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What's ahead this season on 'Dancing With the Stars'

The "Dancing With the Stars" cast from left,

The "Dancing With the Stars" cast from left, "Bachelorette" Hannah Brown, ex-NBA player Lamar Odom, ex-Trump press secretary Sean Spicer, singer Mary Wilson, Fifth Harmony singer Ally Brooke, NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, "Quee Eye" star Karamo Brown, actress Kate Flannery, actor James Van Der Beek, singer Lauren Alaina, actor Kel Mitchell and supermodel Christie Brinkley.   Credit: ABC / Justin Stephens

A little older, a little wiser, and a little bit different, too, "Dancing With the Stars" returns Monday (8 p.m., ABC/7) after nearly a yearlong absence, and with a whole new mandate. In a word (or two), that would be to survive.

The 27th season, which wrapped last November, saw the lowest average viewing figures in franchise history, averaging about 8.7 million, or down two million from the season before. A Top Ten show since its 2005 launch, "DWTS" hadn't seen that kind of low-water mark since ... well, since forever.

The key change for the 28th season, therefore, involves voting. For the first time in show history, there will not be an audience vote for Monday's opening edition. Only the votes of the judges — Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli — will be counted, and those will then carry over to the following week, when those votes will be combined with their week two scores. Only at that point will the audience vote be tabulated and combined with theirs, leading to the first elimination.

Sounds innocent enough, but practical outcome could be dramatic: There won't be an elimination the first week, which ensures that dancers — even the very worst of them — will get another shot next week. Moreover, this places the judges on somewhat more equal footing with the viewing audience, at least at the outset of the season.

To that end, here's the other big change: Live audience votes each week will take place only during the live broadcast, and those will then be added to the judges' scores during the show. This means you'll know who's going after the last commercial break.

Again, this is a dramatic change because it appears designed to avert a repeat of last season's truly nutty outcome, when radio personality Bobby Bones won. Bones typically got lousy judge scores, but high audience ones, propelling him to victory. This season, the judges — and ABC — are intent on turning "DWTS" back into a dancing contest, not a popularity one.

"DWTS" also appears to be getting back into the "star" business. In previous seasons — a few too many to count, perhaps — the celebrity dancers became more and more obscure, if almost to the point of anonymity, turning the selections and selection process into a running joke on late night, specifically ABC's own late night show, "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

This year's crowd, for the most part, is composed of real stars, or at least recognizable public figures, including Bridgehampton supermodel Christie Brinkley, former Supremes singer Mary Wilson, Lamar Odom, James Van der Beek, country music star Lauren Alaina and of course former Trump administration press secretary Sean Spicer, who was born in Manhasset. His addition to the cast has already added that other necessary "DWTS" ingredient — a touch of controversy. (Host Tom Bergeron last month said he regretted that a political figure had joined the cast.)

Another change that could add a little spice to the proceedings: Audiences won't know who the celebrities' pro partners are until Monday's telecast.

Meanwhile, there's the dance music, and that — in fact — does sound familiar. ABC released a list last week of some of the songs that will be used Monday. Those include Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman!,” Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good,” Lizzo’s “Juice” and Imagine Dragons’ “Whatever It Takes.”

 Yup, whatever it takes. 

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