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Dancing with the Stars exclusive: Judge Bruno Tonioli on new judge Derek Hough and getting back to the basics

Bruno Tonioli from Dancing with the Stars. Pic credit: ABC/Laretta Houston

There were several changes to Dancing with the Stars when Season 29 began back in September, including new host Tyra Banks and six-time mirrorball champion Derek Hough substituting for Len Goodman.

However, one of the things that happily remained the same was the return of Bruno Tonioli to the judges table.

That said, Bruno does have something new going on.

He is looking like a silver fox these days. It is the result of no visits to the hairdresser during quarantine, so that the 64-year-old did away with hair dye, letting his natural gray come through.

“I was thinking about it for a long time,” he told media outlets in August, when he debuted his new look. “You just basically need to shave your head and start again. This is the time. It’s liberating. I’m glad people like it. It’s so much easier.”

Then he joked, “I’ve had a lot of compliments. Myself and George Clooney are now practically twins.”

Monsters & Critics got the chance to speak with Bruno after last week’s show about what it is like having Derek as a judge, what he thinks are the positive things to come out of the new DWTS protocols for the season, judging tiebreakers, and more.

Monsters & Critics: Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like having Derek at the judges table with you instead of Len Goodman?

Bruno Tonioli: I love Derek. I’ve known him forever. I gave him his first job in television at the BBC years ago. He couldn’t be more qualified.

He’s one of the best dancers I have ever had. He’s like a son to me. He knows what he’s talking about. He is the one that’s been there. He’s won more championships than anyone and he’s the nicest guy.

Of course, I miss Len. We’ve been working together for 15 years, but at the same time, Carrie Ann, Derek, and myself, we’ve known each other forever.

It is not like a big shock because we know each other. We all read from the same page. It is great.

M&C: What else do you like about this season that’s obviously so different?

Bruno: What has happened and what is very good about it is, in a way, because of the situation, the focus is even more on the competitors. It is the two of them. That’s it.

That’s what you’re looking at. It is almost like rebooting and going back to how we started. So, it is good because the judges and the public see the two without distractions.

I love the group numbers and giving the opportunity to the kids, to the professionals, to see what they can do.

When we have the results show, it is big and it’s great. But, it’s actually good as well to see the basics. That’s what it is all about. It takes two to tango. Show me what you’ve got. It makes it even more exciting.

M&C: With all the changes, do you feel like you have gotten into a groove with it now? Is it getting easier each week?

Bruno: I enjoy every week. As a performer, every show is different, but every show you give everything you’ve got. All of us work as a unit to make it happen.

You can only think about what you have to do at the moment. I don’t go in thinking about what it was, what it could be, what it should be. What it is, is now. What are you going to do now? How are you going to make it work now?

That’s all you can really put your energy and focus on.

Carrie Ann Inaba, Derek Hough, Bruno Tonioli Pic credit: ABC/Eric McCandless

M&C: Are the decisions getting tougher as to who to keep? What went into your decision tonight even though you weren’t needed as a tiebreaker in choosing between Monica Aldama and Anne Heche, who ended up leaving?

Bruno: The thing is, at this point, we like them all. They are doing a great job. But we have to make a decision based on who’s the best dancer at the end of the day and based on what we’ve seen so far.

Obviously, there will always be somebody who disagrees, but our decision is purely based on dancing and who has the best chance to continue.

It is never easy and it’s going to get harder and harder. It’s a competition, so there you go.

M&C: When the dancers have an emotional story, the viewers can be influenced as to who they’re going to vote for based on the video packages, but the judges don’t have that option. They have to focus on just the dance, right?

Bruno: Absolutely right. We feel for them.

[Take Anne Heche, for example, who talked about how her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres lost her movie roles]. I said it live. I really admire her, because a lot of people should do what she’s done, because it is absolutely unfair that because of your orientation, race, or whatever, you don’t have the same opportunity other people.

People should have equal opportunity. It should be based on talent, the right person for the right job regardless. You should represent the world we are living in. It’s as simple as that.

But as a judge, we’re judging the dance. I support that completely, but when it came to the dancing and the choice at the end, it went the other way.

It doesn’t take anything away from what I feel about that particular statement.

M&C: I am liking your new look with the grey hair.

Bruno: Go for it, darling! Silver is in. Silver is the future.

Dancing with the Stars airs Monday nights at 8/7c on ABC.


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