Season 29 of Dancing with the Stars is premiering during a time unlike any other. Both the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide protests have deeply affected Americans, including those working in the TV industry who are struggling to adapt to a new normal.
“This year is a very challenging year,” Tyra Banks tells Yahoo Entertainment. “There's a lot of pain that we are all living through at the same time.”
But it’s not all bleak, she adds, saying that she’s seen “progress that I never thought that I would see in my lifetime.”
Banks is the show’s first solo Black female host and replaces longtime co-hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews. She disputes the speculation that she was brought in for diversity optics, and recently told Glamour it “hurts” her feelings that people assume she was hired because she’s a Black woman.
But Banks, a hosting veteran who entertained audiences for five seasons of The Tyra Banks Show, admits that this gig has a unique challenge: no live audience.
“It's a bit more heavy lifting because I can't just [channel] that audience screaming and clapping and yelling,” she says. But she’s confident that lighting and studio changes will provide that kind of “electricity” in the room.
Another change: Jam-packed ensemble performances, like the ones featured in last season’s finale, are also out.
“It's going to be done in very creative production ways,” Banks says, “Where there will be multiple dancers at times, but not necessarily on the stage at the same time.”
Personally, Banks says she feels “very safe” shooting this season and has been observing social distancing herself.
“Me going out to have fun is going to pick up takeout [and] eating it in my car,” she says.
One thing that remains unchanged about this new season of DWTS is the always surprising, sometimes befuddling motley cast of celebrities, from ‘90s teen heartthrobs like A.J. McClean of the Backstreet Boys to NBA legend Charles Oakley to recent meme queen Carole Baskin, of the breakout Netflix documentary Tiger King.
“I am a huge fan of Tiger King. I binged it just like a lot of this country,” Banks says.
Banks hopes that this season of DWTS, and her first time out hosting, will shine out against the dark, frequently depressing news cycle.
“I think it's going to [bring] light and happiness at a time when we need it more than ever,” she says.
Season 29 of Dancing With the Stars premieres on Sept. 14 on ABC at 8 p.m.
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