Heading into tonight’s Season 17 premier of “Dancing With the Stars,” judge Carrie Ann Inaba said she’s really excited to see a couple contestants who touch her heart in personal ways.
Jack Osbourne is the essence of perseverance, dancing this season to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis, a disease with which he was diagnosed a year ago.
“I don’t think he’s known for his spectacular dancing; that’s not why he’s doing the show,” Inaba, 45, told ABC News. ”He’s doing it to show people what you can do with MS.”
Indeed, Inaba said she can relate to Osbourne, 27.
“As somebody who struggles with health conditions, I am very impressed,” she added. “In 2007, I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. I was having pains in my neck. I ended up getting an MRI and was diagnosed.”
Inaba spoke to ABC as part of a promotion, not just for tonight’s premier, but for her work with Massage Envy, where on Sept. 18 the spa will donate $10 from every massage to the Arthritis Foundation in search of a cure.
“They’ve raised $1 million in the past two years,” she said. ”This year, the goal is $1 million in that one day.”
Inaba said Osbourne could possibly follow in his sister’s footsteps as someone who could make it far into the competition.
“If we look back at Jack’s sister, Kelly, she didn’t even have a disability except the fact she was truly a dark horse,” she said. ”Her determination took her to the end, she was in the final three. She captured the hearts of people and I think it really changed her life.”
Another contestant who is easy to root for is Valerie Harper, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier in the year and has since come close to remission.
Inaba can relate because her mother, Patricia, was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer in 2008 and is now a survivor.
“It’s going to be interesting to watch Valerie for sure,” she said. ”She’s captured the hearts of all of us. I want to see this courageous woman do her thing. I’m so impressed with her, the message she’s sending out to people that are suffering with cancer or in remission.”
A message of “Don’t die until you’re dead!” Harper, 74, told ABC at the cast reveal two weeks ago. “Don’t give up on your life, don’t just lay there.”
And then there’s Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi, 25.
“I’ve never seen her dance. I’ve seen her party like a rock star,” Inaba said of her on the “Jersey Shore.”
She added that her former reality show co-star Mike “The Situation” Sorentino didn’t do so well in 2010, but that’s no indication of how Snookie will do.
“She’s lost a lot of weight and I hear she’s in great shape, so it’ll be interesting to see how she does,” she said. ”She’s a woman with a purpose, so I wouldn’t put it past her to do well.”