Tyra Banks Reveals When She Got The 'DWTS' Job & the Update on Derek Hough
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
While Dancing With the Stars fans have been dealing with the abrupt exit of beloved hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, Tyra Banks has been working behind the scenes. As the show's new executive producer and host, she doesn't want longtime viewers to worry — she understands that change is difficult.
In a Thursday press conference call, she shared some of the COVID-19 safety protocols that will happen on the show. It will feel different than any other season, but rest assured, the DWTS team is working hard to add some extra sparkle to keep that energy going. With a strong cast that Banks had no say in picking, she is thrilled to join the iconic show and build upon the legacy that Bergeron built.
Banks has seen the negativity online, but she's eager to show what she can bring to DWTS. She wants those theme nights — yes, they will be back — to feel epic in a time when many Americans could use some cheering up.
She also clarifies when the offer to join the show was presented to her, and no, it had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter. The timing was awkward, but she also understands the importance of representation on a network show.
But what about Len Goodman and the return of Derek Hough? Banks gives as many hints as she possibly can without giving away the answer. ABC Publicity dropped a major clue in the official Season 29 cast reveal press release and Banks only supports that narrative.
Talk a little bit about the safety precautions that are being taken for this season due to COVID-19?
Tyra: So it is a pretty thick manual of a lot of precautions that the team is taking into effect. We will be in the ballroom, which is very exciting, but what is also upping the safety factor is no studio audience.
The lighting team is doing a fantastic job. The lighting crew is making sure that the room is effervescent [and] energetic without the audience. Another is the judges. I know that they are figuring it out. There are a couple of different ways of keeping the judges safely away from each other.
In terms of the pro dancers, there are three married couples on the pro dance team and they will be going through some very strong protocols of being separated throughout the entire shooting of the show. They have to separate themselves because they aren't dancing together. To keep those different pods safe, they will not be interacting with each other, not living with each other, not within a certain amount of feet with each other during the entire time we're shooting. And then, of course, there's the masks and the fumigations and the shields.
Are you going to be separated from your boyfriend during the show?
Tyra: I don't talk about my personal life too much, but the reason why the couples have to be separated is that when you're dancing with a partner it's very intimate. I'm not a COVID specialist, but you understand, it's kind of obvious. You need to protect that pod of dancers. So every celeb and pro dancer are considered a pod and we have to keep them separate.
Will the dancers be wearing masks when they perform?
What happens after the couples dance? Are you all six feet apart?
Tyra: I haven't done the ballroom walk-through — only conversations, theoretical conversations, around safety and camera angles and things like that, but we haven't walked it specifically yet. So I can't tell you how that will be handled safely and I don't know exactly where yet.
Will you have a co-host?
Tyra: I'm hosting alone.
Will we see you dancing at all this season?
You will not see me do a whole number, but you might see a shake and shimmy. You may see an eight-count thrown in. I think I'm a naturally good dancer and I also studied dance a lot when I was young. However, when there is choreography, I suck.
Were you ever asked to be a Dancing With the Stars contestant?
Tyra: No, I don't think I've ever been asked to be a contestant on the show, not from my memory. It doesn't mean that it never happened. I don't have any recollection of ever being asked to dance on the show.
What pro would you like to be paired up with if you did the show?
Tyra: I think Sasha, Val, or Keo. The thing is though, I'm not that strong with choreography, so I have a problem. I don't know what it is. They say left, right, left, kick up and down and I'll go right, left, left, kick down and up. There's something in my brain that struggles with choreography. So if they started a freestyle season, they can call me. Other than that, it'll never happen.
There's a rumor that Derek Hough is going to replace Len Goodman. Can you comment on that at all?
Tyra: I know that we're trying to figure out how to incorporate Len in this season because of the travel restrictions right now. There are some challenges, but we're trying to figure that out. And we are excited that Derek Hough is going to be doing something next week. It will be revealed what he's going to be doing and coming back because he's Dancing With the Stars royalty. He started with the show as a pro and has made it really big. So for him to be coming back is honoring his roots and the fans are going to be crazy excited.
Do you have any information about Len and travel restrictions due to COVID-19?
Tyra: I don't have any specific information more than what is public — that there are truly travel restrictions right now. So the law is the law. We're still trying to figure out how he can participate in other ways, but I mean, the law is the law.
