When Deena Katz sat down to watch the Olympics, she tried to watch it like everyone else.
The Dancing with the Stars casting director and co-executive producer did her research and had an idea of which athletes she needed to keep an eye on: Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, etc. She also kept her eye on every sport, watching and waiting for those "moments." The moments where America falls in love with an Olympian regardless of his or her celebrity.
"As I’m watching, I think the best thing to do is watch the fans, because these are the fans that watch our show," Katz said.
She watched day in and day out, knowing she would likely try and garner one or two Olympians to be part of the reality TV dance contest's 26th season. It's an audition of sorts – but not really. It's not just about Olympic medals and records.
"You can have the best name in the world on this show and they don’t have a personality that’s going to work, then it’s not even worth having that," Katz said in an interview with 11Alive. "The audience loves to have these people, to watch these people. The point of the show is watching these individuals get out of their comfort zones and taking this amazing journey."
Several Olympians have been on the more than 25 seasons of the reality show that's produced by BBC Worldwide productions and airs on ABC. A few names from the Winter Games include Kristi Yamaguchi, Apolo Ohno and Nancy Kerrigan.
There are a handful of Olympians from PyeongChang that Katz is considering, and yes, some of them are figure skaters. But they can't all be skaters. Katz said she tries to take athletes from various sports. She tries to find the ones who the fans will fall in love with like they did when they watched them compete on the world's biggest stage.
"You want, as a fan, to be excited to watch, because whoever the ice skater, snowboarder, whatever it is that stole your heart, and that you love or that talked or everyone’s talking about, you want to see them on the show," Katz said. "So I really try to watch as a fan and change my cast as I see how they’re doing."
Who are some of the athletes America fell in love with during the Olympics? Adam Rippon? Chloe Kim? Ester Ledecka? Maddie Rooney? John Shuster?
That's what Katz is figuring out.
But what about figure skater Mirai Nagasu?
Nagasu is the first U.S. woman to land the triple axel at the Olympics. She helped the U.S. win the bronze medal in the team event. She stumbled, though, in the individual event and finished 10th in the competition.
She was funny and sweet in her post-skate interviews with Andrea Joyce. She quoted a Tweet talking about Dancing with the Stars and said she'd be willing to get her first spray tan to be on the show.
It was her comments after the competition, however, that captured everyone's attention.
“I smiled in the middle of my program, which is really rare for me. So I enjoyed myself and I thought of this as my audition for Dancing with the Stars,” Nagasu told reporters after her performance. “I made history here by landing the first triple axel for a U.S. lady at the Olympics so I think that is a big deal. I hope I get more opportunities to let my personality just shine."
She went on to say she "saved" the team event. She has since apologized and told People Magazine that she wished she had not used the word "save" and instead given credit to everyone's team performance.
Nagasu said her comments about being on Dancing with the Stars were derived from a technique recommended by her sports psychologist.
“I used that as a distraction and I probably should have kept it to myself. … It didn’t come out the way I wanted it to,” Nagasu said to People.
Many found her comments degrading to the sport and the Olympics. There were several athletes who competed hard to try and earn her spot on the Olympic team. Some believed Ashley Wagner would have been better-equipped to seriously contend for a medal, and to play off her performance as an "audition" for a reality television show rubbed people the wrong way.
Not Katz. She had already noticed Nagasu.
"I think she’s charming and great, and I loved her before she even said any of this – when she hit the triple axel," Katz said. "I think she’s adorable, and I’m still really making the picks on who it is, but obviously she, Adam [Rippon], Nathan [Chen], the Shibutani’s, if I could just do a season of ice skaters, that would be fantastic because I could have filled it up just with them."
On whether or not she had an issue with Nagasu's comments:
"No I think it’s great. I love that people love the show," she said. "The show works best when people are on the show who want to be there, that love the show, that understand the show, that believe in the show, that want to have fun and take the journey. So you can’t be upset at all when someone is out there saying they love the show and want to be on it. It does not guarantee that they’re going to be on it at all."
While Nagasu's comments apparently did not hurt her chance, anyone from PyeongChang could be in the mix, in addition to former Olympians. Katz estimates there will be one or two Olympic athletes – new or old – that will make the contestant list, which will only consist of 10 "stars" this upcoming season. This season will be unique, however, in that it will only feature athletes.
The contestants will be announced the week of April 9th.
That's when Nagasu will find out whether her "distraction" will become a reality.
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