It didn't seem possible that "Dancing With the Stars" could outdo itself in the casting department. After last season's winning combination of Kate Gosselin, Shannen Doherty and Pamela Anderson, senior producer and head of casting Deena Katz decided she had two choices: retire or up her game.
Katz opted to challenge herself and wound up with a Season 11 cast that is bound to get the whole country on its feet.
Seriously, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino ("Jersey Shore") is going to cha cha cha and compete against singer Michael Bolton, Kyle Massey ("Cory in the House"), recently retired NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, retired basketball player Rick Fox and David Hasselhoff?
The women competing for the coveted mirror ball trophy are: Jennifer Grey (yes, Baby from "Dirty Dancing"), singer Brandy, "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson, Audrina Patridge ("The Hills"), comedian Margaret Cho and Bristol Palin.
"It's like putting together the most bizarre and yet entertaining kind of dinner party," Katz said of the casting process. "I make a jigsaw puzzle of including something for everybody. And what I think works best is, let's say you watch because you love David Hasselhoff and you have no idea who Margaret Cho is — what I love is this idea that you go in watching The Hoff but you then fall in love with Margaret."
This cast, said Katz, is her "dream team." Since the show launched in 2005, she said she's been "stalking" Hasselhoff and Grey to be a part of it every season. But they both had prior commitments and reservations about joining.
"It takes a big leap to do the show, and I get that people have fear and they have commitments," Katz said. "What you don't realize is that besides the 10 weeks of the show, there are three or four weeks of rehearsal time. Jennifer had some concerns because of 'Dirty Dancing.' She knows everybody wants to see her on the show."
Although the entire cast is made up of people that Katz said she approached, these days producers are bombarded with requests from interested celebrities. It wasn't always that way.
"Calling people before we were on the air in Season 1 and saying, 'We're going to do a live ballroom dance show with celebrities,' you could hear the clicks of the phone," Katz said.
Now, people are more open to it, even those Katz thought were longshots, like Sarah Palin's 19-year-old daughter, Bristol.
"You ask and you never know," she said. "I can tell you this, she's the only one that when I asked her to join the show, she packed up her truck and drove all the way from Alaska. I always try to have people you'd never expect… And this season, some of the names make you chuckle, others you're surprised about, and others you think you know, but you're going to see them in a different light."
On the Show Tracker blog, we assess how these choices came to be and offer more details on the contestants.