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Gladys Knight and ‘Urkel’ coming to ‘Dancing with the Stars’



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Updated: April 1, 2012 8:09AM

Talk about playing it safe.

Don’t expect much controversy on season 14 of “Dancing with the Stars,” judging by the 12 celebrities who are on board for the hit ABC show. The cast, along with the professional dancers who will be putting them through their cha-cha-cha paces, was announced Tuesday on “Good Morning America” with a few surprises and some confirmed rumors (Sherri Shepherd, Gavin DeGraw, Jack Wagner) but very little wow factor.

Unlike last season, which was awash in contentious casting (Chaz Bono) and unabashed infighting (between Maks Chmerkovskiy and judge Len Goodman), this season’s biggest hype looks to be the surprise casting of Gladys Knight, who wasn’t on anyone’s rumor radar. During the post-announcement Q&A, Knight smiled and quipped she joined the show because the Pips, her famous backup group, “never let me dance.”

For months rumors swirled about everyone from Paul “Peewee Herman” Reubens, Suzanne Somers and Khloe Kardashian Odom to Chuck Norris, Bruce Jenner and Ryan O’Neal (who reportedly withdrew from season 13 consideration due to a back injury). It might have been more exciting if any were indeed among the final choices.

But let’s not get off on the wrong foot. Here’s a look at the new cast of “Dancing with the Stars,” which premieres at 7 p.m. March 19 on WLS-Channel 7:

Jack Wagner

The 51-year-old heartthrob is known for his acting roles as hot, hot, hot Dr. Frisco Jones “General Hospital” and hot, hot, hot Dr. Peter Burns on “Melrose Place.” (And what ’80s teenage girl didn’t own a copy of his single “Al I Need”?) Maybe this will heal the pain of his recent bust-up with fiancee Heather Locklear. He’s partnered with the fiery Anna Trebunskaya.

Melissa Gilbert

The 47-year-old, Emmy-nominated TV actress, spent her childhood on “Little House on the Prairie” as Laura Ingalls Wilder. She’s a tough cookie, having served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild (remember the contentious campaign between Gilbert and Valerie Harper?) and once was engaged to actor Rob Lowe (their relationship was anything but faithful). Her sister is “The Talk” co-host Sara Gilbert. She’s partnered with the volatile Maksim “this is my show” Chmerkovskiy.

Donald Driver

The Green Bay Packers’ all-time leading wide receiver, 37, also is the author of three children’s books and a Wisconsin TV sports commentator. His philanthropic work is his post-football hallmark. Former pro footballers have done quite well on “DWTS”: Jerry Rice finished second in season 2; Emmett Smith won season 3. Partner: Peta Murgatroyd.

William Levy

The Cuban actor/model (and this season’s official male eye candy) is a star on the telenovela circuit, most recently featured in “Triunfo del Amore” (“The Triumph of Love”) and “Sortilegio” (“Enchanted”). His steamy role in Jennifer Lopez’ video for “I’m Into You” introduced the world to his perfect pectorals. Will he erase the memory of Gilles Marini? Levy, 31, is partnered with two-time pro champ Cheryl Burke (who took the sexy Marini to the finals in season 8).

Sherri Shepherd

No surprise here, since the 44-year-old actress and co-host of “The View” for months was passionately tweeting her desire to be cast. Born and raised in Chicago, Shepherd is paired with Val Chmerkovskiy (younger brother of Maks) and told, “He is one of the best frickin’ dancers in the world. He’s hot!” Shepherd’s website already hawks her official “Team Sherri” T-shirt for $15.50. The self-marketing maven evidently wastes no time.

Katherine Jenkins

The Welsh mezzo-soprano with a four-octave range scored much of her celebrity factor in the U.K. The 31-year-old’s repertoire also includes pop (call her the female Josh Groban), and she’s sold more than 4 million records, most recently inking a $10 million deal with Warner Music, the biggest in classical music recording history. Chicago football fans might recall her 2011 appearance at the Bears-Buccanneers game in Wembley Stadium, where she performed “God Save the Queen.” She’s partnered with ballroom hell-raiser Mark Ballas.

Gavin DeGraw

The 35-year-old singer-songwriter rocketed to fame in 2003 with “I Don’t Want to Be,” the theme song for the hit TV series “One Tree Hill” (on which he also appeared three times). DeGraw suffered a broken nose and concussion and was hospitalized last year following an assault by a group of men on New York street. Oh, and he was struck by a cab shortly thereafter. Here’s hoping a trip to the hospital isn’t in the gameplan for his stint on “DWTS,” which has seen its share of injuries. Partner: Karina Smirnoff.

Martina Navratilova

The iconic tennis star with the killer left-handed serve just might turn out to be the surprise of the season. At 56, she’s in better shape than most folks half her age, and on this show, stamina counts a lot. Moreover, six out of the 13 mirror balls that have been won have gone to athletes. She’s already an early odds-on favorite to make it to the finals. She’s partnered with the dashing Tony Dovolani.

Roshon Fegan

The rapper/dancer/actor (Disney Channel’s “Camp Rock” and “Shake It Up!”) is this season’s official fresh face. His youth and dance experience will serve him well; Disneyites-turned-dancing fools have done well on the show (Kyle Massey finished second; Chelsea Kane finished third). The 20-year-old is partnered with Chelsie Hightower, 21.

Maria Menounos

The fetching “Extra” host, who’s fluent in Greek, is this year’s “DWTS” ambassador of sex appeal. The 33-year-old can flash a megawatt smile on camera with the best of them, and her Hollywood red-carpet expertise makes her a spray-tanned natural when it comes to spangly, sequined, skin-revealing couture, which is de rigueur for the ladies of “DWTS.” She’s partnered with three-time “DWTS” pro champ Derek Hough.

Jaleel White

The former child star who played nasally voiced Steve Urkel on “Family Matters” is all grown up, and, at 35, this could be the big-time career boost he needs. He’s also known for voicing Sonic the Hedgehog in the video game series. A UCLA graduate (film/television), he’s produced a number of Web series and done voiceover work for animated films including “Quest for Camelot.” He also starred in Cee-Lo Green’s music video for “Cry Baby.” He’s partnered with “DWTS” season 12 champ Kym Johnson.

Gladys Knight

At 67, the “empress of soul” is this season’s grand dame. Besides winning seven Grammys (with and without her Pips), Knight also is an actress, author and entrepreneur: There are two Gladys Knight & Ron Winans’ Chicken & Waffles locations in the Atlanta area. Let’s see how many weeks go by before she’s gliding across the ballroom to “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is partnered with the adorably Irish Tristan MacManus.

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