America, introductions are in order.
With Season 14 of Dancing With the Stars kicking off tonight (ABC, 8 ET/PT), fans of the reality competition will meet some exotic — and frankly, unknown — names.
When the new cast was unveiled last month, better-known celebrities included Gladys Knight, Jack Wagner, Martina Navratilova and Jaleel White (aka Urkel). There was also the standard Disney Channel star (ABC is owned by Disney) unknown to anyone over 14: Roshon Fegan of Shake It Up!
And then there were William Levy (think hot Latin model/actor) and Katherine Jenkins (think hot Welsh opera singer). Together they had fans wondering: Who? And what gives?
"Everyone just needs to take a beat," says DWTS senior producer Deena Katz. "It doesn't have to be the biggest name. It's who you fall in love with on the show."
Katz insists the outcry about the unknowns happens with each season and then dies out. Last season it was an Iraq war veteran named J.R. Martinez, who ended up storming his way from obscurity to instant American hero, taking the DWTS championship.
"When J.R. was announced, I had so many people saying to me, 'Who is this? You have to Google him,' " Katz says. "But the idea of the show is that by the end, you're enjoying people you never knew."
Perhaps adding to the season's low-key nature is that there's no lightning-rod name to attract attention in the media, like previous dancers Bristol Palin, Chaz Bono or reality star Kate Gosselin, who propelled Season 10 to record ratings.
Though politicians such as Christine O'Donnell and Michele Bachmann claimed to have been invited this season, Katz insists Dancing wanted to steer clear. "I've done the controversial-name thing, the lightning rod, a lot," she says. "It's great. There's buzz. But I don't want to start a fight before the season starts. I want to give really good people without the shock value. There's enough in this world."
Jenkins, 31, a player in the U.K. celebrity market, understands the U.S. bewilderment with her name.
"I totally didn't expect anyone to know me," she says. "It's exciting. I hope to impress them with my fox trot."
And, she says, "perhaps people might get to know a little bit more about Wales."
As for Levy, 31, a telenovela actor and star in the Latin market, he, too, needs an introduction — to the other celebrities on the show. "I know a couple of them. Not everyone," Levy says. "I'm sure they don't know me. So that's OK."
But as far as the Cuban refugee is concerned, it's the beginning of a beautiful relationship. "People are going to get to know me," he says, laughing. "Every time I meet someone, we get along. Hopefully, that will not be the exception with America. This country has given me so much already."