I must admit that this twentieth season of Dancing with the Stars has been surprisingly underwhelming. There are fewer strong dancers than in recent years and a number who just aren't very good. Their Disney Week was bland and last week's Spring Break Week was...ok. Early on I predicted that the finals would feature Nastia and Derek, Riker and Allison, and Rumer and Val. But there was a surprising wild card; Willow Shields (of The Hunger Games series) with professional Mark Ballis. At fourteen, she's the show's youngest competitor yet did surprisingly well. I thought that if anyone had a chance to upend the results, it would be here.
Last night, that came crashing to a halt.
In the most shocking elimination of the season, Willow was sent home. Everyone was astounded, especially the judges. Willow was in tears. It occurred to me as Maggie and I watched Willow crying in Mark's arms, surrounded by the rest of the consoling cast, that Dancing with the Stars had finally gone too young.
Dancing with the Stars has proven to be not only physically challenging but emotionally as well. It's overwhelming even for the most mature adult, including many of the professionals who have been dancing their entire lives. The show has featured teenagers before; last season's Sadie Robertson (17) finished third while season 16's Zendaya almost won it all, finishing second at age 16! Both these young ladies possessed a maturity beyond their years that enabled them to endure the brutality of the competition that stretches across three months non-stop.
Young Willow, however, is not Sadie nor Zendaya. That's not a knock against her. She's a sweet young girl who displays both an incredible talent and determination that made her enjoyable to watch, even though Mark's high-creativity concepts slowly got in the way of the dances they performed. But at the end of the day, she's only fourteen and there's a striking difference between a fourteen-year-old and a sixteen- and seventeen-year-old. Fourteen-year-olds are still in a very delicate phase as the change emotionally and physically. They get overwhelmed enough as it is with their everyday lives with school and friends and even with their own families.
Because she's so young and still in that delicate phase of maturity, Willow wasn't prepared to endure the emotional roller coaster of Dancing with the Stars. In a couple years, sure, but the producers should've exercised better judgment before casting her, clearly trying to gain the youth viewership because of her attachment to the currently-hot Hunger Games series.
Dancing with the Stars is basically a popularity contest where one has to sell themselves both personally and in talent. The ones who have gone on to win have all been able to win the public not just because they could dance well but because they could get people behind them and like them. Willow did an excellent job week-in and week-out. She's clearly a wonderful young girl and had a shot to make it to the finale. She just didn't sell herself well enough to gain enough fan support to vote her through to the end. It devastated her more than it has anyone else Maggie and I have watched over the years. Teenagers dread rejection and this young girl got rejected on a very public and national level.
As we watched her cry, I turned to Maggie and said, "She's too young. Dancing with the Stars is not for fourteen-year-olds."