I really believe that the only way we can ever move forward is by adapting and evolving to the new while letting go of the old. That’s been one of the themes of this year for me; we can mourn the way things were but we also have to see the new world around us with open eyes and work to thrive within it. There was such clear evidence of this at the premiere of Dancing With The Stars‘ 29th season last night.
I feel especially honored to be one of two people (the other being my brother-judge Bruno Tonioli) who have been with the show for every single episode. I’ve been there for everything, from day one up to last night. I’ve seen so many historical moments on Dancing With The Stars, and last night’s premiere in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the biggest milestones of all.
One thing I’ve noticed about living in the pandemic is how much slower life is. It can feel like you’re walking through slush; things that we used to do without even thinking now cost us so much more time and energy. Making a TV show is no exception— our executive producer Andrew Llinares and our team of professionals and experts have been hard at work creating the protocols that allow us to return to your homes while remaining safe. As someone who has several autoimmune conditions (lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, fibromyalgia and, now, vasculitis) I definitely felt nervous in the days leading up to the premiere. What was it going to be like? Was it going to be safe? These fears have dissipated; all cast and crew are tested for COVID-19 daily, and we all have to show a negative test result to even reach the onstage screening process. As necessary and appreciated as our safety measures are, they’ve also created a new normal for our show. Interacting with coworkers through face masks and shields can make it hard to read expressions and difficult to hear and be understood. There have been new obstacles to overcome this year but I’m so proud of everyone at Dancing With The Stars for pulling together and working hard so that we could be a part of bringing America, and our DWTS family, some joy, love and entertainment during this difficult time.
At the end of the day, Dancing With The Stars is a family, and one of the beautiful things about this show is how it continues to grow, just like all families. Tom Bergeron, Erin Andrews, Brooke Burke, Samantha Harris, Lisa Canning, and now Tyra Banks; they’ll always be a part of our DWTS family. Last night we welcomed new members and had an old member back; Derek Hough returned to the ballroom with his record-breaking six victories under his belt and took his place at the judges’ table with Bruno and myself.
Last night was an evening of full of changes and firsts. For the first time in the show’s history we filmed without a live audience and without backup dancers; we all wondered what it would be like without their incredible energy and support in the room. In the minutes leading up to the show, Derek, Bruno and I could only talk about how badly we just wanted to get started, to finally see what it would feel like to give our first comments in this new environment. There were so many uncertainties heading into the first moment of the show, not knowing exactly what the tempo and energy of our new normal would be. But as soon as that first moment came and we were watching AJ McLean and Cheryl Burke hit the dance floor for their first number, it just felt like home. I felt so much joy to be back in the ballroom, doing what I love and seeing other people empowered to do what they love as well. Watching our celebrities try new things and take chances is always such a gift. It’s what makes Dancing With The Stars a truly magical place to be and it’s why I’m so proud to be a part of this show. Without a live audience this season, the connection between the judges and the competitors is going to be a lot more intimate and I expect the competition to get intense. I was impressed with the level of dancing last night; we have some incredible dancers and performers this year and I’m looking forward to a very competitive season.
There’s another change for this season that’s a bit smaller, and a lot more personal to me. As a new executive producer, Tyra Banks has been promising the audience that we’d be taking things to another level. For me, this translated to creating a new look for myself. During quarantine, like many people, I’ve had a lot of time to look within and get to know how I really want to express myself. I realized I’ve always been conservative on Dancing With The Stars; I’ve always avoided the spotlight and tried to blend in. I always felt that, as a judge, I was supposed to be in a supportive role, that I needed to downplay my looks and avoid drawing attention to myself in order to do my job. What I’ve realized is that it’s okay to fully express myself in all situations; I know now that I don’t have to make myself small to fit in. This season represents a real breakthrough for me; I’ve decided I want to have fun, dare to try new things and play around with my looks. I’m so thankful to DWTS for giving me an opportunity to express that.
I have a great team I want to thank for helping me find the perfect “me” for this week’s episode: Marylin Lee, Glenn Nutley and Rhonda Spies. I also have to give Lori Rozman credit for helping me build the amazing wig I wore last night, which was a really fun process that could fill a whole diary by itself. If you want to know more, you can read my getting-ready diary in PEOPLE.
I’m so excited for next week’s episode, and for an incredible season full of love, joy, inspiration, and talent. I’m so happy to have been a part of a historical show that is bringing joy and entertainment to people who could really use it now more than ever. I hope that everyone stays tuned for the rest of the season because it’s going to be a fun ride. Now that the premiere of Dancing With The Stars has come and gone, it’s time to focus on the season premiere of The Talk, which has had some changes of its own.
The changes we’ve seen on the set of DWTS mirror many you might be experiencing at home: we are all seeing a life that looks a bit different and presents us with challenges and obstacles that we’re not used to. I hope that together we are able to find new solutions, adapt and evolve so that we’re able to give ourselves a better chance at a future that’s happier and healthier for us all.