Derek Hough Reveals Which Contestants Have “Surprised” Him The Most On Dancing With The Stars

Dancing with the Stars judge (and former dance pro) Derek Hough popped the question to longtime girlfriend Hayley Erbert in June of 2022. He announced the news with a sweet Instagram post. He posted a photo from the romantic proposal and captioned it, “It’s only the beginning…the beginning of forever.”

Derek is also enjoying the return of his friend, Mark Ballas, to the DWTS ballroom. Mark had taken a five-year break from the show. I’m here for the bromance!

Derek told PureWow that he has been impressed by some of the Season 31 contestants. “I think Gabby Windey—she’s fantastic—and Charli D’Amelio. They’re great dancers. I think that they’re definitely at a high level of dance,” Derek stated. “And you know, Wayne Brady is fantastic, he’s an iconic performer.” Charli is paired with Mark, while Bachelorette star Gabby is dancing with Val Chmerkovskiy. Gabby has admitted that she considers quitting the show “every day” but is embracing the journey and its challenges.

TikTok star Charli and Mark’s spicy cha-cha during the DWTS premiere earned them the highest score of the night. Wayne, who is partnered with Witney Carson, is incredibly entertaining. It’s no surprise that during Disney+ night, these three couples tied for first place on the leaderboard.

“With Daniel [Durant], it’s wild to see what he’s able to accomplish. And you know, his musicality is amazing, it’s mind-boggling,” Derek stated. Daniel, who is deaf, is partnered with Britt Stewart.

Derek also has his eye on American Idol star Jordin Sparks and her partner, Brandon Armstrong. “The one that has really surprised me is Jordin Sparks. She’s got such charisma and she’s magnetic to watch,” Derek explained. “I think she’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with.” That is high praise from Derek.

Although some couples have consistently earned good scores from the judges, Derek pointed out that it is impossible to know who will win the glittering mirror ball. “It’s a show about connecting with others. Who does the audience connect with? Or who is rooting for?” the DWTS judge remarked. “And the audience votes for different things. You know, they might vote for the best dance. Or they might be like, ‘Hey, I just liked this person. I’m voting for them,’ you know?” he added.

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Derek continued, “Or they might say, ‘You know what, I want to see them next week.’ There’s so many different variables, that as a judge, I’m there to judge the dancing.” He said, “But a big part of it is the audience, and that you can’t predict.”

The cast this season is interesting. Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race, actress Selma Blair, and fitness model Joseph Baena are all dancing for your votes.

“People are starting to emerge, even people that weren’t even on my radar necessarily the first week. You’re just like, ‘Okay, we’ll see how they do.’ And they’re doing fantastic,” Derek stated. “They’ve all improved so much just in one week. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing that improvement continue to be seen. I’m excited,” the choreographer commented.

This season is a real nail-biter as to who will top the leaderboard each week. I’m loving it!

TELL US- DO YOU LIKE DEREK AS A JUDGE? WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE COUPLE THIS SEASON? WHO DO YOU THINK HAS IMPROVED THE MOST?

[Photo Credit: ABC/Heidi Gutman]