Mary Katharine Ham

Carlson is, undoubtedly, no Gene Kelly. That’s the point of “Dancing With the Stars”—to take well-known novices, pair them with ballroom experts, and turn them into performers. But I hope the bow-tied pundit will make a good showing. Exposure on the top-rated show, however clumsy, will surely up his Nielsen numbers on MSNBC.

The innocent premise of shows like these was briefly tinged by controversy last season when one of the professional skaters on "Skating With Celebrities" left his wife for celebrity partner, Kristy Swanson of early-90s, Luke-Kelly-charming, vampire-slaying fame. But last year’s "Dancing With the Stars" winner, Drew Lachey (brother to Nick of Nick and Jessica) made up for it by taking the title just weeks before his beaming young wife, always in the audience, delivered their first daughter.

Reality shows aren’t everyone’s thing, but I would argue that shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” “American Idol,” and to a lesser extent “Dancing With the Stars” more accurately reflect a cross-section of the American public than most of the scripted shows TV has to offer. When you’re dealing with reality TV shows of this nature, talent and genuine likeability often win out over other factors.

Reality TV gives a pair of Mormon cousins a shot with the audience they wouldn’t have had had a screen-writer scripted their characters as the predictable, close-minded rubes the entertainment industry often makes religious Americans into. It gives evangelical Gospel singers a chance to simultaneously praise Jesus for their success and form close friendships with their many-hued, many-faithed fellow contestants.

From a story on “So You Think You Can Dance”:

Schwimmer says being on the show has allowed him to "erase a lot of stigmas about Mormons. I'm not really normal, but I've been able to show people that we Mormons as a whole are pretty normal people who do love to dance."

And, America loves it.

Reality TV isn’t real life, of course, but it sometimes allows its contestants to be real in a very refreshing way. Keep it in mind the next time you settle in to be entertained by a group of real Americans. The country has much talent to offer, from all walks of life, and I highly recommend it, even for your kids.

Correction: In an earlier version of this column I mistakenly noted that Kristy Swanson appeared on "Dancing With the Stars." She did not. She was on "Skating With Celebrities," and I am clearly falling victim to the sheer number of reality talent shows I watch. The mistake has been corrected. Sorry about that.

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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