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Ultimate contestant a constant search

'Dancing' casting looks for perfect participant

Maybe the only thing more complicated than learning to mambo perfectly for an appearance on “Dancing With the Stars” is choosing the contestants for each season of the show.

“You’re really talking about a group dynamic, not individuals,” says senior talent producer Deena Katz, who has been with the show from the beginning. “Each season, I try to come up with a group that’s appealing overall, so even if you start watching because you’re a fan of Priscilla Presley, soon you’re looking forward to seeing Adam Carolla, too.”

Katz says putting together that perfect mix takes months of planning, talking with agents and publicists and thinking about how the whole cast will interact. “By the time we’re putting one season on the air I’m already onto the next one.”

While Katz won’t discuss her wish list for next season, she will say that these days she gets more calls from agents and publicists than she can handle. And sometimes persistence works, too.

Presley, who was cast on the current season and got knocked off, was someone she asked to participate several times before she finally said yes.

Katz and ABC topper Stephen McPherson aren’t worried the show will become a vehicle only for those celebrities who have fallen from grace and are looking for publicity.

“The ratings of this show are great, so it makes sense someone would want to come on for the exposure for their career,” McPherson says. “But if that’s the only reason you’re here, I don’t think it’s going to work out very well. This isn’t like going on a talkshow and promoting your book. It’s a lot more difficult.”

Miami Dolphins defensive standout Jason Taylor, who’s the latest in a long line of athletes faring well, agrees. “Even with my athletic background, this isn’t a walk in the park,” Taylor says. “You have to be dedicated and have the right attitude.”

Carolla made the decision to come on the show to push himself out of his own comfort zone.

“When I got the call to do this, I thought that it sounded really hard and really scary, so, as corny as it sounds, I felt like it was something I had to do,” Carolla says. “Then you get here and it’s even harder than you thought it was going to be and you don’t want to let your dance partner down.”

Oscar winner Marlee Matlin wasn’t lured by the publicity, more by the idea of having a new experience. “This wasn’t like anything I’d ever done. I instantly just wanted to throw myself into it,” Matlin says. “When would I get to dance and train like this with a professional dancer unless I went on this show?”

As for the long-term impact, season two champ Drew Lachey found a real difference.

“Before I was just seen as a performer,” Lachey says. “Now I have a lot of offers to do other things that happened after I did the show.”

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