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It’s one of the most coveted prizes on television, but Dancing with the Stars‘ Mirrorball Trophy actually comes from a quite humble beginning.
Based on the British reality competition Strictly Come Dancing, DWTS launched in 2005 with few expectations.
“With all due respect to the show, we didn’t think it was going to last more than one season,” DWTS production designer James Yarnell tells PEOPLE. “But we decided we wanted one that looked more like a trophy than the Strictly Come Dancing prize, which was basically a mirrorball on a stick.”
So to upgrade the trophy, Yarnell and his team turned to an unconventional source material: a lamp.
“There was a limit to what I could spend, so I bought a 3-ft.-tall brass lamp, unscrewed it and took all the pieces apart. Then I reassembled some of the pieces to make basically what we can have today,” says Yarnell. “The original one, the Kelly Monaco one, was literally part of a brass lamp and had it put on a wooden base with the mirrorball on it.”
But the trophy wasn’t camera-ready until a last-minute fix that occurred just before the premiere season’s live finale.
“One of the execs from ABC thought the trophy was too short, so we literally unscrewed it and — probably 10 minutes before we went live — we added a roll of parcel tape between the stem and the base and that elevated it by 2 in.,” says Yarnell. “We covered it in gold paper and off it went.”
The trophy remained relatively the same through season 3.
The trophy remained relatively the same until season 4 when it got an upgrade.
“They stopped making the lamp at Lamps Plus, so we’d run out of options and had to start casting it and put a heavy acrylic base with a brass stem,” says Yarnell, who now commissions trophy bases from New York-based company Society Awards.
For the lettering that wraps around the mirrorball, Yarnell uses California Cinnabar Inc. The lettering has changed whenever the show’s logo has changed and Yarnell is grateful the series now uses block lettering instead of the calligraphy it used in earlier seasons (like here with Donny Osmond in 2009).
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“The first year Derek Hough won, he lifted the trophy up and while he was shaking it and fist pumping it above his head, the D came off,” Yarnell says of Hough’s win in 2008 with Brooke Burke-Charvet. “There’s press photos of it saying ‘ancing with the Stars!’ But that was the logo and there wasn’t a lot that we could do about it.”
So Yarnell was thrilled when the logo changed to block lettering (as captured in this photo of Peta Murgatroyd, her partner Donald Driver and his family in 2012).
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Shiny and New
For the the all-stars season in 2012 (which was won by Melissa Rycroft & Tony Dovolani) the trophy was covered in Swarovski crystals, but "there's no such thing as a high-end mirrorball," explains Yarnell. "So no matter how much we put into the trophy, how much we spend, it always has a $10 mirrorball on top."
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For season 20 (which was won by Rumer Willis & Val Chmerkovskiy) the trophy was painted gold. "We had to cast a mirrorball and plate it gold," explains Yarnell.
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One recent change was to the lettering on the trophy. As shown here in this photo of season 23 winner Laurie Hernandez, the dot of the "i" in "Dancing" was changed to a star. "The logo changed to add the star, so we thought it was time for a new trophy," says Yarnell.
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For season 25, the trophy has been plated silver — and PEOPLE has the first look image of the coveted award.
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