Dancing with the Stars’ champ Derek Hough will be a Season 29 judge.


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“Dancing with the Stars” will have a new host for Season 29.

USA TODAY

Six-time “Dancing with the Stars” champion Derek Hough is returning to the ABC dance competition. But this time he’s  a judge, not a dancer.

Hough will be seated next to fellow judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli – each eight feet apart due to COVID-19 protocols – for Season 29 (premiering Sept. 14, 8 EDT/PDT).

“I just missed the rhinestones,” Hough jokes, when asked why he’s returning to a show he last competed on in 2016.

What he really missed was “the spark, the joy it brings, the pure entertainment (that’s) much needed right now” with the pandemic and other real-world troubles, says the two-time Emmy winner, whose sister, Julianne, is a former “Dancing” judge. “It’s good for the soul. And coming back to the show feels like coming back home.”

Six-time ‘Dancing with the Stars’ champ Derek Hough is returning to the ABC dancing competition as a judge. (Photo: Jordan Strauss, Invision/AP)

“Derek represents the very best of what ‘Dancing’ is,” ABC alternative programming chief Rob Mills says. “We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

But producers are still trying to figure out how to incorporate judge Len Goodman, who remains in England due to pandemic travel restrictions.

Goodman’s role is still being determined, executive producer Andrew Llinares says. “We absolutely want him to be part of the show. He’s part of the family, but unfortunately, with travel restrictions, he can’t physically be here. We’re looking at a few options and trying to figure out the best way for him to be part of the show in some way.”

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The addition of Hough is just one of Season 29’s changes. Tyra Banks joins as an executive producer and host, replacing longtime hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, and “Dancing” is making pandemic-related safety adjustments, learning from recent relaunches of the BBC Studios format in Australia, Germany, Ireland and Sweden, Mills says.

Here is an artist’s rendering of the redesigned ‘Dancing with the Stars’ ballroom, featuring an elongated judges’ desk to allow for social distancing and LED screens added in the spaces where audience members typically sit. (Photo: Wieder Design/BBC Studios)

Six months into the pandemic, “we know so much more about how to be safe and how to be cautious about dealing with other people and hopefully not get infected,” he says.

Safety protocols include frequent coronavirus testing and eight-foot social distancing, with the exception of each pro-celeb pair, who will dance closely without masks. However, there will be strict separation between the competing couples, and while the celebrities won’t have to quarantine, the pro dancers will.

Three married couples who are part of the professional dancer troupe – Emma Slater and Sasha Farber; Daniella Karagach and Pasha Pashkov; and Jenna Johnson and Val Chmerkovskiy – will be quarantined from each other to keep any positive coronavirus test from becoming a larger outbreak, Llinares says. 

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Judges Carrie Ann Inaba, left, and Bruno Tonioli, right, will be sitting adjacent to the dance floor when Season 29 of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ begins, but producers are trying to figure out how to include Len Goodman, center, who is in England and can’t be on set because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. (Photo: Eric McCandless, ABC)

Viewers will notice the effects of new restrictions when dancers take the floor on the familiar ballroom set. Big group dance numbers will be missing; so will the show’s band, which is recording tracks at another location; and there will be no studio audience.

“But we’re not going to have banks of empty seats. We’re redesigning the set with lots of new LED screens and different elements that make the ballroom look like it was designed to look this way. I think it looks fantastic,” Llinares says.

Hough, a 17-season “Dancing” competitor who has been a judge in recent years on NBC’s “World of Dance,” sees the health-related restrictions as a challenge, likening it to choreographing a dance under time constraints.

“Whenever I was given limitations, I always tended to create the best work,” he says. “I’m looking at this season like that, where there’s this protocol, trying to contain and to be safe. And I’m optimistic that because of those things, it will create new moments (and) new experiences.”

Banks, a supermodel who has hosted “America’s Next Top Model” and “America’s Got Talent,” “brings a different kind of energy, which I think is fun,” Mills says, while offering praise for Bergeron and Andrews. “They were fantastic. It’s a big change but (their dismissal) was not anything (about) the job Tom and Erin were doing.” 

Hough calls Bergeron, who hosted “Dancing” from its 2005 start, “a legend” and a friend. However, he’s excited about Banks’ energy and style. 

“She’s full out, ready to play. I think she’ll thrive,” he says. “I’m just looking forward to seeing what she’s going to be wearing every night. You know she’s going to turn it up to 11 on the fashion and the style.”

 Which celebrities are likely to deliver strong performances? Hough predicts  Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, Kaitlyn Bristowe of “The Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” and Backstreet Boy AJ McLean. But which star does he find most intriguing?

Carole Baskin (of Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’). That was definitely like, ‘Oh!’ Your eyebrows went up a little bit.”    

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