Derek Hough Is Back on DWTS — But What About Sister Julianne Hough?

"You never know," Derek Hough teases

Derek Hough is happy to be back home in the ballroom.

Hough, 35, is opening up about his return to Dancing with the Stars (this time as a judge!), telling PEOPLE, "I'm excited to see what happens."

"There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties this season, but I'm excited to see the solutions and see how we're all going to do it," Hough says, in reference to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Hough, who last appeared on the show as a pro during season 23, will be joining returning judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli. Longtime head judge Len Goodman is unable to judge this season live in the ballroom because he is hunkered down in England during the global health crisis.

"I already have a great relationship with them — I've known them for years," Hough says of working with Inaba, 52, and Tonioli, 64. "We've been chatting. We're supposed to be eight feet apart from each other at the judges' desk, so that's going to be a long desk. Bruno and I are very similar in the way I move my body. It's probably good that we're not next to each other, because it would have been a hazard. Poor Carrie Ann would've been dodging arms everywhere."

derek hough, julianne hough
Derek Hough, Julianne Hough. Joshua Blanchard/Getty; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

As for how he'll be judging contestants, the six-time Mirrorball trophy winner explains, "I want to be fair."

"I want to be helpful. Sometimes being straight and being honest can be helpful," he says. "But also, I've been in their shoes. I've been in that experience on the dance floor so I know what it takes. I think that will allow me to be straight and be like, 'Listen, you have to do this. If you don't do this, this is not going to happen.' I think that because I've had that experience and I've been in that place perhaps it'll be received in a way where [they're like] 'Maybe I should listen.'"

Derek Hough and Jennifer Grey on Dancing with the Stars Season 11. Adam Larkey/Walt Disney Television via Getty

Hough happens to hold the record for most DWTS wins. What's his secret?

"For me, it's everything. It's formula. It's combination. It's the routines, it's the music, it's the costumes, it's the story," he says. "I think that’s really important. It’s connecting with America. By connecting to America, you have to be one, playful out, take advantage of this whole experience which is ridiculous and outrageous … but also to be completely open and real in yourself and be vulnerable. I think that’s when the connection happens when people at home. When that happens they root for you, they vote for you."

In addition to changes due to COVID-19, this season of DWTS will also see Tyra Banks take over as host. (ABC and BBC Studios announced the departures of longtime hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews in July.)

"I love Tyra," Derek says. "I had the opportunity to talk with her for a couple hours a couple years ago and thought she was just fantastic and so smart and brilliant and passionate and energetic."

Hough shares he'll "definitely" be leaning on Banks, who has years of experience as a supermodel, when it comes to photoshoots.

"I'll definitely be pulling her aside and be like, 'Listen, I need some help.' When I started doing photoshoots and stuff, I was like, ‘I genuinely don’t know what I’m doing.’" Hough jokes.

RELATED: Kaitlyn Bristowe 'Can't Stop Practicing' for DWTS but Says 'Live TV Scares the Crap' Out of Her

As for whether his sister and fellow dancer Julianne Hough will also stage a DWTS return, Derek teases, "You never know."

"No plans of it yet," Hough says of Julianne, 32, coming back as a guest judge. "You never know. That's one thing I've learned about DWTS, is that things change every single week."

Hough joining the season 29 judges panel was announced Tuesday on Good Morning America.

“This show has been and will always be incredibly special to me," he said in a statement. "Coming back feels like coming home and I couldn’t be more excited to be back in the ballroom.”

Season 29 of DWTS will premiere Monday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Updated by Robyn Merrett
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