Val Chmerkovskiy on Sean Spicer's Controversial DWTS Casting: 'I Understand the Backlash'
"I'm here to say that I understand the backlash; I definitely understand the outrage," said Val Chmerkovskiy
Sitting down with PEOPLE Now on Thursday, the DWTS pro dancer, 33, said that while he understands why some fans are upset about Spicer, 47, competing on the upcoming season, he believes not everyone has “to agree” with the celebrity contestants.
“My reaction was like, ‘Yo, Sean Spicer’s on the cast!’ That was my reaction calling my brother,” said Chmerkovskiy, referencing his older brother and DWTS alum Maks Chmerkovskiy, about when he learned that President Donald Trump‘s former press secretary was cast.
“But then in the same breath, it’s like, and so is Ray Lewis and so is Lamar Odom and so is Christie Brinkley and so is Hannah [Brown],” he continued.
While audiences may not see eye-to-eye with a celebrity, Chmerkovskiy explained that the differences are what make the ABC reality competition series “unique.”
“The thing that makes our show unique and wild and crazy and entertaining is the fact that it’s a collective of all these different people. And you don’t have to agree or follow all these people. They’re all very different,” said Chmerkovskiy. “And the beauty, me being a dance ambassador, is — what I find a lot of pride in is how inclusive dance is and that it doesn’t judge based on any of the past. It kind of just wholeheartedly welcomes people in. Then, that person has a chance to either be dismissed or show his true colors.”
Chmerkovskiy clarified that while he is “not here defending anybody or opposing anything,” he does “understand the outrage.”
“I’m here to say that I understand the backlash; I definitely understand the outrage,” he said.
He added with a laugh: “But at the same time, you know, there are bigger problems in the world besides Sean Spicer being humiliated doing the cha-cha.”
But just hours after ABC announced the cast, longtime host Tom Bergeron posted a lengthy message on Twitter, revealing that he met with the DWTS executive producer several months ago and tried to steer the show away from politics.
“Chief among them was my hope that DWTS, in its return following an unprecedented year-hiatus, would be a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably decisive booking from ANY political affiliations,” Bergeron, 64, wrote, adding that he “left that lunch convinced we were in agreement.”
“Subsequently (and rather obviously), a decision was made to, as we often say in Hollywood, ‘go in a different direction,’” the TV host added.
Although he never named names, Bergeron was seemingly referring to Spicer, which had already prompted backlash from many fans.
Added Bergeron, “It is the prerogative of the producers, in partnership with the network, to make whatever decisions they feel are in the best long-term interests of the franchise. We can agree to disagree, as we do now, but ultimately it’s their call.”
“I’ll leave it to them to answer any further questions about those decisions,” Bergeron wrote, before adding a positive spin to his post.
“For me, as host, I always gaze into the camera’s lens and imagine you on the other side, looking for a two hour escape from whatever life hassles you’ve been wrestling with,” he continued, joking that he’s always ready to supply “dad jokes.”
“Hopefully, when [co-host] Erin Andrews and I look into those lenses again on September 16, you’ll be on the other side looking back, able to enjoy the charismatic pro dancers, the unpredictable judges and the kitschy charm that has denied DWTS since 2005,” he concluded the post.
Spicer is joining The Supremes’ Mary Wilson, Karamo Brown, The Bachelorette‘s Hannah Brown, supermodel Christie Brinkley, country star Lauren Alaina, actor James Van Der Beek, NFL legend Ray Lewis, The Office star Kate Flannery, pop star Ally Brooke, former basketball player Lamar Odom and comedian/actor Kel Mitchell out on the ballroom this season.
“I’m going to enjoy myself, and if more people like me, then that’s great,” he said.
“I’m very happy with who I am,” Spicer added. “I’m very happy with the friends that I have.”
“The idea that I need this to make myself feel better is preposterous. I’m in this because I enjoy it. I’m very comfortable with who I am, what I believe and who I support, and that’s it,” he continued to Mediaite.
“Tom’s been a great host for 28 seasons,” Spicer told Mediaite when asked about Bergeron’s comments. “My hope is that he sees how bringing diverse group of people can help instill a greater degree of stability and respect among people in this country.”
“My overall hope is that at the end of this season that Tom looks at this and says, bringing people together of very diverse backgrounds — whether it’s in politics or other areas — and allowing them to show America how we can engage in a really respectful and civil way, is actually a way to help bring the country together as opposed to bring it apart,” Spicer continued to the outlet.
Season 28 of Dancing with the Stars premieres Sept. 16 on ABC.