‘Dancing With the Stars’: How Bobby Bones overcame last-place odds to make the finals
A couple of months ago, a friend messaged me to ask what I thought about country radio host Bobby Bones being named as a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” I understood why she was asking. As someone who writes a lot about country music and reality television, I always enjoy when those worlds collide. I’ve followed Bones’s career for the past five years, since he became the host of the biggest country-music morning show in America.
My friend and I discussed how far he might make it on the show. Depending what you saw online, his odds either put him last or second to last. Plus, Bones, a popular yet occasionally polarizing personality, has talked about how it can take people a while to warm up to him. But when they do, they often become loyal listeners.
“If he can make it past the first couple of weeks,” I said, “He could do REALLY well.”
Granted, I am something of a “DWTS” prediction expert. And my forecast came true: On Monday, Bones will compete in the season finale, along with “Harry Potter” actress Evanna Lynch, model Alexis Ren and Disney star Milo Manheim.
Bones — never one to shy from confronting critics — has recently retweeted angry messages from viewers who don’t think he belongs in the finals after more technically proficient dancers were sent home. He and his dance partner, Sharna Burgess, had the lowest scores of the six couples in the semifinals. But his reaction to the criticism — “Never let people’s ideas of you dictate your success. . . . Let’s shock the world” — underscores why he has gone so far in the competition. “DWTS” results are based on a combination of judges’ scores and viewers’ votes, and Bones is particularly skilled at firing up his fan base when he’s seen as the underdog.
The underdog theme has been prevalent since September’s season premiere, when Bones revealed in his introductory video that he had no dance experience. “I’m getting into something that’s brand new for me. There’s a chance that I make a fool of myself,” he said.
After he and Burgess performed a frenetic jive on the first episode, he was overjoyed. He ecstatically pumped his fists in the air and went crazy on the dance floor, running and jumping until he slipped and fell.
Once the judges stopped laughing, they offered their critiques: Bruno Tonioli went with “exquisitely demented,” while Carrie Ann Inaba said, “You’re a little rough around the edges, but something about it was incredible.” Head judge Len Goodman, the toughest sell, admired how Bones “attacked” the dance.
Over the next eight weeks, the feedback remained essentially the same. Though the judges pointed out plenty of Bones’s mistakes, they always came back around to the fact that the audience loved him because he was so entertaining to watch, and his exuberance was contagious. So even though he never scored higher than an 8, it never seemed to matter.
“Yes, okay, technique was nonexistent,” Inaba admitted after he and Burgess performed an especially wild cha-cha. However, “Bobby Bones, the world is a better place because you’re in it. You just bring so much joy because you’re so authentic.”
Bones frequently mentioned his upbringing in Mountain Pine, Ark., a town of 700 people. During the “Most Memorable Year” theme night, he talked about growing up poor, the significance of his graduation from high school and how far he had come ever since.
“I just want people that don’t come from a lot to know that they’re not alone,” he said tearfully. “That’s what this is about to me. I can’t believe I’m on this show. I’m from a tiny town. I just want people out there watching to know that if I can do this, they can do this.”
His scores were often on the lower end of the leader board, so his fans clearly showed up in droves, voting as many times as they could. It tapped into another reason Bones has cultivated such an intense following on his radio show: He makes listeners feel like they’re on the same team as him, fighting toward the same goal. On last week’s “DWTS,” each celebrity had to dedicate their dance to someone special. Bones dedicated his salsa dance to his supporters.
“I don’t call my people my fans, because they’re my friends,” he said. “It’s a very open, authentic line of communication that I try to maintain with them.”
As a result, fans have fueled his run to the finale. One by one, other dancers went home: comedian Nikki Glaser, Paralympic skier Danelle Umstead, actress Nancy McKeon, R&B singer Tinashe, Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton, former NFL player DeMarcus Ware, reality star Joe Amabile and actors John Schneider and Juan Pablo Di Pace.
It’s unclear whether Bones can come out on top to win the mirrorball trophy — the judges seem a bit baffled he’s made it this far, after all. But in that time, he’s even managed to win over Goodman with his antics, such as when he wore a T-shirt with Goodman’s face on it.
“Bobby is not the greatest dancer, technically, but he’s got charisma,” Goodman said.
Later, during his critique, he echoed a similar sentiment: “For the entertainment, coming out and selling it, you’re my man, Bobby.”