Dancing With The Stars' Most Controversial Celeb Contestants

Is there anyone the producers of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" won't let on their show? Well, based on the past 30 seasons, the answer would appear to be ... not really. Based on the British competition series "Strictly Come Dancing," "DWTS" features a dozen or so B-list celebrities who partner with a professional ballroom dancer to compete for the coveted mirrorball trophy.

"DWTS" has a pretty liberal definition of "celebrity." Contestants have included sitcom actors, reality stars, Olympians, ex-boy banders, politicians, cable news hosts, and more. Basically, if you have any kind of public profile and a semi-recognizable face, you're eligible for the competition show. "DWTS" has also earned a reputation as something of an image-launderer, and it's not uncommon to see a celeb, fresh off a scandal, enter the ballroom. Learning to foxtrot in a sequined vest on live television might seem like an embarrassing move to some, but somehow everyone who appears on the show comes across in a more favorable light than before they arrived.

Even so, a number of contestants have generated their fair share of controversy after joining the cast. So follow along as we revisit some of the most eyebrow-raising "DWTS" contestants over the years.

Season 3 - Tucker Carlson

When Tucker Carlson competed on Season 3 of "Dancing With the Stars" in 2006, he had not yet become the infamous Fox News talking head that we know and, er, acknowledge, today. Don't get us wrong, he was still a pot-stirrer even then. You may remember a viral clip of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart grilling Carlson on a 2004 episode of CNN's "Crossfire," a political talk show that Carlson co-hosted. In the clip, Stewart went so far as to call Carlson a "d***." CNN's president at the time, Jonathan Klein, cited the incident when speaking to The New York Times about why the network decided to cancel "Crossfire" a few months later. The conservative political commentator then had a short-lived stint hosting his own MSNBC talk show, "Tucker," per The New Republic, before finally finding a home on Fox News — where he ramped up his rhetoric to 11.

Unfortunately for Carlson, he didn't get very far on "DWTS." He acknowledged that his partner Elena Grinenko teaching him how to dance was "like Einstein teaching addition to a slow child!" (via Entertainment Weekly). Recapping the episode, the outlet also noted that "no one else seemed to want him there anyway."

Season 5 - Floyd Mayweather Jr.

"Dancing With the Stars" almost always casts at least one athlete as part of the competition, so in that sense, it wasn't totally surprising to see Floyd Mayweather Jr. make his ballroom debut in Season 5. But in another more troubling sense, it was a seriously weird call by the "DWTS" casting execs. The boxing superstar wasn't a beloved, family-friendly athlete — he had a past history of domestic violence against women.

Per The Undefeated, Mayweather pleaded guilty to punching the mother of one of his children in 2001, was accused and convicted of punching two other women in 2003, and stood trial but was acquitted on charges of felony battery against his then-girlfriend in 2005. This was all before he appeared on the show in 2007. And if he thought that he could redeem himself on the dance floor, he was wrong. His pro partner Karina Smirnoff told TMZ Sports that they "weren't that good."

So, considering all of this, was it a good idea to cast Mayweather on the show? We're gonna go ahead and say probably not. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Season 9 - Tom DeLay

We can understand why TV hosts, athletes, and reality stars qualify as "Stars" on "Dancing With the Stars," but we have to say that casting politicians is stretching the term a bit — especially when the politician has been getting more attention for a scandal than for, you know, politics. Enter Season 9 contestant Tom DeLay, former Texas congressman and one-time Republican House Majority Leader.

It would appear that DeLay joined the cast of "DWTS," at least in part, to do a little image rehab. In 2006, three years before he entered the ballroom, a Texas Grand Jury indicted DeLay on charges of money laundering with corporate campaign donations, and he was forced to resign from Congress, per ABC News. Another ABC News report noted that DeLay had been known in Congress as "Hammer" because of his "forceful" backroom deals, and he had already weathered scandal thanks to his close relationship with shady lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

DeLay went all-out in promoting his "DWTS" stint, even changing his website at the time to "Dancing With DeLay." He said on "Good Morning America, "Conservatives can have fun too. Conservatives can let their hair down ... and put on some dancing shoes."

But not everyone was thrilled, including Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice. "It would be interesting to see if Mr. DeLay can do the Perp Walk, does he know that step?" he said while speaking to ABC News.

