Tonight, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will take the stage on national TV— to dance his heart out. A brand new contestant on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” Perry will join a bevy of other unlikely foxtrotters like Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and Marcia Brady (fine, Maureen McCormick) in a quest to win over America with their inexpert hip gyrations.
Perry is not the first politico to throw his top hat in the ring in an attempt to Fred-and-Ginger his way to a career rebirth. The show has become a waystation for retired athletes (Emmitt Smith, Apolo Anton Ohno), public figures in need of public redemption (Paula Deen, Lochte), and famous people who don’t know what their next move is.
The last category is where the political contestants usually fall, though there haven’t been many.
“It’s usually a sign you don’t really know what you do with your life. That’s why I did it,” said Season 3 contestant Tucker Carlson. The “Fox and Friends Weekend” host and Daily Caller editor-in-chief was helming a show at MNSBC when the contest came calling. He finished an impressive 11 out of 11 contestants, and remains characteristically good-humored about it, though he’s renowned on several Internet lists as one of the show’s worst performers.
“The show, as far as I know, has almost informally rebranded itself as a kind of a stop on the rehabilitation tour for disgraced public figures,” Carlson said. “I got even more disgraced after the show. It may have had the opposite effect for me.”
Tom DeLay, the exonerated former Republican majority leader of the House, made a stop at “Stars” between losing his leadership position and gaining his now-overturned conviction. He fared better than Carlson, but had to withdraw after several weeks due to an injury. Donny Osmond won the season. DeLay said his daughter, who grew up competing in dance and was a fan of the show, informed him “you will do this.” Carlson’s tale is his wife made fun of him for being scared to do it.
DeLay figured the show might let viewers see another side of him.
“I’m not sure they did, but frankly, when I walk through airports today, more people recognize me from ‘Dancing With the Stars’ than being the former majority leader,” DeLay said.
The show has been a bit kinder to other right-leaning cultural figures— Bristol Palin competed well enough to make a reprise in the “All Star” season and Sadie Robertson, heiress to the “Duck Dynasty,” placed second in her season.
I asked Carlson and DeLay if they had any advice for Perry, or perhaps more importantly, things they would have done differently.
Both emphasized keeping an eye on one’s health. Perry is known to be a frequent runner and fit guy, but also has a history of back problems.
Carlson: “Everyone’s supposed to get healthier on ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ I was so nervous, and I tend to eat my feelings, so I just drowned myself in creme brûlée and Marlboros,” he said.
DeLay: “It’s very grueling. So, my advice to him is to get a lot of rest.”
Keys for Crowdpleasing
Carlson: “Get involved in the music they pick. It has a huge effect. If your song is ‘Son of a Preacher Man,’ you’re gonna win. You can’t lose with that! You’re gonna look cool. These are decisions that I was never consulted on, and I would definitely take control.”
DeLay: “Schmooze the judges. They’re not conservative, so you really need to schmooze the judges.”
Banish Embarrassment, Accept Fear
When I asked them how they fought off nerves, DeLay and Carlson both said the point of trying something like “Dancing With the Stars” is precisely because it’s scary and different.
Carlson: “I thought the nervousness was the whole point. The whole point is that your life moves too fast. As you get older, everything becomes familiar and nothing is threatening. Putting yourself in positions where you’re terrified slows time down. When you pass 40, all you really want is to be able to remember an experience.”
DeLay: “I just drank three or four bottles of wine. Just kidding.”
DeLay, who danced with professional partner Cheryl Burke, said preparation was the only thing that tempered fear.
“Cheryl was an unbelievable task master. She wouldn’t let you out on the floor unless she felt comfortable that you wouldn’t embarrass yourself. I felt very prepared in getting my steps down. Before you go on live, you have butterflies, but the minute the music starts, it all goes away.”
Perry will have an experienced and successful partner in Emma Slater, who has cracked the top 10 on every season she’s been on but one.
Parting Words and Predictions for Perry
Carlson: “He’s got a winning personality. There was a reason he was elected three times in Texas. [Politicians] are naturally suited to this. They’re used to ginning up fake grassroots campaigns on behalf of themselves!”
DeLay: “It’s so much fun, you meet so many good people. They put you up in an apartment right in the middle of Hollywood. I would advise him not to go out very often by himself. It’s not exactly politically accommodating. They recognize you (in public in Hollywood) and they let you have it.”
Carlson: “The best part is that they sew you into your costume, so you get to stand there buck naked while the wardrobe people attach your specially made underwear to you with a needle and thread. As long as you’re not shy, it’s fine.”
And, with that image, enjoy the show! “Dancing With the Stars” airs on ABC tonight at 8/7 Central.