Witney Carson Thinks Kel Mitchell Can Go All the Way on ‘Dancing With the Stars’

ABC/Craig Sjodin

Witney Carson is hoping to bring partner Kel Mitchell (Kenan & Kel) to the finals on Dancing With the Stars.

The couple didn’t quite earn the highest scores with their debut dance (16 points), but the judges’ comments were encouraging. Bruno Tonioli said, “This is what we like to see in Week 1…you’re going in the right direction.” Carrie Ann Inaba offered: “If this is Week 1, I’m very encouraged…” Even grumpy Len Goodman enthused: “I liked your attack and I liked your attitude…that’s what we want to see in the Tango…”

TV Insider caught up with the Emmy-nominated Carson on the red (actually, purple) carpet at the 71st Annual Primetime Emmys and got the scoop on how things are going with Mitchell, her reunion with Season 19 partner Alfonso Ribeiro, and Christie Brinkley’s injury, prompting her exit from the dance-competition reality series.

In the first week, you and Kel didn’t get the best score, but the judges gave you some nice remarks.

Witney Carson: They did. We got some nice comments and they see a lot of potential in Kel and I do, too. I think he’s working really really hard if we keep that up, he can be great, but this cast is really competitive. We’ll see.

(ABC/Eric McCandless)

There are changes to the show this year – stars are coming down the stairs again, among other things.

I like the stairs. There are big differences [in the production]. They changed up the set completely. I like it. It’s like a nice facelift. I think we really needed that. The show is staying true to its classic identity. This is season is all about going back to the basics and teaching the stars real technique and not sugar-coating anything.

What are you dancing to tonight?

I can’t say, but I can give you a few hints. It’s a really fun dance. This week was a little bit emotional for us. Some things have happened personally for Kel, which you’ll see [tonight] on the show. You’ll learn why we’ve missed rehearsals. It’s a really great dance that we’re doing. He’s doing really well at it. It was just a hard week for us.

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You took home the Mirror Ball trophy in Season 19, your second as a pro, having moved up from the dance troupe. Is it easier going into the competition having already won?

I wouldn’t say “easier”…

True. Is it different?

A little bit. Of course, you always want to win. You take each season very seriously. And, actually, after you win it fuels the fire to want to win again even more. You know what that feeling is and you want it again so badly. For me, it’s not really about winning. It was my main goal, but now it’s to create good and dances and make my partners the best that I can. The rest is up to America.

(ABC/Eric McCandless)

Christie Brinkley had to drop out after breaking her arm during rehearsal. She went on The Talk last week to clear the air and dispel the theory that Wendy Williams – a former DWTS competitor herself – had that her dropping out was somehow staged.

Honestly, I know Christie. I saw her when [the accident] happened. She was very much in pain. It was a really bad break.

Not everyone knows what it’s like sometimes. Dancers and stars have performed on the show in a great deal of pain, smiling all the way.

It’s true! They just don’t [know]. Honestly, I commend Christie for even trying to get out there [after her fall]. She just couldn’t! The doctor said to her, ‘You can’t dance. You need your arm.’ I think it’s great that her daughter, Sailor, came out instead and she did a fantastic job especially after only having a day or two to learn the dance. I know Christie was very proud of her.

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What other projects do you have coming up?

I’m doing Catch 21, a game show with Alfonso, which is premiering on GSN on October 14. I’m really excited about it. It’s a show that Alfonso hosted a long time ago and this is a reboot version. It’s a trivia game mixed with [cards]. I’m kind of the dealer/co-host.

What do you like about working with Alfonso?

I love him so much. We’re very close. We’ve have some amazing memories together. The fact that he asked me to do this [made me happy]. I jumped on board, very fast!

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Dancing With the Stars, Mondays, 8/7c, ABC

Catch 21, October 14, GSN