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AJ McLean danced with Cheryl Burke in season 29 of Dancing with the Stars. During that time, they also formed a friendship and started the Pretty Messed Up podcast, where they share behind-the-scenes stories from their time in the competition. Find out what McLean did for Burke when they were competing in season 29 in a ballroom with no audience.

AJ McLean poses with Cheryl Burke, who smiles for the camera in the 'Dancing with the Stars' ballroom during season 29
AJ McLean & Cheryl Burke | Eric McCandless via Getty Images

AJ McLean and Cheryl Burke danced in an empty ballroom in ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Season 29 

Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Dancing with the Stars had a unique set of circumstances to deal with in season 29. But as they say, “The show must go on.” Producers worked tirelessly to implement safety precautions for the DWTS cast and crew so that the season could happen. 

One of those precautions was excluding a live audience. Burke danced with the Backstreet Boy for nine weeks in season 29. Ultimately, the judges saved Britt Stewart and Johnny Weir, advancing them to the semi-finals. In the end, Artem Chigvintsev and Kaitlyn Bristowe won the Mirrorball Trophy.

AJ McLean sang to Cheryl Burke during their ‘Dancing with the Stars’ season with no audience

Usually, the Dancing with the Stars ballroom is packed with audience members, including the friends and family members of those competing. But in season 29, the cast had to rely on the judges, DWTS pros, and their competitors for support each week. 

But Burke had an added layer of support when she danced with McLean without an audience present. “I made AJ sing to me during the show because it was like crickets,” Burke explains in the “OH BROTHER!” episode of the Pretty Messed Up podcast. “I could hear the freakin’ judges breathe down my neck.” 

Despite not having an audience to vibe with, McLean advanced far in the season 29 competition. And as Burke explained in another episode of the podcast, McLean’s elimination wasn’t his fault. 

Cheryl Burke blames a change in judging for AJ McLean’s season 29 loss 

Last season, Burke talked openly about getting eliminated from the show. In her opinion, the judging was different in season 29 as compared to other seasons because Len Goodman, who was in the United Kingdom and unable to travel because of the pandemic, wasn’t part of the judges’ panel

“Within the ballroom world and within the show and how the show was — at least for the first decade — it was about ballroom,” Burke said during the “How Messed Up Was That?” episode of the podcast. “With that comes technique and different curriculums — like we cannot break hold in the quickstep [or] tango. We have to be in the correct frame. We have to do certain steps.” 

Goodman, Dancing with the Stars’ head judge, is known for calling out technical mistakes, regardless of the competitor. But without Goodman in season 29, Burke felt the judges’ opinions skewed unfairly for McLean. 

Cheryl Burke and AJ McLean still work with each other on ‘Pretty Messed Up’ 

Their time on Dancing with the Stars may have ended prematurely, but McLean and Burke still get to work together, thanks to the Pretty Messed Up podcast. Burke, McLean, and his mentor of 15-plus years, Rene Elizondo, co-host the show together. 


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As a group, the trio talks about their sobriety, mental health, and of course, Dancing With the Stars. Since the show began, Burke, McLean, and Elizondo have interviewed guests like Burke’s husband, Matthew Lawrence and DWTS competitors from seasons 29 and 30. 

Watch Burke compete with Cody Rigsby in season 30 of Dancing with the Stars and hear new episodes of Pretty Messed Up every Tuesday.