Who will win season 29 of ‘Dancing With the Stars”? My bold prediction

DANCING WITH THE STARS - "2020 Premiere" - "Dancing with the Stars" is back and better than ever with a new, well-known and energetic cast of 15 celebrities who are ready to add some glitzy bling to their wardrobe and break in their dancing shoes. The competition begins with a two-hour season premiere, live, MONDAY, SEPT. 14 (8:00-10:03 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (ABC/Eric McCandless) NELLY, DANIELLA KARAGACH

Credit: ABC

Credit: ABC

“Dancing With the Stars” skipped the spring season, so it didn’t have to deal with the pandemic the way “The Voice” and other reality shows did.

But the producers this fall have had to adjust nonetheless. They are piping in crowd reaction remotely with no actual live audience. They had to keep judge Len Goodman in England, forcing former DWTS dancer and “World of Dance" judge Derek Hough to fill in. They also are keeping couples apart from each other for safety purposes. There are also no extra dancers usually around to perform filler numbers.

Other changes were voluntary. For instance, judge Bruno Tonioli decided to stop dying his hair and is now the “silver fox.” OG host Tom Bergeron and co-host and former Atlanta Erin Andrews were dumped in favor of Tyra Banks, supermodel and former host of her own reality show “America’s Next Top Model." Tom’s dry wit is sorely missed, but Banks brings a certain diva-like pizzazz.

This season’s set of 15 celebrities is your typical mix of synergistic stars (“The Bachelorette,” Disney Channel), athletes, actors and reality stars. The overall talent is about on par as well with a few clunkers and a lot of potential.

Each season, I like to guess which celebrities are best positioned to win based on the first dance only. Sometimes, I get it close. Sometimes, I am so wrong. One thing’s for sure: “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin won’t be taking home the mirror-ball trophy.

And my way-too-early prediction of who will win: Justina Machado.

Everyone gets to dance again next week before the first celebrity is booted.


A.J. McClean (Backstreet Boys) with two-time winner Cheryl Burke — A.J. started with a big jump, but he seemed a little tentative when he could have gone bigger. He has popular Cheryl on his side and some dance experience. I expected the Backstreet Boys fans will keep him around a long time and he has potential to make it to the end.

Derek: "Great start to the show... I want a little more pump actions, jive action. I really really liked it. You felt comfortable out there.”

Bruno: “Powerful, strong. We expect that from you. But you have to polish the kicks and the flicks.”

Carrie Ann Inaba: “The jump was amazing. You could dance a little more out.” (scores from Carrie Ann, Derek and Bruno respectively, then the total: 6,6,6 = 18)

Jesse Metcalfe (actor, “Desperate Housewives”) with season 27 winner Sharna Burgess — He has all the makings of a potential champion. He’s attractive; he’s likable; he’s got great chemistry with this partner. His quickstep had real pep to it. Carrie said he has great energy but needs to tame the beast a little bit. Derek said he’s got leading man potential but needs to frame himself better. Bruno liked his emotions and said he did well for a difficult first-week dance. (6,6,6=18)

Skai Jackson (synergy pick as a Disney Channel actress) with Alan Bersten — Disney actors have done very well on this show. They have youth, exuberance and the ability to sell their dances. Despite her massive height difference with her partner, Skai will likely build up high scores and make it at least into the top five. Derek liked her posture but wanted more bend of the leg. Bruno said the sky’s the limit and appreciated the maturity of her dance. Carrie said they adapted to the height difference well. (7,7,7=21)

Justina Machado (star of “One Day at a Time”) with Sasha Farber — Her Latino genes don’t hurt her. At age 48, she can move extremely well. She made some risky first-dance moves and pulled it off. She is full of fire and that could garner her votes and great scores. If she can hold it up, the finals are within reach. Bruno said she’s “ready to dazzle” and embraced her musicality. Carrie said she’s on fire. Derek says she’s oozing charisma. (7,7,7=21)


Kaitlyn Bristowe (synergistic 2015 “Bachelorette”) with Artem Chigvintsev — She wanted to be a dancer as a child and said this is like living her dream. She has an advantage being in the “Bachelor” universe because the crossover votes will help keep her around. She also is a good dancer with upside. Bruno and Carrie Ann liked her first dance, but Carrie wanted her to point her feet more. Derek felt it was a little safe and wants more fight and attack. (6,7,7=20)

Johnny Weir (Olympic ice skater) with Britt Stewart — Olympic competitors have an immediate shot at winning, and Johnny is no exception. He has the type of exuberant personality to pull it off. His cha-cha, though, seemed to lack anything special, and I think the judges penalized him for that, given the high expectations. I expect he will pick up the pace and his competitive nature will drive him forward into the top six. Derek said he got too much into his head on the technical stuff. Bruno said he has a lyrical quality, but his cha-cha lacked sharpness. Carrie said he and Britt lost connection at one point. (6,6,6=18)

