Nelly Talks His ‘DWTS’ Double Dance & a ‘Wide Open’ Season 29

Nelly Dancing With the Stars
ABC/Eric McCandless

Last week’s Villains-themed episode of Dancing With the Stars wasn’t nearly as scary as the one on Monday, November 2, when the couples will have to dance two dances. Rap superstar Nelly, paired with DWTS pro Daniella Karagach, is not afraid to admit that this is just a little bit intimidating.

TV Insider chatted with the Grammy-winning performer about the double-dance competition, in which he and Karagach dance a Rumba, as well as a group dance; his new EP, Heartland; and his love of Saturday Night Live (despite being poked fun at the recent Weekend Update segment by Michael Che).

There doesn’t appear to be a clear frontrunner this season. Do you feel this is anyone’s Mirror Ball trophy to win?

Nelly: I actually do. This is my first time here so I’m unaware of how things go. It’s not like they’re giving us the numbers on voting. You take it at face value. However, I’ve seen that each night it’s somebody different [who’s on top] and each week, different people show different skills. Some people shine on certain nights and with certain dances. So, yes, I think it’s wide open.

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This show is, of course new for you, as it is all the stars, but it’s also new for your pro, Daniella. Does that make your journey unique?

We’re both learning on the fly. We’re both hard workers and so competitive. I think some people can look at it as a crutch [this being her first season], but we see it as a bonus. It make us work that much harder. She wants us to do great, but this is a world I’m unfamiliar with. I don’t want to embarrass myself!

How are you preparing this week for two dances?

I need all my dance hours in a week to learn one dance! It’ll be interesting to see [how doing two goes]. The first dance I’m doing is a tough one in that it’s a slow dance. Everything in a slow dance is measured. You can see all the movements. With the fast dances you can compensate by using all your energy. I’m grateful that I’ve made it as far as I have.

Your scores have gone up each and every week – from 16 in the premiere to last week’s impressive 27.

That makes me feel good. You’re working hard at something and trying to understand the “character” of the dance as each one comes along.

Nelly and Dani on Dancing With the Stars

ABC/Eric McCandless

Your song “Lil Bit” from the Heartland album has ranked #2 on the overall iTunes charts and No. 3 on the country charts. How’d this collaboration with Florida Georgia Line (FLG) come about?

FLG and I have been cool for some time. We worked together on a song called “Cruise.” It’s one of the biggest country records ever on iTunes and in the world. We were fortunate enough to sell 10 million singles of that. [FLG] became like family to me after that. We went on tour together, and we enjoy being around each other and also collaborating. I was putting together this EP that I’ve been contemplating for a bunch of years now. The timing was right.

I went down to Nashville and worked with the guys and we came up with this song, “Lil Bit.” The album isn’t a country album, but it’s “country influenced.” I definitely respect country artists. I respect the art form that is country and I respect the lifestyle that is country, but Nelly is not one to be a country album. I can definitely do music that is inspired by and influenced by my love and respect for country.

How might being on Dancing With the Stars change things for you both professionally and personally?

I can’t honestly say professionally what might happen. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have No. 1 songs in many different formats — Pop, Top 40, Country, Rap, R&B. It’s pretty diverse. And I have had a diverse fan base since I’ve been in this game. I truly treasure that and I don’t take it for granted, because it allows me to try new things and think outside the box.

Saturday Night Live poked fun at you saying that you’ve been missing from the music scene, which isn’t not exactly true in light of Lil Bit. How’d you take it?

It means you are a part of the world’s culture. I wouldn’t call what they did a “dis” because I have been away from my music, but getting mentioned at any cost on SNL is cool. I don’t take it seriously. It was funny as hell to me. I got the joke and they weren’t lying. I have been missing musically for a second.

Did you ever perform in a sketch on that show when you’ve been a musical guest?

I did one a long time ago [in 2002 when Brittany Murphy was the host]. I was in an outer space/walking on the moon sketch with [guest and original SNL cast member] Garrett Morris.

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Are you open to going back either as a host or musical guest?

Yes, as long as it would give me more of a challenge. It’s SNL – who wouldn’t want to host that? It’s iconic. I grew up watching that show and love it to this day. I have loved doing SNL. The great thing about that show is that nobody’s off limits. They’ve made fun of Barack Obama. If they can make fun of the first Black President of the United States, it’s not a problem to make fun of Nelly.

It’s a badge of honor. When I first started watching, Eddie Murphy was first on doing [sketches] ‘Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood’ and [portraying] Buckwheat…I saw when Eddie hosted last year. He killed it.

Part of being on DWTS is the journey you go on with your partner. What you have learned about yourself by having Dani as your dance pro?

What I like about Dani is that she reminds me of my sister in that she’s very determined and very driven. She’s passionate about what she does. That has made it easier for me to learn from her because she loves what she does. She’s definitely got a control factor about her but that’s actually great. She believes in me and wants us to win. It’s about meeting in the middle.

I just turned 46 [his birthday is November 2 — Happy Birthday!]) and Dani’s not even 30 so, I remind her of my limitations. Along the way, we’ve learned to understand each other in terms of knowing how far we can go. That’s brought out the best in us and has allowed us to succeed as far as we have. It’s a great testament to Dani’s choreography and our hard work.

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