On Monday night Australian director Baz Luhrmann will be making his debut as a guest judge on Dancing With the Stars. It’s not as odd as it sounds. He directed a sumptuous version of La Boheme for Broadway, reinvented the movie musical with the magnificent Moulin Rouge, and of course started off his career with Strictly Ballroom, a hilarious peek into the world of competitive ballroom dancing. He spoke to Pop Vox about his new job.
Why did you decide to be a judge on Dancing With the Stars?
Actually, well first of all it’s fun. The show is fun. But more importantly, a lot of people in the U.S. don’t know that Strictly Ballroom was the inspiration for the original BBC version which then was the inspiration for Dancing With the Stars. It’s called Strictly Come Dancing in Britain and Disney is re-releasing the DVD of Strictly Ballroom in the U.S. early next year so this is part of me linking the disc to the show.
Don’t you come from a ballroom dancing family?
I was a ballroom dancer. I grew up in a small country town. I did competitive ballroom dancing later on. My brothers got into it and then later on my mother became a judge.
Were you good?
I was alright! I won the districts triple A something or other blah blah blah. You could say I was a northern New South Wales champ at some point.
Not the whole of New South Wales. Just the Northern part?
You know what? I was a little champ. We certainly took it seriously. We loved it. Ballroom dancing for us as children was, we lived in the country. It was a country person’s escape into theatre and to be able to travel and be part of something. A world that is in one regard preposterous and fantastical and on the other hand it was a serious sport. You really had to be good at it. There is nothing like dance. Expressing yourself through dance is a really joyous thing.
Buff Daddy: While most people drop weight on Dancing, pro Tony Dovolani has been packing on the pounds — nearly 20 — since the end of season 8 in May. Dovolani, whose twins turned one earlier this month, tells PEOPLE he’s in training for a role in the upcoming independent film Pumping Up. Shooting stars in December and Dovolani has been working out every day. “I eat like a horse, five or six times a day, and I drink protein shakes, I eat protein bars,” he says. “Right now I’m 192. Usually I’m at 175.” In the movie, Dovolani plays “a character getting ready for a bodybuilding competition. He’s an Italian guy from Queens.”
Scaredy Cats: The show’s opening number was quite the grand entrance as the eight male pros descended from the ceiling on scaffolding. “I was scared wreckless,” Alec Mazo confesses. Even tough guy Maksim Chmerkovskiy couldn’t wait to get his feet firmly on the ground. “I did not like that at all, and Mark [Ballas] was shaking and rocking the [scaffolding],” Chmerkovskiy says. “I am so glad that is over. Never again.”
Snack Attack: Since it was ladies’ night on the dance floor, the men were able to relax and watch the show. Sitting side-by-side, snowboarder Louis Vito and football pro Michael Irvin shared a bag of gummy worms. Even former politician Tom DeLay was spotted dropping a worm into his mouth. At one point, all the guys were munching on something. “Candy, gummy worms and peanut M&Ms, and cookies and Altoids,” says Vito of his evening snacks. “It’s like watching a movie. How can you watch a movie without something to eat?”
Say What?: The Grammy-award winning singer Macy Gray had everyone on their toes, even the producers. After her first turn on the dance floor, Gray was asked how she felt. “I feel like I just busted my cherry.” While viewers struggled to figure out what she said, the audience roared with laughter. Tom DeLay was spotted wiping away tears from laughing so hard. A source added that backstage was no different: “Everyone was laughing, from the designers to production assistants!”
Natalie Coughlin isn’t quite a household name, but as an Olympic medalist in swimming, she’s at least athletic — and she’s paired with Alec Mazo, who’s been looking for a good partner ever since winning with Kelly Monaco in the first season of the show. Alec first worked to cure her of her tendency to grimace angrily while competing, then went on to teach her the salsa. At times, Natalie seemed to have the hang of it, but her hips aren’t quite built for Latin dancing just yet. She’s coordinated and athletic, but she still tends to look like she’s working a little too hard.
Singer Macy Gray is dancing with the lovely and frequently challenged Jonathan Roberts (who handled Marie Osmond’s fainting spell and Heather Mills’ missing leg), and it’s pretty clear that this is not the year things get easier for him. Roberts called Macy “a little bit eccentric” from the beginning, and indeed, she seemed as out of her element as anyone the show has ever featured. Macy managed to walk around the floor in time with the music when it came time for her “Viennese waltz,” but that was about it. Carrie Ann called the performance “beautiful in its own bizarre way,” which was clearly the strongest praise she could muster.
Model Joanna Krupa and past winner Derek Hough look like a great team when they’re standing in line waiting for the show to start — so how do they look in motion? In spite of wearing what appear to be pants made from Big Bird pelts, Joanna looked good dancing. Hers was the first salsa that looked genuinely sexy (her model appearance, of course, doesn’t hurt), and she definitely looks like a competitor to watch.
Last up was Louis van Amstel and Kelly Osbourne, who’s a naturally sympathetic figure, given her wacky family and her obvious insecurities about her looks, weight, and whether she’s got any sex appeal at all. In fact, Kelly explained that it was her eagerness to try something more feminine that led her to the show. Her natural fear that she’d be hopelessly clumsy did not come true at all: she turned out to have a lovely smile, plenty of grace, and much more natural ability than anyone (especially Kelly herself) expected. Looking like a likely fan favorite because she’s both talented and an underdog of sorts, Kelly hugged her wildly excited and weepy famous parents and received very nice praise from the judges. It was an obviously genuine moment, and precisely the kind of thing that keeps people tuning in to the show.