Julianne Hough on the Perks of Leaving 'Dancing with the Stars' ' Judging Panel: 'I Can Actually Have Favorites'

The former Mirrorball winner did not return as a judge for season 22 of the reality dance competition

Photo: Jeff Lipsky/CPi Syndication

brightcove.createExperiences(); When Dancing with the Stars returned for season 22, the judges’ panel was missing a familiar face: Julianne Hough.

“I will miss being on the panel … but have a lot of exciting stuff coming that I look forward to sharing,” the former DWTS champion, 27, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “The pro dancers, producers and crew at DWTS will always be my family.”

But Hough says there is at least one benefit to not sitting next to Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman on the panel.

“It’s nice now because I can actually have favorites. I watched the premiere, and I was super-rooting for [Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris] because he did Grease: Live with us,” says the dancer, who has collaborated on an activewear collection with MPG Sport.

Hough has promised that fans have not seen the last of her in the DWTS ballroom, but she reiterates that she’s excited to be focusing on other ventures.

“I’m really excited because I’m focusing on some other things,” says Hough, who is engaged to hockey star Brooks Laich. “I’m at that point in my career where I need to focus on my personal career and make sure I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Season 22 of Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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