Entertainment Television

Friday 17 January 2020

The who, what, when, where and why on earth of Dancing with the Stars 2020

Who are the contestants and contenders in RTE's dance extravaganza this year?

Lottie Ryan with her Dancing with the Stars pro dance partner Pasquale La Rocca
Lottie Ryan with her Dancing with the Stars pro dance partner Pasquale La Rocca
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

It's that time of year again. A new batch of enthusiastic, and possibly slightly terrified, Irish celebrities are gearing up to rouse you from the January doldrums in a blur of smiles and sequins and, for the first week at least, possibly a few stilted dance moves.

Behind the rictus grins, however, it has not entirely been plain sailing for this fourth series of RTE's annual dance extravaganza.  Amid the State broadcaster's current financial woes, it was announced in November that the spin-off show, Can't Stop Dancing, which had been hosted by Blathnaid Treacy for three seasons, had been shelved in order to ensure the survival of the main show.

Meanwhile, this week saw rumours of a rift between the professional dancers over pay surface in some quarters of the media, rumours which were rubbished by pro dancer Karen Byrne on Friday when she told the Herald that there was "not an ounce of bitchiness" between the professionals.

Whatever is rumbling, or not rumbling, behind the scenes, however, the show itself has, on the face of it, emerged relatively unscathed from all the furore with the reassuringly familiar faces of Jennifer Zamparelli and Nicky Byrne returning to co-host, and the beloved trio of judges, Brian Redmond, Loraine Barry and Julian Benson also resuming their duties. 

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The build-up to the show begins in earnest in December with the interminably slow reveal of which celebrities are taking part (and then the equally interminable reveal of which professional dancers they are paired with) although speculation about who might take part in the next series is a year-long obsession for some.

There are 11 celebs vying for the trophy this year and the show will run for 12 weeks, airing every Sunday night at the family-friendly time of 6.30pm on RTE One, so it is now fully established as the modern-day Glenroe/Where in the World signifier of the start of a brand new week.  As ever, both the judges' and public's vote will decide who has earned the right (ostensibly through skill although sometimes, one suspects, entertainment value) to progress from week to week.

As reality shows go, it's not quite on a par with I'm a Celebrity in terms of physical and mental trauma, but it's certainly no walk in the park.  For those hoping to reignite their careers or forge new ones a la GAA star-turned-radio-presenter Anna Geary who took part last year, their new profile is earned through sheer force of personality (and presumably a few blisters and bruises) over the course of the series.

Tonight's first episode of this monster of an Irish show will see the male celebrities take to the dancefloor, aiming to set the bar high and ultimately reclaim the glitterball for the lads following presenter Mairead Ronan's triumph for the women of Ireland last year.

Here's the lowdown on who's who, starting with the men...

Fr. Ray Kelly

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Fr Ray Kelly and Kylee will be hoping to make an impact on Dancing with the Stars

Singing priest Fr Ray Kelly went viral when he sang Hallelujah at a wedding in 2014 and he released two albums on the back of that YouTube success.  He is no stranger to reality TV having competed on ITV's Britain's Got Talent where he earned a standing ovation for his powerful rendition of REM's 'Everybody Hurts'.  While Dancing with the Stars is not quite on the same scale as the behemoth that is BGT, the Co Meath priest will be hoofing out of his comfort zone.  Singing is his forte, dancing not so much, or so he says.

“I’m very excited but there’s a little bit of apprehension there as well because it’s not singing... if you asked me to sing ten songs... no problem... but no I have to use my feet and we’re into a whole different ball game when I have to use the feet," he said. 

"So I’m hoping that it won’t be two left feet all the time and that I’ll be able to get it together...but from watching it on television it sounds so exciting and it’s great to be part of such a great production so I look forward to the weeks ahead”.

He will be in good hands with partner Kylee Vincent, a newcomer to the show.  She is from Pretoria, South Africa, where she started dancing at the age of eight and is the undefeated World Dance Council's South African Under-21 Latin champion.

Aidan Fogarty

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Aidan Fogarty and Emily Barker

The All-Ireland winning Kilkenny hurler certainly has the fitness, stamina and nerves to see him through.  If he can swing those hips like he swings that hurley he'll be a contender.

"I feel really excited and really nervous," he said.  "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.  But really excited and really nervous is probably the best way to describe how I'm feeling."

His dance partner Emily Barker got Johnny Ward to the final last year but they were pipped at the post by Mairead.  Can she win it this year with Aidan?  No pressure Aidan...

Michael Carruth

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Michael Carruth and Karen Byrne will compete on Dancing with the Stars, RTE One

Boxing coach Michael Carruth (52) has given up alcohol in order to give the show his best shot.  Of course he has - the man's an Olympic medal winner (welterweight gold medal at the 1992 Olympics no less) and will undboutedly bring his innate determination and competitiveness to DWTS.

"I have gone from a 'one, two, three' to 'five, six, seven, eight'," he joked this week as he revealed he'll be dancing the American smooth to the Dropkick Murphy's 'I'm Shipping Up To Boston'.

"Listen, it's a challenge, and I love challenges. I am not by far the best dancer in this tournament, but I am going to give it everything I have," he added. "This is a dancing competition so I would hope the best dancer will win it."

