Dancing with the Stars 2020: Everything you need to know
Find out who this year’s celebrities are, when it starts, who might win and more
The line-up for Dancing with the Stars 2020, which begins on RTÉ One on January 5th
The world turns, another decade slips by, a future full of uncertainty looms. But there are still things we can cling to. Such as sparkly reality TV in which the vaguely famous vie to prove their mastery of the paso doble and the Viennese waltz. We may live in a time of endless cha-cha-changes. But we’ll always have the cha-cha-cha. So yes, welcome back Dancing with the Stars – we’ve only just realised how much we missed you.
Last year, it was upheaval ahoy on the highest-rating RTÉ series that doesn’t feature Brendan O’Carroll in an apron pretending to forget his lines. Most notably, Amanda Byram had departed as presenter, with Jennifer Zamparelli in as her replacement. The likeable Zamparelli is back in 2020, alongside Nicky Byrne as her foil/talking man-quiff. Also returning are the regular trio of judges: Loraine Barry, Julian Benson and Brian Redmond, the token Simon Cowell/Craig Revel Horwood-style baddie on the bench.
Dancing with the Stars 2019 brought us the first ever victory for a female celeb in Ireland’s Fittest Family host Mairéad Ronan. Could that feat be repeated in season four? Ahead of Sunday night’s launch episode, it really is anyone’s guess. One early frontrunner, or so bookies believe, is 2FM’s Lottie Ryan, by dint of her time at the Broadway Dance Academy. Fair City’s Ryan Andrews and Big Brother graduate Brian Dowling are fancied too, though in Dowling’s case this has less to do with his own track record in setting the floor alight than with the fact he is married to a choreographer.
But if we learned anything from last year’s Dancing with the Stars it’s to be on the lookout for dark horses. Ronan flew below the radar early on and was throughly out-dazzled in the first few episodes by early pace-setters Johnny Ward and Cliona Hagan. However, steady progress and the connection she forged with the voting public ultimately carried the day. Don’t be surprised if the eventual winner in 2020 brings the same mix of underdog grit and unassuming charisma.
Who are the contestants?
Glenda Gilson (38)
Partner: Robert Rowinski
With Xposé having ascended to the great makeup counter in the sky, model-turned-presenter Gilson is back on RTÉ. She was the first celeb announced for 2020 and will dance with veteran pro hoofer Rowinski. He had a knockout 2019, reaching the final as partner of Cliona Hagan. Can he and Gilson repeat that feat in 2020? Gilson certainly isn’t talking up her chances and believes she will experience opening night nerves.
“I’m kind of a little bit scared to be honest with you,” she confesses. “I’m not a dancer, so this is totally out of my comfort zone, I’ve never danced before.”
Grainne Gallanagh (25)
Partner: Kai Widdrington
Having reached the final 20 in the Miss Universe contest two years ago, the Buncrana native and Letterkenny IT graduate now makes her reality TV debut. She’s dancing with Kai Widdrington (a 2012 Britain’s Got Talent finalist), who placed eighth dancing with Young Offenders star Demi Isaac Oviawe in 2019.
As with Gilson, Gallanagh has hinted at possible first night jitters – but also seems thrilled just to be here. “I am nervous though about picking up the dances quick enough but I’m going to try my absolute best and bring in my competitive spirit while enjoying the experience overall”.
Aidan Fogarty (37)
Partner: Emily Barker
With five All-Ireland medals the Kilkenny hurler will feel he has nothing to prove in front of a huge audience baying for a bit of drama. But let’s not forget that 2019 was an underwhelming year for athletes on Dancing with the Stars with both footballer Dennis Bastick and rugby player Peter Stringer not so much setting the floor alight as leaving it very mildly singed.
Thus it falls on Fogarty – nickname “Tag” we can exclusively reveal – to restore the reputation of the sportspeople of Ireland. As a nippy corner forward, he is perfectly placed to excel and dances with Emily Barker, who reached the final last year with Johnny Ward.
“I’ve played in All-Ireland finals and I was coming up here today thinking I’d have taken an All-Ireland Final any day over this,” he says of his first visit to the studio in Bray. “Really excited and really nervous is probably the best way to describe how I’m feeling.”
Brian Dowling (41)
Partner: Laura Nolan
Dowling was there for the birth of reality TV as winner of the second season of Channel 4’s Big Brother. Back then the genre truly was a passport to the big (ish) time and he has since worked in Ireland and the UK as a television presenter, even returning to host Big Brother on Channel 5.
For his next trick he beams down to Bray for a tilt at a the Glitterball trophy. He will take to the floor with Laura Nolan, a champion ballroom dancer from Lucan appearing in her first season of Dancing with the Stars.
“When I reached 40 I told myself I was going to start doing things I usually say no to and this is one of those things,” explains Dowling. “It’s based on your ability to learn a new skill and at my age I’m in my comfort zone... so I’m really pushing myself.”
Lottie Ryan (34)
Partner: Pasquale La Rocca
She has studied at the Broadway Dance Centre, describing it as “just like Fame”. Will this give an early advantage to the 2FM presenter (and daughter of the late Gerry Ryan)? That remains to be seen, though unlike several other contestants nerves are unlikely to be an issue. She can’t wait to get going, insisting “It’s going to be a once in a lifetime incredible adventure and I cannot wait to get stuck in”. Her pro partner La Rocca makes his debut on Dancing with the Stars Ireland but knows exactly what he’s in for having just won the Belgian version.
Mary Kennedy (65)
Partner: John Nolan
The retiring Nationwide presenter has been in the news for non-Glitterball related reasons. She has described as “ridiculous” RTÉ regulations requiring her to step down from her job because she has turned 65. She will, however, be on the airwaves for several more weeks at least thanks to Dancing with the Stars, where she is partnered with last year’s winning pro John Nolan. The Clondalkin native and former English teacher (and aunt of pop star Dermot Kennedy) said she was “quite petrified” about the challenge ahead.
