When Season 21 of Dancing With the Stars premieres tonight, it will feature three celebrity contestants 60 or older. It’s another smart casting call by ABC execs, who are well aware that last year’s median age for DWTS viewers was 61.6.
Chaka Khan, 62 (right) , Gary Busey, 71, and Paula Deen, 68, are the latest in a long line of age-50-plus stars the TV network has tapped to keep Dancing a top-rated show. (Donny Osmond won in 2009 at age 51; in 2010, the year she turned 50, it was Jennifer Grey’s turn.)
Quite simply, older dancers appeal to older viewers. Veteran performers such as Valerie Harper (74 during the fall 2013 season), Tommy Chong (76 during the fall 2014 season), Priscilla Presley (62 during the spring 2008 season) and Cloris Leachman (82 during the fall 2008 season) have been key to keeping DWTS among the top 10 shows week after week. And because viewer votes help decide the winner of the mirror-ball trophy, boomer-and-beyond celebs are a smart way to guarantee audience engagement.
Khan, the Queen of Funk, did a little pre-performance lobbying with a Twitter video declaring: “I want you to look out for me this season on Dancing With the Stars!”
Another happy hoofer to watch out for is celebrity chef Deen, who says this is “the first time I felt like my weight would allow me to participate.” Deen intends to lose even more weight while competing on the show — all this while making “a bunch of new friends” and building a better body.
She may just get what she wants. Celeb or civilian, dancing is clearly the way to a better body: Talk-show host Tavis Smiley, for example, lost 20 pounds during rehearsals for his appearance a year ago for Season 19 at age 50.
Season 21 of Dancing with the Stars kicks off on ABC on Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. Find the rest of the cast list here.
Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC