Nearly 21 million viewers watched the premiere of the 12th season of “Dancing with the Stars” last Monday night. Apparently, it’s a popular show. Yet it’s hard to imagine what all those people are tuning in for. Is it the tacky costumes? Fake tans? Forced emotions? Embarrassing, hard-to-watch routines?

Dancing with the Stars

Season 12 Premiere
Mondays at 8 p.m. and Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

Maybe it’s this season’s assembled group of celebrities. From football star Hines Ward to actress Kirstie Alley, “DWTS” has gone out of its way this season to deliver a lively cast of “almost” celebrities. The biggest name for season 12 is apparently Ralph Macchio, best known for his starring role in “The Karate Kid” over two decades ago.

It’s likely you haven’t even heard of some of these supposed “celebrities,” namely radio personality Mike Catherwood (“Loveline”) and Disney channel star Chelsea Kane (“JONAS”). The rest of the cast consists of former Playboy bunny and reality star Kendra Wilkinson, boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, talk show host Wendy Williams, supermodel Petra Nemcova, hip-hop artist Romeo and wrestler Chris Jericho.

One thing all these stars have in common is that they’re taking the show way too seriously. There are a lot of tears and emotional displays packed into roughly 90 minutes. All 11 celebrities seem to have gone on “DWTS” because they have something to prove, other than the fact that they couldn’t find work elsewhere. To hazard a guess, many of the stars may be trying their best to confirm they’re still relevant — though choosing to be part of “DWTS” seems like a contradictory move.

As for the actual dancing, there are moments when eyes need to be shielded from the sheer amount of embarrassment happening on screen. It’s like watching FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” but without the actual talent. After receiving their (generally dismal) scores, several of the celebrities wax on about how nervous they were and how difficult it was to try and perform without having a clue how to ballroom dance. It begs the question, what are they doing on “DWTS” in the first place? Obviously they aren’t going to know anything about dancing beforehand. The humiliation of these C-list celebrities is the whole point of the show.

Overall, the top stars of the night turned out to be — shockingly — Ralph Macchio, with a score of 24 out of 30, closely followed by Kirstie Alley (who declared, “If I have to haul ass, it will take two trips”) with a score of 23. But aside from the celebrities, also of note were the agonizingly awkward critiques coming out of judge Bruno Tonioli’s mouth and the fact that the show has a live audience, meaning people actually witnessed the agony in person.

It’s truly astounding how popular the show is, considering the multitude of other options airing at the same time. Even “The Event” must be better than this torture. But “DWTS” remains stubbornly in the lead in the ratings department, despite (or thanks to) its endless supply of tackiness and unbearable amount of mortification, meaning there are surely many more seasons of “DWTS” to endure. At least “How I Met Your Mother” is only a click away.

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