Dancing With the Stars has never been a destination for A-listers like George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence, but after almost 10 years of the ABC show, the pool of potential contestants was feeling especially shallow this fall. Even veteran judge Carrie Ann Inaba was disappointed at first by the "stars" picked to compete on season 19, which airs its two-night finale on Monday, Nov. 24, and Tuesday, Nov. 25.
"At first on paper, I'm not going to lie, I wasn't too thrilled [with the cast] because I didn't know a lot of the names," the 46-year-old choreographer admitted to TV Guide. "Obviously we all know Tommy Chong, we all know Alfonso [Ribeiro]. But other than that, there weren't that many names that I actually knew. So I was curious."
Among those who made a run for the Mirrorball trophy this season were fashion designer Betsey Johnson, Back to the Future actress Lea Thompson, Mean Girls hunk Jonathan Bennett, NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip, and UFC champ Randy Couture. As of the semifinals on Nov. 17, the race was down to four: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alum Ribeiro, Duck Dynasty star Sadie Robertson, Pretty Little Liars actress Janel Parrish, and YouTube phenom Bethany Mota.
Mota's casting this year was especially surprising to fans of DWTS, as she represents a new class of celebrity. She came to fame because of the videos she recorded in her home and uploaded to YouTube; she now has more than 7.7 million subscribers, which is approximately double the number of followers that hip-hop sensation Iggy Azalea has on Twitter.
That kind of clout changes the dynamic of the show, Inaba told TV Guide, adding that she was "happily surprised" by the group of contestants. "We've brought in a younger demo, and I think it has changed up the voting a little," she explained. "In the past we had Sabrina Bryan and we had Cody Linley, and they had huge social media followers too, but [the fans] weren't watching the show. They didn't vote. This year, these kids have followings that are voting."
Voting will play a big part in the finale, as three of the four finalists are young stars with a big social media presence. Ribeiro is the oldest of the bunch, but he's been a front-runner since the very beginning. "He just knows how to communicate," Inaba told TV Guide of the 43-year-old actor, who's battling a not-insignificant back injury. "The other younger performers don't quite have that skill set yet."
Robertson has a different advantage, though. At 17, she's the youngest in the competition — and the most innocent. "Her secret weapon, her best part, is her grace and that innocence and that beautiful smile she has," Inaba said. "She is a bright light."
See what Inaba said about the other finalists at TVGuide.com.