Melissa Rycroft on How to Succeed on 'Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team'
Over the years, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team has dug a little deeper than pom-poms and high-kicks, following hopefuls on their respective journeys. Competition remains at an all-time high when CMT’s long-running reality series returns for Season 14 with another slew of hopefuls looking to land a coveted spot in the famed squad.
Candidates will work with notable choreographers, and director Kelli Finglass and choreographer Judy Trammell have the arduous task of deciding their fate. Helping along the way is Dancing with the Stars’ Cheryl Burke and former Cowboys cheerleader and The Bachelor alum Melissa Rycroft.
“What this show gets to expose is, one, how hard the process is. Two, how much credit you have to give these girls,” Rycroft tells TV Insider. “These young girls who are 18 years old and what they have to overcome. This is the biggest thing they’ve ever done in their lives, and I get to watch them [grow over] three months. [They] come in as girls, scared and timid, and end up as these beautiful, intelligent, well-spoken women. I think it’s a great platform that sets them up to really kind of do whatever they want. It’s really fun to be able to see the evolution of these girls.”
Rycroft was a judge for the first three rounds of tryouts and mentored through the training camp. Being a mom who has been in their shoes affords her an empathetic approach. However, she must remember the task at hand.
“I think what’s great about bringing us all in is we have all different perspectives,” Rycroft explains. “Yes, I will be a judge and judge fairly. But part of why I think I’m in is because a lot of my judging comes from my heart now, especially having kids.
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“I look at these young girls, and I’m glad I don’t have to be the one that cuts them at the end of the day because I don’t think I would have the heart to do it. Knowing how much time and effort and preparation that these girls put into this process, it’s heartbreaking when they don’t make it at the end. So, my job is to come in and do everything I can to help them out so they make this team. How do you not get emotionally attached and invested.”
For the 36-year-old, the environment is quite different than when she was performing for the Cowboys over the course of two years, starting in 2006. This was before the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram age really exploded.
“Society has changed. We didn’t have social media back then. Now things are evolving and seems more difficult than it needs to be,” Rycroft notes. “Social media has definitely been a blessing and a curse sometimes for organizations like this. It can bring really good stuff, but at the same time, they’ve got to worry about security and perception and image.
“The industry has definitely changed. I think we are all trying to figure out where the future of cheerleading is, but I think the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders have definitely been one of the organizations that have really stayed the path. They are today what they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago. They are consistent.”
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Cheerleading for “America’s Team” brings a level of prestige, which is why the pressure is on for the newcomers to step up. At the same time, veterans can’t be complacent fighting to keep their spot. Rycroft believes the hardest part all year at auditions is the final phase when the veterans join the competition.
“I don’t know a year I’ve been involved that a veteran was not cut, which is really heartbreaking,” she says. “This year they had the most amount of veterans ever coming back. The process never gets easier. This year having that biggest group returning, probably one of the most talented groups of girls coming in. It was a really hard last day of auditions. I’ll say that.
As for what makes someone stand out, Rycroft details, “Somebody out there that is cool and calm and looks like they are having fun. Someone who has the whole package and is not trying too hard. I think unfortunately there are girls who try too hard and miss the mark. You have some who don’t try hard enough. Then you have that one little girl standing in front of you smiling and you think, ‘Yeah, she has got it.’ It’s all about potential. That’s what they always say going in. You don’t have to be perfect. They will turn you into the perfect version of yourself.”
Rycroft thinks the longevity of the popular series is largely due to viewers who root for their favorites after getting to know them. And she credits Trammell and Finglass for their commentary. Audiences also like the funny auditions, but at the end of the day, Rycroft says it’s about a group of girls who support each other with a common goal. A feel-good offering of programming.
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As a former contestant on The Bachelor and DWTS, Rycroft knows a thing or two about this unique realm of reality entertainment. She remains an avid Housewives fan, DWTS aficionado, and even a proud member of the Bachelor Nation, but she's admittedly disappointed with what she has been seeing overall.
“We got oversaturated with reality TV. And it’s starting to feel inauthentic,” she says. “People were trying to create personalities, persona, drama and I miss the rawness that comes with reality. I hope it goes back to that. That’s one of the things I like about this Making the Team is the rawness. There is no formulating because it comes with it’s through the process.”
Rycroft has brought daughter Ava Grace to the studio a few times with her. It’s an opportunity to observe how mom works with the potential next generation of cheerleaders.
“[Ava] doesn’t know what it entails right now,” she says. “She is at the age where it’s all glamorous, and she sees the pictures everywhere ... She loves the idea of it. Right now, she says she wants to follow in my footsteps and wear the uniform. I haven’t been like, ‘Girl, do you know how much time and effort that takes. It’s almost like a full-time job.' I’m not going to mess with the reality of it yet. She would love to be one though.”
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These days, the mother of three is happy juggling her career and family. Rycroft says she is back to 100 percent and enjoying the the rest of the summer after making headlines falling ill during a trip with her husband and kids to the Dominican Republic.
“It’s a weird circumstance. Things can happen anywhere. You go on vacation and you let your guard down, and I mean that in a good way. You’re on vacation and trust everything around you,” she states. “We had our whole family with us to enjoy, but if you’re going on vacation, just be prepared. Don’t let that guard go too low. Stay safe. More people than not are safe and okay.”
It’s these times where Rycroft feels you can’t take anything for granted and live life to the fullest.
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, Season 14 Premiere, Friday, August 2, 9/8c, CMT