You’d think after all this time and all that exposure — including 17 seasons as a professional partner to various celebrities on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” (and a record six wins) — people would know how to pronounce Derek Hough’s last name by now.
“But I always get ‘Hoe,’ or ‘How,’” he says, laughing, as he compares notes with a reporter with a tricky name. “Or, ‘Hey there, Mr. ‘Hoooo.’”
For the record, you say it like this: “Huff.”
And when it comes to professional dancing, not many names are more recognizable. In addition to his “Dancing With the Stars” resume and a variety of stints on stage, TV and film, the 33-year-old Hough is currently in his third season as a judge on NBC’s popular “World of Dance” (he sits alongside Jennifer Lopez on that panel) and is about to launch his first solo dance tour after several years of going out on the road with younger sister Julianne Hough.
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“Derek Hough: Live! The Tour” kicks off its 59-city run in Charlotte on Friday, April 5, and heads south before circling back to North Carolina and the Durham Performing Arts Center Saturday, April 13.
In a phone interview last Thursday, Hough filled us in on what to expect from the tour (hint: he also sings!), recalled memorable interactions with fans, and gave us just the slightest inkling of how close (or far off) he is from taking his relationship with girlfriend Hayley Erbert to the next level.
Some questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
Q. I understand you started rehearsals just two days ago. How are things going so far?
Yeah, it’s been good, man. We just, uh — (yawns) — excuse me, sorry. (Chuckles.) We’ve been working hard. Hence that yawn. I’m doing music as well. Live music. So I’m in the recording studios at night, laying down saxophone, or trumpets, or drums, or bass. I had a late night. ... But this cast of dancers is just incredible. They’re doing some amazing things, flipping and turning and lifting.
Q. So how big is the cast?
Well, I have seven dancers. I have four girls and three guys. And then myself, of course. Out of all of the tours, this might be the strongest group of dancers I’ve had, in terms of the quality of dancing. One of the girls, Daniella (Karagach), she’s a champion ballroom dancer — a current one. So it’s like the difference between having someone who was an Olympian four years ago and an Olympian who’s currently competing. That’s kind of the way I equate her level of dancing in ballroom and Latin. And Charity Anderson, who made the final of “World of Dance” (in Season 2). People know her and love her, and she’s incredible and amazing. Her and her partner got the first perfect score on “World of Dance.” Then Jay Jay (Dixonbey) was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and he’s an amazing dancer. On top of that, having a live band — a live drummer, a live saxophone player, live trumpets, a live guitar — it’s just gonna add a whole ‘nother level to the experience.
Q. You didn’t do that when you did the tours with Julianne, right?
No, there’s no dance shows that have done that. There’s never been a live music component to these dance shows.
Q. What was the thinking behind adding live music?
I’m always trying to figure out how to raise the bar a little bit, and I wanted to make this tour feel different. But then also, I mean, when I go to a concert, there’s nothing like hearing that kick-drum. That live kick-drum. You feel it in your chest. It just has a different feeling to it. You know? So I just wanted to have that as part of the show. The playlist that I’ve put together, and the way the band sounds, you could also come see the show just for the music, and you would still be thoroughly entertained. ... I’ll be doing some singing as well.
Q. How many songs will you perform?
Probably about five. And it’ll be everything from “Singin’ in the Rain” to the medley I did from “A Star Is Born” with “Shallow” and “I’ll Never Love Again,” to Michael Buble, Big Band, to a Motown song. So it’s all these different genres. ... (For the Michael Buble song) I actually reached out to Michael — I texted him and said, “Hey, is it possible to get the stems for one of your songs? I’m gonna be performing it, and I would love to have your original recordings for the brass.” And he sent them right over. I couldn’t believe he did it, honestly. He sent all this stuff, and so my band’s gonna be able to play to the original stems of some of the instruments. It’s just gonna make it sound really special.
Q. And you play multiple instruments yourself.
Yeah. I’ll play drums and guitar, and actually there’s a really great moment where there’s this Spanish version of a known song, and I’ll be dancing this rumba to it. ... Then halfway through, I depart and I join the guitarist, and the guitarist and I do these sort of like dueling electric guitars.
Q. You’re pretty good on a piano, too. Will we get to see you play that?
No piano this time around — mainly because they just couldn’t fit the piano on the truck. ... I’m actually looking at buying a piano, a Steinway, for my new house. I didn’t understand why they were so expensive, so I went to the factory in New York and learned all about the Steinway pianos and how they’re made and the whole thing and I’m like, “Wow.” Dude, they’re the best. So now I’m getting butterflies about getting a grand piano in my house.
