Is 'Dancing' the new rehab?

Rapper Lil' Kim has rebounded from her ''naughty'' years to show a sensitive side on ''Dancing With the Stars.'' Rapper Lil' Kim has rebounded from her ''naughty'' years to show a sensitive side on ''Dancing With the Stars.'' (Chris Pizzello/associate press/file)
By Erin Carlson
Associated Press / April 11, 2009
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NEW YORK - Not so long ago, rapper Lil' Kim perpetuated an X-rated public image that could make even the baddest girls blush.

Her raunchy roster of songs include the hit "Magic Stick" and lyrics much too graphic to repeat. She served 10 months in prison for lying to a federal grand jury about a 2001 gun battle outside a New York radio station.

But now - nearly two years out of jail - Kim haunts the PG-rated pastures of "Dancing With the Stars." Watching her twirl like a princess in floaty chiffon and weep with joy after her successful Argentine tango, it's easy to forget the wild woman who wore a purple pasty on an exposed breast on national TV.

Viewers are rooting for Kim, along with more wholesome contestants such as Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. After her well reviewed performance Monday, the rapper said the ABC dance competition was "bring- ing out the sensitive side of Lil' Kim."

Which begs the question: Is "Dancing With the Stars" the new rehab? With each season, celebrity dancers of varying degrees of infamy seek redemption on the family show. Witnessing, say, a formerly jailed rapper shake her bon-bon (and ex-con status) might be part of the cheeky fun.

"The strange thing is a lot of people have been on the show who do come from a more slightly edgy background or who have got a reputation possibly for being more edgy - when they get on the show, tend to be very likable," says executive producer Conrad Green.

The eighth season of the top-rated series recruited some other bawdy contestants: "Jackass" daredevil Steve-O, who recently completed rehab after battling drug addiction; Denise Richards, whose messy divorce from Charlie Sheen branded her a tabloid target; and Holly Madison, former Playboy playmate and girlfriend of Hugh Hefner.

The show, which debuted in 2005, has a history of extending the spotlight and second chances to Hollywood oddballs, outcasts, and others with sordid back stories. Some examples: actress Tatum O'Neal, who recounted her drug addiction recovery in a memoir; Heather Mills, who went through a nasty divorce from Paul McCartney; E! reality star Kim Kardashian, who rose to fame because of a sex tape; and Jerry Springer, the impresario of trash TV.

Green says the show had a "breakthrough" in the third season by casting Springer, an unexpected fan favorite, loving father, and good sport.

"He showed a completely different side of himself," says Green.

That certainly strikes a nerve with Kardashian. Millions of viewers "were able to see that I'm a lot more shy and reserved than people would probably assume," she says.

Producers seek out celebs with interesting stories and build the rest of the cast around them, Green says. He had considered Steve-O (real name: Stephen Glover) since the beginning but didn't approach him until "he entered rehab and sorted his life out."

Who'd complete Green's dream cast? Former President Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson, who have both weathered sex scandals far more humiliating than Lil' Kim's prison stint.

"Karina [Smirnoff] and Bill Clinton, now that would be dynamite," Green says, considering possible pairings. "I actually think he'd be quite a good mover."