“I’ve always been a fan and I’ve come out to watch the live show every year it’s been on, so now it’s time to pony up and put my money where my mouth is.”
Michael Carruth (52)
Partner: Karen Byrne
Olympic boxing gold medallist Carruth will be stepping into a different sort of ring at the studios in Bray. The experience won’t be entirely new as he competed in Irish dancing reality show Celebrity Jigs ‘n’ Reels in 2006 (placing a respectable fourth). Can he swing to hit on Dancing with the Stars?
“At 52 years of age I still love to give myself challenges,” he says. “And this is a huge challenge and I’m looking forward to it.” He pairs up with series regular Karen Byrne, whose previous celebrity partners on the series were Des Cahill, Jake Carter (the eventual season two winner) and Darren Kennedy.
Fr Ray Kelly (66)
Partner: Kylee Vincent
Singing priest Father Ray became a sensation when a clip of his performance of the Leonard Cohen standard Hallelujah at a wedding in Oldcastle, Co Meath went viral. He released two albums with Universal Music and reached the knock-out stages of Britain’s Got Talent (doing Everybody Hurts by REM).
Now we’ll see the piping padre swapping the microphone for a pair of dancing shoes – but will it be divine rapture or a holy show? “If you asked me to sing 10 songs... no problem,” he says. “But no I have to use my feet and we’re into a whole different ball game when I have to use the feet.” His partner is Pretoria-born choreographer Vincent, making her debut on the show.
Ryan Andrews (26)
Partner: Giulia Dotta
The Fair City actor is among the favourites to triumph in 2020. Last year Love/ Hate’s Johnny Ward raised the bar for thesps by reaching the final. Can Carrigstown regular Andrews go one better? As a mainstay of the Olympia Christmas panto, he certainly knows a few things about maintaining his poise while dressed outrageously. And once you’ve belted your lungs out in front of hundreds of sugar-saturated eight-year-olds, it’s hard to be daunted by a Sunday evening glitter extravaganza in Bray.
“I’m a Strictly fan from years and years ago – myself my Mam and Dad always watch it,” he says. “And then Dancing with the Stars came to Ireland, same thing, every Sunday night.” He dances with Giulia Dotta, who impressed last year opposite funnyman Fred Cooke.
Sinéad O’Carroll (46)
Partner: Ryan McShane
Having bedazzled/struck terror into a generation of pop fans as one quarter of B*witched, O’Carroll now turns to reality TV. She has some history with the medium, having appeared in the ITV2 docudrama The Big Reunion (in which a number of Nineties pop acts attempt to put the show back on the road). And as a pop star, dancing and wearing sparkly costumes is obviously all in a day’s work. So whatever other challenges the series presents, studio spotlights and an attentive audience won’t come as a shock to her.
“My kids are so excited; they just told me I have to be good... so the pressure is on from them,” she says. “I’m a little nervous too about stepping out and doing something by myself as I always had the girls around me. But I think once I get the first dance done, I’ll hopefully be fine.”
Her dance partner, Ryan McShane, returns for his fourth season. He will hope to do better last year when he was first eliminated, with celeb Eilish O’Carroll.
Yewande Biala (23)
Partner: Stephen Vincent
Enfield, Co Meath biotech graduate Biala did well maintaining her dignity while all around were shedding their own – along with their various under-garments – on the most recent season of Love Island.
Biala now swaps the sun-lounger for the dance-floor. She has described herself as rather on the nerdy side. Will her geek chic chime with viewers?
“I’m super excited, just excited to learn new moves and meet new people,” she says. “It’ll be interesting to get to know everyone. I just want to enjoy the experience overall really.” Her Manchester-born pro dance partner Vincent is making his debut on Dancing with the Stars.
What can we expect from the first show?
Thrills, spills – maybe a few chills if Nicky Byrne tries some of his patented “banter” (please do not try some of your patented “banter”, Nicky). Celebs and dancers have been rehearsing since early December but are essentially still at the getting-to-know-each-other stage, so look out for some beginner flubs. One thing we won’t see is an early knock-out as elimination by public vote doesn’t begin until week three.
When can you catch it?
Every Sunday from 6.30pm to 8.30pm on RTÉ One from Sunday, January 5th. Fans of Bláthnaid Treacy’s behind the scenes spin-off series Can’t Stop Dancing will be disappointed as the show has been axed due to budget cuts at RTÉ. Instead there will be a weekly Dancing with the Stars podcast hosted by James Patrice.
What to watch for?
First night nerves are a given as contestants make their debut on the dancefloor. There will be a group performance and then – cue sheer white-knuckle terror – each individual pairing will step beneath the spotlight. From that moment, what is done cannot be undone.
Keep an eye out for potential dark horses. As Ronan’s triumph last year demonstrated, the Irish public loves an underdog story and the most dazzling dancer out of the gates may not ultimately carry the day.
This being Ireland, localised voting has been an issue in the past – though not in the case of Ronan – so hometown heroes and heroines may be in with a holler. However all of that is in the future. Launch night is all about getting a sense of who has the potential to excel and who will be clod-hopping their way to an early exit.
Who’s going to win?
If panto veteran Andrews can emulate the scorching Johnny Ward he has every chance of gaining the gong. There is also the question of whether Lottie Ryan’s dance training will stand to her. And can sports stars Fogarty and Carruth bring their indomitable will to win to this competition? We’re about to find out. So pull up a chair, forget that it’s just turned 2020 and, golly, aren’t we all getting so old… and let the hoofing begin.
Dancing with the Stars begins on RTÉ One on Sunday, January 5th