Dancing With the Stars Season 17 revived the perennial debate about casting celebs with previous dance experience alongside beginners. As pro Mark Ballas argued in his discussion on the topic, we’ve seen over and over that the "best" dancer doesn’t always win, and newbies often outlast more talented dancers, so how is dance training that much of a boost? It’s a fair point. DWTS has never been just about dancing. Longtime fans can probably recall several great DWTS dancers who looked like they had this thing locked up … then it just didn’t happen, for one reason or another.
Here are seven past competitors who prove insane dance talent is not always a golden ticket to Mirror Ball glory.
Mario Lopez, Season 3
Mario and Karina Smirnoff looked like pros together, almost from Week 1. They started Season 3 with two 9s for their Cha-Cha-Cha and dominated the judges' leaderboard for most of the season, earning two 10s by Week 4. Mario looked and acted the part of the sexy Latin lover, but with a great personality to back it up. He was the full package. So what happened? Twinkle Toes happened! Fans often like to support someone who goes outside his comfort zone, especially football players. Emmitt Smith was better than expected from the start, and visibly improved over the season, all while making fans smile. He was easy to root for. A better dancer than Mario? No. But a good dancer and a great entertainer.
Sabrina Bryan, Season 5 and All-Stars
What did she do wrong? The mystery of Sabrina lives on, after two seasons where the former Cheetah Girl was sent home on Week 6. Sabrina was a great dancer, no question, with performance and star power that should’ve taken her a lot further. She and Mark were considered frontrunners to win Season 5. They started at the top of the leaderboard with 9s and had a perfect 30 by Week 4. But on Week 6 they got their lowest score, a 25. It was not the lowest score of the week, but perhaps fans figured she’d be safe, so no need to save her with votes. Instead, we saw the most shocking elimination in DWTS history. Bizarrely, it happened again on Season 15 All-Stars. Sabrina was chosen by fans to compete, and got a perfect score with Louis van Amstel on Week 6. She had the top score of the week and still went home. It boggles the mind.
Gilles Marini, Season 8 and All-Stars
The Season 8 girls cursed him! Shawn Johnson and Melissa Rycroft both stole Gilles’ thunder in two seasons of the show, which really just shows what a great job they did in casting Season 8. We’re most surprised by that loss, since Gilles and Cheryl Burke ticked every box you could possibly want: great dancing every week, dominating the scores with iconic routines; powerful partnership in sexy and soft dances; handsome, nice guy with cute family, easy to root for; and he was up against girls with more experience. Melissa was a recent Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and Shawn was an Olympic gymnast. You can’t say Gilles had any kind of advantage, but he didn’t quite seal the deal with the Freestyle and maybe it seemed too obvious that he would win. Either way, we’re not over it.
Mya, Season 9
Mya and Dmitry Chaplin had the highest scores for most of the season and made it to the Finals and then ... had to settle for second. Maybe there should be a special season of just second place performers. Mya could definitely dance — from a technical standpoint, she was great, and it's hard to argue she wasn't the "best" of Season 9. But she wasn't a great transformation story like Kelly Osbourne or a full-package entertainer like Donny Osmond. The scores helped her get to second, but likable Donny and Kym Johnson were just easier to root for.
Katherine Jenkins, Season 14
Katherine looked like a stunning Barbie doll, but with a cute Welsh accent and sweet self-deprecating humor. She and Mark dominated the scores — and to watch her dance was breathtaking. She couldn't be more perfect. But here's an example of the curse of previous dance experience. Her training showed, and it was mentioned, and it almost became a whisper campaign — which we've seen a couple of times since — that maybe she's too good that it's not fair... After a great Freestyle, football player Donald Driver took the win, proving once again that dance prowess is no match for football players who step out of their comfort zones. Fans love great dancing but they prefer it from someone who at least appears to not have a dance advantage going in.
Zendaya, Season 16
Speaking of the curse of previous dance experience, teenage Zendaya came into DWTS while starring on a show about dancing called Shake It Up. She also had a lot of hip hop experience. None of that involved ballroom dancing, but you would’ve thought she trained all the pros the way some people sniffed that she didn’t belong there. Her confidence in just about every style made it look easy — maybe too easy — and ultimately the win went to Kellie Pickler, who was also a fantastic dancer. Kellie was a cheerleader, but next to Zendaya’s resume that didn’t even stand out to fans as much experience.
Corbin Bleu, Season 17
History repeated itself here. The whispers started early that Corbin — with his Broadway background, Debbie Allen classes, and status as someone who performed on a DWTS Results Show! — should never have been cast. He was nitpicked by the judges, and even when he danced perfectly a lot of fans weren’t willing to give him credit, since of course he did. He’s practically a pro! There was almost no way for him to win in the Catch-22, so maybe it shouldn’t have been shocking when he didn’t win the whole season. Amber Riley, like Kellie, had her own version of previous experience, but it was nothing compared to Corbin’s dance training — and, once again, a fantastic Freestyle helped to seal the deal.
Who would you include on your list of best dancers who didn’t win? Mel B? Chelsea Kane? Joey Fatone? Stacy Keibler? Elizabeth Berkley? Let us know in the comments!