Exclusive: Backstage at Dancing with the Stars and Chelsea Kane

Last week, you may have noticed I did not post a Dancing with the Stars recap. (At least I hope so...where my faithful recappers at!?) I had the best of reasons: I was actually on a quick plane trip down to Los Angeles to attend the Dancing with the Stars results show, and even better/ I was off to interview one of the front-runners: Chelsea Kane.

Having now spent just that little time backstage and in the audience, I can tell you this: These stars are not kidding when they talk about how bad they want to win. Whatever motivations drive them to start the process, once they start spending 5, 6, and ultimately ten hours a day "training," they have the eye of the tiger, all right.

It was a beautiful, but hot, day in L.A., and I was dressed more for summer in San Francisco, so I was pretty glad to be retrieved by an ABC staffer and Chelsea's agent and brought backstage to wait in a trailer, equipped with a flat screen TV, a feed from what was happening in the studio and, most importantly, air conditioning.

We were supposed to interview Chelsea at 3PM, but it was not a typical dress rehearsal, apparently, and they were running far behind. Chelsea wouldn't be done until 3:30, had a costume consult and hair/make-up at 4, and we really needed to be in our seats by 5:30 for a 6PM start.

Meanwhile, the delay meant we'd be watching the filming of the taped segments from backstage, instead of from our seats. In the end I confess I was glad, because when you attend such a show you end up getting a lot of coaching on clapping and cheering and smiling and clapping and reacting and clapping. I was only doing that for the actual one hour of the show, and my arms (and cheeks) were tired from the clapping and the smiling. Can't imagine how the folks who were doing that for three hours felt!

We watched the James Blunt segment get taped. I think he did one take. And then a helicopter came and picked him up. I'm not kidding. Flew right over where we were landed on the building next door and whisked him away to a gig, just as Chelsea came and got us. This was only two days after hearing about how helicopters swooped in and got Osama bin Laden, so we were all a little bit amused. Chelsea and I agreed that the bar had now been set: If she wanted to be really cool, she would need to start having copters pick her up from gigs.

We settled into Chelsea's trailer, and I asked her some deep and searching questions before heading into the studio to watch the results show live.

Here are some highlights:

For those of you who wonder how Chelsea ended up on DWtS, it's a pretty simple answer: "They asked."

She first came to the set because the Jonas Brothers performed, and from there she became a fan. But she really started hanging around just last season when her Disney Channel-mate Kyle Massey was on the show.

Luckily for Chelsea she's not doing another gig right now, so unlike some of her competitors, she isn't flying back and forth cross-country all week...and she doesn't think she could do it if she couldn't focus on it. She is doing some voiceover work for an animated series, but she can shuffle over in her sweats or rehearsal clothes to do that, so it's a piece of cake.

Now, I had to ask her the sensitive question: How were you this good out of the gate...are you, in fact, a ringer?

Sounds like Chelsea was a musical theatre kid (in Scottsdale, AZ where she grew up), but more of a "Chorus Girl #2" than a big dancer. She invoked the "box step," and I could picture exactly what she meant. Side note: AZ produces some talented kids...Chelsea did theatre with both Jordin Sparks and Emma Stone. At any rate, this is Chelsea's first time doing such intense choreography, and her first time having to partner, so there goes those "ringer" conspiracy theories.

I asked how Chelsea and Mark strategize, if at all, and it sounds like some things just come naturally:

"Our strategy happened without us planning it. We hit it off instantly because we're a lot alike. We like a lot of the same music, underground DJs and bands. We wanted to create dances to music that we liked. From that, we ended up with numbers that aren't traditional and were dubbed "the rebels of the ballroom". And that's weird for me, because I hate being in trouble. I'm an only child, I never got in trouble. So to be the 'rule-breaker' is funny for me."

I've always wondered how much control they had over their own routines, particularly the music, and apparently they do get to pick their music. Not all of it clears, so sometimes songs end up being chosen for them, but their Paso Doble song last week, by Deadmouse, was their choice.

I am very glad to know this, because I am going to stop feeling sorry for some of them when they end up with really sucky music. Apparently, they only have themselves to blame!

BTW: I asked how it was to work on that Paso Doble with Mark's mom of all people, and apparently it was just as weird as you'd imagine:

"It made for a lot of awkward moments. Usually when I meet the parents of a boy I've been spending a lot of time with, I try to make a good impressions and keep my distance...but she was instructing me to go for it. And grab his hair. So it went against everything I've tried to do my whole life. And when she wanted to make a point, she demonstrated. Which was even more awkward. Shirley Ballas is one intimidating woman. She is fierce and fabulous. But she doesn't sugarcoat it, so when she tells you something is good, it means a lot!"

I asked Chelsea if she was gonna take the whole competition, and walk away with that famed mirror ball trophy, and she said "I would like to. I really would like to."

And that's what I love about the show: Those stars get really competitive and intense about it, and I totally believe they want to win, and that it really matters to most of them to make it through to another week. To see people you are used to thinking of as famous and perhaps a bit impervious to life's disappointments get that invested makes all the difference.

It's also nice to see the camaraderie that forms between the dancers, the stars and everyone else, and according to Chelsea, they don't need to fake that. There's a fun, playful atmosphere, and this cast is spending time together even when they don't have to. Going out to dinner, going dancing, hanging out even though they're "not contractually obligated" to do so.

When we finally made it into our seats (front row, thanks Chelsea!!) for the show, you could see the how each couple responded to each other and the crowd. Kirstie works the crowd from the moment she walks in...waving, winking, making faces. Kendra really did seem so scared stiff and out of her element. Chelsie and Romeo looked extremely nervous...I think Chelsie thought they were going to go. They're all very easy and affectionate with one another, and during breaks looking out into the crowd for familiar faces. All of which were smiling and clapping and cheering...until our hands, arms and cheeks hurt!

I told Chelsea she was a lock to make the final three and get to show us her Freestyle, no pressure, and of course now I'm a little biased and definitely hope she does.

After the show was over, Chelsea came over and gave us a hug and thanked us for coming...and she let us know: She reads comments and tweets and blog posts obsessively, even if sometimes it's a little masochistic. She cares what people thinks, and as she put it, "When you're doing something for others, the audience, it's great to have a way to know if they liked it."

I could have gone on and on and on (I didn't even mention how we saw Nigel Lythgoe, because the AI studio is right next to the DWtS one!) but I figured I'd made you wait long enough for this post. Did you watch Tuesday's results show? Have any questions about what it's like behind the scenes? I'll try to answer from my admittedly limited experience!

And do you agree with me that Chelsea deserves top three? Leave a comment. She will definitely be reading :)

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