"Dancing With the Stars" avoids conflict with new cast

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Television ballroom contest "Dancing With the Stars" took a step back from controversy with its new cast unveiled on Tuesday, including tennis champ Martina Navratilova, several TV actors, an opera singer and Gladys Knight without her "Pips."

"Dancing With the Stars" annually is among the top-rated U.S. TV shows with a formula that pairs B-list celebrities, sports stars and singers with professional dancers performing sambas, cha-cha-chas and waltzes across a ballroom floor.

Last year the show courted controversy when it cast Chaz Bono, the transgender child of pop superstar Cher, resulting in protests from some conservative groups. But this season there appears little in the lineup to fuss about.

The cast of 12 celebrities includes Navratilova, one of the most celebrated women tennis champions of all time, and Gladys Knight, who along with her backup band the Pips, scored hits such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Midnight Train to Georgia."

Melissa Gilbert found fame in 1970s TV western "Little House on the Prairie," and Jaleel White's character Steve Urkel on "Family Matters" became a TV icon of the 1990s. Both will compete on the show alongside Welsh mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins and pop singer Gavin DeGraw.

Others on the new season, which premieres March 19 on the ABC network, are professional football player Donald Driver, Disney channel actor Roshon Fegan, Cuban-born Telemundo star William Levy, TV show hosts Maria Menounos and Sherri Shepherd, and Jack Wagner, star of 1990s hit show "Melrose Place."

(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Jill Serjeant)

(This story was corrected in the final paragraph to change name to Jack Wagner)


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