Video: Big shoes to fill on ‘Dancing’

updated 9/12/2006 6:02:18 PM ET 2006-09-12T22:02:18

Tucker Carlson entered the dance studio in August dragging his two left feet.  Tonight, he makes his “Dancing with the Stars” debut a changed man, a man -- in his own words -- who is “almost good” at dancing.

“I let the dancing within, out,” Carlson said.  “You can’t hold back any more.  You try to repress it.  You try to tell America you’re not a dancer, but you’re lying to yourself.”

Carlson has come a long way.

When the veteran reporter and MSNBC host returned from reporting on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in August, he was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of trading in his Middle East assignment for four-hour-a-day dance practices.

He complained that he hated doing things he wasn’t good at ; he bemoaned sacrificing his summer vacation and time with the family to master the Cha Cha; he proclaimed dancing the equivalent of memorizing long lists of 3-digit numbers (not easy for a man who never took math after 10th grade).

Today, he has a new analogy for dancing.

“It’s like eating fried clams,” said Carlson, who, for the record, enjoys fried clams.  “If you thought about what you’re doing when you’re eating fried calms, it wouldn’t get within half a mile in your mouth.  You can’t think about it. You just have to open up and swallow.”

That’s where his job hosting “Tucker” at MSNBC comes in handy, Carlson said.  As the only contestant working the “traditional” five day a week schedule, he doesn’t have the opportunity to over think his routine.  His show – which until recently aired live at 11 p.m. (now it airs at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET) – has kept him from watching much primetime TV, including even one episode of “Dancing with the Star’s” first two seasons. This doesn’t worry Carlson at all.

“I’ve totally done my homework because my homework is spiritual,” Carlson said. “It’s all about getting your head in the right place.  It’s a lot like any live TV show.”

Carlson got his first taste of dancing in the national spotlight when he taped an appearance for last Sunday’s “The Chris Matthews Show” – almost.

“He (Chris Matthews) just said give us a demonstration.  They turned up the Latin music and I danced across the set,” Tucker said.  “Unfortunately I danced out of my spotlight.”

Even so, Mathews was impressed.

“It’s hard to compete with a talking head with dancing feet,” Matthews said.

Carlson also has the endorsement of his wife and four children. 

“They’re totally psyched,” he said of the family.  “They’re amused with it too, I think.  We have a lot of kitchen practice in my house.”

Between the kitchen and the studio, Carlson – who promises several surprises tonight – hopes to make it past that first crucial round tonight.

“My strategy is to dance as well as I can and pray,” he said.  “I did this whole thing for the experience so I can’t lose.”

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