So I said yes, packed my bags, and jetted off to a city I was barely familiar with and in which I knew hardly a soul. I was very lucky, however, to have a firmly established support system set up through the show. Within just a few days of landing in Los Angeles, I met close to a hundred people: producers, hair and makeup artists, wardrobe people, photographers, and fellow ballroom dancers. My head wasn't just spinning, it was doing pirouettes.
I was partnered with the singer Drew Lachey of the popular group 98 Degrees. Drew and I complemented each other with our strengths. I was good at dancing and teaching dance, and he was a good student and a natural-born ham for the cameras. Week after week we learned our routines, got good scores from the judges, and received lots of votes from the fans. It was a lot of fun but overwhelming at times, too, as I skyrocketed from being "just a dancer" to "that girl on Dancing with the Stars."
I'd always heard "Be careful what you wish for, for you just might get it," but I never realized how true it was until Drew and I started advancing week after week. It's not that I didn't want the two of us to do well on the show, but every week that we moved further in the competition meant another round of interviews with the press. I was terrified of the cameras—beyond terrified. The fame was new to me, and the whole idea of talking to the press was the scariest thing I could imagine, because I've always been a very shy and private person.
I was nervous to be in front of cameras and have microphones shoved in my direction. It seems silly; after all, I make my living in front of millions of television viewers each week, so why should a one-to-one interview in front of a camera make me break out in a sweat? It's simple: I am at home when I'm on the dance floor. For that one minute and thirty seconds that I have to dance on live television, I'm good to go because I am in my element, in my own world. It's the days and hours leading up to that time, and the moments right after, that I'm on edge. But unfortunately, I had to take one with the other.
"You're the performer, Drew, so you're used to all of this attention. You do all the talking, okay?" I begged him.
"Cheryl, you're an amazing dancer," he scoffed. "People want to talk to you, too."
"No," I insisted. "You are the celebrity, not me. I'm the dancer. Let me do what I need to do on the dance floor. You can do all the talking."
Finally Drew agreed—kind of. "Okay, leave it to me. But if they ask you something, don't be afraid. Be yourself. You'll be fine." I prayed that he was right.
As the season went on, people kept asking me little things about myself: Where was I from? Was I really only twenty-one? How did I like all of this attention? For that last one, I just tried to think of a polite way to say, "I don't! You're scaring me to death!"
A few weeks before we actually made it to the season two finale (and in between all of those terrifying interviews), the producers asked us what song we wanted for our freestyle dance. They surveyed the remaining three couples, because the show's music clearance department needed time to license the songs so it could play them on the air.