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Monday
Mar172014

"Dancing with the Stars" Kicks Off New Season Monday Night

ABC/Todd Wawrychuk(NEW YORK) -- Dancing with the Stars is back for its 18th season Monday night on ABC. The competition will have new celebrities, a new co-host, a new musical director, new pros and a new twist.

Twelve stars will enter the ballroom on the first night, performing a cha cha, foxtrot or contemporary routine.

The cast includes The Price Is Right host Drew Carey; reality star NeNe Leakes; Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancing team Meryl Davis and Charlie White; and Amy Purdy, a Paralympic Games snowboarder who becomes the first star to compete on the show with two prosthetic legs.

Davis and White are already considered to be the front-runners, given their dancing background. However, they will be rivals, not teammates, in the ballroom: Davis is paired with the returning Maksim Chmerkovskiy, while White will dance with Sharna Burgess.

White expects Davis to perform well in the ballroom. He elaborates, "She's a great partner, that's what I've learned after 17 years of skating with her, and obviously Maks is fantastic. He's going to certainly bring something."

For her part, Davis is just excited to try something new after her success in the Sochi Olympics. She explains, "It's something different, something fun, out of my comfort zone."

The new co-host is Fox Sports broadcaster and former Dancing with the Stars contestant Erin Andrews, who replaces Brooke Burke-Charvet and joins Tom Bergeron. What will producers expect from her? In an interview with ABC News Radio, she says they told her, “We want how you can react to what happens live or to what happens to the dancers, in their expressions, or how the judges speak to them."

"I think that's really all I can do, is just be myself," she adds. "That's what I've been doing since I've been in the industry...it's gotten me this far, so maybe it'll work out!"

Andrews is confident she can handle the job, because she believes it’s similar to her gig at Fox Sports. She says, “Athletes, dancers, they're cut from the same mold. They're coming off a live performance versus a live game. You want to ask them and follow up on what happened during the dance. And for me it's really the same as a game.”

Andrews, who competed on the 10th season of Dancing with the Stars with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, says she’s been keeping tabs on the show since her days on the ABC dance floor. As she puts it, “Once you're in it you're always kind of ingrained in it.”

Andrews is returning to a show that’s undergoing a significant format change. The show has added a wrinkle called “The Switch Up”: for the first time, celebrities will be required to switch partners during the season, based on viewers’ votes.

The two new pros in the ballroom this season are Witney Carson, who's paired with Australian pop singer Cody Simpson, and Henry Bylikov, who will dance with long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. In addition, Maksim Chmerkovskiy has returned to the show after sitting out seasons 16 and 17.

Changes are coming to the Dancing with the Stars orchestra as well, as the show says goodbye to longtime music director Harold Wheeler, and welcomes new band leader Ray Chew. Most recently, Chew was the musical director for American Idol, replacing Rickey Minor, who has now returned to that show.

The new season begins Monday night at 8 p.m. Eastern time, with an opening number from pop star Jason Derulo and the pro dancers.

Here are the celebrity-pro pairings for the new season:

  • Sean Avery, former NHL player, & Karina Smirnoff
  • Candace Cameron Bure, former Full House actress, & Mark Ballas
  • Drew Carey, comedian and The Price Is Right host, & Cheryl Burke
  • Meryl Davis, 2014 Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancer with Charlie White, & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
  • NeNe Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta star, & Tony Dovolani
  • James Maslow, Big Time Rush star, & Peta Murgatroyd
  • Danica McKellar, former Wonder Years actress, & Valentin Chmerkovskiy
  • Diana Nyad, became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, & Henry Byalikov
  • Amy Purdy, 2014 Paralympic Games snowboarder, & Derek Hough
  • Cody Simpson, pop star, & Witney Carson
  • Charlie White, 2014 Olympic gold medal-winning ice dancer with Meryl Davis, & Sharna Burgess
  • Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars franchise actor, & Emma Slater

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio