Derek Hough Says ‘Dancing With the Stars’ on Disney+ ‘Feels Like a Relaunch’

Derek Hough
Q&A
ABC

In some regards, Dancing With the Stars is changing quite a bit this season with its move from ABC to streaming service Disney+. However, Derek Hough, a six-time mirror ball champion and who is now a judge on the dance competition reality series, says that the show is going to basics.

Not only are Mark Ballas and Louis van Amstel back as pros but Conrad Green, who helmed DWTS from 2005 to 2013, is back as the show’s executive producer. Hough says viewers can count on the show digging back into the heart of the program which made the show a hit – the emotional journeys upon which the stars and the pro dancers embark.

Hough also speculates on the possibility of his return to the ballroom floor as a dance pro given that the show moving to Disney+ potentially will open up some creative pathways. Read on to get Hough’s thoughts on DWTS Season 31!

How’ve you been?

Derek Hough: I have been fantastic. I’ve been doing this [Las] Vegas residency show. It’s been electric and the feedback I’ve gotten has been incredible. I’ve been a groomsman at some weddings and I’ve gotten engaged. There are amazing things on the horizon.

Alfonso Ribeiro and Tyra Banks

ABC/Sebastian Kim

What are your thoughts on Dancing With the Stars moving to Disney+?

It feels like a relaunch of the show. In some ways, it feels like a brand-new show. We’ve been on for 16 years and 30 seasons. The show has been so special to so many people. I recently read that there are more people watching streaming than there are people watching cable. We all know that the move to streaming has been inevitable. I’m really proud to be a part of a show that’s ahead of the curve and always has been. It’s exciting and it’s also uncertain.

People have asked, ‘How will this work?’ in terms of the show being on Disney+. One thing is that there will be no commercial breaks. Viewers are going to be even more immersed into the show. There will be complete immersion. There’s going to be more time for stories, dances, and performances. What’s great about being on Disney+ is that you can watch it over and over again.

Some people have said to me that they’re not going to get Disney+ because they don’t have kids but the [service] offers so much more. There’s so much content. I ask people if they watch nature shows and Nat Geo. Many have said yes, they love that stuff. I said that’s on Disney+. There’s so much more than Disney shows. There’s so much content. I’m a fan of Disney+ and not just because I work for the company.

Will Hayley be a part of the show this season?

Yes. She will be there for some performances I’ll be creating. She’s been a part of some special moments on Dancing With the Stars. I love it when she showcases her amazing abilities and skills that people haven’t seen before.

On Disney+, there’s a countdown special titled Dancing With the Stars: The Pros’ Most Memorable Dances hosted by you, Cheryl Burke, Kym Johnson-Herjavec and Brandon Armstrong. How did you narrow down all the dances over the years to a Top 20 list?

It was impossible. Maybe in a multiverse there’s a Top 20. But to choose out of 1500 routines a Top 20? We tried to find pivotal and/or memorable moments in the show’s history. We could do a ‘Top 100’ and I still don’t think we’d get all of the dances in that people would expect to see.

What did the special make you realize about DWTS?

It made me realize how special the show has been and how much we’ve done. We’ve done so many emotional and innovative things we’ve done. I think that Emmitt Smith’s dance [to ‘U Can’t Touch This’] with Cheryl really put the show on the map. People tuned in for the finale. For a show that some said nobody was going to watch and now, to be here all these years later is pretty incredible. The special is a glimpse into some of the most memorable moments; I’m apprehensive to say that they are ‘the’ Top 20.

The emotional connection between the pros and the stars is such a huge part of the show.

Yes. Some shows have tried to replicate that. But there’s nothing quite like this show – the fear, the triumphs, the struggles, and the insecurities. I’ve talked to many people who’ve told me that their biggest nightmare is to dance in front of people. They say they’d do anything else first.

With streaming there won’t be that big rush to finish up by 10 p.m. – you’ll have more time for constructive critiques.

Yes. This will be the most live a show will be. What does that mean since live is ‘live’? Dancing With the Stars is going out live everywhere at the same time – East Coast, West Coast, and now, we’ll be on in Canada, too. This is as live as it possibly gets.

