FRISCO - The success of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders is undeniable. "America's Sweethearts" are an international brand, so much so that the star-spangled uniform hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Director Kelli Finglass has been instrumental in creating an institution that is "often imitated but never equaled." Finglass wore the iconic uniform for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders from 1984 to 1989. Upon DCC retirement, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones swiftly hired Finglass as assistant director. Finglass was promoted in 1991 and the department became a successful profit center for the first time in their 20 year history.
After spending a year in the Covid-19 bubble, “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team,” is back for a 16th season, premiering on CMT on Friday, September 17 at 9p/8c. Competing for a highly-coveted spot on the most iconic professional cheerleading team in America during a global pandemic leads to a unique season.
"This season is special because it is the season that couldn't and shouldn't happen," Finglass said. "We are all dealing with a changed world. Typically our auditions are very planned and predictable ... This has been the most fluid and dynamic environment. We all had to learn new ways of doing things... How do you pick a dance team without meeting them?"
In a year unlike any other, this season will spotlight the 600-plus candidates that submitted online audition tapes, with 25 rookies chosen to battle it out for a chance. It is the largest training camp the organization has ever held. The cheerleaders that make the squad get to perform at AT&T Stadium, cheering on the Cowboys, who currently have the best odds (+125 on FanDuel) to win the NFC East Division. Finglass revealed that the tedious process helped the coaches to better know the dancers and joked that from the video submissions, she now knows which team members have the best-landscaped yards at their homes.
"We have adjusted, rallied and we have an amazing group because of it," Finglass said. "This year we get to celebrate being back together. That is what is most special about season 16. You'll see cheerleaders in tears because they get to do a kick line again, get to share their locker room again or have a game-day meal together again. Those moments that we might have previously taken for granted have become moments of tearful gratefulness."
Did Finglass ever dream that the reality show was going to be so wildly successful as CMT's most-popular and longest-running TV show?
"No, (when it started) I hardly knew what a pilot TV show was," Finglass said. "My vision was to show people what our auditions were like, kind of what used to be the talent portion of a pageant so people could see all the great solos and dancers. I could never have imagined how the backstories filled out an entire season. I never could have imagined the interest level."
The newest season isn't all "warm and fuzzy." Finglass teased that there is drama, abrupt departures and some "lessons in grace, maturity and decision making." The show will feature major makeovers, a viewer-favorite.
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In my exclusive interview (videos below) with Finglass, the East Texas native also divulged what it is like to work for "visionary" Jones, what happens when the cameras turn off and her best advice to aspiring dancers who want to join DCC.
Advice for aspiring Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders:
Finglass' favorite Jerry Jones story:
DCC: When the camera's are not rolling
Did you know the DCC uniform is in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History?