When Jaleel White first entered prime time, it was 1990 and he was 12. He was brought on to ABC’s TGIF comedy “Family Matters” for a onetime guest spot.
He ended up stealing the show and enjoyed a celebrated nine-year run as love-struck, nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel. (He also played, at times, Steve’s Dixie-fried cousin, Myrtle, and his super-suave alter ego, Stefan Urquelle.)
Now 35, he’s back on ABC competing on “Dancing With the Stars.” The show biz climate has grown noticeably nastier in the interim, and White has become a tabloid target, including a rumor of clashing with his dance partner, Kym Johnson. The former child star remains an affable guy with an unquenchable urge to entertain.
Amid “Dancing’s” virtually nonstop schedule of rehearsing and performing, he indulged us in an email version of 10 Questions.
Q: You’re the son of a dentist. Have you ever had a cavity?
A: Yup (insert shame face here).
Q: You did dozens of commercials as a kid. What do you remember from the Pudding Pop ad you did with Bill Cosby when you were 6?
A: I just remember the Cos always having a cigar in his mouth and me not wanting to eat Pudding Pops for a long, long time after so many takes.
Q: If you had known then what you know now, what would you have done to get ready for the show?
A: There is no way to prepare for the challenge that is “Dancing With the Stars” other than to get your cardio up, Up, UP!
Q: How fierce was the fighting among the career-dance ladies to be your partner?
A: Haha. No fighting at all. Who you end up with is a surprise to both partners.
Q: You danced in a Cee Lo Green video. What moves in your repertoire are not proving useful in the ballroom?
A: Anything from the Michael Jackson or Bobby Brown music video era will not help me here.
Q: What’s your routine after a full day of rehearsals?
A: EPSOM SALT BATHS. And watching episodes of “Dexter.”
Q: When you step out on the floor to perform with Kym, what’s going through your mind?
A: You KNOW this, J. Don’t screw up the after-party.
Q: You must have been pressured, but you’ve stayed away from dressing like Steve Urkel, or saying his catchphrase or doing his hideous signature dance. Why?
A: Most people are interested in seeing me dance well and aren’t interested in me making a mockery of my old character. It’s like 2 out of 10 people who want that.
Q: What’s the wildest offer you’ve ever gotten to reprise Urkel?
A: Reality show where I play a foster dad to nerdy kids. Niiiiiice.
Q: What’s it going to take for you to win this thing?
A: Fun and consistency. Rest, routine and effort. The last bit is the fun. I’ve been so pumped to go out on Monday nights with all the dancers after the show. I don’t want to be the one guy who didn’t dance well that night. So I get after it in rehearsal.