Dancing With The Stars’ Most Controversial Moments Ranked
Since premiering in June, 2005, Dancing With the Stars has become one of the most popular reality competition series on TV and with more than 25 seasons under its belt, it has had more than its fair share of drama and controversy. From celebrity castings that caused fans to call for boycotts to absolutely surprising wins and even bigger eliminations, there is a lot to look back in terms of Dancing With the Stars’ controversy. Check out all of the most controversial castings, moments, and wins ranked:
41. Moment: All Athletes Season
Season 26 of Dancing With the Stars got off on the wrong foot and never righted itself. Since really hitting its stride in season three, Dancing With the Stars has aired every September and March without fail, so fans were beginning to panic when March 2018 came and went and there was no word of season 26. Eventually it was revealed to fans that season 26 was coming but at the end of April, which meant the season was only four weeks long! If fans weren’t angry enough about the shortened season it was nothing compared to when it was announced that the entire cast was only athletes. While athletes have been a large part of Dancing With the Stars each season, many were not thrilled that the entire season was only athletes competing and unsurprisingly it had the lowest ratings of any season before it.
40. Casting: Ryan Lochte
Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte had tentatively agreed to participate in season 23 of Dancing with the Stars when he was caught embellishing a story that he and some fellow swimmers were mugged at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Summer Olympics. As a result, he lost millions in sponsorships and was suspended from swimming for 10 months. Even though he wanted to hide out for a year, at his family’s urging, he decided to try and rehabilitate his image with the show, but not everyone was so willing to forgive him for his transgression. During his first performance on DWTS, protesters rushed the stage while others yelled anti-Lochte chants.
39. Moment: Julianne Hough Judging
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.
38. Win: Drew Lachey
While there wasn’t much controversy over Drew Lachey and Cheryl Burke winning the Mirrorball after their memorable freestyle dance to “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” it was the supposed romantic relationship between them that spurned a lot of fans. Whether the rumors were true or not remains unknown, but the tabloids had a field day and kept these two in the limelight well past their time on the show.
37. Moment: Jaleel White’s Attitude
Jaleel White didn’t manage to score himself a Dancing with the Stars win, but he did manage to score himself the distinction as one of the most difficult celebrity contestants to work with. 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.”
36. Casting: Nick Viall
Nick Viall’s casting on Dancing with the Stars was initially controversial because he was considered the villain during his two stints on The Bachelorette. However, it became more controversial when Kaitlyn Bristowe accused Bachelor producer Mike Fleiss of refusing to allow her to appear on DWTS after she was the Bachelorette. According to her, Fleiss specifically told her that he didn’t want any of the former stars of his show to seek fame when it was over, but that’s clearly what Viall was doing with DWTS
35. Win: Helio Castroneves
These two won the Mirrorball trophy back in season five and created a big stir amongst fans over their supposed off-stage relationship. Romance rumors flew after Helio kissed his partner Julianne Hough on air and split from his fiancée just a few months after the show ended. Coincidentally, Hough also called off her engagement to Zach Wilson around the same time. Julianne denied the relationship allegations. “They said I was a homewrecker, But I’m pretty much the only one on the show who hasn’t hooked up,” she said.
34. Moment: Bristol Palin’s Votes
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.
33. Moment: Support For Jerry Rice
Jerry Rice was another Dancing with the Stars competitor whose 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.
32. Casting: Geraldo Rivera
From his sexist remarks that women can only bring youth to a marriage to disclosing an upcoming military operation in Iraq on Fox News broadcast, Geraldo Rivera has a reputation for creating controversy. In spite of this, he was cast in season 22 of Dancing with the Stars, but he didn’t make it far. He and his partner Edyta Śliwińska were the first pair to be eliminated.
31. Win: Nyle DiMarco
Nyle DiMarco was the first deaf contestant to win America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. The difficulty of mastering dance moves in a competition that requires you to find the beat is a challenge for anyone, let alone when you can’t hear the music! But regardless of this contestant’s bravery, many felt that it was his “fan favorite” status that earned him the win and that fellow contestant, Paige VanZant, out-danced DiMarco. Whatever side of the of the argument you’re on, the controversy around this Mirrorball trophy win is certainly a sensitive topic.
