Dancing With the Stars isn’t in production right now but Derek Hough, who serves as one of the show’s judges, is busier than ever. He’s not only planning his wedding to fiancée Hayley Erbert but he’s putting together a nationwide tour, Derek Hough – All New Spectacular Symphony Of Dance, set to kick off in late September. (Click here for details.)
TV Insider chatted with the six-time mirror ball champion about a variety of topics including changes to the upcoming DWTS season, his sister Julianne Hough joining as co-host, what his and Ebert’s first dance will be as husband and wife (hint: it’s not what you might think), and much more.
How do you feel about going on tour later this year?
Derek Hough: I love touring, being on the road, and being in a new cities. I love meeting new people. When you’re on TV you’re not as accessible to your audience. The opportunity to go to someone’s city and have that relationship in person? There’s nothing like it. I made a movie a while ago and I wasn’t sure that this is what I love doing.
“Hurry up and wait.”
Yes. You’re waiting around [when you’re on a film set] and you may not see the final product for a few years. I love performing live. There’s nothing like it. With the quarantine, I did two Vegas runs. They were amazing. But that was where people came to me. I’m really excited to get on the road and go to these theaters and put on an amazing show.
The tour starts at the end of September when Dancing With the Stars is traditionally back in production. You’ve done Broadway while competing on the show but still…this is a great deal to take on.
It’s going to be a lot. But you know me. I thrive in “organized chaos,” if you will. The idea of being on tour, doing four or five shows a week, and then flying back to do Dancing With the Stars is definitely manageable. I think now it’ll be fun for people who come to the tour to also see me on the show, which is going to be on both Disney+ and ABC. I love having that instant reaction with the audience at my shows who also watch Dancing With the Stars. They’ll say, “Hey, I love that dance the other night” or “I wish you’d given this couple a higher score.” It’s special being able to have that connection.
How is it competing for judges on DWTS versus performing on stage when you’re on tour?
There’s definitely two minds about choreographing a [stage] show and competing on Dancing With the Stars. A [stage] show is more theatrical, there’s more storytelling. There’s a lot of fun energy. I always try to create those moments — beautiful, breathtaking, exciting — there has to be something special that engages the audience and keeps them on the edges of their seats. I’m there to entertain and fill that room with energy.
How will this tour be different from other shows you’ve done?
It’s going to be different in terms of the music. There are things I gravitate towards — certain songs. But this show [I’m doing in the fall] has different types of songs. It shows where I am in my life. I really think the audience will enjoy this. I listen to the music [I’m going to use] and I get emotional. It’s not that it’s a sad song but it’s about the “bigness” of the sound. It just makes me feel. That’s my goal — to create.
I’m all about the music right now. I’m essentially writing an album — even if it’s a song that exists, I’m deconstructing it. I want to do something different. It’s rare that you’ll hear a song in the show that’s straight from the CD. It’ll be a mashup or a medley, something that makes it feel different. One of the most important parts of a show is the playlist. I’ve been auditioning dancers. We have such an incredible cast of dancers. The quality of movements. The turns and their pure dancing is so exciting to see.
You must be meeting dancers today who have grown up watching Dancing With the Stars.
Yes. I will say this: In the past, we’ve been very conscious about hiring people who fill in the gaps that I don’t have. In contemporary or certain styles, they are far better at than I am. We want to represent all the different styles. But they do have to have a lot of ballroom and Latin. In the past, it’s been a struggle [to find those dancers]. What I’ve noticed is when we audition dancers now, I’ve found that this generation has gotten so much better [with certain styles]. They can do a great cha cha. It’s been great to see this influence. We’re seeing dancers who are masters of their own style but they can do Latin too.
What styles from Dancing With the Stars will be in your stage show?
[Laughs] All of them. Every single style. We do tap, contemporary, tango, Argentine tango, salsa, jive, waltz, foxtrot…
Will you pay tribute to the late, great Len Goodman in your show?
Yes. Len had the most beautiful heart. He really did. I’m thinking about a moment on the show that I want to dedicate to Len. I’m trying to select the right song. The feeling I get when I think about Len is doing a pure and classic waltz or foxtrot. “No fussing about!” “No lollygagging!” That’s what I want to do. I want to honor him by bringing the history of dance into the future and to never lose the history of where dance came from. Dancing will evolve and change but it’s important that we always bring that history with us.
What will your fiancé Hayley Erbert’s role in the show this fall be?
We’ll probably be married by then. She’ll be featured throughout the show as she was in the last show I did. She’s my partner not just in dance but in life. She’ll be in the show a lot.
