Dancing With The Stars’ Most Controversial Moments

ABC/Adam Taylor

Dancing with the Stars isn’t all spins and sequins, tangos and top-notch taps, there’s also a heck of a lot of drama that spurs onto the stars and keeps them moving on and off the hit show’s dance floor. From unpopular contestants to overqualified competitors, voting disagreements and elimination kerfuffles, here are some of the most controversial moments in Dancing with the Stars’ history.

13. Alfonso Ribeiro, The Tap Dance Kid

When Alfonso Ribeiro signed on as one of the competitors on season 19 of Dancing with the Stars, audiences were wildly excited to see the famous (or infamous) Carlton Dance that became the actor’s signature style while still starring as the geeky cousin on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But eyebrows raised when it came out that Alfonso had starred in the 1983 Broadway musical The Tap Dance Kid which made him in many people’s eyes already professionally trained in dance. A definite no-no for DWTS.  Alfonso denied the claims that he was more experienced than he should be when he told OK Magazine, “The only dancing I’ve ever done was tap dancing and that was yes, on Broadway, but they taught me how to tap dance on the show. I’ve never taken any dance classes. When people call me a professional dancer that’s actually so incorrect.” In the end, The Carlton did make it to the stage and Alfonso made it to the end and his slick moves won him the mirror-ball trophy.

©ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

12. Master P, Master No-Show

The world was prepped and ready for Romeo Miller to sweep his DWTS partner off of her feet, but when he was injured during a basketball game on his down-time, daddy dearest stepped in to take his place. Master P being young Romeo’s papa, it wasn’t necessarily a disappointment…initially. Controversy rolled onto the stage though, when fans of the show were more than a little ticked at Master P’s performance, or rather, his lack of performance. His energy was lacking, his moves were simplistic, and there was nothing about the routine that made it significant other than Ashly DelGrosso, who was partnered with Master P and did her best to keep the dying dance deed alive.

Source: news.moviefone.com

11. Jerry Springer’s Anti-Elimination Campaign

Fans of Dancing with the Stars are known to be fierce, loyal, and not shy about sharing their opinions. So when Jerry Springer kept his stint on the show going with more than just his moves on stage, some people weren’t exactly happy about it. During season three, Jerry Springer regularly found himself at the bottom after the judges had their say, but thanks largely in part to an on-air campaign by the Opie and Anthony radio show that was intent on keeping Springer in the competition, Jerry stayed around much longer than some fans thought was fair.

© ABC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

10. Julianne Hough Sibling Sensation

Season 19 saw the addition of a new judge, former dance professional Julianne Hough. If the last name sounds familiar that’s because Julianne’s brother just happens to be Derek Hough, one of the pros competing with the stars on DWTS. Rumblings started with fans of the show wondering how impartial Julianne could be when her brother performed. Season 13 winner Karina Smirnoff was one of those who wasn’t too sure about the situation. “I think she is a great girl, I’ve known her for many years, I think that she is wonderful, gorgeous, and talented, but I don’t know if it’s ethical that she is judging while her brother is competing.” In the end, Derek wasn’t among the winning duo, so it looks like dance judgments are thicker than blood.

Adam Taylor/ABC

9. Casting Tonya Harding

When Tonya Harding was cast on the Athlete’s edition of Dancing with the Stars, fans took their frustration out on Twitter. “Instead of the show being called #DWTS, it should be called ‘Dancing with the criminals.’ They choose Tonya Harding for the lineup,” one user tweeted. “Who’s next? O.J? Lol.” Since it was revealed that her husband had orchestrated the physical attack on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, Harding has been a controversial figure. Although she denied any involvement in the attack, she did plead guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution. As a result, she was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, fined $160,000, and sentenced to three years’ probation and 500 hours of community service.

Source: Sioux City Journal

 8. Heather Morris’ Sent Home After a Perfect Score

Heather Morris was considered a frontrunner on season 24 of Dancing with the Stars so, when she was eliminated after receiving a perfect score for her rumba, the judges were stunned and fans were vocal about their disappointment, marveling at how a trainer dancer didn’t make it as far as celebrities like Nick Viall and Bonner Bolton. “In 24 seasons, that is probably the most vocally unhappy reaction we’ve gotten about an [elimination],” Judge Tom Bergeron commented.


