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(Courtesy photo) Amber Riley and Derek Hough on Tuesday were crowned Season 17 Champions and awarded the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy, on the two-hour Season Finale on "Dancing with the Stars."
‘Dancing With the Stars’: Too many changes ahead?
First Published Mar 17 2014 10:58 am • Last Updated Mar 17 2014 11:22 am

Get ready for some changes as Season 18 of "Dancing With the Stars" returns in all its glitter and sequin tonight.

I will be your star-spangled tour guide through some of the those changes and new twists. I’m very relieved to hear that Tom Bergeron will still be the witty host of the show, armed with quips and asides to delight all of the fans. Also still on board will be head judge Len Goodman and judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli.

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Meanwhile, Brooke Burke-Charvet, left hand glued to her hip, will no longer be at Tom’s side. Replacing her is Erin Andrews, who may be familiar as a DWTS celebrity in Season 10 when she placed third with pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy. For sports fans, Erin worked for ESPN and now Fox Sports, where she remains in a deal similar to Michael Strahan’s, who doubles on Fox Sports and "Live with Kelly and Michael" on ABC. Here’s hoping she asks more interesting questions than Brooke did.

Harold Wheeler and his 28-piece orchestra are also out. What?! No live music?! Rest easy, dance fans — Ray Chew and his 18-piece band are now on board to provide the tunes for our twinkle-toes. Ray was a member of the "Saturday Night Live" band from 1980 to 1983, bandleader at President Obama’s first inauguration, and most recently music director on "American Idol." I’ll wait to hear how the new band works because Harold and his group will be hard to beat.

Third up for changes, there is the big "Switcheroo" promised by producer Conrad Green. About halfway through the season (some guesses are Week 3), the celebs will be switching partners — to be decided by a vote of the viewers. It’s unclear whether the switch will continue for only one week or the rest of the season. I’m not particularly thrilled with this idea because it takes time for the partnto develop a trusting relationship, but who knows.

Finally, there’s a new group of celebrities, some new pros and, best of all, Maks Chmerkovskiy and Derek Hough are back. Here’s the rundown:

Danica McKeller, 30, (Winnie of "Wonder Years") matched with Val Chmerkovskiy, younger brother of Maks. Val finished near the top with his partners in seasons 15 and 16.

Cody Simpson, 17, (popular singer from Australia) paired with Witney Carson, who was a member of the DWTS Troupe last season

Billy Dee Williams, 76, (Lando Calrissian in "Star Wars" and Harvey Dent in 1989′s "Batman") matched with Emma Slater, who brought out the best of Bill Engvall’s dance moves last season.

Diana Nyad, 64, (endurance swimmer who bested the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida most recently) paired with Henry Byalikov, recently of the DWTS Troupe.


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Nene Leakes, 46, (reality star of "Real Housewives of Atlanta") matched with Tony Dovolani, champ of Season 15 with Melissa Rycroft. Nene just might be a challenge for Tony, along the lines of Kate Gosselin, Wynonna Judd and Leah Remini.

James Maslow, 23, ("Big Time Rush" on Nickelodeon Channel) paired with Peta Murgatroyd, and there are already rumors of an off-dance floor relationship between the two. Hmmm.

Sean Avery, 33, (retired NHL hockey player) matched with Karina Smirnoff. Considering Sean’s rep for volatility and Karina’s personality, there might be some explosions ahead.

Drew Carey, 55, (host of "Price Is Right" and standup comedian) paired with Cheryl Burke, who is a great teacher and ought to bring out the best in the quick-witted Drew. Hopefully, he will take the challenge seriously and not make a big joke of it.

Candace Cameron-Burke, 37, (actress on "Full House" for its entire run) matched with Mark Ballas. If Mark can keep his ego in check and avoid showing off to Candace’s detriment, this could be the "dark horse" couple of the season.

Charlie White, 26, (gold medal-winning Olympic ice dancer with Meryl Davis) paired with Sharna Burgess, who has shown that she is a terrific choreographer. It will be interesting to see how Charlie’s leadership and grace on the ice translates to the ballroom.

Meryl Davis, 27, (gold medal-winning Olympic ice dancer with Charlie) matched with (gulp) Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Meryl has been skating with Charlie for 17 years and now she will need to deal with the personality and teaching techniques of Maks. This could be very good or disastrous!

Amy Purdy, 34, (bronze medal-winning snowboarder in the Sochi Paralympics) paired with Derek Hough. If anyone in the house can choreograph with some who has lost both lower legs, it’s Derek, but Amy has a ton of talent, demonstrating her clogging skills in a recent video for the Paralympics.

As for the DWTS Troupe, which shows off before and after commercial breaks and anywhere in between, there are two new members. Joining troupers Lindsay Arnold and Sasha Forbes will be newbies Jenna Johnson and Artem Chingvinsev, who come via "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Strictly Come Dancing."



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