Lynette Rice
March 04, 2011 AT 12:00 PM EST

Since it’s next to impossible to top a lightning rod like Bristol Palin, ABC decided to steer clear of politics for season 12 of Dancing With the Stars: For the most high-profile contestant, it picked an outspoken tabloid queen who once paid tribute to her husband’s man parts while accepting an Emmy. Granted, Kirstie Alley probably won’t rally the Tea Partiers to park their butts in front of the TV, but the Fat Actress star will likely inject a much-needed dose of humor into a show that was drowning in hate mail and voting conspiracy theories last season because of Sarah Palin‘s daughter. ”Bristol hit a toxic nerve in this country,” admits executive producer Conrad Green. ”It was fantastic, how engaged viewers became. But it got hysterical at the end.”

So will viewers go crazy over the latest round of hoofers (announced Feb. 28)? Sadly, some wild rumors about the latest cast proved to be unfounded. (No Vera Wang, Faye Dunaway, or Lindsay Lohan?) But as expected, ABC stuck with tradition and assembled a typical (if slightly unstarry) lineup of pop stars, teen celebs, and pro athletes. Why keep going back to the same well? ”A heckuva lot of people want to do the show, but it doesn’t make it any easier to book,” admits Green. ”It’s a very demanding show to take on, and you have to clear your diary for three and a half months. And a lot of people are really bad dancers.”

When the show returns March 21, count on more theme weeks like last season’s tributes to rock & roll and TV, as well as those nail-biting instant dances. Just don’t think Dancing voting will suddenly be transparent simply because Palin prompted talk of a ballot-rigging conspiracy. ”It kills the suspense of the show,” says Green. ”If you know how people are voting, it will skew things massively. We’re happy to explain how the voting works, but most people’s eyes just glaze over.”

Dancing‘s Season 12 cast:

Wendy Williams, 46, a hilariously frank talk-show host

Ralph Macchio, 49, the baby-faced star of three Karate Kid movies and My Cousin Vinny

Romeo, 21, once known as Lil Romeo, is a rapper, actor, and son of past DWTS participant Master P

Kirstie Alley, 60, starred on Fat Actress, Veronica’s Closet, and, of course, Cheers

Kendra Wilkinson, 25, the former star of E!’s The Girls Next Door and the current star of her own eponymous reality show

Sugar Ray Leonard, 54, the Olympic gold-medal-winning boxer who, as a pro, famously claimed world titles in five weight divisions

Chelsea Kane, 22, best known for playing Stella on Disney Channel’s Jonas L.A.

Hines Ward, 34, an NFL Pro Bowler from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the third wide receiver to appear on DWTS

Chris Jericho, 40, a pro wrestler who won 23 championships in the WWE

Petra Nemcova, 31, a Czech model who’s been linked to James Blunt and Sean Penn

Psycho Mike, a.k.a. Michael Catherwood, 31, a popular deejay for KROQ in Los Angeles

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