30. Moment: Tom Bergeron’s Comment
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 Witney Carson. After Judge Carrie Anne Inaba pointed out a misstep in her waltz with Frankie Muniz, claiming that he had “almost lost control of Witney,” 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).”
29. Casting: Jordan Fisher
Season 25 winner Jordan Fisher received a lot of flack for having an unfair advantage on Dancing with the Stars because he had dancing experience prior to appearing on the show. He had appeared in Hamilton on Broadway and was the breakout star of Grease Live!
28. Win: Alfonso Ribeiro
Alfonso Ribeiro’s Mirrorball win with Witney Carson was much protested because of Ribeiro’s previous dance experience. Besides his infamous Carlton dance on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the actor was also trained to tap dance by Broadway professionals for “The Tap Dance Kid.” He was called out by OK Magazine and responded, “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.” But that experience may have just won him the competition at the end of season 19.
27. Moment: Jerry Springer’s 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.
26. Casting: Tom DeLay
Casting Tom DeLay was considered very controversial. In 2005, he was indicted on criminal charges of conspiracy to violate an election law in 2002 by a grand jury in Texas and was then cast of season nine of Dancing with the Stars just four years later, before his case went to trial. Although he seemed keen to take advantage of the opportunity to remake his image, he withdrew from the competition in week three because he had stress fractures in his feet.
25. Win: Rashad Jennings
During season 24 of Dancing with the Stars, it was predicted that Normani Kordei would win the competition. She wowed the judges with her dancing skills and had the highest scores, as well as a large fanbase to vote for her each week. On the last night of the competition, the judges even told her that she was “born to win this competition.” In spite of all this, football player Rashad Jennings managed to win the competition with Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross taking second place and Kordei landing in third, which was unfair since she was clearly the better dancer of the three of them.
24. Moment: Joe Amabile’s Stint
Very little of season 27 went over well with fans. It fell to the lowest viewership numbers the show ever had (including the much hated season 26) and featured some of the strangest eliminations, while other less deserving stars stayed and at the top of that list was Bachelor Nation’s Joe Amabile. He may have been charming and sweet, but there was no doubt that Joe Amabile had no dancing talent whatsoever, and fans began getting angry as bachelor nation’s fan base carried him through to all the way to week eight, landing in fifth place, despite having the lowest scores for nearly every single week. While there was major controversy over how long he stayed based purely on votes and not talent, it made matters worse that in the finale, he seemed to poke fun out of the whole thing with an excruciatingly awkward dance number joined with some of his bachelor nation pals.
23. Casting: Heather Morris
Heather Morris’ participation in season 24 of Dancing with the Star was met with criticism. Although she didn’t have any ballroom dancing experience, she had plenty of other dancing experience. She had toured with Beyonce, appeared in all six seasons of Glee, and she competed on So You Think You Can Dance. An insider told E! News that other contestants weren’t happy about having to compete with someone so experienced. “There has been some joking and a little snark about it among the other contestants, but it’s just because there is literally no doubt she’s a professional dancer It takes the others days or even a full week to learn a routine. She gets it down in a matter of hours.”
22. Win: Jordan Fisher
Jordan Fisher took home the Mirrorball trophy in season 25 of Dancing with the Stars, but some felt that he shouldn’t have been allowed to compete in the competition to begin. The big issue that people had was the fact that he had a background in musical theater. Previously, he had performed in Hamilton and Grease, which gave him a serious leg up in the competition.
21. Moment: Master P Steps In
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,his famous dad stepped in to take his place, but Master P joining the show 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.
20. Casting: Kate Gosselin
Kate Gosselin was well known when she appeared on season 10 of Dancing with the Stars for her family’s reality show, Jon & Kate Plus 8, but she wasn’t well liked. Once she was on the show, she didn’t win anyone over – including her partner Tony Dovolani. Things got so heated between them during one rehearsal when she questioned his teaching methods that he quit!
