Over the past 14 seasons of DWTS, the pros have emerged as the true stars. We agree with Season 2 champion Drew Lachey that the hungry runners-up will be the contestants to beat, but that also goes for pros who have yet to win a Mirror Ball trophy. These stars and pros will be true teams — and without knowing even the first 12 partnerships until August 13, figuring out the top performers is crazier guesswork than ever. But since we’re never quite right with these pre-season predictions anyway, we have nothing to lose by jumping into the fray again.
Here’s our prediction for the top six — complete with pairs we assigned ourselves based on our best guesswork:
6. Melissa Rycroft & Tony Dovolani Let’s say Melissa and Tony reunite their Season 8 partnership and try to take on Gilles Marini and Shawn Johnson, the two stars who beat them back in 2009. We predict it won’t work — especially if Shawn is paired with Tristan MacManus, which we just made up ‘cause it would be so cute. But we do think Melissa's smile and strong technical skills will still take her pretty darn far.
5. Kirstie Alley & Maksim Chmerkovskiy Maks always wants to win, but winning All-Stars would be like winning two seasons in one. His fans will probably help him get close and if he gets Kirstie again that could help too. The Season 12 runner-up was never the best dancer — and certainly not as technically strong as, say, Mel B — but the dynamic between Kirstie and Maks was so entertaining. (We can’t wait to see how long it takes her to have another mishap!) She represents a Real Person trying to do this, as opposed to the almost superhuman bodies that will be out there battling it out. She’ll be someone to empathize with and root for as she tries, once again, to help her partner succeed.
4. Joey Fatone & Kym Johnson It’s possible Joey won’t be re-teamed with Kym, but no matter who he’s paired with, we expect him to be a strong competitor. Joey and Kym were the top-scoring couple on Season 4, Week 1, and they had the top scores more weeks than winners Apolo Anton Ohno and Julianne Hough. So why did they lose? They lost a couple of points in their final Cha-Cha, putting their tally just behind Apolo & Julianne. And even though they did get a perfect score for their Freestyle, it still wasn't quite as iconic as what Apolo & Julianne did.
3. Shawn Johnson & Tristan MacManus If a past champion is going to go far, we’re guessing it will be 20-year-old Shawn. She managed what seemed to be impossible — beating Gilles on Season 8. We have no idea who she’ll be paired with, but we just love the idea of her energy with our favorite Irish lucky charm, Tristan, who has yet to be paired with a younger partner. They would be a fun, wholesome pair to watch and vote for. Still, we doubt a champion will win twice — even a champion paired with a popular pro. But we’ll see.
2. Sabrina Bryan & Mark Ballas It’s possible Sabrina won’t be voted in as the “Viewer’s Choice” for the 13th contestant. Even if she is, it’s possible that she won’t be re-paired with Mark Ballas. But if those two stars align, things could go well for the former Cheetah Girl. These two have unfinished business from Season 5 and they should be hungry to prove they were indeed “robbed” with an early departure. If they deliver the dancing goods, fans probably won’t abandon them again.
1. Gilles Marini & Cheryl Burke Have you seen their scores from Season 8? The judges adored Gilles and Cheryl and the audience ate Gilles up like a French baguette. It's still confusing how they lost. (Maybe Shawn and Mark's perfect-scoring Freestyle?) At any rate, Gilles and Cheryl are the ultimate runner-up threats. They have a lot to prove — and Gilles should be feeling the weight of the DWTS world on his sexy French-American shoulders. It's possible Gilles and Cheryl won't be re-paired, but that would be a crime against humanity, so we won't even consider it. An even bigger crime would be for Gilles and Cheryl to re-team ... and disappoint with sub-par performances. They have more competition than ever this time, but if they live up to the high standard we expect, they could go all the way.
Dancing With the Stars Season 15: All-Stars will premiere on Monday, September 24 at 8 p.m. ET/PT onABC.
Gina Carbone is a contributing writer at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter@ginacarbone.