7. Voting Controversy

During season 27 of Dancing with the Stars, there was a technical glitch and none of the votes from phone callers were able to be counted. In spite of this, someone still had to go home! That meant that only the judges’ scores and online votes could be used. When Danelle Umstead and Artem Chigvinstev were eliminated, DWTS viewers were upset. Many felt that it would have been more appropriate to not eliminate anyone that week, as the lack of phone votes definitely impacted the results.

ABC/Craig Sjodin

6. Tom Bergeron’s Controversial Comment about Whitney Carson

Dancing with the Stars’ host Tom Bergeron almost always manages to avoid controversy; however, during season 25, he found himself in hot water when he said the wrong thing about dancing pro Whitney Carson. After Judge Carrie Anne Inaba pointed out a misstep in her waltz with Frankie Muniz, claiming that he had “almost lost control of Whitney,” Bergeron said, “I’m guessing he’s not the first guy whose lost control of Witney,” which left the crowd gasping. When a Twitter user tried to explain what Bergeron meant, writing, “@WitneyCarson I thought the @Tom_Bergeron comment meant that you were tough, focused, weren’t going to be led around or any kind of a pushover,” he used the opportunity to defuse the situation by retweeting it with the caption, “I couldn’t have said it better myself (obviously).”

Source: TV Guide

5. Judge Bruno’s Sexist Remarks about Charlotte McKinney

Dancing with the Stars’ Judge Bruno Tonioli found himself found himself in a controversy when he told model Charlotte McKinney, “Listen my darling, you’re never going to win the Nobel Prize for quantum physics, but you are easy on the eyes.” The comment elicited a bunch of boos from the crowd while social media users called him sexist and demanded that he apologize to her.

Everett Collection

4. Jerry Rice Star Support

Jerry Rice was another Dancing with the Stars competitor who’s lasting stint on the show seemed to defy the laws of the dance universe. Outlasting both Lisa Rinna and Stacy Keibler, the ex-football player and now Hall of Fame member managed to charm fans more with his sweet personality than with his sweet moves, but that didn’t please everyone, particularly the dance die-hards who understandably want the best to stand as champions in the end.

ABC/Adam Larkey

3. Bristol Palin’s Voting Irregularities

Bristol Palin was bound to stir up strong emotions coming from the politically-charged family that she does, but it was her enduring stint on the show despite perfectly average performances and less than favorable judging that got fans riled up. Other stars may have been moving better on the stage, but Bristol still managed to keep herself moving upwards in voting, at least enough to keep her on the show longer than expected, and it had viewers questioning the votes along with Bristol’s spot in the competition.

©ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

2. Jaleel White’s Meltdown

Jaleel White didn’t manage to score himself a Dancing with the Stars win, but he did manage to score himself the distinction of the top DWTS drama-fuelled meltdown award (or, ya know, he would have if there was one). While appearing on season 14 of the show, the man who initially became famous for playing the ultra-nerdy Steve Urkel on Family Matters went full-on bananas on his dance partner Kym Johnson. After HE stepped on HER foot, he flipped out and reportedly called her an idiot then went at the show’s producers for sticking him with a “stupid” partner. The entire episode caused the show a dose of controversy while earning Jaleel White the new nickname “Jerkel.”

©ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

1. Disgraced Chef Paula Deen

When Paula Deen joined the contestants of DWTS, she was signing up to face more than the critical opinions of the Dancing with the Stars judges and her fellow competitors, she was also signing up to face the continued disappointment fans felt resulting from recent revelations concerning the famed chef’s racist tendencies. She hasn’t done herself any favors with how the situations have been handled and one can assume that she’s hoping this stint on DWTS will help restore her tarnished image. Who knows if she’ll be able to manage that sort of fancy footwork.

ABC/Adam Taylor


Cate has a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature and has been the Managing Editor of Fame10 for more than 6 years. Despite having a love for the works of Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy and Lord Byron, she also has an intense fascination with pop culture. When she isn’t writing for Fame10, she’s planning her next big adventure in Southeast Asia.