Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke
The season 3 winners reunite! Easygoing and quick with a smile, Emmitt was the first of many NFL superhero champs.
Executive producer Conrad Green says: ”Emmitt’s one of the most charismatic people we’ve ever had on the show. He had that absolute calmness dancing, and he and Cheryl were a special pairing. But he’s six years older now. Big change, from your late 30s to your early 40s.”
Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson
Season 4’s runners-up had great chemistry, and ”The Fat One” loved to get involved with wardrobe design. Who else would wear bedazzled shoes?!
Green says: ”I think Kym took a good laugh being with Joey. It’s a lot of hard work, but sometimes it’s just fun. We want that sense of celebration. He and Drew are very good friends, they smart at each other all the time. For personality, exuberance, and how much he puts into the dance, he’s a natural.”
Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani
The former Bachelor contestant and her classy pro finished third in a very competitive season 8.
Green says: ”I think that season with Shawn and Gilles and Melissa was brilliant. Such a tight finish. Melissa was one of Tony’s most able partners. She’s got the chops to win, but it’s gonna be a real challenge for her.”
Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas
The pair coasted on a gnarly wave of overwhelming buzz/backlash to finish in third place in season 11.
Green says: ”She’s been a divisive character, Bristol, for a lot of people. But at the end of the day, she’s on a dance show to dance. Sometimes, when you’ve got the kind of adversity she’s faced, you kind of want to prove people wrong.”
Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Of COURSE they’re together — the season 12 runners-up were possibly the most hilarious pairing in the series’ history.
Green says: ”An iconic couple on the show. I think we saw the best side of Maks when he was with Kirstie. He’s a lovely guy, he’s a passionate guy. Although he’s had some tricky times on the show, I would much rather see a popular Maks and a happy Maks. Their chemistry was amazing. I can’t wait to see them again.”
Drew Lachey and Anna Trebunskaya
Lachey won season 2 with Cheryl, but the fiery Russian has never won the COVETED MIRRORBALL TROPHY.
Green says: ”We decided to put Cheryl with Emmitt, and we had to find someone for Anna because we wanted to make sure she was in the competition. Height-wise, she works with Drew. And also, Drew’s been connected to the show so long that I know they’ve got on really well, him and her. They feel natural together. I think they could be the dark horses, in a way.”
Apolo Anton Ohno and Karina Smirnoff
Apolo and Julianne Hough won season 4, setting a new standard for dance prowess that kicked the series into a higher gear.
Green says: ”It’s very tricky when you’re pairing up people who’ve been with someone like Julianne, who was so beloved. There was something about putting Karina’s picture next to Apolo’s. You can just picture it, can’t you? These two being amazing.”
Helio Castroneves and Chelsie Hightower
Julianne’s other winning partner (in season 5) had a great attitude and work ethic. But can he compete with more talented winners?
Green says: ”Chelsie has slightly different attributes to Julianne in a way. She’s got a slightly more contemporary base to her dances, which could be a challenge to Helio. They both have such warm, engaging personalities. I think they’ll be a really lighthearted couple.”
Gilles Marini and Peta Murgatroyd
Long considered ”the one that got away,” Gilles and Cheryl lost to Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas by an extremely tight margin in season 8. Peta won last season — her very first! — with NFL star Donald Driver.
Green says: ”Now Peta’s got one of our best male dancers ever, in terms of ability. I think that’ll be a lot of pressure on them, actually. I think Gilles, as much as anyone, if not more than anyone, will really feel like, ‘I want to do this.’ How they cope with that expectation is gonna be one of the intriguing things for them.”
Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy
The season 1 winner could be the closest to a ”rookie” of the all-star cast — after all, season 1 was only six hours long…and seven years ago.
Green says: ”He’s a great dancer and they’ll look smoking hot together. It’s gonna be fascinating to see how she can cope with the intensity of what the show is now compared to what it was then — those innocent days when no one even knew whether the show would even work!”
Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough
The season 8 winner may have struck gold with Derek, a judges’ favorite with distinct, imaginative choreography.
Green says: ”Ironically, none of Derek’s ex-partners are here, so it seemed like a good balance. It’s interesting with Shawn — she was a kid when she was on this show, the youngest-ever contestant at 17. She’ll be a lot more confident in herself this time. And never underestimate Derek with his partners.”
Pamela Anderson and Tristan MacManus
Pam’s the only ”all-star” who didn’t make it to the finals in her season (10). But a fun rapport with a lucky, charming leprechaun could make this couple a fan favorite.
Green says: ”They look gorgeous together and, you know, she’s a funny woman, Pam. She’s got a good dry sense of humor about herself. And Tristan will get her. He’s just a lovely bloke, and Pam’s such a unique person, kind of a classic celebrity of our era, really. So the idea of those two together is delicious.”
Season 15 begins Monday Sept. 24 on ABC.