‘DWTS’: Why Derek Hough Felt Like He Was ‘Faking It’ in His Early Seasons on the Show

Celebrity dancer Derek Hough returned to Dancing With the Stars in season 29, taking a seat at the judges’ table rather than hitting the dance floor. Joining the cast of pros in season 5, Hough has since won the coveted Mirrorball trophy an impressive six times.

Despite his obvious talent, Hough revealed he felt a bit out of step during his first few competitions on the reality show.

Derek Hough of 'Dancing With the Stars'
Derek Hough of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ | ABC via Getty Images

Derek Hough took time to find his footing on ‘DWTS’

Paired with numerous celebrities including Jennie Garth, Ricki Lake, Bindi Irwin, and Jennifer Grey, Hough admitted to being slightly intimidated when he joined the DWTS team of pro dancers.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune in October 2020. “I had no idea. And when somebody first called me a choreographer, I was, like, ‘No, I’m not.’ … I was just a dancer.”

Twenty-two years old when he signed on with Dancing With the Stars, Hough’s boyish looks were at first off-putting to some of his assigned partners early on.

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“I’ll never forget it,” Hough said. “My first couple partners were, like, ‘Who is this 12‑year‑old boy I’m dancing with?’ Honestly, I felt like I was just kind of faking it. Trying to prove myself to my partners.”

‘DWTS’ star racks up the awards

After landing in fourth place his first season, Hough went on to garner a total of six Mirrorball trophies. The DWTS star also snagged nine Emmy nominations for choreography, winning the award in 2013 and 2015.

“Along the line, what this show taught me was not just how to choreograph, but how to work with people and how to encourage people and how to bring the best out of them,” Hough said. “It really ignited this passion within me for serving others … to find ways to make them their best.”

Leaving Dancing With the Stars in 2016 to pursue other opportunities, Hough returned for season 29 as a judge. He commented on coming back to his original stomping grounds.

“It honestly reminds me how much I love Dancing with the Stars,” he explained. “I owe so much to this show and the people that have been a part of it and are a part of it. … And to be a part of this journey once again in a different role is magical. I pinch myself sometimes and reflect back on my first performance… and just to see how far and how much the show has grown, and it’s gotten better and better.”

Derek Hough in the judges’ chair

Hough brought his experience as a judge from World of Dance to the DWTS competition when season 29 premiered. He considered any criticism he gave on performances as a sign of promise.

“If the teacher was picking on me, then I honestly would be, like, that’s a good thing, because it means they believe in you,” Hough remarked. “They want you to be better. So, yeah, I catch myself being a little bit more critical, a bit more tough on some couples that I believe have a lot of potential.”

At times, Hough found it difficult to streamline his critiques because he wanted to offer numerous helpful suggestions.

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“I think my inner coach, my inner teacher wants to come out,” he explained. “I want to give a whole TED Talk to the contestants about how they can improve. For me, there is a lot of compassion and understanding and empathy for what they are going through. It’s hard for people to really fathom how challenging it is.”