Season 11 - Bristol Palin

Two years after her mom became John McCain's surprising pick for Vice President, Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol Palin competed on Season 11 of "Dancing With the Stars." Wearing a "Tea Party" T-shirt to rehearsals, Bristol showed up for the hardcore conservatives in the television audience, and she managed to generate quite a bit of blowback in the process.

Though she consistently got some of the worst scores from the judges' table, the voting public kept Bristol in the game up until the finale, leading some to whisper that large numbers of Tea Partiers were keeping her alive, per ABC News. Matt Roush, a senior critic at TV Guide, told ABC, "There are people on the political blogs who are saying vote for Bristol as part of your allegiance to the Palin brand." Sarah brushed off the controversy in an interview with Barbara Walters, saying that she didn't have time to call every Tea Party member and ask them to vote for her daughter. Nevertheless, "DWTS" fans were seriously peeved, and some even sent Bristol and her partner death threats, via Daily Beast.

Despite the Season 11 controversy, Bristol actually made a "DWTS" return in Season 15's all-star cast. Her most memorable moment from this stint wasn't any of her dance performances. According to Entertainment Weekly, it was when she lashed out at her partner Mark Ballas during a pre-taped video package.

Season 13 - Nancy Grace

Fresh off of her nonstop, aggressive, and widely criticized coverage of the trial of Casey Anthony (or "Tot Mom," as she named her), Nancy Grace joined the Season 13 cast of "Dancing With the Stars" in 2011, eliciting groans from all corners of media, the internet, and the legal profession generally. Grace had long been criticized for her highly biased style of true crime reporting — The New York Times' David Carr called her the "willful enemy" of "the presumption of innocence." Her "Somewhere out there tonight, the devil is dancing" comment, made after Anthony's not guilty verdict, was particularly criticized.

Her casting on the show just weeks later received criticism from the likes of The Baltimore Sun, which called it "such an exquisite example of how calculating and exploitative prime-time network TV can be," and on Twitter, where one user quipped, "When I see Nancy Grace trending, I click expecting to see, 'Nancy Grace Is No Longer Allowed to Participate in Public Life.' Alas,'" via Above the Law.

But however distasteful people found Grace's appearance on the show at the time, perhaps they'll be content to know that, ten years later, her "DWTS" tenure is mostly remembered for one disputed nip-slip, via Entertainment Weekly. 

Season 21 - Paula Deen

We'd say that celebrity chef Paula Deen's fall from grace following some truly abhorrent racist comments was one rare example of a true capital "C" Cancelation, were it not for her later stint on "Dancing With the Stars." Ya can't keep a good racist white lady down, it appears. To quickly recap, in 2013, Deen and her brother were sued by a former manager at her Savannah, Georgia, restaurant for racial discrimination (via Radar Online). In her deposition, which was released publicly, Deen admitted to using the N-word. When she was asked, "Have you ever used the N-word yourself?" she responded, "Yes, of course." She also expressed her admiration for a "southern plantation wedding," in which all the servers were Black so as to recreate the look of the antebellum South, via Eater. Really not a whole lot of room for interpretation, if we're honest.

So while we know that "Dancing With the Stars" doesn't shy away from a controversial contestant, inviting Deen to the ballroom seemed like a step too far even for them. According to Deen's post-elimination interview with E! News, not even the judges were wild about her being on the show. "They have been from the start with me," she said. "It was apparent that they weren't crazy about me being here."

Unfortunately for Deen, "DWTS" wasn't enough to get her Food Network spot back or the support of her former corporate partners. However, per Eater, it perhaps was enough to keep book sales high. 

Season 22 - Geraldo Rivera

As if the conservative broadcast journalist were worried that his time on "Dancing With the Stars" wouldn't generate enough controversy on its own in 2016, Geraldo Rivera decided to kick it up a notch in his second (and last) week on the show. Rivera was known to be an ally of and friendly with the not-yet-elected Donald Trump, but many thought that Rivera's choice to parody Trump on "Latin Night" following Trump's controversial comments on Mexican immigrants to the United States didn't exactly scream "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

"I'm a Latino — that is one thing Trump is not," Rivera said, via The Wrap. "I've known Donald Trump since 1974, he's a friend of mine and I think he is going to get a kick out of this." Rivera joked that he was going to "make dance great again," which, sadly, he definitely did not. Rivera received a score of just 13 from the judges and was promptly voted off.

