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Read James' Interview with Monica Seles | Dancing with Monica Seles

Tuesday, March 25 - 11:05 PM PST

It's a race against time.

I'm stopped at the front gate of CBS Television City. There's a list to get in, and I ain't on it. Surely there's been some mistake. Precious minutes tick away as showtime approaches. And then it comes back to me. The paranoia. Is this another one of those freakin' omens?

No no. I'm a man of reason. I prove it by reasoning my way past security. I get to the green room just in time for the show.

Tom Bergeron promises the first elimination will be in minutes. They don't waste time! (Well, this after the one hour retrospective of...the last two weeks.)

Steve Guttenberg is safe. So are Jason Taylor and Mario No-Last-Name. We're halfway through the show and no elimination. You're a liar, Tom Bergeron.

We're down to two men. Yesterday's omen said it would be Penn Jillette. And the omen was right. Uh-oh.

Logic isn't out of the game. There's still the women.

Shannon is safe! The Shannon Elizabeth Effect is debunked. (Though as someone nearby points out, people are also voting for the partners. D'oh! Unseen variable in the equation.)

I'm praying for a miracle. I've got nothing else to do while they trot out the Jonas Brothers (you're too old to know who they are) and treat us to a Cirque du Soleil-style number where they suspend dancers in the air by ribbons and weird silver globey things. Now, isn't that why the Stars are here? Hoist actress and businesswoman Priscilla Presley up there. You want ratings or not?

Finally, it's the moment of truth.

Monica is out.

There are no miracles tonight.

Nothing feels right about this. As they usher the audience out and the press in, I pass one of those weird silver globey things in the outside hallway by the trash. Wait a minute, that performance wasn't live. And neither were the Jonas Brothers! First science and now TV. I've lost my entire belief system!

Waiting backstage for my turn to chat with Monica, I can't help but notice two things. One, Nate Berkus is a smidgen of a man. The other, that while last week was a carnival, tonight is like a funeral. No one wanted to see Monica go. (Yeah yeah, Penn's gone too. Get over it.) In the sobriety of the moment, Scary Spice still manages to belt out several piercing belly laughs. And a zig-a-zig-ah..

The other Stars have nothing but wonderful things to say about Monica. Marissa says she felt awful being in the bottom two with her because if it wasn't Marissa going, it would be her. Penn says of all the conversations he had back stage, he valued one he had with Monica the most. And Marlee Matlin wishes her nothing but the best.

I wish Marlee the best. And inform her that, with Monica upset in the first round, I'm throwing my support behind her. She's thrilled and does an extra spin in appreciation. That Oscar must seem pretty meaningless now.

Finally, Monica makes her way over. And she couldn't be more gracious in defeat. She knew it was coming and was less nervous tonight than any other. Her whole attitude is, look, I know I can't dance (her words, not mine). I tried to do this sexy routine, "shake my you know what." I tried my best.

More importantly, she tried period (my words, not hers). She showed the guts we fans all know so well. And now she's made millions of new fans.

Next up for Monica, the removal of her fake eyelashes and a return to real life. But not without learning a very big lesson herself. She discovered there really is a girly girl inside that jock. And when she needs her, she knows where to find her.

(But don't expect her on the court.)

___________________________________________________

Monday, March 24 - 11:33 PM PST


Do you believe in omens? I'm more of a science guy. More Scully than Mulder. But I'm going to be tested tonight.

For this week's performance episode of Dancing with the Stars, I was hoping to be coming to you live from the studio audience. I even had my tie all picked out (okay, picked out for me.) I was then informed that this week would be tricky. After the scores from Monica's performance last week, I couldn't help but be a little paranoid. I hoped this wasn't God or ABC's way of saying that our Monica wasn't long for this two-step.

To keep me from getting too Conspiracy Theory, I invited some friends over to watch the show for me. Okay, really I needed honest pairs of eyes. I'm calling her Our Monica so I'm also paranoid about my own judgment when it comes to what's really happening on that stage.

Gnawing on stale Peeps, we get down to business.

Up first, Steve Guttenberg. He is this season's Gary Busey. Behind that nice guy exterior is a nice guy. Behind that, he's a powderkeg people. His song boasts he has "a girlfriend in every room." Sadly, after an informal poll, not this one.

Cristian de la Fuente is next. By my friends' reactions, he most certainly has girlfriends in this room.

Monica's next. I'm excited. I'm scared. I'm coursing with sugar.

The package introducing her shows she was not only upset at her scores last week, but apparently so much so that she fled to Japan. There was something in there about a prior engagement and taking her partner with her to practice but by now I'm going into Peep convulsions.

Her song starts. "Never Gonna Get It" by En Vogue. (Another message from God or ABC?) Comments are mixed, both from the judges and my friends. Monica is likeable, rootable and clearly out of her element. Once again though, the scores are lower than even what their comments would imply. Three more 5's. And an admission that she doesn't know a mambo from a mango.

Which will win out? Her scores or her likeability? Who exactly is voting out there in the land of milk and honey, and why?