Q. I was curious: Is there any particular reason you picked Charlotte for the start of your tour, or did we just get lucky?
Um (chuckles), yeah, I actually don’t know exactly. But my sister lives in (Wilmington) North Carolina. Katherine. And Katherine and her three baby girls, my nieces, they’re all gonna be coming for my first show.
Q. Going back to you and your sister ... you both came up as dancers, then once you both became established on “DWTS” you did the tours together, and now it’s funny that both have ended up doing judging gigs on big network shows. (Julianne Hough was recently announced as a judge for the upcoming season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”) Is it crazy to you that your careers have tracked so closely?
We actually did a whole performance last tour about exactly that. About how I moved to England, then she moved to England and competed. She did “Dancing With the Stars,” then I did “Dancing With the Stars.” She did some movies, I did a few movies. She did a TV musical — “Grease” — I did “Hairspray Live!” So yeah, it is kind of funny how they have mirrored a lot. But I think it’s just because we just have the same interests. We have similar passions, we’re like-minded, so ... I think it makes sense that our paths would be similar.
Q. Will it be weird not touring with Julianne?
I mean, it was great touring with Jules. We had a great time. We did three successful tours, and there weren’t really any dance tours happening at the time, so we kind of kicked it off. Since then, there’s been amazing, amazing tours, and opportunities for dancers. But she’s just in a time right now where she’s — you know, she’s married. She wanted to take a break from touring. And for me, I always wanted to go out on my own as well, as far as just having a blank canvas, and another challenge, seeing what I could create and come up with. ... I love touring. I love going out on the road. I love seeing people. I love meeting them. I love performing on stage. There’s nothing like it.
Q. Yeah, I’ve heard you say that you’re a big fan of the meet-and-greets and can’t understand why some artists don’t like doing them.
Yeah, I’m like, “Oh. Interesting.” It’s funny, ’cause even when I’m feeling a little low-energy or I’m feeling tired, you know, I go to those meet-and-greets, and it reminds me why I’m here, what I’m doing. It gives me a jolt of energy.
Q. Can you think of a really memorable person you interacted with during a meet-and-greet?
I can’t recall the name, unfortunately, but there was a lady who was in the front row, and she was in a wheelchair for one of our shows; and then about six weeks later, toward the end of the tour, she came back and she was standing — dancing in the front row. I was like, “Wait, what? Wow.” We met her and I literally asked her, “What happened?” She said, “I was in the wheelchair kind of by choice. I mean, I have some ailments, of course, but I just kind of surrendered and gave in to the fact that I’ll be in a wheelchair.” But she told us that when she saw the show, it inspired her to start moving, and to challenge herself. She wasn’t specific about what she was going through, but she was going through something. It was incredible to see her be inspired, and having a dancing show be a catalyst to go home and be like, “You know what? I’m gonna do these exercises that are gonna strengthen my body, and that’s going to allow me to be more mobile and not dependent on this chair” — I just remember being really moved by that.
Also, there was another lady named Betty. She just came to my mind as I was talking. I think she was like 92 years old, and she had so much life in her. I got her up on stage, and we danced a little time step together, a little tap dance. And it was just so great. It’s so awesome to see that life, and that energy.
Q. And last question — I’m gonna ask you something you’ve been asked a million times, but I’m gonna try to do it in a slightly different way: Have you and Hayley at least talked about what kind of ring she might like if the time ever comes?
(Laughs.) Um, no. No. Nope. That’s the honest answer. To answer your question: Nope.
Q. She toured with you and Julianne, right?
The first two, yeah. But she’s not coming this time.
Q. Was she offended that you didn’t ask her?
Oh (chuckles), no, not at all. Honestly, I can’t afford her! But also, you know, she just finished the “Dancing With the Stars” tour, and I just finished building a house, so she’s very much excited to be home. We’re tag-teaming it, you know? She was out on the road, now she’s done and I’m like, “Pshhh, alright, I’ll go out — you hold down the fort, babe.”
Derek Hough: Live! The Tour
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 5.
Where: Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte
Tickets: $49.50 and up.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ovensauditorium.com.
▪ Hough’s showat the Durham Performing Arts Center is April 13 at 8 p.m. See dpacnc.com for tickets.