Exclusive Access: 'Dancing With the Stars' Behind the Scenes!

Go behind the scenes for a sneak peek with former finalist Melissa Rycroft.

Sept. 21, 2009— -- Tonight "Dancing With the Stars" kicks off its latest season with a live three-night event. The ninth season of the hit show promises more cha-cha, more salsa, more waltzing … and more star power.

It's the largest "Dancing With the Stars" cast ever this season -- with 16 celebrities -- and "GMA" special contributor and former "Dancing With the Stars" finalist Melissa Rycroft went behind the scenes to bring "GMA" an exclusive, all-access preview.

Once again, there's the wild variety of celebrities on the show, from star Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin to a veteran cowboy from Congress: former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

"What was your first impression when you heard I was your partner?" DeLay asked two-time champion Cheryl Burke, who returns for her eighth season as "The Hammer's" partner.

"I had to Google you," she said.

"Makeup says they could put abs on me," DeLay joked.

"Their makeup department is amazing. That's how I had abs from last season!" Rycroft joked. "They were all spray-painted on."

"It smells so good to be back here," Rycroft said. "It smells the same, although I don't smell the fear that I had the last time I was on this stage, so it's a good feeling."

Rycroft said it was fun to return to his dancing roots from a year ago, where an old friend and colleague stood behind every door. She ran into former dancing partner Tony Dovolani, who's paired with actress Kathy Ireland this year.

"It's fun to be back and not have to go out and dance with Tony," she said.

Dancing is a family affair this year, with George Hamilton's son Ashley and Marie Osmond's brother Donny.

"Want to see a preview?" Osmond asked.

Stars Practicing for 'Dancing With the Stars' Debuts

The celebrities and partners have been practicing for a month at gyms and dance studios all around Los Angeles.

Osmond has been practicing while doing his shown in Las Vegas and Macy Gray even practiced every day while on her European tour. She just got back a few days ago.

"Sometimes we would practice at the show at one, two in the morning," she said.

"We practiced in hallways behind the stage in conference rooms at the hotel," said her partner Jonathan Roberts.

Being on the show is a different experience for everyone. Louis Vito admitted he had never seen the show, and Michael Irvin was worried about what his appearance would do for his image.

"It took me years to build this tough man persona, and she wants me to lose it with a few hips and cha cha," Irvin said of partner Anna Demidova, who won the professional dance competition tryout and makes her first appearance on the show this season.

Since the show is live, Rycroft tested Ultimate Fighting Champion Chuck Liddell's ability to react to the something unexpected.

"What is your reaction ... if someone tries to put you in a bare-naked choke?" Rycroft asked "the Iceman."

"Depends on the size," joked Liddell. "Your size?"

"He's torturing me with the fox trot," Debi Mazar said of her partner. "It kills my neck."

Tom DeLay's 'Cute' Dancing Shoes

Practice is hard, and injuries are common. Rycroft sustained injuries last season, and there were so many injuries that that the show was forced to scale down on training time. This year Tom DeLay has already taken a hit, and he has the special shoes to prove it.

"They call it a prestress fracture," DeLay said of his injury. "They put me in these hiking boots. Aren't they cute?"

Hiking boots or not, he's ready to dance. And he'd better be -- the eight male contestants are up first tonight, followed by the female contestants Tuesday.

Rycroft said she was excited to return to her dancing roots.

"It's been just enough time that I missed it," she said on "GMA" today.

Her picks for season nine favorites?

"After seeing all the dancers I don't know," she said. ""I'm going to say Tony [Dovolani] and Michael [Irvin] are my favorites."