This is where the science side of me takes over. I offer you, ladies and gentlemen, what I call 'The Shannon Elizabeth Effect.' It works like this. She's young, she's beautiful. She's also not exactly the demographic of this show. Will people who tune in even know who she is? And would her 'skirt be too short'? I'm thinking she may just be Monica's ticket to another week.

How long is this show? Two hours? Pass the Cadbury Creme Eggs.

Up next, Penn Jillette. Without being unkind, I'll just say he makes it through his routine unharmed. Somehow he scores higher than Monica. On his way off stage, he slips and falls. Another omen? Or did an ABC intern wax that top step during the commercial break? Man these Peeps go stale fast.

Next thing I know, "actress and businesswoman" Priscilla Presley is crawling on the floor right at me. It's got to be the Creme Eggs. Once again, someone who wasn't particularly better than Monica gets higher scores. My friends are outraged. They're also picking the fake grass in the bottom of the basket from their teeth.

Shannon Elizabeth takes the floor. It's go time.

"Who is that?," my friends ask. Yikes, they're actually her demographic. My theory could hold up. All she needs to do is be halfway decent and she should be gone. Sadly, she's pretty great. Why won't you cooperate, Shannon Elizabeth?!

Marissa Jaret Winokur scores well. So do Marlee Matlin (more and more my hero every day) and Jason Taylor. Somehow, Monica's fellow bottom dweller Adam Corolla does too. It's clear. There is no God.

Side note: I can't help but notice how much tougher the women are on themselves than the men. Monica's a Grand Slam champion. Marissa's a Tony winner. Priscilla is a businesswoman. But when it comes time for judgment, look out. Cuz they're chairing the panel. Watch Penn and Adam and learn. Apologize for nothing.

Kristi Yamaguchi and Mario no-last-name finish up in grand style. Which means once again Monica's got the lowest scores. And worse, we're coming down.

I'm first to the phone. I get through right away (another sign?). I vote a second and third time with ease. My friends hop on their cells. We get busy signals at the same time. Are we the only ones calling?!

The paranoia has taken full grip. As has a vicious stomachache. Monica hurts and so do I.

I'll be backstage tomorrow to see if science (Shannon) or omens (Monica) wins out. And to give a high five or a bear hug to Our Monica.

I'm crossing my fingers. Not that I believe in that...

______________________________________________________

Tuesday, March 18 - 11:28 PM PST


Wow.  Just...wow.

I have been transformed. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's take you back to when I was my old jaded self, swaggering onto the CBS Television City lot in Hollywood to go Dancing with Monica.

I show up and immediately feel like a VIP.  Mostly because it says VIP by the entrance.  Helping matters was the velvet rope and the crowd of well-dressed people desperately trying to get past it.  I'm waved through.  It's about as close to Studio 54 as a journalist is ever gonna get.

So I'm in, and I'm passing all the signs touting all the other productions the lot is home to.  The Young and the Restless.  Craig Ferguson.  The Price is freakin' Right. 
And American Idol.  Which just happens to be taping at the exact same time.  As Julianne Moore cried softly in Boogie Nights, "too many things...too many things..."

On pop culture overload, I fight the Idol tractor beam and head over to the Dancing set.  Immediately preceding me are two EMTs with a gurney.  I can only imagine which star is about to be wheeled out.  My money's on Cristian de la Fuente.

I make my way to the green room.  Don't let them lie to you.  Ain't nothing green here.  What they do have is quesadillas.  Mmm.  And Steven Cojocaru.  Oh hey, he likes quesadillas, too.  We're twins!

As I watch the show from backstage, a feeling comes over me.  It's what I imagine a pitbull would feel.  Pure rage.  As they introduce Monica's fellow dancers, I decide they're all the enemy and must be destroyed.

Sure enough, when Shannon Elizabeth comes out, I decide she was horrible and cross her off my list.  One down.  (Mind you, the judges and the others in the green room thought she was lovely.  But I'm telling you, this show has me foaming.)

Monica's up next.  She looks like she was plucked off a little girl's birthday cake, and I mean that in the best way.  Somehow they've transformed Monica into a Dancing queen. 

They have her dancing with Jonathan Roberts, who famously caught Marie Osmond when she fell last year.  Which I think was every week, though maybe that was just how many times they replayed it.

Seeing Monica all slick and styled, I'm still looking for that little baby-faced killer we used to know.  Sure enough, in the package they show of her practicing, she's working up a sweat in the studio and her little curls come out.  There's my girl.

She does her best, and while it's not Ginger Rogers, everyone in the green room is just beaming when she's done.  She's surprisingly touching.  Then come the judges scores.  5, 5, 5.  Ouch.  Even Monica's a little shaken. 

After that, Marissa Janet Winokur comes out and charms the pants off everyone.  Then Priscilla Presley shows what she can do.  Kristi Yamaguchi is a knock out. And finally Marlee Matlin comes out and is just beyond inspiring. 

And I realize.  I'm thinking these things without irony.  Without sarcasm. I'm...melting.
 
No!  Stay strong, James.  Fight it.  Fight it.

