Bristol Palin and Master P: Popularity vs Performance When the Choice is Ours

One of the chief benefits of no longer being part of the Dancing With the Stars team is that I’m free to enjoy the show and make comments along with the viewership at large from the comfort of my couch.

Audience voting usually turns me off when it comes to shows where ability can readily be gauged by qualified judges. If the judging panel at Iron Chef hates your spicy clam ice cream, I’m prepared to passively watch them dish out your fate. Dancing With The Stars, however, invites the audience to chime in on whether or not you, the viewer, were entertained by a particular couple. There’s validity to that, as factoring in a reward for stirring viewers with a quality performance seems a legitimate notion.

This season, we saw an exaggerated example of what happens when the votes become less about the performances and more about trying to make a statement via dial-in endorsements with an agenda.

The whole Bristol Palin adventure reminded me very much of the charmed DWTS run of entertainment mogul Master P back in season two. P’s fan base kept him afloat, come what may, for four long weeks despite withering scores and biting criticism from Carrie Ann, Len and Bruno. It was widely reported that Master P cumulatively logged just 20 hours or so of rehearsal over his run on the show, compared to other participants who had put in five or six times as much practicing up for the parquet.

Master P had stepped in to fill a spot his son, Romeo, had to bow out of at the last minute. In overcoming scores of 12, 16,and 14 before taking the ultimate hit with an 8 in week four, he was unquestionably saved from the brink three times by voters who just wouldn’t let the likable lunk go home. I’ll never forget his smile when he finally went home with a wave and a “Say goodbye to the bad guy.” Charming despite his lack of proficiency on the floor, I actually did feel a little bad for him when he left.

Now while I draw the comparison between P and Ms. P, there were some major differences between their successful, if logic-defying, voter-fueled runs.

Palin put in the time, pulled so-so but not laughable scores from the judges (averaging around 20 points early on), but somehow still found herself in the middle of a far larger brouhaha than P ever did. With hundreds of conservative right wing websites, personalities and bloggers championing her possible victory as a means to making a political statement, she couldn’t get out of the way of her voting engine. Her scores were neither spectacular nor awful, but her own supporters were poisoning the season by so loudly attempting to make a dancing show about something it isn’t.

Even if Bristol had won (she came in third in the finals), she would always have to deal with critics claiming the win was in some way tainted. Of course, the same thing would have happened if The Situation had won (Oh, those Mtv-watching teenagers!) or if Hasselhoff had taken it home (Oh, those Hasselhoff-as-Shatneresque-cult-icon hooligans!) or if Florence Henderson had won (oh, those post-menopausal nostalgia-freak cooking oil fanatics!) so there you go.

Sometimes a dance contest is just a dance contest. I’ve seen the mirror-ball trophy up close, and it’s nothing to get your cultural panties in a bunch over. I’m stunned that with all the things facing our nation at the moment, we all decided to concentrate our energies on debating and voting, for or against, a 20-year-old single mother trying to win a disco ball trophy.

Do I think the DWTS voting system is flawed? Not really, no. The voters may be… but that’s the risk you take when you pop those numbers onscreen.

And for the record, I have to applaud anyone with the nerve to participate on DWTS, regardless of their baggage.

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