Dancing with the Stars: Everything you need to know

Who are the celebrity contestants, what time is it on, who is the favourite to win and more

Dancing With The Stars 2019 twirls on to our screens on Sunday, January 6th

Dancing With The Stars 2019 twirls on to our screens on Sunday, January 6th

 

Ready, set . . . dance! RTÉ’s ratings-slaying celebration of heroic hoofing, shimmering evening wear and sweating celebs is back. Dancing With The Stars 2019 twirls on to our screens on Sunday and, for fans of reality TV and of the vaguely famous looking a bit silly, excitement is at fever pitch. Begone January gloom (clicks finger).

The annual glitterfest returns to RTÉ One on Sunday at 6.30pm and features the now traditional pick ’n’mix of contestants – two sports stars, a clutch of soap actors, the usual smattering of TV presenters and comedians will parachute into Ardmore Film Factory in Bray, Co Wicklow for the first of 12 episodes.

There’s a revamped presenting team, with Westlife’s Nicky Byrne joined by newcomer Jennifer Zamparelli (in for the departed Amanda Byram). The judging panel consists of regulars Brian Redmond, Loraine Barry and Julian Benson.

Initially bunged into the schedules as a replacement for the Voice of Ireland – aka the series which existed simply to make Niall Breslin a household (ish) name – Dancing With The Stars has across its first two seasons become a Sunday night fixture.

It has done particularly well in twirling out from under the shadow of its BBC big sibling, Strictly Come Dancing. Irish adaptations of international formats often suffer by comparison (the rickety production values invariably disappoint). But DWTS (as you are henceforth obliged to refer to it as) has distinguished itself by somehow scaling even more dizzying heights of cheesiness than Strictly.

It is – and this is absolutely a compliment – a Götterdämmerung  of end-of-weekend tackiness. Where else in the known universe could you tune in to see Marty Morrissey execute a faultless rumba or watch Conor McGregor’s sister own her big cha-cha-hah moment? Stacey Dooley being all adorable and plucky pales by comparison.

Who, though, will emerge as this year’s Marty: the pre-packaged cult hero whose triumphs and tragedies we will live as though they were our own? Might it be comedian Fred Cooke? Telly tough guy Johnny Ward? Eilish O’Carroll – aka Mrs Brown’s best pal Winnie from the Brendan O’Carroll chortle apocalypse? The excitement lies in not yet knowing.

Regarding favourites, the obvious frontrunners include rugby star Peter Stringer – whose electric pink suit is already giving you flashbacks – and Dublin footballer Dennis Bastick. Elite athletes have the inbuilt advantage of knowing what it’s like to work up a sweat in front of thousands of baying strangers (that would be you and I, dear viewers) and are naturally co-ordinated to boot.

As for dark horses – well who is to say? Maybe Tyrone music star Cliona Hagan will scorch her way across the floor and, after Jake Carter in 2018, make it two-for-two for country singers. Or perhaps this is the moment former Miss Ireland Holly Carpenter has been counting down to her entire life.

All will be revealed, starting with the unveiling of the contestants’s professional dance partners on RTÉ’s 2 Can’t Stop Dancing on Friday January 4th at 8.30pm. In the meantime, here is your cut-out-and-keep guide to the electric 11 comprising DWTS’s Class of 2019.

Who are the Contestants?

Eilish O’Carrol & Ryan McShane
Eilish O’Carrol & Ryan McShane

Eilish O’Carroll (67)
Partner: Ryan McShane
Mrs Brown’s Boys
is filmed in front of a live (and lively) studio audience. Thus, O’Carroll – older sister of Mrs Brown himself Brendan O’Carroll – will already know all about staying steely under the spotlight. She is an accomplished dancer and, in 2017, participated in a mini Dancing With The Stars on RTÉ’s Today Show.

Cliona Hagan & Robert Rowinski
Cliona Hagan & Robert Rowinski

Cliona Hagan (29)
Partner: Robert Rowinski

Ballinderry, Co Tyrone country music singer Hagan is regarded as a genuine contender for the Glitterball Trophy – not least by herself. “When I say I want to win DWTS, I don’t say that in an egotistical way. I mean it in the sense that you should always try your best in anything that you do, and I always live life to the fullest.”

Fred Cooke & Giulia Dotta
Fred Cooke & Giulia Dotta

Fred Cooke (38)
Partner: Giulia Dotta

Fuzzy-faced Co Meath stand-up Cooke is under no illusions as to his chances. While fizzing with enthusiasm, his dance experience is rudimentary. “When it comes to dancing, I’m full of passion but I don’t have the technique. I’ll do my best to try and get both right on this incredible show.” He will hope that he delivers the perfect punchline in the form of a memorable – or at least not completely humiliating – opening week performance.

Peter Stringer & Ksenia Zsikhatska
Peter Stringer & Ksenia Zsikhatska

Peter Stringer (41)
Partner: Ksenia Zsikhotska

The former Ireland and Munster scrum-half hung up his boots last summer and now dons his dancing shoes. With Thomas O’Leary having blazed a DWTS trail in 2018, Stringer becomes the second ex-Munster star to appear on the series in as many years. He is “nervous but up for the challenge”.

Darren Kennedy & Karen Byrne
Darren Kennedy & Karen Byrne

Darren Kennedy (37)
Partner: Karen Byrne

Stylist and TV presenter Kennedy had a setback when coming down with food poisoning on a charity trip to India in November. Having spent Christmas in sunny Rio de Janeiro he’s now over the illness. What he hasn’t recovered from is an onslaught of first-night DWTS jitters. “I feel this is the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done but I think it’s good in life to push yourself… if it doesn’t terrify you at times then it’s not worth doing.”

