Homespun Marie Osmond Out-Waltzes the Stars

"I think it's premature to call a winner," said host Bergeron. "Even though people say the vote is a popularity contest, that changes over the course of the season. People shift their allegiances, though initially your fans move you along heavily."

While critics say Osmond relies more on personality, Bergeron insists a number of factors yield a winner. "You can't isolate those things," he said. "It's almost like eating soup. You can't figure out which ingredients are most important."

Internet blogs show that Osmond's biggest fans are her contemporaries -- like Lita Kaler, a 48-year-old Illinois mother and entrepreneur.

Knows What She Likes

"I know nothing about ballroom dancing, I only know what I like, what entertains me and makes me smile," she wrote ABC News. "The 'best dancer' is opinion."

Kaler comes from a big family -- seven siblings and "untold nieces, nephews and greats," so she relates to Osmond's persona. "I get the big family thing, which, if you don't come from one, is hard to grasp. If you grew up with the Osmonds, you soon realized you were not simply a fan, but part of a huge family," she said.

"We grew up with her," said Kaler. "We feel as if she is a long-lost distant relative. She seems to exhibit that 'can do' attitude. She is a genuine article, what you see is what you get."

Dave Wagner, 47, of San Jose, Calif., said Osmond will win the competition not just because she is a "household name" but because she has learned the dance moves. Meanwhile, Wagner's girls, ages 18 and 14, prefer contestants Castroneves and Brown.

"She just has this endearing quality about her that attracts people," said Wagner, a statistics professor. "She has the whole package, not just good dance scores. Everybody can identify with her trying to be a moral person and raise kids."

The show's producers understand that the buzz surrounding Osmond's talent -- or lack thereof -- is the perfect recipe for a successful show.

"It's such a hit they don't want to mess with it," said television critic Mike Duffy of the Detroit Free Press. "Marie Osmond has been a walking goldmine. There seems to be a well of affection for her. And when she fainted on the show, she seemed so plucky and had a sense of humor. She's not a prima donna."

But, adds Duffy, who at 62 has lived through all the variations of the Osmonds, there are those who view the heartland family as "kitch and silly."

His colleagues on the entertainment pages of the Baltimore Sun call Osmond "endlessly chipper."

The newspaper has officially declared her a has-been, citing 10 reasons why Osmond should not win the competition. Among them were "They might invite Sanjaya to dance next," and "Empowered by the win, the family (all 300,000 of them) could rise up and form a United States of Osmond."

A New Interest in Dance

Still, dancing isn't all about technique, according to Angela Prince, public relations director for USA Dance, the national governing body for ballroom dancing, who said "Dancing With the Stars" has boosted interest in dance.

"If it were all about the steps, we wouldn't have so many people involved in dance," said Prince. "It's not about how good you are, but the fact that you are dancing. It unifies people and breaks barriers."

The show's executives are bracing for Osmond's potential win and are adamant that voting rules would never be changed to give more weight to the judges' evaluations.

"I don't think you invalidate the voting approach if you're not happy with who won," said host Bergeron.

"People have a history they bring with them, as with the Osmonds and Donny and Marie," he said. "So when I see her out there at 48 years old, doing a damn fine job dancing, you have to join that with the nostalgia factor."

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