‘DWTS’: Cheryl Burke Cares More About This Than Judges Scores

Dancing With the Stars has made a lot of changes to the show during season 29. From a new host to a new judge and a lack of a live audience, fans are curious about how these changes have impacted the celebrities and their pro partners.

Cheryl Burke, the professional ballroom dancer who is paired up with Backstreet Boy AJ McLean this season, says she cares more about one thing than anything else going on this season — including the judges’ scores. Find out where Burke places the most value.

Cheryl Burke & AJ McLean
Cheryl Burke & AJ McLean | Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused significant changes to ‘DWTS’ 

Dancing With the Stars has had to take extra safety precautions this season because of the pandemic. So that producers can keep the cast and crew safe, all of the contestants are required to follow certain protocols.

“Because of COVID-19, we see each other at a distance, and we all have masks on,” competitor Carole Baskin told Showbiz Cheat Sheet over the phone. “It’s really hard to have a conversation because we’re staying eight feet away, not six.” 

Another thing that’s different this season is the lack of a live audience. Because of the pandemic, fans are not allowed to watch the show live in the ballroom.

Cheryl Burke said ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is ‘strange’ without an audience 

Burke and her Backstreet Boy partner discussed the show’s lack of an audience on their podcast, Pretty Messed Up

“It was really strange, personally, for me to perform with no audience,” Burke said. “Imagine doing a show like this for 15 years, and then all of a sudden, you hear crickets after you’re jiving your a*s off.” 

“It was an adjustment of sorts,” McLean added. “Whenever [Cheryl] talks about the word connection, that’s between her and I — nobody else — with or without an audience.” Burke explained how ballroom dancing should be intimate, but not having an audience to cheer them on still feels odd to her.  

Cheryl Burke cares about AJ McLean’s potential — not the judges’ scores 

In the first episode of their podcast, Burke talked about how differently she feels judges like Bruno Tonioli are scoring this season. 

“I think [not having an audience] influences the judges,” Burke explained. “I can tell when Bruno was judging, [and] he was looking for validation.”

Typically, Tonioli is a very physical judge. When he’s excited for the dancers, he’ll stand and mimic the choreography they did well. But without an audience around, Burke sees Tonioli toning down his excitement and ultimately, his scores. 

RELATED: ‘DWTS’ Star Cheryl Burke Reveals an Interesting Fact About the Lawrence Brothers — They’re Not Who Fans Think

Regardless, Burke says she really doesn’t care what the judges think, regardless of how they’re scoring. 

“I don’t really care so much about the judges’ scores,” she admitted in episode 2 of the podcast, “You Don’t Know Jack.” 

“I just judge AJ based on what his potential is,” she continued. “Could [our week two dance] have been better? Yes. [But[ it was better than last week.” Burke is looking forward to helping McLean continue to hone his dance ability, no matter what the judges say.

Dancing with the Stars Season 29 airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.