Your upcoming first dance as husband and wife at your wedding I’m guessing will be pretty spectacular?
You know, for our first dance, we’re not going to “perform.” I think we’re going to do a little sway back and forth, gaze into each other’s eyes, and soak in the moment. That’s how I envision our first dance. I totally understand people thinking we’ll do something big but we perform all the time. I think we’ll have an understated moment for our first dance.
[Laughs] No. That’s not to say we might not do something later on in the night.
Len is, of course, irreplaceable. That said, do you see yourself stepping up your critiques as a judge as Len was such a taskmaster when it came to technique?
Nobody will ever be able to replace Len. He was so witty and funny. As far as me focusing more on the technique and the quality, the things that he focused on…yeah. I think that it’s important that somebody on the panel does focus on those things a little bit more. With my background and my training in ballroom and Latin, I feel that could be something I could communicate. I can focus on the more technical aspects. I’ll never want to be something I’m not. What’s authentic to me is genuinely wanting couples to improve. I want to encourage them through honesty.
I really envision that the three of us [Carrie Ann, Bruno, and myself] will have some guest judges, which will be nice. Sometimes having that outside perspective can be fun. It’ll make it feel different. We’ll see what happens.
How do you feel about Julianne joining Alfonso Ribeiro as host? She’s competed on the show, won the coveted mirror ball trophy, not won, and knows what it’s like to stand in front of the judges. She’s also been a guest judge.
I’m super excited about it. When I heard about her coming on as co-host, I thought, “Oh, that makes sense.” She and I have hosted Disney specials the last few years. She’s fun and vibrant. As you said, she knows the show. She and Alfonso will be a power house team. I could see them busting out and doing a dance together.
That was really powerful, beautiful and so fantastic. It was done so well. There were a few [that I found touching]. Mark [Ballas] and Charli [D’Amelio’s] freestyle to “Us Again” by Pinar Toprak really moved me. I related to the narrative they were telling. Mark reclaimed his love of dance. That felt personal to me.
Dancing With the Stars is coming back to ABC but it’ll still be on Disney+ so streaming fans can vote.
Yes. I’m very happy we’re back on ABC. I think it was fantastic that we moved to Disney+ for a season. It did great, but I think that there’s definitely [still] an audience on ABC, a very loyal audience that may have missed out on last season. It’s groundbreaking in that I’ll be on both platforms as the same time.
What will Disney+ folks see when the broadcast show cuts to a commercial?
That’s a good question. I don’t know what will happen. Maybe there will be some special content?
Do you know if there will be any changes to the format when the show returns in the fall?
There will be a few adjustments to this season that I think will be good. We’ve had discussions. I think it’s going to make for the show to be a little more suspenseful.
Do you miss the Tuesday nights results show?
Those were great. I loved them because we did performances on that night. It was like a variety show. Monday competition. Tuesday variety show. Those were always a blast. The good thing is for me not having that allows me to go on tour.
You recently presented Allison Holker and her daughter, Weslie, the NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) Westside Los Angeles’s ‘Heart of a Champion Award’ in honor of Allison’s late husband Stephen “Twitch” Boss.
Yes. It was so great to see her and see how she was doing and to see her and Weslie smile. That was healing. Every time people talk about Stephen, they have the same story, the same experience, and the [positive] feeling they got when they were around him. He was consistent as that person, a powerful human being who affected so many people. [Him being gone] still doesn’t feel real. I’ve lost a few people to suicide. It’s a constant question, constantly seeking how out can we help and serve other people.
I’ve lost people in my life to suicide. It breaks your heart over and over again. It was great to see Allison and see that she’s creating something that will serve and help others. She’s a powerful woman. I have no doubt that she will do something amazing in her name and Stephen’s name and her family’s name. I’m really proud of her.
What has it meant to you being on Dancing With the Stars all these years in so many different capacities?
Dancing has for many, many years been collaborative and receptive to my ideas and suggestions. I remember going to Conrad [Green, executive producer], who’s back, when I was first on the show. My first few seasons I was only thinking about myself. I wanted to be good, become popular, and prove myself. Later, I had a shift where I realized I just want to be part of a great show.
I realized I wanted to be here to serve the show. That changed my thinking. I told [Conrad] that. I’m here to help make the show the best it can be. Whatever you need from me, I’m here. When I talk to up-and-coming dancers, I talk to them about serving the show. I’m so thankful to Dancing With the Stars. I’m so thankful. We want to continue to make it the best show possible.
Dancing With the Stars, Fall 2023, Mondays, 8/7, ABC and Disney+
Derek Hough – All New Spectacular Symphony Of Dance, Fall 2023