Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe
Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves took the trophy for the fifth season of "Dancing With The Stars" Tuesday night, hoisting a silver disco ball in the air while jumping up and down in a shower of gold confetti. He was wearing a canary-yellow jacket, and it all seemed blissfully appropriate: This show has the feel of a musical revue on a family-friendly cruise ship.
Indeed, it's hard to find an example of mainstream entertainment that's so unapologetically uncynical, embracing sequins, tulle, and pas-de-deux dances that tell cute little stories. So of course, Tuesday night's finale featured Celine Dion, singing "My Heart Will Go On," accompanied by dancers in flowing pastels. And, of course, nobody blinked when host Tom Bergeron - who carries himself like Ryan Seacrest's dad after a glass and a half of wine - declared the trophy "history's greatest celebrity dancing accolade." The only vaguely-dicey moment of the two-hour finale occurred after eliminated soap star Cameron Mathison took off his shirt and third-season champion Drew Lachey poked fun at him by pretending to unbutton his pants.
But it was over quickly: Despite the exposed skin and constant gyrations, this show feels oddly chaste, perhaps because it's all so safe. The professional dancers are established, if somewhat unsung. The stars have nothing to lose and only publicity to gain. Even model/actress Josie Maran, eliminated in the contest's first week, managed to squeeze in a plug Tuesday night for her upcoming makeup line.
Still, it's clear that when they're training, the celebrities here work exceedingly hard. And Tuesday night's final dances were suitably impressive. Castroneves and his partner, the ever-smiling Julianne Hough, reprised an energetic quick-step. Spice Girl Melanie Brown, in a sparkling orange dress with massive cutouts, danced an exuberant mambo with her partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy. The judges, who haven't exactly been stingy with scores this season, awarded each of them a perfect 30 out of 30.
It was the voting from viewers that pushed Castroneves over the top - and proved that, as with most TV competitions, viewers prefer some cocktail of talent and personality. Mel B was technically grand, but always seemed a little harsh, especially when she used a whip as a prop. Marie Osmond, the lovable second-runner-up, always struggled with her footwork. (Tuesday night's show made only glancing mention of her famous faint, and some of the other offstage drama that made so many headlines this season.)
But Castroneves consistently brought the exuberance of a kid who has recently discovered sugar candy. In one video clip aired Tuesday night, he talked determinedly to his feet, ordering them to follow his directions. It was a charming moment - Gene Kelly couldn't have pulled it off better - and it encapsulates what audiences want from their 8 p.m.-hour TV. In an era of snark and cynicism, this show has met an untapped need. No wonder movie musicals have made a comeback, too.
Joanna Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.