Carrie Ann Inaba brings such vibrant energy and enthusiasm to her role as a judge on Dancing With the Stars each week, it might be easy to forget that earlier this year she stepped down from her role as a host on The Talk after being diagnosed with various autoimmune conditions. Fortunately, she has returned to the DWTS judges’ table for the show’s 30th — and arguably most competitive — season, where she offers constructive criticism, makes tough (and quick) decisions on whom to save, and monitors couples to make sure they don’t do any lifts!
TV Insider chatted with the former In Living Color Fly Girl on why she feels this level of competition is the fiercest plus topics that include being one’s own health advocate and whether she’d do another talk show. As for tonight’s Queen-themed competition, Inaba previews, “I know we can look forward to more incredible performances by the most amazing cast yet!”
How are you feeling?
Carrie Ann Inaba: I’m feeling great. Taking six months off has really done wonders for everything. I was able to focus on my health issues, and I’ve gotten to the bottom of them. I don’t think I’d ever taken six months off before this. I’ve been working with some incredible doctors, and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been.
What advice would you give to people about taking care of themselves?
The advice I’d give to anyone is that you must trust yourself and you must be your own best advocate. You have a voice, and the best way to use it is to speak up for yourself, including to doctors. Also, do research. Doctors can be great, but they give you the best of their knowledge. I do a lot of research and I get a lot of second opinions. I blend information from various sources and find the right mix of ingredients for my own best life.
I’ve said this about other DWTS seasons, but this appears to be the highest level of competition we’ve ever seen. Do you feel this way?
This season is by far the most competitive. The level of dancing is beyond anything we’ve ever seen. This show seems to evolve as the years go by. I think that’s why we’re on the air after all these seasons. What I love about this season’s cast is that they knew they’d have to compete and they are not disappointing at all. Last week was the best week ever. I’ve said that before, and then I’ll say the same thing the following week.
Host Tyra Banks is not to be outdone with her outfits. However, your hair on Horror Night was something else!
When we talked about Halloween coming up, all I wanted to do was be a spider. I’ve been sending pictures to my team since the beginning of the season. I saw photos of what they’re doing on runways. Glenn Nutley, my incredible hairstylist, built this incredible piece. [Laughs] Although, I did have to wear a neck brace for a little while to keep my head up!
How is it with four judges on the panel now that Len Goodman is back after taking a season off and Derek Hough, who became a judge last year, has remained on?
It means [we have] more expertise. The one thing that’s more challenging with four of us is that I don’t have the same allotted amount of time to speak [after the couples dance]. I don’t always get to say all I want to say. I give contestants advice on what to work on for next week. Sometimes, I don’t feel I can get to it as eloquently as I’d like. I don’t get to [deliver] the compliments along with what to work on. It’s because of time. I think the couples want to hear how they can improve, so I try to get to that part right away.
Some pros advise their stars/partners not to watch the often emotional pre-dance video packages. Do you see them?
Yes. I watch them as they’re happening. I think it’s really important to see them because I want to be in the moment with the audience. Watching those packages and listening to everything allows me to understand the couple’s state of mind and mood. There’s real life happening along with the couples. I’m only scoring the dances and the actual performances, but it’s nice to talk to the human beings who are doing them. I think that’s an important part of our show.
You are a stickler for couples not taking their feet off the ground (unless it’s allowed in the dance). Why do you keep a watchful eye on that?
It’s been a rule since Season 1. First, it’s a real rule that comes from the Latin and ballroom dance worlds. Dancers are not allowed to do any lifts in international competition. That was a rule implemented to keep things fair. We have had contestants of all ages. If you were older or not as agile, you still had a chance to win and be judged on the same playing field. Do I see every lift? No. I’ve missed a few, I’m sure. But I do my best. I think it’s important to enforce that rule if we want to continue to have a varied level of [contenders]. It’s only fair.
How difficult is it when you have to decide which couple to save — especially when both couples are doing very well?
That is really the hardest part of the job. I actually preferred it when we didn’t have to — or get to — save anyone. It was the audience vote and our scores. Yes, that also meant better dancers would go home, but it felt more democratic to me. Now, we are tasked with choosing who we want to save from the bottom two. Each judge, I feel, [chooses] in a different way. It’s a combination of your heart and your head and yes, it has to be done in a quick moment. We can go by our feelings or by the numbers.
The judges don’t always agree.
Correct. When I chose to save Matt James [The Bachelor] over Kenya [Moore, The Real Housewives of Atlanta], I saw something in him where maybe he had a better chance to get to the end. Personally, if I think somebody has the opportunity to make it to the finals, then I want that person to stay. If someone doesn’t look like they can make it to the end, that becomes a factor as well.
But you never know. Look at Kenya and how great she did. I have to give it to her. She is such a fighter. She was in the bottom two three different times. After the second time she was in the bottom two, she wasn’t there again the following week. That was a wonderful moment for her. She gets to walk away with something to be very proud of even though she won’t [ultimately] win the Mirrorball trophy.
You left The Talk officially last summer. If you ever had the opportunity to do both DWTS and something in the daytime talk show genre, would you be open to it?
Of course, I would. Absolutely. Now, I think I’d be able to do something with a better sense of maintaining my health. I’ve learned so much about autoimmune conditions and how to work with them and how they can affect you. I’ve also healed for the most part from the long-haul COVID I had. I think I know better how to balance my life, and I’m grateful for that.
I’m also grateful to The Talk for the experience I had there. I learned so much. I was given this incredible opportunity. I learned how to take care of myself and put myself first. Now, I’d be able to take on another show because of what I’ve learned.
Dancing With the Stars, Mondays, 8/7c, ABC