They clear the audience so the press can pour in and pick over the dancers' carcases.  (They wheel out the gurney, empty.  This week.)  As soon as I make it inside, I'm suddenly standing on The Set.  The velvet curtains, the chandeliers...

The feeling is coming on stronger.  The warmth in my belly.  (Fight it!)

Finally, the Stars are paraded through.  And they couldn't be sweeter.  They get it, they know what the show is and they're just having fun with it.  And as Marlee Matlin said on the show when asked why she was doing it - why not? 

Indeed.  Why not?  Suddenly, I give in.  I'm part of the glorious circus and I won't fight it anymore.  (still no sarcasm!  I can't stand it!)  I'm beaming along with the celebs as they all came to talk to the Tennis Channel, among a bazillion other media outlets.  Marissa really is that bubbly.  Steve Guttenberg really is that aw shucksy.  Marlee really is that awesome.  And they couldn't have been more supportive of Monica.

Monica! 

I did a separate interview with her, so check that out.  What I will say here is A) she's way taller than you think, B) she's incredibly open, charming and funny and C) she loves the dress. 

I'll throw in a D).  She's absolutely aware of her fan base and incredibly grateful for it.

Unfortunately for Monica, she got the lowest score of the insanely tough field of women.  Fortunately, they're not eliminating anyone this week.  Everyone gets to dance one more time. She knows she needs to open up and let loose and have fun and she told me she's going to attack the challenge like she attacks every challenge. 

But she can't do it alone. 

Show Monica some love and help her live to fight another day by voting for her early and often.

See you next week!  And maybe, just maybe...you'll see me.  I'll be the one beaming.
_____________________________________________________


I'm Going Dancing!
 

Your phone rings. Someone asks if you'd be interested in following 9-time Grand Slam champion Monica Seles as she straps on her cha cha heels and competes for the trophy on America's Most Watched Dance Competition and premiere guilty pleasure, DANCING WITH THE STARS.

What would you say?

While I'm a big fan of Monica's (and I'm not alone - she was recently voted favorite female player of all time by viewers of Tennis Channel's own Open Access), my experience with the show is sketchy at best. We've tried to dance together in the past, but something always got in the way. The sequins, the songs...John Ratzenberger.

With James LaRosa in her corner, Seles has to be the favorite. 
But now it has Monica. And 22.9 million viewers a week can't be wrong. Monica and I will dance into this crazy pop culture phenomenon together, with minds open, hearts open, and position open.

But wait.

Monica's a fighter. But she's got some stiff competition. I'm not referring to the 11 other Stars duking it out for the title. I'm talking about their fans. Tennis freaks will show the 9-time Grand Slam champion and infamous grunter (ABC.com's words, not mine) some serious love, but she's not the only one with a rabid fan base.

You can be sure everyone who walks through the turnstile at Graceland will be voting for Priscilla Presley. And what about all the ice skating nuts who'll be throwing roses through the phone lines at legend in her own right Kristi Yamaguchi? And you know that Three Men and a Little Lady chat room has the show on speed dial for Steve Guttenberg.

On premiere night (that's Tuesday for the ladies), I'll be there soaking it all in. Afterwards, I'll be sitting down with Monica herself to get her thoughts on the state of women's tennis today...wait, who am I kidding - the state of her spangly dress! And her feelings about being one of the acts in truly The Greatest Show on Earth.

In the weeks to come, I'll be the proverbial Waldo. Try and spot me in the audience, sharing a laugh with Lisa Marie and Magnum P.I. Or in the background of the press line during an Access Hollywood interview with Oscar winner Marlee Matlin.

And of course, this is all for you. Well, for me and for you.

Wait, for Monica.

So check in, follow along and show your girl some love. What else are you gonna watch? Big Brother? That's what I thought. See you there.

-James







Comments

  1. Sandra Brown (3/20/2008 8:29:56 PM) 

    I love Monica. I am in my sixties and have enjoyed..watching her play tennis all her tennis years. She..is so very special and she has such grace and feelings that melts my heart when I think about what ended her tennis career. I wish the young people today could have the grace she had when she..played the game. I enjoyed watching her dance and..voted for her because of the presence and grace she showed on the floor. My very best wishes to her and her partner. Sincerely, Sandra

  2. Suniket Fulzele (3/19/2008 5:38:50 PM) 

    It was great to see Monica....I am really happy for her. I have been a Seles Fan since 1990s...she has been an inspiration. I virtually grew up with Monica as a role model in my life. I am so so very happy for her. Hope to see her more often around in public and media. So much to learn from her.

  3. rabbit (3/19/2008 3:26:37 AM) 

    That picture on top of the page cracks me up every time!

  4. Teresa (3/18/2008 1:16:13 PM) 

    Was great to see Monica-but Monica please-----no need to have game face on while watching the Gents dance-as each cut away shot in your direction showed as tho you were waiting for the 90 second break to end to get back on the court! I know the men were a snooze fest and look forward to seeing you and the ladies tonight! Hoping ABC does not keep showing the Wimbledon clips of you-alas, not your finest final!

  5. Jeannie (3/17/2008 6:10:30 PM) 

    Hey James - ask her if it's difficult not to grunt while she's dancing?



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