"Dancing With the Stars" Cast Revealed: Cody Simpson, Nene Leakes and James Maslow Are Among the Names

By Kristin Dos Santos
|  Tuesday, Mar 4, 2014  |  Updated 11:00 AM EDT
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NeNe Leakes walks the runway at the The Red Dress Collection 2014 on Thursday, Feb 6, 2014 in New York.

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Nene Leakes, Cody Simpson and Drew Carey are just a few of the big names joining the new season of "Dancing With the Stars" for the ABC reality series' 18th season, premiering March 24 on ABC.

Here are the stars and their pro partners:

Billy Dee Williams & Emma Slater
Candace Cameron Bure & Mark Ballas
Charlie White & Sharna Burgess
Cody Simpson & Witney Carson
Danica McKellar & Valentin Chmerkovskiy
Diana Nyad & Henry Byalikov
Drew Carey & Cheryl Burke
James Maslow & Peta Murgatroyd
Meryl Davis & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
NeNe Leakes & Tony Dovolani
Sean Avery & Karina Smirnoff
Amy Purdy & Derek Hough

So what exactly are producers going after in their casting choices this year? Let's break it down:

MORE: Juan Pablo Galavis "No Longer Wanted" on "Dancing With the Stars"

The Heartthrobs

Cody Simpson (a 17-year-old Australian pop singer) and James Maslow (a 23-year-old Nickelodeon star and singer in boy band Big Time Rush) are a clear attempt to reel in younger viewers--and social media pickup. (Simpson has 7 million Twitter followers; Maslow has close to 3 million.) "DWTS's" ratings in the key 18-49 demo have been slipping in recent seasons, as younger viewers have been changing over to NBC's "The Voice" on Monday nights. The network's #1 priority for "DWTS" is to attract more viewers in the 18-34 range, a source tells E! News. That is also the primary reason Brooke Burke-Charvet was replaced with Erin Andrews as Tom Bergeron's co-host for season 18, we are told.

The Athletes--With a Twist

"DWTS" has had plenty of athletes in the past, but this year they are choosing athletes who have interesting--even incredible--backstories, including:

Diana Nyad, 64, a swimmer and motivational speaker who broke the long-distance swim world record when she swam from Cuba to Florida in 53 hours--without the protection of a shark cage. Sean Avery, 33, a Canadian hockey player (and model) known for his controversial antics--on and off the ice. Avery was the was the first athlete in New York to speak out for marriage equality, and works with Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization focused on ending homophobia in the sports community.

You've also, of course, got your Olympians: Figure skaters Charlie White, 26, and Meryl Davis, 27, who could follow in Kristy Yamaguchi's footsteps as one of the best ballroom dancers of all time. (She is the highest-scoring dancer in DWTS history.)

The TV Stars Middle-Aged Women Love

This includes Drew Carey, 55, the beloved host of "Price Is Right" and "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"; Candace Cameron Bure (37, DJ Tanner on "Full House") and Danica McKellar (39, Winnie Cooper on "The Wonder Years"), who will pull on the nostalgia-TV heartstrings; and Nene Leakes, 46, who stars on Bravo's highest-rated Housewives series, "Real Housewives of Atlanta." Nene is the second housewife to star on "DWTS"--Lisa Vanderpump appeared on season 16 (for a short time, before she fainted and left the series).

NEWS: Maksim Chmerkovskiy Is Returning to "Dancing With the Stars"

The...Um...Sci Fi Guy?

Billy Dee Williams, 76, is a Motown singer and movie actor who has a following among the sci-fi crowd, thanks to his roles in two "Star Wars" films and "Batman." We had heard rumblings that ABC wanted to lure in more male viewers this season on "Dancing with the Stars." So...maybe there was some truth to that?

We're not so sure sci-fi geeks are going to tune in each week for spandex and waltzes, but it should be an interesting season!

What do you think of the new cast?

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