Derek Hough on Why He's Returning to 'DWTS' (Exclusive)

Derek Hough is happy to be back home with his Dancing With the Stars family. 

ET spoke with the six-time mirrorball champion via Zoom on Tuesday, shortly after ABC announced he’s returning to the ballroom as a judge this season alongside Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli. During the interview, Hough opened up about everything from why he said yes to the role to whether this gig will affect his other job as a judge on World of Dance.

Of returning to DWTS, Hough told ET’s Keltie Knight, “It was something that was talked about, I think maybe last year, but timing, things happening, this is the right time.”

“I’m excited. I’m actually excited about the timing of this in the sense that I don’t really know how they’re going to do this and how the season’s going to happen with protocols and stuff,” he said. “But that excites me. I like that uncertainty; I like that unknown.”

Hough, who last competed as a pro during season 23 with Marilu Henner, added that the offer to come back was always as a judge. The 35-year-old dancer previously competed as a pro for 17 seasons, winning the mirrorball a total of six times, the most of any other pro. He took home first place with Brooke Burke (season 7), Nicole Scherzinger (season 10), Jennifer Grey (season 11), Kellie Pickler (season 16), Amber Riley (season 17) and Bindi Irwin (season 21).

“It’s interesting, actually, because being apart of the show for so long, so many seasons, I feel like I’ve been through every possible experience,” he explained. “Embarrassment, bad choices, triumphs, success, all the different experiences you could imagine. I kinda felt like I’ve already done that part. So coming back into a new role … I feel like I have a lot of compassion and empathy, but also a lot of experience.”

Hough’s new role comes amid news that Len Goodman won’t physically be in the ballroom this season. He’ll still be a part of the show in some capacity, but remotely from the U.K., as he’s unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Hough joked that unlike Goodman, he’s “not going to be mean” when judging the contestants and their pro partners.

“I’m going to be fair, I’m going to be honest, but I’m definitely not going to be mean. That’s just not who I am,” he said. “And here’s the thing. I’m not replacing Len, he’s still very much part of the show, so I’m certainly not trying to sort of fill those shoes, if that makes sense. Len is Len and Bruno is Bruno, you know? They are who they are.”

“I will say, with me, I’m an energetic person. I’m very physical,” he added. “My compassion will come with honesty because, listen, I know what it takes, and it’s tough. It’s hard and in order to go all the way it is not going to be easy.”

Hough told ET he “doesn’t know yet” how Goodman will be involved this season, but he imagines it will be “digital in some way.”

“Or hologram, who knows,” he joked. “But no, he’s very much a part of the show.”

As for Hough’s other role as a judge on NBC’s World of Dancewith Jennifer Lopez and Ne-Yo, fans can rest easy because Hough says he hopes to juggle both shows.

“For me, I love World of Dance so much, that show is so phenomenal. And that’s what’s so great about the two shows, they’re so different, so I don’t feel like that sense of conflict,” he explained. “So if the next season of World of Dance happens then I’d love to be a part of it.”

The all-new season of Dancing With the Stars premieres Monday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. In the meantime, hear more from the celebrity cast in the video below, and tune into Entertainment Tonight on Tuesday for more from Hough.

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