As an executive producer, did you have a say in overhauling the look or feel and your role in the show?
Tyra: So I got asked about my interest in this show a while ago — many, many, many, many months ago, and I kind of noodled on it, thought about it, was trying to see what I could truly bring to something that has been around for so long. It's this cultural institution, not just in America, but it's a worldwide show. So I was like, I'm not sure what I could bring? Could I make it fresh, new, exciting while still honoring and respecting what it is? I called my mom and my mom was like, Heck yeah, you should do that. My mom already started ideas before I even went back to the ABC Disney team to tell them that I was interested in their inquiry.
It's funny because my mom was the very first person to ever tell me about Dancing With the Stars in Season 1. My mom was like, Turn on the TV, they got the stars dancing. I was like, What are you talking about? So being a producer and turning on the TV and seeing that I knew this was going to be a hit. I just knew it.
When I created America's Next Top Model and partnered with Ken Mok, who was the other executive producer and founding executive producer on America's Next Top Model, that's heavy lifting, that is coming up with something from scratch.
With Dancing With the Stars, this is an American icon of a show. So it's not like I'm coming in and saying, Oh, everything has to change. There's a wonderful executive producer who's been there for two years, Andrew Llinares. He is the heavy-lifting showrunner of the show and I have come in to work with him to add pixie dust, but to show a lot of deference to him, with him being there before I was. So it's just about some rejuvenation, some things that we're adding to kind of spice it up, but by no means, am I coming in with a sledgehammer.
We are just making sure that we're discovering new things that we can do to bring the young audience to this, to bring my audience to this, for them to connect with the existing audience and bring a lot of new people. I see on social, a lot of people are like, Well, I'm going to watch now. I want to see what she's going to bring to it.
Did you have a say in casting?
Tyra: No, I did not pick them. Not even a little bit, but [I was] kept in the loop on all of the updates and was very excited and like, Wow, wow, wow! I think the team is very excited that the cast is just so present in the pop-culture ecosystem right now. I think they're seeing this kind of huge response from the public because of that. So I'm excited about those choices.
Is there any celeb you're excited to meet and who do you think will surprise us the most?
Tyra: I think some of the obvious cast members that have an advantage are AJ McLean being that he's a Backstreet Boy. I'm so excited to meet him. I went to a Backstreet Boy concert a couple of years ago in Canada and honestly, I went reluctantly because I was exhausted, but then I got there and by the time I got home, I had no voice.
I heard Nelly said that he has two left feet. So I'm going to find that to be quite interesting, if he said that dance does not come naturally to him, I think Johnny Weir is going to do great because he is a champion on those skates. I think when you take the skates off, you still gonna be sliding and gliding on that dance floor.
Why do the bad dancers stay longer? Any judging or scoring changes to combat that?
Tyra: It's really interesting because this kind of happened with America's Next Top Model. At one point, the executive producer team opened up some of the judging to the public and sometimes they're just voting for other things that are not necessarily the best precision when it comes to modeling.
I think the same thing happens with Dancing With the Stars because they're looking at the whole thing. Maybe the audience at home is looking for their favorite celebrity that they like or their smile, or they look like they're improving or that they might not be as strong as somebody else. So there are so many things that come into effect when it comes to judging and it's not always technical.
I don't know what the judges could do to circumvent that I'm new to the table, so I'm learning, and learning with everybody. So I don't have a specific answer for that, but I do have an answer for how the home audience can sometimes not just be about skill. There are so many different things when it comes to root-ability and what they're emotionally feeling with a certain celebrity.
Will there be a Tyra save?
Tyra: We have not talked about that, but you know what, I'm going to bring that up. That's a good idea. We have not talked about that, but we shall, thank you very much.
Will there be theme nights this season on Dancing With the Stars?
Tyra: I'm super excited about theme nights. That's one of the things that executive producer, Andrew Llinares, and I have spoken about at length and kind of analyze a very long list of fun themes and us narrowing it down to the four that you will see. I can't give it all away.
One thing I will say is that there is always Disney theme night, so of course, there will be a Disney night, the other ones will be very exciting. What I'm excited about is being able to dress in the theme and for it to not be quiet, like I'm thinking Met Ball x 10 theme on theme nights. I think it's going to be something that people will be picking up their phones to tweet and Facebook and Instagram and TikTok about when they see these outfits for these nights.
