‘Dancing With the Stars’: Talking with a finalist who knows its challenges

Mar 14, 2017

Perhaps new celebrity contestants on “Dancing With the Stars” know what they’re in for. Or perhaps not.

Enough have been through the process by now for others to be aware of how grueling it can be, and the latest group embarks on the pursuit of the mirrorball trophy when the ABC competition starts its 24th season Monday, March 20.

The new contenders include: Olympic-medalist gymnast Simone Biles (who was a “Final Five” teammate of last season’s “Dancing” winner, Laurie Hernandez); figure-skating icon Nancy Kerrigan; “The A-Team” and “Rocky III” alum Mr. T; entertainment veteran Charo, of “cuchi cuchi” phrasing fame; former “Glee” co-star Heather Morris; and baseball’s David Ross, who won World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

Also: television’s latest “Bachelor,” Nick Viall; ex-“Saturday Night Live” regular Chris Kattan; football star Rashad Jennings; Normani Kordei of music’s Fifth Harmony; singer-actress Erika Jayne (“The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”); and bull rider turned model Bonner Bolton.

Actress (“One Tree Hill”) and country-music star Jana Kramer placed fourth on “Dancing” last season, having endured such hurdles as torn muscles and a flu-stricken professional partner (Gleb Savchenko), so she’s very aware of surprises that can greet the newcomers. “I definitely have a newfound appreciation for it,” Kramer says. “I remember watching it and being like, ‘Oh, how hard can it be?’ It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, minus birthing my daughter; it’s up there with that.”

Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews will be back as “Dancing” co-hosts, with Len Goodman, Julianne Hough, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli seated on the judges’ panel again. Kramer anticipates returning to the ballroom at some point, dependent on her schedule that includes concert touring, and she acknowledges feeling like a part of the show’s “family” now.

“It’s cool, and I’m really excited to go see one of the live shows this year,” confirms Kramer, who adds with a knowing laugh, “and more that I get to sit back and watch and not to have to hear my Russian partner screaming at me. Gleb is so busy; he just got off the road with the ‘Dancing With the Stars’ tour. We’ll text every once in a while, but you go from spending every day with someone for three months to not talking. I miss the relationship, but it was a nice chapter in my book. He’s about to start with a new partner (Jayne), and I’m a little sad and a little jealous, but I’m excited for them.”

“Excited” also defines getting perfect-10 scores from the “Dancing” judges, which Kramer experienced: “That was definitely a goal for me going in, and looking back on it now, it kind of feels like I didn’t even do it … like a dream. It all happened so fast, and it was so many hours. It was such a whirlwind that when it was over, it was like, ‘Did that just happen?’ Even in that moment, though, I knew that we did a good job. Even if someone was to give me just a 9, I knew when we just nailed the performance.”

Kramer not only displayed her dance skills last season, but she also opened up about such emotional matters as having been a domestic-abuse victim. “ ‘Dancing With the Stars’ reaches a lot of people,” Kramer acknowledges, “and people really got a chance to know me and know my story. The confidence that I gained from being on that show was huge. I’m still shy about certain things, and the show really helped me get out of my box. I work so hard, I forget to play.”

Professionally, Kramer is convinced “Dancing” brought her other offers, including one for the lead role in a Hallmark Channel movie: “Love at First Bark,” debuting April 1 and casting her as a interior designer and new dog adopter. The 2013 winner of the Academy of Country Music’s award for top new female artist, she’s working on a follow-up album to 2015’s “thirty one,” but having as much time as possible with one-year-old daughter Jolie is her priority.

That may mitigate against Kramer attending this year’s ACM Awards in Las Vegas on April 2, though the jury’s still out: “Right now, my time is very much like, ‘I want to be with my child,’ so if I don’t have to be there … but I love Vegas.”

Jana Kramer is a past finalist of “Dancing With the Stars,” which returns Monday, March 20, on ABC.

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