Jeannie Mai (“The Real” host and ABC synergy alert: on “Holey Moley”) with Brandon Armstrong — She has zero dance experience but all kinds of hutzpah. Her salsa was super energetic, and she went for some moves most first-time dancers would not have dared tried. Bruno called her a “little ray of sunshine,” but her feet placement caused some balance issues. Carrie said she lit the room up. Derek was impressed with the lift, but some turns threw her off. She is so likable, she could very well make it into the top six with her spunky attitude alone. 6,6,6=18)

Nev Schulman (“Catfish” host) with Jenna Johnson — He lacks the type of profile that would make me think he is finalist material, but he is actually adept on the dance floor. It was a very clean first dance. Carrie found his foxtrot uplifting and refined but said he his rise and fall wasn’t smooth. Derek was impressed, but Nev needed to tuck in his tush more. Bruno liked his classic style but said he leaned in a bit too much. (7,7,6=20)

Vernon Davis (former NFL star) with two-time winner Peta Murgatroyd — The recently retired player is a bit stiff in his foxtrot, but like most athletes, he should improve as he rehearses more and builds his comfort level on the dance floor. How far he gets may have a lot to do with how quickly he can get up to speed as the dances get longer and the competition gets tougher. Also, NFL stars have a solid track record and often get plenty of votes. Carrie likes his tenderness and elegance but said he has a lot to learn. Derek likes how smooth he was. Bruno noted the chemistry with Peta and liked his effort. (5,6,6=17)

Nelly (rap star) with Daniella Karagach — He did a salsa to his own song (“Ride Wit Me”), and it was pure delight. He even did a backflip. Bruno loved the ride and the connection between the partners. Carrie said her groove is right but have to open up and expose his heart. The judges were pretty harsh with the scores, relatively speaking. I can’t tell how long he’s going to last. Very few rap stars have competed in the past. (Master P and Vanilla Ice fared poorly. Romeo finished fifth.) (5,5,6=16)

Monica Aldama (Netflix series “Cheer” coach) with two-time champ Val" Chmerkovskiy She has major dance and coaching experience and it shows during the first foxtrot. She possesses ease and grace. But will she get votes? She’s going to have to really shine to stick around awhile. It doesn’t hurt she has Val as a dance partner. He is popular and brings out the best in his partners. Derek said her frame was a little congested but was great to watch. Bruno called it stylish, then offered a few technical critiques. Carrie said she started slow but picked up later. (6,7,6=19)

Carole Baskin (“Tiger King” queen) with Pasha Pashkov — ABC hired her as the “big get” given her notoriety from the Netflix series. She is clearly doing this to try to “fix” her reputation. She has very little natural dancing skills. Her paso doble lacked edge, passion or any particular appeal. But she might stick around longer than she should because of said notoriety. Carrie said she did not hold back and went full out. Derek said she was too hunched over. Bruno said the claw moves were a bit much, and it was too sedated. “I want to hear you roar!” he said. (4,4,3=11)


Charles Oakley (former NBA star) with Emma Slater — He is not a good dancer. Period. I’m not sure how much better he can get. He had problems all the way around, from footwork to holds to rhythm. Carrie said he needs to listen to the music. Derek said he was flatfooted and ahead of the music, but he did have joy. Bruno wants to see more energy down the road. (4,4,4=12)

Anne Heche (actress) with season 27 finalist Keo Motsepe — She clearly has a competitive sparkle in her eye about this show and is taking this super seriously. Her cha-cha lacked a certain crispness, but she was enjoying herself. She is 51 and in Hollywood skinny shape and ready to dance. Is she the type of actress who will draw votes? I don’t think so. She could be a surprise early exit. Derek liked her fun attitude but said she needs to finish each move before moving to the next. Bruno said she’s a “sparkling crackler” but needs more hip action. Carrie liked the partnership and called her a “star in the ballroom.” (6,6,6=18)

Chrishell Stause (“Selling Sunset” realtor and star) with Gleb Savchenko — Gleb kept the tango choreography super basic, and it showed. She is a beginner at ballroom dance, and from that sense, she will likely get better quickly. But mediocre female dancers of her ilk don’t tend to last very long on this show, so she might not get the chance to get all that good. Bruno: “I know you can sell. You managed to get the tango to escrow. But it’s a long way for us to closing." Carrie said she had major footwork issues but sees potential. Derek said she’s a little pigeon-toed, and she needs to adjust. (4,5,4=13)

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