Maks Chmerkovskiy on Joining ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ After Years of Challenging Judges on ‘DWTS’: I Was Mislabeled the ‘Bad Boy of Ballroom’

Rexa Vella

Maks Chmerkovskiy on Joining ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ After Years of Challenging Judges on ‘DWTS’: I Was Mislabeled the ‘Bad Boy of Ballroom’

Maksim Chmerkovskiy is misunderstood.

At least that’s what he’ll say if you ask. The professional dancer, who previously competed on 17 seasons of “Dancing With the Stars” and won once, left the ABC series in 2017 and has a brand new role: judge on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” Oddly enough, he’s best known for challenging the judges on his former show. So now, it may be coming back around.

“Challenge me, please! One thing I’m not is a hypocrite. I learned early in life that if you want to dish it out, you’ve got to be able to take it,” he tells Variety. “This has to be a professional exchange. Come at me with facts and knowledge and I’ll come back at you with how it really is in the real world, from my personal experience. I’m not going to say, ‘This is what my opinion is.’ No, this is how it happened to me. This is how you fail an audition, this is how you under-prepare, this is how you overthink. I’ve done all the negatives as well. I want to be the mentor to the young adult who is at the beginning of the 20 years that I’m at the end of.”

At the beginning of his career, he says he was a “stubborn Capricorn who did not listen” and had to make mistakes to get to where he is now. “Look, I’m here to mentor. I’m here to educate. I’m not here to demand attention. It’s not about me.

Chmerkovskiy will judge Season 18 alongside JoJo Siwa and Allison Holker, while Cat Deeley will host the dance competition series. As always, each judge falls into a role — and anyone who watched “Dancing With the Stars” may assume he’ll be the tough one.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy, host Cat Deeley, Allison Holker and Jojo Siwa TOM GRISCOM

“You’re going to have to evaluate me and the job that I’m doing. I never go in thinking I’m the tough judge, so now I’m going to be tough. I think I’m a soft-ass bunny sweetheart, white and fluffy,” he said. “I think you all got confused. You all misinterpret me. Everybody misunderstands me. I lead with rainbows and unicorns and butterflies. And so somehow I’m the ‘bad boy of ballroom.’ I didn’t even know what that meant most of the time. I tried to be me and then you guys would be like, ‘Maks was an asshole.’”

Of course, “DWTS” is a very different show than “So You Think You Can Dance,” on many different levels — namely, the personnel.

“Not knocking on past people — there were people that ran the show from day one to last season and hats off. I’m bowing, you’ve set and established a platform and foundation that is legendary. Having said that, everything has to go through some changes and adjustments and updates. And I think we’re living through that time right now,” he said. “So the people that are coming in to executive produce, to oversee to talent coordinate, to network executives, these are people that I worked with for a very long time from ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and came through and did some things with other jobs. It’s like a big family reunion, 20 years later. Everybody’s expertise is on a different level. Everybody’s ready to do this big get-together. And everybody knows each other. I don’t have to get to know my executives. I don’t have to get to understand the relationship with these people. I’ve known them for almost two decades.”

This season of “SYTYCD,” premiering March 4, will show the dancers living in a house together and allow viewers to get to know each of them even more.

“In my opinion, last season of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ got away from that and it became a show about choreographers and who the choreographers are and how these contestants handle these choreographers and their choreography. It skewed so far toward another person,” he explains. “We want to bring it back and the production wants to bring it all the way back to look at this new batch of people that you’re gonna get to know, fall in like with, fall in love with and become a fan of.”

This season will also be the first without Nigel Lythgoe as a judge, as the producer stepped down in January amid two lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault. While filming began before he exited the show, no reshoots had been done at the time of the interview.

“I’m keeping myself very much in my lane,” Chmerkovskiy says. “Thank God I am not a producer, I’m not an editor and I’m not somebody who has to make any of those decisions. I go to sleep, I wake up happy. This particular moment in my life is stress-free.”

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