Charlie Damelo and Mark Ballas 'DWTS'

ABC/Andrew Eccles

Your buddy Mark Ballas is back as a pro; have you ever sat at the judges’ table when he’s been a competitor? Can you be objective?

I have not. This is the first time and yes, I can absolutely be objective. We’re there to critique, help, and serve the celebrities. Each [competitor] is unique and different. I don’t compare dancers to other dancers until the final weeks and it becomes about ‘Okay, who’s going to become the champion?’ For me, it’s about the individual journeys. When I critique, it’s about telling them I think that they can do better. That’s my focus. I’ve been in their shoes so I try to come from a place of compassion and honesty.

It’s not just Mark and also Louis van Amstel back as pro dancers; how do you feel about Conrad Green’s return to DWTS as executive producer?

I’m truly over the moon. I have some personal thoughts about certain aspects of the show. I shared them. Conrad came to see my show in Vegas and we hadn’t seen each other in years. We talked about how special the show is. I was this little kid…22 years old when I first appeared on it [in 2007] and he was my boss. It was a different world. I was so thankful to him for giving me these opportunities. We started talking about what we wanted to do with this season. We want to get back to the realness of the show and the struggle, the heart, and the moments between the stars and the pros. We want to get the Skybox going again where the celebrities get to talk.

I break the show up into three parts – the pre-dance video packages, the dance itself, and then, the post-dance interviews in the Skybox where they will talk to Alfonso [Ribeiro, co-host]. Those were the three important elements of the show that we lost and there were reasons for that and variables like the pandemic.

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What influence have you seen Dancing With the Stars have in society?

There are these amazing charity events that take place all across America where communities have ‘Dancing With the Stars’ events and raise money. It’s incredible that the show has created the opportunities in local communities to raise money for good causes. It’s become such an American staple.

What’s next for you – you’ve got deft comedic timing so maybe a sitcom? Hosting?

Thank you. There are a few projects I have on the horizon that I really want to attack and make happen. I’m very passionate. I’m always open to different forms of entertainment. I love performing. I love this business, this world. Yeah, I have a lot of comedic moments in my Vegas show. I’m a goofy person. That’s my emotional home.

Do you think a scripted drama based on Dancing With the Stars could work?

There’s more than enough material, drama, politics and ‘scandal’ – all those different elements that could easily create a [scripted] show. As far as Dancing With the Stars goes, I think reality will always be crazier and wilder than a scripted version would be. I have had a show idea for a while. Not necessarily [based on] Dancing With the Stars but of the Latin [dance] world. Almost like Best in Show. I’ve always wanted to create a scripted show that reveals this fascinating niche world. When I go back to competitions, I see that not much has changed.

What do you think of the cast this season?

Wintey Carson and Wayne Brady

ABC/Andrew Eccles

It’s great. I’m going to be completely honest. I took at the cast and say, ‘Okay. I know half of these people’ But I think that’s actually the joy of it. There are people you know – Wayne Brady (Let’s Make a Deal), Jordin Sparks (American Idol)…I’m not as familiar with others. But when you watch the show, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a big household name or someone you haven’t heard of. Everyone’s equal to each other because they’re all in this world and on this journey. You fall in love with them.

I love this cast. I love Daniel [Durant] from CODA. He’s going to be awesome and it’ll be awesome to see Selma Blair [Cruel Intentions] and see what she’ll accomplish. I’m excited to see Mark back and also Witney [Carson]. It’s a fun, great cast. This is going to be a special season where we’re moving into a new era. We’re going to really lean into this and make it special.

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There’s a themed week featuring Michael Bublé’s music.

Yes. He’s one of my dear friends. I directed his music video earlier this year. I thanked him for his music because it’s been such a ‘go-to’ for us in the ballroom. I asked him if he’d be open to doing a whole night on the show? He said he’d love that. I called the producers and said, ‘Guys, we have to do a Michael Bublé night!’ We’re making it happen. He’s such a great guy and is so funny. He and I are going to get into some trouble that night. We love goofing around.

Does DWTS being on Disney+ tempt you to return to the ballroom floor as a pro with a celebrity partner?

(Beat.) I’ll never say never. If it comes to the point where that’s what people want to see, okay, why not? I’m here to entertain and bring joy. I’ll never say no to that.

Dancing With the Stars, Season 31 Premiere, Monday, September 19, Disney+