Ryan Andrews

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Ryan Andrews and Guilia Dotta

RTE didn't travel too far to recruit Ryan as he's currently playing Sean Cassidy on the station's long-running soap, Fair City.  He's a very enthusiastic participant.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be part of the show.  It's something that I’ve always wanted to do.  I’m a Strictly fan from years and years ago – myself my Mam and Dad always watch it.  And then Dancing with the Stars came to Ireland, same thing, every Sunday night," he said.

"I’ve had friends and colleagues who have been on the show and I always cheered them on.  I always said, I’d love to do it, so then when the phone call came in – it was a definite 'yes'.  It's kind of like a dream come true.  It’s an amazing bunch of people, an amazing show and brilliant contestants so I think we’re in for a great run”.

He will dance with Italian dancer and choreographer Giulia Dotta who came fourth last year with comedian Fred Cooke, no mean feat as Fred, by his own admission, was not what you might call a 'natural' dancer.  “A Lada in a shed full of Mercedes,” is how he described his contribution to the series.

Brian Dowling

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Brian Dowling and his dance partner Laura

Best known for winning Big Brother back when it was a show worth watching, presenter Brian Dowling has also taken part in reality shows Hells Kitchen and Failte Towers.  He presented Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother before Davina was drafted in in 2013 and has since kept a relatively low small screen profile.  He will partner pro dancer Laura Nolan who is new to the show, but trained in ballroom, Latin, and ballet.

Yewande Biala

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Yewande Biala and Stephen Vincent will dance together on Dancing with the Stars

We all watched in horror as scientist Yewande (23) had her heart broken on ITV's Love Island last year but she has bounced back and makes her return to reality TV on DWTS.  She will partner newcomer Stephen Vincent.

“I’m super excited, just excited to learn new moves and meet new people.  It’ll be interesting to get to know everyone.  I just want to enjoy the experience overall really," she said.

Grainne Gallanagh

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Grainne Gallanagh with her partner Kai ahead of Dancing with the Stars

Grainne Gallanagh was Miss Universe Ireland 2018 and, as an international model who has walked at Miami Fashion Week, she brings her innate poise and a dash of extra glamour to proceedings. 

"I am nervous 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,” she said when she was announced as a contestant.

Her dance partner Kai Widdrington reached the final of the sixth series of Britain's Got Talent (that show again) and two years later returned to BGT with the dance group Kings & Queens.  Alongside him were Strictly Come Dancing stars Katya Jones and Neil Jones and Ksenia Zskhotska and Ryan McShane who would go on to join DWTS in Ireland.

Sinead O'Carroll

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Sinead O'Carroll and partner Ryan ahead of Dancing with the Stars

As a quarter of 90s Irish girl band B*Witched, Sinead O'Carroll was well used to throwing shapes on stage and the rigours of touring so one might expect her to be well equipped for the challenge ahead. 

“I’m just super excited.  I’ve wanted to do this for the last few years so the fact that I’m doing it now, is so surreal," she said.

"My kids are so excited; they just told me I have to be good...so the pressure is on from them.  I suppose...I’m a little bit 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.”

Sinead is in good hands with Ryan McShane who previously appeared on Britain's Got Talent (natch) and reached the final of DWTS with Denise McCormack in 2017 and semi-final with Erin McGregor in 2018.  Last year he was the first to be eliminated with Eilish O'Carroll so he will undoubtedly be determined to get back into the groove for this series. 

Lottie Ryan

Lottie Ryan with her Dancing with the Stars pro dance partner Pasquale La Rocca

Much has been made of the 2FM entertainment reporter's experience in dance.  She went to performing arts school and was into hip hop as a child but she does not feel she has an unfair advantage over the other celebrities.

“I don’t want to say naïve, but it’s a very generalised statement to say that because somebody did hip-hop classes as a child, they know how to do what I’m about to embark on,” she told Sunday Independent Living.

“It would be kind of like saying a footballer should be able to pick up a hurl, and play hurling. Yes, the basics are there, in terms of fitness, stamina and an understanding of the sport, but this is a whole other discipline. My body is not used to what it’s being asked to do at the moment.”

Lottie will perform with brand new pro dancer Pasquale La Rocca, a former Italian Ballroom and Latin Champion who appeared on the second series of the Belgian version of Dancing with the Stars.

Glenda Gilson

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Glenda Gilson and Robert Rowinksi on Dancing with the Stars

The former host of Xpose on Virgin Media Television has jumped ship to RTE for the series.  As a former model with TV experience, she has the physicality and personality to make an impact but says she has "never danced before".

"I'm absolutely delighted to be part of Dancing With The Stars. I've always been a big fan of the show but now that I'm here and I'm in costume, I'm ready to rock," she said.

"I'm kind of a little bit scared to be honest with you; I'm not a dancer, so this is totally out of my comfort zone.  I've never danced before but I've loved watching the show on TV so I'm really thrilled to be part of it."

She is partnered with Robert Rowiński, a Polish dancer, choreographer and model who previously appeared on the Polish version of the show.

Mary Kennedy

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Mary Kennedy and dance partner John Nolan

Having had to retire from anchoring RTÉ's 'Nationwide' following her 65th birthday in September, Mary is free to do as she pleases and she is a hugely popular addition to the line-up for viewers. 

"I'm quite petrified, but I'm looking forward to learning new dances and doing something different," she said.

"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."

She has struck gold partner-wise as she will dance with John Nolan, who happens to have mentored Mairead Ronan to the win last year. 

RTÉ One’s Dancing with the Stars returns tonight at 6.30pm.

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