with two-time champion Cheryl Burke.

KIM KARDASHIAN - E!'s Keeping up with the Kardashians babe is led by defending champ Mark Ballas.

CLORIS LEACHMAN - Emmy, Golden Globe and Oscar winner gets newcomer Corky Ballas.

CODY LINLEY - The show's youngest-ever contestant, Jake Ryan on Hannah Montana, teams with two-time champ Julianne Hough.

SUSAN LUCCI - La Lucci, a three-decade daytime faves as Erica Kane on All My Children, dances with Tony Dovolani.

MISTY MAY-TREANOR - Beach Volleyball gold medalist now partners with Maksim Chmerkovskiy.

TED MCGINLEY - TV stalwart (Married…with Children, Hope & Faith, Happy Days, The Love Boat) dances with newcomer Inna Brayer, U.S. Amateur 10 Dance Champion.

JEFFREY ROSS - "Roastmaster General" comic gets to hold hottie Edyta Sliwinska.

WARREN SAPP - Pro Bowl defensive tackle teams with Kym Johnson.


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