Season 23 - Rick Perry

Before appearing in Season 23 of "Dancing With the Stars," the most embarrassing thing former Texas governor Rick Perry had done on television was run for president in 2011. Highlights from Perry's doomed campaign include the much-parodied "Strong" ad, in which he states, "You don't need to be in the pews every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school." Then there's the "Oops" debacle on the Republican primary debate stage, when he forgot the name of a government agency he wanted to eliminate.

Five years later, Perry made a highly goofy return to the national stage — er, ballroom — on "DWTS." After one high-energy quickstep and a dazzlingly awkward paso doble, Perry became the second contestant eliminated from the show. Despite the public backlash to his appearance on the show, it turns out to have been a pretty good year for Perry overall. He was later tapped to lead the Department of Energy — ironically the very department whose name he forgot in the 2011 debate.

Season 23 - Ryan Lochte

As soon as your public scandal gets itself a "gate" nickname, that's when you know it's time to do some real damage control. It's a pretty good bet that this is what Ryan Lochte, or Ryan Lochte's PR team, was thinking when he signed up for Season 23 of "Dancing With the Stars" after "Lochtegate." The Olympic swimmer and one-time king of the himbos took a reputational nosedive when it was discovered that his story about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio was pretty much a load of BS, according to TIME.

If he was hoping that appearing on "DWTS" would help clean up his image, we guess that it kinda worked? But not enough to stop protestors from rushing the stage during one of his performances. The incident left Lochte feeling "a little hurt," and he told CNN, "My heart just sunk. It felt like somebody just ripped it apart."

The good news for Lochte is that the whole affair has by now been basically forgotten.

Season 29 - Sean Spicer

There are a few images from the Trump era that will live rent-free in the minds of those who witnessed it firsthand for all eternity. One of those images is that of Trump's former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer descending a staircase on "Dancing With the Stars" in a garish yellow shirt with voluminous, puffy sleeves flapping around his arms. His appearance generated immediate, furious backlash from viewers who thought the show was working a little too hard to make Spicer look good — or at least inoffensive. As MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes tweeted, via Vox, "Power is all about who gets forgiven. Who gets fresh starts."

Even "DWTS" host Tom Bergeron wasn't thrilled with Spicer getting cast, tweeting that this was not what he had in mind when he made suggestions to the executive producers for the upcoming season. "Chief among [my suggestions] was my hope that DWTS, in its return following an unprecedented year-long hiatus, would be a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliations," he wrote.

Spicer's detractors may not have been pleased to see him on the show, but at least they got plenty of hilarious memes out of it.

Season 29 - Carole Baskin

Was Carole Baskin, best known as Joe Exotic's arch-nemesis featured in the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King," a wise casting choice by "Dancing With the Stars" producers? We suppose the answer depends on whether or not you believe the rumors that she murdered her husband Don Lewis, as Joe Exotic himself claimed (many times). All we know for sure is that Joe was sent to prison for plotting to have Carole murdered, so we couldn't say.

Carole's controversial appearance only got more controversial when "DWTS" viewers were treated to ads paid for by the Lewis family asking for information about Don's whereabouts and offering a $100,000 reward. In the clip, the family attorney asks, "Do you know who did this or if Carole Baskin was involved?" Woof. In reaction, Carole told Entertainment Tonight, "I have not seen the ad. I am not at all surprised," adding, "It's just been a huge publicity stunt on their part so what more could they possibly do than that?"

Season 30 - Olivia Jade

We suppose it would have been slightly more controversial if "Dancing With the Stars" had cast Olivia Jade's mom, Lori Loughlin, to take part in the show. After all, she's the one who actually went to prison for her part in the college admissions scandal (in which Loughlin paid a third party to help her daughter cheat to get into a good college). Still, Olivia's participation on "DWTS" Season 30 generated plenty of "Are you guys serious, right now?" takes on social media. Olivia didn't help matters much in her intro when she said (via The Cut), "I'm probably best known for being an influencer. But the last few years I've been, I guess you could say, wrapped up in a scandal."

But Olivia does have a few backers in her corner, notably "DWTS" host Tyra Banks, who told Entertainment Tonight, "I think Olivia is so brave. I think people don't know her, they know what happened to her." According to Banks, Olivia has said that she had no idea what was going on with the college admissions thing, and it's been very hurtful to her. "She is having to deal with that and I think she's coming to 'Dancing With the Stars' to be able to tell her story and show her vulnerability," Banks said. Hey, sure, why not.