What was your reaction to Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews leaving? How do you feel about the public's response to their exit and you joining the show?
Tyra: First of all, [let's] talk about diversity and inclusion. Diversity is crucial. It is just critical in general. I'll be 100 percent transparent and say that the decision to bring me on was before any unrest that our country was going through. The announcement was after that, so it seems like it was a response to that. With the announcement happening after, I knew exactly what people would think, but that's not what it was. Even if it was, it's not the worst thing in the world. I've created television shows and hosted Emmy-award-winning shows and executive produced many award-winning shows, so the capability is there.
It is my job to endear America to not just me, but to this show, because it is the same show. It is a different ringmaster, but it is still the show that they know and love. I've always had wind in my face a little bit and it doesn't really bother me. The fear and challenge and all propelled me forward. I don't know why I'm attracted to I'll show you, watch, come on this journey with me, be honest, give me feedback. Somebody's going to take — some of it is honest, good critique to take, to get better.
So I don't shy away from it. I don't know why. I think it's the woman that my mother raised me to be — a person to rise to the challenge, to lead by example, to learn from mistakes. I'm not worried about that. One thing that I do know is that change is always hard. Change is difficult. I do feel that I'm going to bring some excitement, some oomph, some sparkle to the show that is new and exciting and different. I am confident in that. I'm confident that we can show people a really good time, but also be very knowledgeable and aware that change is hard. It just is, but I think we're gonna put on a damn good show.
Did you do research or reach out to Tom or Erin after their exit was announced?
Tyra: I'll start with my ability at hosting, especially hosting live TV. It's one of the hardest things in the world. The people don't know it at home, but you've got directors in your ear, there are so many things. You have somebody talking and they're running on and going on and you have a director in your ear saying, Cut him off, cut him off, go to commercial. Hosting another one of the largest TV shows that was live — AGT. No problem. Live TV hosting, that's just in my bones.
Tom and Erin, they are experts at live TV, some of the hardest hosting, there's no editing. It is just real and raw and what you see is what you get. Tom, he tweeted something that I found really hilarious because I find his humor to not just be funny for funny's sake, but sometimes it makes you think. He told a joke on Twitter that was multilayered. And he said something like, Well, it looks like I'm not going to get my monogrammed towels back. And I thought that was super clever.
Aw, damn, Tom Bergeron — Tyra Banks. TB! I responded to him on Twitter. I wrote something about TB — from one TB to the OG TB. Something about the towels. I can't remember. So I wrote this response, kept trying to send it, kept trying to send it. It wouldn't go out. Then I started getting paranoid.
I'm like, Oh my God, he's blocked me. Oh my God. I'm like, Oh my God. I saved his message. Then I started to tweet to other people and friends and nothing was going through. Then I turned on the news and it says Twitter was hacked. So that's what it was. I never got to get my tweet out to him, but I find him to be so clever.
I just hate that I missed that moment because of damn Twitter being hacked to respond to him in real-time. I do have a lot to learn from him and I've already studied and will continue to study, but I'm confident in my hosting. No problem.
What would you like to see Dancing With the Stars look like when life is back to normal?
Tyra: It's so hard to even think that far. I think the interesting thing is going back to normal. There are some normal things that I want. I want to be able to hug a dancer. I want to be able to wipe the tears of a star who got a bad critique and they're up for elimination and they're fearful and nervous. That's who I am when it comes to hosting.
I remember I hosted two seasons of America's Got Talent and I got a really bad cold or the flu or something every season because I was wiping boogers, wiping snot, letting people just cry all over my shoulder. I didn't care. That's just who I am. And unfortunately, I won't be able to do that this year.
It is imperative for me to express that empathy with my words, with my body language, with my eyes, with my smize. So when the world turns to normal, when there's a cure and when there is a vaccine and Dancing With the Stars has an audience, and we don't have to worry about six feet apart, my favorite part is going to be touch and being able to really, truly interact and touch people and give them the love, support, and cheers that they deserve.
Do you see this as a new beginning for you, like in the next chapter of your life?
Tyra: I see it as joining something that already has this beautiful legacy and adding some sprinkle fairy dust to it, but next chapter, no. I see it as me getting a family that is so strong, so successful, so beautiful. It brings so much hope, especially during a challenging time. I'm just super excited to be able to add whatever I can to something that's already so beautiful.
Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.
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