"Dancing With the Stars" was a come-out-of-nowhere surprise hit back in the summer of 2005, when "General Hospital" mainstay Kelly Monaco beat out five rivals to capture the first mirror-ball trophy.
Now, seven years and 14 cycles later, Monaco returns to take on 12 other fan favorites in the show's first-ever all-star edition (8 p.m. Monday, ABC). Meanwhile, she'll pull double duty, continuing to play Sam McCall on "General Hospital" in a story line that has her character splitting with her husband, played by Steve Burton, who is leaving the show after 21 years,
We caught up with Monaco at the recent television press tour. She spoke about her stint on "Stars" and life on a daytime drama that has managed to survive at a time when so many others have expired.
Q It's been a while. Are you ready for this ("DWTS")?
A Definitely. I'm up for a challenge and I'm super-amped to meet new people, learn new dances and to just be a part of such an epic show. I think this is going to be a huge hit. I think the competition level is going to be tremendous.
Q In the years since you've been on "DWTS," the dances have become more strenuous and intricate, and the competition has been ratcheted up. Do you find that daunting?
A I'm a realist. I understand that the competition level is really intense. A lot of these contestants are extremely skilled and outside of my level. So my plan is to just go in there, and be me, and
Q And you're ready to face those harsh judges again?
A I don't care if they think I suck. I can take criticism. It doesn't really matter. Win or lose, I'm happy to be a part of it. Plus, I have another job, so I don't have a whole lot riding on this.
Q We've talked to past contestants who said their time on the show has inspired them to be dancers for life. How about you?
A False. I've done no dancing since then. At all.
Q Except for that one time on "General Hospital," right?
A FYI, that was seven years ago and during the show. I thought: You (writers) are out of your mind. I have never intentionally tanked a story line, until then.
Q Isn't it difficult to concentrate on "DWTS" and find time to rehearse when you're still shooting "GH"?
A Yes, that's tough. But I'll manage. I'll find a way.
Q At a time when daytime dramas are dying, ABC has given "GH" what seems to be a vote of confidence. Do you and your cast mates feel rejuvenated?
A Well, Kelly is, but Sam is miserable. She's really depressed and unsure of herself. So hopefully, she gets some cojones during this story line. She needs to have a bit of a backbone.
Q What are you hearing from the fans about the reviving of the Sam and Elizabeth (Rebecca Herbst) rivalry?
A It's interesting because Becky and I are such good friends. It's so funny to read about the Elizabeth-Sam feuds (online). It's a big-time story line, so I hope they give us a lot of drama. That's what's it all about.
Q With the new producers, do you think the show has found some new energy?
A We're totally rejuvenated. Look, whether we survive or not, we're going to go down fighting. We're in it together. There are no egos. ... We have a really talented group of people and I hope we get recognized. It's fun storytelling. People need to remember: Escape, relax, and forget your life for 42 minutes.