19. Win: Kelly Monaco
When Kelly Monaco and Alec Mazo took home the Mirrorball trophy during the first season of Dancing with the Stars, there were some viewers who didn’t think she deserved to win. Instead, they believed that Seinfeld actor John O’Hurley was more worthy of the Mirrorball trophy. He was consistently a better dancer on the show, but it appears that Monaco won because her journey as a dancer was more noteworthy. Fans were so upset about her win, however, that they demanded a rematch, which they filmed for the show, and this time O’Hurley was the winner!
18. Moment: Alfonso Ribeiro’s Tap Dance Training
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.
17. Casting: Bobby Bones
Country radio host Bobby Bones is known for creating controversy, whether it’s for his Twitter feuds or for launching a negative billboard campaign against himself to garner sympathy. Even on Dancing with the Stars, he managed to cause even more controversy when he went off script during one of his performances with Sharna Burgess and began “flossing” instead of finishing the performance with her. Fans weren’t impressed with his impromptu move and considered it disrespectful to Burgess. While there were already many who questioned his place on the show, that moment made him one of the most hated contestants, but only by some.
16. Win: Donald Driver
Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd won season 14 of Dancing with the Stars and their win was definitely a surprise. For one, no one actually expected him to win. Fans expected runner-up Katherine Jenkins or third-place finisher William Levy to take home the Mirrorball trophy because they had performed well throughout the season and the judges had praised their performances. Driver was definitely the underdog. He was one point away from last place after his performance and perhaps fans felt his journey was more compelling, hence his win.
15. Moment: Heather Morris’ Elimination
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],” host Tom Bergeron commented.
14. Casting: Chaz Bono
Conservative viewers of Dancing With the Stars have made their opinions heard, especially when they disagree with someone on the show and in season 13 they took issue with competitor Chaz Bono. Of course, the conservative viewers didn’t support Bono because he is a transgender man, and as they threatened a boycott, production even had to heighten security because of threats of violence against Bono. Bono didn’t let the negative backlash slow him down and ended up in seventh place with partner Lacey Schwimmer.
13. Win: Meryl Davis
After Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s win during season 18, there were some angry viewers who complained that the show was rigged. Several fans alleged that their votes for James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd were actually being redistributed to Davis and Chmerkovskiy and showed a pictures of this to Rumorfix.com. ABC insisted that there were no voting issues, but fans were still adamant that their votes hadn’t gone to Maslow and Murgatroyd.
12. Moment: The 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. Of course, the outrage over the voting in season 27 was just the pinnacle of years of fans questioning if votes were rigged or counted properly in the first place.
11. Casting: Alfonso Ribeiro
Former The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Alfonso Ribeiro received some backlash during season 19 of Dancing with the Stars because of his former dance experience; he performed in the title role of the Broadway musical The Tap Dance Kid and also danced alongside Michael Jackson in his 1984 Pepsi commercial. While this caused enough grumblings, it seems many also had an issue with the fact that he would clearly be the most popular fan vote which meant no one really stood a chance against him. It seems they may have been right as he took home the trophy with partner Witney Carson that season.
10. Win: Kellie Pickler
Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough were yet another Mirrorball winning couple rumored to be having an affair. And Kellie was married! The two gushed over one another. Kellie said, “Derek has taught me so much, not just about dancing, but about life,” and Derek commented in return, “I adore [Kellie]. She’s a special, special girl.” Hough, of course, denied the rumors. “I’m not gonna lie. There are some people, or men or husbands or boyfriends, that come on here who are a little bit like, ‘Oooh, you’re doing the rumba with my wife or girlfriend,’ but [Kyle] was completely and amazing and just super comfortable and confident in who he is.” Of course many were angered over the possibility of the affair, while others thought the two “played up” their chemistry to get votes.
9. Moment: Ryan Lochte Protesters
For being a live show where “anything can happen” Dancing With the Stars has had remarkably few major incidents that interrupted the ongoing show, but that changed when Ryan Lochte joined the series in season 23. The Olympian was fresh off a major scandal where he lied about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics and his was casting alone was controversial, and things escalated when some truly passionate fans rushed the stage after Lochte and his pro partner Cheryl Burke danced and were being judged. The Anti-Ryan Lochte were on the stage only briefly before they were tackled and apprehended by security, but the incident was alarming for everyone.