Johnny Ward & Emily Barker
Johnny Ward & Emily Barker

Johnny Ward (31)
Partner: Emily Barker

You’ll know the Dublin actor from Love/Hate – in which he played biker gangster Paulie Lawless –  and Fair City. But he is also an old hand at pantomime and runs his own performing arts school – perfect preparation for the three month glitter-onslaught that is Dancing With The Stars. The producers were convinced he could storm the series after witnessing Ward’s rug-cutting skills in Copper Face Jacks: The Musical, in which he played a romantic clamper (no, that isn’t a euphemism).

Clelia Murphy & Vitali Kuzmin
Clelia Murphy & Vitali Kuzmin

Clelia Murphy (43)
Partner: Vitali Kozmin

The former Fair City actress turned down Dancing With The Stars on two previous occasions. But her resolution for 2019 was to say “yes” to new opportunities and to leap where before she might have blanched. “I had to make a decision about it and my first instinct was, ‘I’d love to do it, but I’d never have the confidence’,” said the actress, who portrayed Niamh Cassidy on Fair City for 22 years until her exit in 2017. “But it was my fear making me say no. And making a decision out of fear is a bad decision. I’ve made too many decisions in my life based on fear and I’m not doing it anymore.”

Holly Carpenter and Trent Whiddon. Photograph: Andres Poveda
Holly Carpenter and Trent Whiddon. Photograph: Andres Poveda

Holly Carpenter (27)
Partner: Trent Whiddon

The one time Miss Ireland’s preparations for DWTS were traumatically disrupted when her professional dance partner, Curtis Pritchard, and his brother AJ – a dancer on Strictly – were attacked in a nightclub in their native Manchester. A knee injury sustained in the incident has forced Curtis to drop out of the series. Setting aside the obvious pain inflicted on Pritchard, this was a setback to Carpenter who had rehearsed with him for five days a week for a month.

Demi Isaac Oviawe & Kai Widdrington
Demi Isaac Oviawe & Kai Widdrington

Demi Isaac Oviawe (18)
Partner: Kai Widdrington

The Young Offenders star jumped at the opportunity to be involved in DWTS. “I’m so excited to be involved in this year’s show,” she said. “I can’t wait to get started and learn a new skill. I’m hoping that I can be a role model for young black women in Ireland and maybe some might even follow in my dance steps.” The Mallow, Co Cork, actress has drawn acclaim for her deadpan turn as Linda Walsh in the aforementioned Young Offenders, the RTÉ/BBC co-production comedy adapted from the 2016 film of the same name.

Mairead Ronan & John Nolan
Mairead Ronan & John Nolan

Mairead Ronan (38)
Partner: John Edward Nolan

As host of Celebrity Bainisteoir – The Rivals and Ireland’s Fittest Family, Ronan already knows a thing or three about reality TV. She was the first participant unveiled for DWTS 2019 and, though obviously thrilled to participate, insists it will be very different from her earlier screen experiences. “I’ve never done anything glamorous on TV, I’m always out in fields and mucky places with wellies and runners, so now to be in heels and sparkly dresses is both brilliant and brutal.”

Denis Bastick & Valeria Milova
Denis Bastick & Valeria Milova

Dennis Bastick (37)
Partner: Valeria Milova

The All Ireland-winning footballer has never previously had to worry about a difficult away fixture in Wicklow. But the Dubliner will face an entirely new challenge as he exchanges his blue jersey for something rather sparklier. “I am slightly overwhelmed at the task in hand having seen what the dancers can do,” he stated when announced for the competition. “They have amazing, athleticism, rhythm and coordination. I have probably one of those qualities so I will really need to put the work in.”

What can we expect from the first show?

There will be no eliminations in weeks one and two, giving the contestants a chance to (literally) find their feet. The fun here will be in assessing who already has dancing chops and who is going to have to toil behind the scenes in order to bring themselves up to scratch. The eliminations will begin in week three, with one celebrity and their dancing partner exiting the show each week until the final on Sunday, March 24th.

 The other imponderable will be the on-screen chemistry between Byrne and his new co-host. As the star of Republic of Telly and Bridget and Eamon, Zamparelli will be familiar with a slightly more cynical demographic. Can she appeal to a Sunday night mainstream audience?

When can you catch it?

Every Sunday from 6.30pm to 8.30pm on RTÉ One from January 6th. On Fridays on RTÉ Two, meanwhile, Bláthnaid Treacy goes behind the scenes for exclusive footage and chats with Can’t Stop Dancing, going out at 8.30pm.

What to watch for

Voters have their biases, as made clear in 2017 when GAA star Aidan O’Mahony won despite some less than stellar turns and in 2018 when country heartthrob Jake Carter pirouetted to first place. DWTS 2019 pits rugby against GAA, Fair City against Mrs Brown and country music against everyone else. So keep an eye out for voting patterns and bear in mind that this is a TV competition not a dance event and that old fashioned likeability is more important than the ability to execute a flawless paso doble.

Who’s going to win?

Sports stars always do well on shows of this type so it’s no surprise Peter Stringer is bookies’ favourite. He is followed by Johnny Ward and Holly Carpenter. But anything can happen when the lights go down and the (pre-recorded) band strikes up. Let’s not heel-click our way to hasty conclusions quite yet.

Are they bringing back Marty Morrissey?

Tragically no (shakes fists and howls at sky).

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