I can only imagine what went through the minds of Dancing with the Stars celebrities like wrestler Stacy Keibler, radio personality Adam Corolla or country music star Sara Evans when they were asked to participate as dancer/contestants on the ABC hit show. Were they really hoping to enter the world of competitive ballroom dancing? Or did they see the offer as an opportunity to raise their celebrity with the American public?
With that scenario in mind, I created a list of all of the 54 stars that have competed in the show over the last six seasons. I wanted to know things like, who were the most popular stars across all seasons? Did they maintain the same level of celebrity after their season concluded? What were these stars associated with in the minds of Internet searchers?
Over the last three years, the most searched for celebrity dancer was Stacy Keibler, with over five times the searches of any other contestant. Searches for the leggy blonde finalist in the show's second season weren't for her samba, waltz or cha-cha; searchers were primarily interested in finding pictures, specifically "hot pictures," of the female wrestler. One thing that can be said for Stacy's searches is that they have sustained after her 2006 appearance on the show, more than doubling the volume of searches she experienced before taking up ballroom dancing and at peak times increasing over 1700%. With search terms as a proxy for her increased celebrity, Dancing with the Stars has clearly bolstered Stacy's career.
For other show stars, controversy was the primary fuel for very limited brief spikes. The single greatest one-week spike, for example, was for third season contestant and country music star Sara Evans. Sara's search spike over 8,000 times the normal level for searches on her name actually had nothing to do with her participation in the show, but everything to do with her quitting the show mid-season due to a very messy and very public divorce from her politician husband.
Searchers flocked to their favorite search engine during season five to search for videos of Marie Osmond on the show. They were looking for one specific video clip that showed her fainting on live television. Subsequent Marie searches focused on the authenticity of her fainting spell, with some queries clearly questioning whether the brief bout of unconsciousness was a publicity conspiracy.
If we fast-forward to recent weeks, despite being voted off two weeks ago, the most searched for star dancer is Priscilla Presley. In comparing searches for her name against all other dancers who have participated on the show through the years, she received 24.9% of all searches during the last four weeks. But, as with online interest in other contestants, searchers were most fascinated with her looks. Top Priscilla searches included "Priscilla Presley plastic surgery," "Priscilla Presley facelift" and "Priscilla Presley's face."
With the exception of Stacy Keibler's sustained post-show fame, online attention is more likely to be generated by scandal than dancing prowess. Searches surrounding Dancing with the Stars reveal that our fascination with celebrities has everything to do with their outward appearance, their weaknesses and any salacious details that might be available online.
Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise