Derek Hough is doing double duty this fall. He’ll be sitting at the judges’ table alongside the paddle-waving Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli for Dancing With the Stars‘ 30th season. And on Wednesday, September 22, the six-time mirrorball champion launches his Las Vegas residency with “Derek Hough: No Limit.”
Earlier this month, Hough took home his third Emmy, winning in the category of Outstanding Choreography for Variety or Reality Programming, for two dances he performed last season on DWTS. He’ll be hitting the floor again this season, too. TV Insider chatted with Hough about what else viewers might expect on DWTS, which celebrity he’d like to have had if he were competing as a pro, and more. If you’re going to be in Las Vegas area this fall, learn more about Hough’s show at the Venetian by clicking here.
Congratulations on your Emmy. Which dance brought you the gold?
Derek Hough: I won it for two dances, actually. I did a paso doble with my girlfriend, Hayley [Erbert], and also the finale performance that was the tap-dancing homage to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. They were two very different pieces. I used existing music, putting my own spin on them. I want to give a special shoutout to [DWTS musical director] Ray Chew. He does such a great work. I’m thankful to him.
We’ve seen a lot of dances over the years. How do you still manage to present something new?
I’ve done paso dobles before, but each one has a unique concept. There’s the musicality and the execution. My inspiration comes from things I’m drawn to. As soon as the music hits, I’ll light up and turn on. My barometer with a song I’ll choreograph a dance to is that I have to get chills when I hear it. I’ll think, ‘I can’t wait to perform to that’ and ask, ‘How can I make that song my own?’ Then I’ll start customizing it.
How’s the show for Las Vegas coming along?
Great. All my dancers have been working their tails off. One of them, Diego [Pasillas], was a winner on World of Dance. He’s an extraordinary talent. I’m blown away by all the dancers in my show and their athleticism. We were rehearsing in Vegas and this guy, Al, who has worked in this venue for 15 years, said to me, ‘Derek I wasn’t sure about this dance show. There’s no juggling or magic acts. What are they going to do for 90 minutes?’ Then, he said, ‘But after watching you rehearse, I can tell you this is one of the best shows I’ve seen here in a long time. I’m a believer.’ That’s the best endorsement I could get–from someone who has seen a lot of shows!
Did you time your show in Vegas to take place during the DWTS season?
I did. I wanted to have that synergy. It’s so much easier being a judge on the show than it is being a pro dancer in terms of the emotional, mental, and physical demands. I think having [my] show and being a judge will complement each other. It’s a short flight between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. In 2015, I did 13 shows a week of New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall and was teaching Nastia Liukin on DWTS. I’d get a flight from New York to L.A. for Monday’s air show, then fly out Monday night to get back to New York. [Laughs] After doing that, I can do anything. Five shows a week Vegas and judging in L.A.? This will be cake.
What do you bring to the judges’ table having been a pro on the show for so many years?
I pay more attention to the traditional and ballroom dancers. But I’ve also been a little bit of a rule-breaker. I’m all for updating stuff, but I think it’s good to have the focus on the fundamentals that Len has. It keeps the show grounded. This will be my first season judging alongside Len. I’m not sure where I’ll be sitting at the judges’ table — to Len’s left? His right? [Chuckles] Or maybe I’ll just sit on his lap?
A lot of stars this season have dancing experience. How will that affect the competition?
I’ve heard through the grapevine that there are a lot of people who are very capable. I think this will be good for the show. However, as we’ve learned through many seasons, the dancing element is only a part of it all. The main thing is connecting: with the audience, your partner, and yourself. When you do that, then people enjoy watching you. We’ve seen many times the best dancer by far get cut in the fifth or seventh week of the season. People should focus on the process. Those are the ones we root to see win.
Do you think we’ll see past winners, pros, and stars return for the 30th season?
In my mind, I always assumed the 30th season would have some tributes, but I honestly don’t know what’s being planned.
What do you enjoy about the show?
I like seeing people who come on that viewers may have a preconceived notion about for whatever reason. Dancing With the Stars can show who people are in a different light when they’re in a vulnerable state. I really don’t believe there are bad people–just people who are trying to heal. One of the biggest things in life is redemption. We all need it, and in this crazy, sparkly dance show, we can see moments of redemption. People end up saying, ‘Wow, I actually like this person even though I felt a certain way about them.’ I love that aspect of the show.
Who would you have wanted to have had as a star partner if you’d been a dance pro this season?
A lot of them, but one who stands out is Mel C. She’s a Spice Girl! I grew up in London so, she’s like royalty in the pop world.
Thoughts on the show’s first same-sex pairing with JoJo Siwa?
It’s awesome. All-girl ballroom competitions in England are extremely common. I know that JoJo is going to bring it. She’s made for Dancing With the Stars. I think she’s going to be fantastic.
Which dance pro would you like to compete on the show with?
I would love to dance with my girl, Hayley. She’s been a troupe member and also a mentor on Dancing With the Stars: Juniors. Even though she’s not on the show right now, I always love dancing with her.
Dancing With the Stars, Season 30 Premiere, Monday, September 20, 8/7c