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Dancing Tries Bold Step: Fewer, Bigger Stars

Dancing With the Stars will have an extra-celestial twist when the ABC ballroom dance show returns March 22.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon and the show's first astronaut, will be among 11 celebrity hoofers. "I'm not a dancer, but I've decided to give it a whirl," says Aldrin, at 80, the second-oldest celebrity (after actress Cloris Leachman, 82 at the time) to compete on Stars.

Aldrin isn't the only buzz surrounding the show's 10th edition, which hopes to re-energize viewer interest with a smaller but higher-profile celebrity cast, down 30 percent from last season's 16.

Aldrin's rivals include Jon&Kate Plus 8 star Kate Gosselin - tabloid-headline fodder since her marriage crumbled last fall - Olympian Evan Lysacek, NFL showboat Chad Ochocinco and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, who was surreptitiously filmed nude by a stalker last year.

"We wanted a cast that had impact - we needed every single name to pop," says Deena Katz, Stars' chief celebrity wrangler. Stars averaged 18.2 million viewers last season, a 13 percent drop from Season 8's 20.2 million, hurt by a lackluster cast and Fox rival So You Think You Can Dance. "We learned some lessons," says executive producer Conrad Green.

Skater Lysacek signed on before winning gold at the Vancouver Games. Stars had sought Andrews, who has been unable to schedule dance time because of her ESPN schedule, for two years.

Andrews wavered for weeks, worried about her credibility as a journalist and a perception that she was capitalizing on post-stalker notoriety. Ultimately, she signed on. "I needed to have some fun; this is a way to get my smile back," she says.

Aldrin was long reticent about parlaying his Apollo 11 lunar exploits. But Stars is his latest leap into the limelight. He took a giant step for rap-kind in 2009, joining Snoop Dogg to record Rocket Experience, whose proceeds benefit Aldrin's non-profit ShareSpace Foundation. That came on the heels of his memoir, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From the Moon, which detailed his battles with depression and alcoholism.

Why Dancing With the Stars? "To promote space travel and, for me, to demonstrate how to have a good time," Aldrin says.

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