Hollywood is abuzz with fresh Irish talent, and the most recent newbie, Tristan MacManus, is attracting quite a large fan base – not surprisingly female – with his star turn as Nancy Grace’s dancing partner on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.
MacManus, 29, was fresh off an interview with Good Morning America and about to go into six hours of dancing rehearsal with his partner Grace, the pit-bull anchor of her own investigative crime show on Headline News, when he took a 20-minute breather to speak to the Irish Voice last Friday.
So how did a young Irish lad end up on one of America’s most watched entertainment programs?
“Well, it all started when I was about nine. Me and my sister took dancing classes in Wicklow and it progressed from there,” said MacManus, who hails form Bray, Co. Wicklow.
Realizing he had a flair for all kinds of dancing, MacManus began entering competitions. Year after year his mother was forced to remove family pictures in their living room to make space for all of her son’s mounting trophies.
“I spent a good bit of time in Dublin and then began traveling to places like London, Sweden and Italy to compete in competitions,” he said.
Although he tried his hand at Irish dancing while in primary school, MacManus knew his future wasn’t with shows like Riverdance or Lord of the Dance. He likes to work his hips, which is evident from his moves on Dancing With the Stars, and Latin style soon became his guilty pleasure.
It was this kind of dancing that brought him to New York on September 10, 2001.
“Yes, what a day to arrive in New York, the day before 9/11,” he said.
But the terror attacks didn’t deter MacManus from his dream. He was adamant about making it in the country where dreams really do come true, and he spent a significant amount of time showing off his moves professionally on Broadway.
MacManus, whose grandparents spent many years living in New Jersey before returning to Ireland, moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of this year to take part in Dancing With the Stars. On season 12 this past spring he was part of the show’s dance troupe who entertained viewers during the results show each week.
The young Irishman had been traveling the country with a ballroom dancing show called Burn the Floor when he was spotted by Dancing With the Stars scouts for his flair and talent.
“I wasn’t the first from Dancing With the Stars to be chosen from this show. Kym Johnson, Mark (Ballas) and Derek (Hough) have all been on it so I was just following in their footsteps,” said MacManus.
No doubt his Irish charm, single status and striking looks helped seal the deal.
Although his contract was only for the 10 weeks of season 12, MacManus told the Irish Voice there was always the “possibility” that he would be kept on for the following season.
However, he was elated to discover during the summer that he had been promoted to dancing partner for the current season 13.
“I guess they (producers) were happy enough with the work I did in the troupe last season,” he said proudly.
“I also had to do a few days where someone who couldn’t dance would come in and I would have to teach them to dance, so I guess that was an audition in itself.”
MacManus is very realistic about being on the show, and has no intention of letting fame go to his head.
“It’s very exciting to be on the show but I’m taking it as it is,” he said in a thick Irish accent.
He doesn’t consider himself a celebrity. When asked if he hangs out with any of the Irish celebrities living in LA he laughed off the question.
“To be honest I don’t have the time or really know any of them. This really is just a job for me, it’s work and I don’t really have any interest in that sort of thing,” he said.
Speaking of his Irish accent -- Grace told him he sounded like a leprechaun on the first show -- MacManus said a lot of people had problems understanding his lilt at the beginning, but people are “finally getting used to it.”
On his relationship with tough-as-nails television host and prosecutor Grace, MacManus said, “Yes, we get on great. She is great. She works very hard and really wants this. I’m very happy with her and things are going well at the moment.”
And it’s imperative that they do get on because Grace and MacManus spend seven days a week together rehearsing for the following week’s show.
“It’s pretty intense at the moment but we really have to put the time in,” he said.
Grace and MacManus made headlines across the country last week when it appeared that she had a wardrobe malfunction -- part of her breast came out of her dress for a split second.
“I had no idea it had happened to be honest, my attention was no where near there so I don’t know,” he laughed when asked about the incident.
On Monday night’s show they performed a waltz inspired by Grace’s husband and twins, but the judges were underwhelmed and gave them a score of only 21. Therefore, they’ll have to rely on their fan base even more in order to continue on in the competition.
On the challenges of a new dance each week, MacManus said they are all difficult.
“Every week it’s something new so we just take it as it comes, embrace it and hope for the best,” he says.
Although home is always where the heart is, MacManus hasn’t been back in Wicklow for Christmas in years.
“I’ve been on tour so much up to this, but this year I’m looking forward to spending some time at home over the holidays because my schedule with this show will allow it,” he said sounding genuinely excited.
In the meantime, his family is due to visit him next week in LA to see him dancing live on television.
“The support from Ireland has been great too, so I’m thrilled,” he said.
Before being rushed off the phone to start his rehearsals with Grace, MacManus made sure to thank all his Irish and Irish American supporters.
“Thanks so much for the support and votes. Keep it up and we’ll continue to try our hardest,” he said.
When MacManus’s rehearsals came to a close on Friday he was whisked off to various other interviews and back to the studio for a wardrobe fitting for Monday night’s show.
“It’s all go all right, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.