Dancing with the Stars is ushering in a new era. After 30 seasons of airing on ABC, the reality competition is gearing up for its new home on Disney +. Former pro-turned-judge Derek Hough says he’s proud to be involved in a series that keeps fresh with shifting trends.
“There was an article that came out that said streaming has now surpassed cable in viewership, for the first time,” Hough tells ET Canada. “That is a good example of how this show is moving with where the audience is moving, or seems to be moving, or will eventually be moving. I’m very excited to be a part of that. It’s the first of its kind, with this type of show, to do that.”
Dancing with the Stars pairs professional dancers with celebrities. Each couple Salsas, Foxtrots, Paso Dobles, Freestyles and performs other types of routines. And every week features an elimination. The grand prize? The coveted Mirrorball Trophy. This year’s contestants include comedian Wayne Brady, TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, Charlie’s Angels’ alum Cheryl Ladd, Sex and the City actor Jason Lewis, American Idol singer Jordin Sparks and Bachelorette Gabby Windey, among others.
“It’s a great cast,” Hough says. “Here’s the thing. Every season you look at the paper and there are the ones where you go, ‘OK. I know that person. I know that person.’ And then there are some where you go, ‘I am not familiar with that person. I am not quite sure who that is.’ That is part of the joy because I think the idea of it is to perhaps watch it for somebody you know and are excited to see, but then you might end up falling in love with somebody else, somebody you weren’t familiar with. ‘I didn’t know this person, but I really like them. I’m a new fan of theirs. I am really rooting for them.’
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“I think Wayne Brady is really exciting,” he continues. “I think Jordin Sparks. I think Charli D’Amelio. Her partner is Mark Ballas, who is back after several seasons. I think it’s going to be amazing to watch Daniel Durant from CODA, who is deaf. It’s amazing to see people who are able to defy the odds. There’s Selma Blair, who is going through Multiple Sclerosis, to step into something so difficult, is inspiring. That’s what the show is about. The show is pure entertainment, joy and just a time to escape.
“But it’s also a show where somebody who is watching goes, ‘Wow. Look at that person putting themselves out there in this really scary place,’” he adds “Listen, you might think most peoples’ fears involve spiders or space or height. But I guarantee you, most peoples’ fear is to dance in front of millions of people. I have a feeling if you were to put a list down, they would actually put that at the top of the list over height or snakes or spiders. So, there’s this admiration and this respect that I have for anybody who is crazy enough to put themselves through this. But, also the reward, the fulfilment, you get from overcoming that is remarkable. That’s what you see. You see people transform their lives.”
Season 30 proved buzzworthy when Jenna Johnson partnered with YouTuber JoJo Siwa. It marked the first same-sex duo on the show. Now, history is being made again with Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race, the first drag queen to participate on Dancing. And Gleb Savchenko stands as the second professional to team up with the same gender.
“The show has always been a trailblazer in so many avenues,” Hough notes. “I think it’s fantastic. I haven’t met Shangela. I can just see the personality and the love of dancing, and the energy and excitement. The truth is that energy, that love of something, transcends everything else. I’m very curious, and very interested, to see that partnership. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Some contenders hit the ballroom floor with a bit of prior experience. Others have two left feet and lack rhythm. But Hough believes anyone can find their groove and excel.
“We all dance,” Hough explains. “Whenever people say, ‘Oh, I’m not a dancer,’ I’m like, ‘Well, when did you decide that?’ And they are like, ‘Ah, what?’ I say, ‘Well, listen. As kids, we all danced. We were all jumping around and shaking our bodies. Then, someone along the line said, ‘Don’t do that.’ Or they got embarrassed and never danced again. It’s in our DNA. For me, it’s really about breaking down that mental block of, ‘You can’t do this,’ and then teaching the mechanics of dancing. A lot of it is mental. It’s really about letting go and being free with it, and just being open with the concept of opening your body.”
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Hough once again joins Len Goodman, Carrie Anne Inaba and Bruno Tonioli at the judge’s table. The six-time Mirrorball winner, however, offers a unique perspective when it comes to assessing and evaluating the routines.
“For me, personally, I would always get frustrated when I was judged and we would do a Jive,” he says. “The judge would go, ‘Next time you do a Jive, work on this.’ But we are not going to do another Jive. So, for me, yes critique what they did in the moment. Moving forward for advice, it is important to be specific, but be general in the sense of something that can help them in different styles of dancing. You don’t know what they are going to have in the following weeks.
“For me, if they did a Jive, I want to comment on what they did tonight and what they could have done,” he continues. “‘Moving forward, I want you to work on these aspects of dance, that you can apply to any of the dances.’ That way, it can actually be helpful. Also, to be compassionate and understanding, but to be honest. The only way that you can help someone improve is to be honest with them.”
The celebrities and pros build a performance based on a song and dance style. Certain nights, however, center around a theme. Previous fan-favorites include Grease, Horror, Disney and Most Memorable Year Night. This season, Hough teases Canadian crooner Michael Buble will be serving as a creative inspiration.
“I directed Michael Buble’s video, Higher, earlier this year,” Hough says. “We’ve become really good friends. I had said to him, ‘Dude. I want to thank you. Your music has been so important to the dance community.’ Whenever we are at a loss and can’t find a song, I’m like, ‘Well, what’s Michael Buble got? Let’s go down and look at his catalogue.’ You will always find a great song to dance to. A Quickstep. A Foxtrot. A Jive. A Jitterbug. A Cha-cha. It’s such great music to dance to, especially in the world of Ballroom and Latin.
“I said, ‘Dude, would you want to come on the show? We should do a Michael Buble Night. It would all be about your music,’” he continues. “He was like, ‘I’d be up for that.’ So, I called up the producers and said, ‘Guys, we have to do Michael Buble Night. He’s hilarious and so much fun, and he’s down. He would be up for doing this.’”
Hough concludes, “So, this season we are having a whole Michael Buble Night. I can’t wait. He’s going to judge. He’s going to perform. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”