Dancing with the Stars: Former SYTYCD Judge Mary Murphy Gives Her Take on Season 23's Couples

Emily Maas Aslanian
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Dancing With the Stars sambas into Season 23 with 13 couples and returning panelists Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Julianne Hough. Ballroom expert and former So You Think You Can Dance judge, Mary Murphy, weighs on which teams have the skills to land the Mirrorball Trophy.

Disclaimer: Murphy gave her comments/predictions prior to watching the September 12 premiere.

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Jana Kramer and Gleb Savchenko

“Jana boasts of no dancing in her career, but I suspect she’s had some dancing along the way,” Murphy says of the country singer and One Tree Hill vet paired with the Russian pro. “She looks fit and ready to go,” Murphy says. “There’s a lot to fall in love with here.”

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Laurie Hernandez and Valentin Chmerkovskiy

This year’s frontrunner, Olympic gymnast Hernandez, is fresh off winning gold and silver in Rio. She’s also Murphy’s top choice. “This power couple is at the top of the leaderboard,” she says. “Valentin must have felt like he hit the lotto when he found out that he scored her. With Laurie’s flexibility, charisma, and Olympic athletic mentality, he won’t have to hold back. The sky’s the limit for these two in choreography and creativity.”

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Marilu Henner and Derek Hough

The former Taxi star is paired with six-time champ Hough, but her real asset is her Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. “Half the battle when you’re teaching somebody is the technique you’re saying to them,” Murphy explains. “It usually goes in one ear and out the other. With her, she will latch on to every single bit of knowledge that Derek throws her way, and with her dance background, this makes her lethal.”

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Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) and Witney Carson

The “Ice Ice Baby” rapper brings in the 90s nostalgia vote with Carson who previously took Alfonso Ribeiro to the Mirrorball. “His secret weapon is that he started as a street dancer, so he has some moves,” Murphy says. “I predict he’ll be around for awhile, and with his sexy instructor Witney Carson, look for sparks to fly.”

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Amber Rose and Maksim Chmerkovskiy

The model and talk show host is paired with Chmerkovskiy for his return after a four-season gap following a Season 18 win with Meryl Davis. Murphy sees these two as serious contenders. “If their chemistry is right, and they do not clash with each other, I think they will be a fierce couple,” she says.

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Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke

“With all the current controversy surrounding him, this could possibly hurt his chances since this is a fan-based show,” Murphy says of the Olympic swimmer who had PR woes in Rio this year (and who was rushed by protesters after his first dance on the September 12 premiere). “If he doesn’t absolutely surrender, like he would to an Olympic swimming coach, I think he’ll be in trouble, but if he does, Burke can get him there.” After all, Burke boasts a record of 18 perfect scores and 88 perfect tens since her start in Season 2.

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Terra Jolé and Sasha Farber

The first little person on the roster is also an executive producer and a big part of Lifetime's Little Women series, and she gave birth in August. Murphy isn’t too concerned with any height difference between the tough mama and Farber. “We’ve had bigger extremes with some of the sports stars with Cheryl Burke,” she says (Rick Fox was 6’7!). “Sasha is an amazing dancer with a lot of energy and amazing technique, and with Tara’s bubbly personality, they’ll be exciting to watch.”

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Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Allison Holker

The 57-year-old songwriter is paired with Holker, who placed second with younger icon Riker Lynch in Season 20. “Babyface’s understanding of music will be a big help, but can he take his amazing lyrics and translate them through his body onto the dance floor?” Murphy asks. “If he can dance like he sings, we’re in for a real treat.” It also doesn’t hurt that he’s married to former Janet Jackson backup dancer Nicole Pantenburg.

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Maureen McCormick and Artem Chigvintsev

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! The former Brady Bunch star is dancing with Chigvintsev in his fourth season. Murphy’s take? “I haven’t seen dance in her background, but I did see a stint on Celebrity Fit Club,” she says. “As grueling as this show can be, her fitness will play a factor.”

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Rick Perry and Emma Slater

The former Texas governor is “in for a world of pain,” according to Murphy. Dancing with Slater, who returns after taking a season off, Perry is a liability, but an entertaining one. “He is really going to put himself out of his comfort zone for the veterans, and that’s worth watching,” she adds. “In entertainment value, I’d give it a 10.”

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Jake T. Austin and Jenna Johnson

The former Disney Channel star and The Fosters alum checks onto the dancefloor with newcomer Johnson, who Murphy calls, “one of those all-around amazing dancers.” However, Austin seems a long shot. “He’s in good shape and handsome, but it will be a surprise if he walks off with the Mirrorball,” Murphy says.

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Calvin Johnson Jr. and Lindsay Arnold

“When I heard Calvin Johnson was going to be on this show, I nearly fell off my chair,” Murphy says of the former Lions wide receiver, paired with Arnold who reached the Final Four two seasons in a row. “He comes to the show with a little wear and tear,” she adds, “but make no mistake, this guy can move fast – 4.35 seconds in a 40-yard dash.”

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James Hinchcliffe and Sharna Burgess

Burgess has taken an Olympic ice skater, a double amputee army vet and a Backstreet Boy into the top 5, but how about an injured racecar driver? “James may have a bit more of a struggle,” Murphy admits. “One thing going for him besides his good looks, is that you have to be fearless to be a racecar driver, and coming back from a near-fatal car crash, he has something to prove.”

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