8. Casting: Paula Deen
Paula Deen’s career came crashing down when she was sued by a former employee for racial and sexual discrimination and then a videotape deposition showed her admitting to using racial slurs and telling racist jokes. When she was cast in season 21 of Dancing with the Stars, controversy ensued. Critics claimed that by letting her compete on the show, ABC was condoning her racism.
7. Win: Donny Osmond
Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson were the unlikely winners of the Mirrorball trophy in season 9. Not only did Donny’s sister, Marie, appear on season 5, drawing up her own drama after a fainting spell, but Donny’s time on the show was also riddled with some controversy! In week three, he created quite a stir when he planted a wet one on the lips of judge Bruno Tonioli! Despite this bold move, this was the couple that ultimately took home the win!
6. Moment: Bruno’s Sexist Remarks
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.
5. Casting: Bristol Palin
Bristol Palin’s casting during season 11 of Dancing with the Stars left a lot of people confused. She wasn’t really considered a celebrity; she only became famous during her mother’s run for Vice President of the United States in 2008 when it was announced that she was pregnant at 17. During her season of DWTS, her presence resulted in even more controversy when she scored lower than other celebrities yet managed to stay in the competition.
4. Win: Melissa Rycroft
In the first Dancing with the Stars all-star champion competition, Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani won the Mirrorball trophy to many fan’s confusion. It was much anticipated that Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson, would be the first contestant to win two Mirrorballs—especially after Johnson and Hough received perfect scores of 10 and a standing ovation, compared to Rycroft and Dovolani’s scores in the 9.5 range. Melissa and Tony were so surprised they won that the network had to censor the expletives!
3. Moment: Juan Pablo Di Pace’s Elimination
There have been many Dancing With the Stars eliminations that have shocked both fans and the judges, but there has never been as big of a reaction to an elimination than Juan Pablo Di Pace’s in season 27. The Fuller House actor and pro dancer Cheryl Burke dominated much of the season before they were eliminated the week before the final four couples headed to the finals. Upon the announcement of their elimination, the place erupted as the judges even stood up and their jaws dropped in shock. Within moments fans were calling for a boycott of the series and an overhaul of the weight that fan’s votes have and it is now regarded as one of the most shocking and controversial eliminations in Dancing With the Stars‘ history.
2. Casting: Tonya Harding
Tonya Harding was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Associating and stripped of her titles for her involvement in the attack her husband orchestrated on Nancy Kerrigan, so it was quite a surprise when she was included in season 26 of Dancing with the Stars, which featured only professional athletes. Even more surprising was that she made it the final three, beating out fan favorites, figure skater Mirai Nagasu and luger Chris Mazdzer.
1. Win: Bobby Bones and Sharna Burgess
Season 27 of Dancing With the Stars was one very wild ride, and audiences were definitely not prepared for the finale they got. By the last two weeks of competition it was clear season 27 had some of the very best celebrity dancers the show had seen, and also some of the worst, but it all started to go downhill in the second last week and one shocking double elimination. To many, the judges included, Fuller House actor Juan Pablo Di Pace and his pro partner Cheryl Burke were clearly the ones to beat, but then they were eliminated right before the finale which caused major backlash. Heading into the finale, fans picked new favorites with many now expecting Milo Manheim and Witney Carson, Evanna Lynch and Keo Motsepe, or even Alexis Ren and Alan Bersten to win it, but certainly not country radio host Bobby Bones and Sharna Burgess. Instead, the unbelievable happened when Bobby and Sharna were in fact named the winners and the shock from everyone including Sharna herself could not be hidden. As arguably the most shocking Mirrorball win to date, it is now the most controversial with many fans claiming they will no longer watch the show while others are pleading with ABC to change the decision process behind who is named the winner. Either way, no one really knew that reality TV could jump the shark until Bobby Bones was named the winner of season 27.