Dancing with the Stars’ Rumer Willis and Val Chmerkovskiy may feel like they’re floating after being crowned the Season 20 champions on Tuesday night, but it won’t be long until their feet are back on the dance floor.
In addition to participating in the Dancing with the Stars summer tour, which kicks off next month, Rumer and Val will also perform as part of SWAY: A Dance Trilogy, a two-night engagement at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom on June 5 and 6 that also features such Dancing pros and alums as Meryl Davis, Artem Chigvintsev, Peta Murgatroyd, Amy Purdy, Tony Dovolani, Sharna Burgess and Val’s brother Maks.
“I love teaching, and it was an incredible pleasure to teach Rumer this season, but now we’re going to go on and perform,” Chmerkovskiy told TVGuide.com in an interview after his and Rumer’s big win. “My passion is performing, and performing in front of a live audience. I love what I do on Dancing with the Stars, in terms of all the cameras and creating television, but my passion has always been on stage doing live performances. That was one of the motivators for me to win the show. I wanted to take the trophy on tour and be able to share that gratitude with all our fans and the people that come and support me.”
But the stage shows might not be the only collaboration in his and Rumer’s future. After doing their finale freestyle to a version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” that featured Val on violin and Rumer on vocals, does the pair have any plans to enter the recording studio? Read our full Q&A to find out - and see which Season 20 routine is among Val’s favorites of all time.
Congratulations! Val, what did you feel upon winning the Mirrorball trophy for the first time?
Chmerkovskiy: Relief, I guess. I felt very relieved that I was finally able to see the whole thing though. It was important for me to have that completion and … in a way, a certain validation from all our fans and the fact that this season wasn’t in vain. We did a great job and it translated into people picking up their phones and voting for us. It felt really good. The win was more of a celebration of all the hard work that Rumer put into this season and the amount of support that we got throughout the season.
Did it mean something extra, knowing that this was the 20th anniversary season?
Willis: That Gold Mirrorball is very shiny, let me tell you. (Laughs)
Chmerkovskiy: At first it didn’t. Throughout the season, it felt just like any other season. I feel like every season on Dancing with the Stars feels really special and memorable. But when we actually won it, I actually felt really proud of the fact that it was the 20th season and that it’s a very special trophy.
Rumer, what about your Dancing with the Stars experience has stuck with you the most?
Willis: I was a bit wary about putting myself out there in such a huge way. But I think the most amazing thing was the response I got from the fans - people that were already fans of Val’s that just really embraced me. And the amount of people that just reached out over social media in different ways, saying how everything that I was talking about had inspired them, and just feeling an incredible amount of support. It was wonderful.
You talked pretty candidly about being bullied in the past. Did fans reach out to you specifically about that?
Willis: That was one of the biggest things. I said it when we won, that that’s partly who this Mirrorball was for. This whole journey for me was really about me finding my confidence and finding a belief in myself that I didn’t have. I really hope that can inspire other people to go after things that maybe they were afraid of, or to not be so afraid to try things that are challenging or scary or that you might think that you can’t do. Because I really was shocked to find that I could do something that I never thought I was capable of.
The judges had some high praise for you about seeming like a professional dancer, and becoming a star in your own right by the end of the season. How did it feel to hear their feedback?
Willis: It’s incredible, honestly, especially to have them say things like they look at me like I’m a dancer. Julianne [Hough] said that watching me dance made her want to be a better dancer. I think that’s a huge compliment coming from people that watch dancers all the time. This is what they watch. And to be able to go from not having any dance experience to being looked at like that is an amazing feeling.
Val, you and Rumer were pretty much the frontrunners all season. Was that a double-edged sword in a sense?
Chmerkovskiy: Yes and no. Even though we were frontrunners, I didn’t feel like it was necessarily because of the fact that it was coming so easy to [Rumer]. I think, if anything, when it comes to logistics of the competition and the skill set that you need to have a successful dancer, I would say Riker [Lynch] or someone like Nastia [Liukin] had way more elements in their repertoire coming into the show that would make them a frontrunner in that sense. … I feel like she was a frontrunner in the way she was able to connect to the audience. And that, I actually felt, was a strength that kind of put me at ease a lot of times. … It did add pressure, but it added a beautiful pressure of trying to exceed those expectations, and motivation. But the fact that she was able to connect to our audience so well eased that pressure, because I knew that no matter what she would do, she would do it wholeheartedly and she would do it passionately and with her entire spirit, and people were going to love it regardless.
Which was your favorite routine?
Chmerkovskiy: Every routine has a story. I really, really liked our first-week dance, because it was so sentimental in terms of just seeing the whole Willis family come together and show so much love and support for Rumer, and then ultimately having the whole world see Rumer and her talent. But then, Disney Night when we did The Little Mermaid and she played Ursula, for me that routine is probably one of my favorites of all time from any of the seasons that I did.
Willis: I loved our freestyle. I absolutely love the foxtrot as well. I’m kind of with Val on the same page. All of our dances that we did I feel like really had parts of our personalities in each of them, so it’s hard to choose one.
Rumer, as Val mentioned, your family was in the ballroom week in and week out, cheering you on. How much did their support inspire you?
Willis: It’s great. I love their support. My family is fantastic and they’re always supportive of me, no matter what I do, which is fantastic. [But] I think that the partnership that Val and I have I think is honestly the biggest support. When you’re doing something that’s this mentally and physically demanding on you, you really have to have a support system and a foundation to be able to make it through three months of this.
Your parents spoke about how surprised they were to see how naturally dancing came to you and how confident you looked. Did you surprise yourself?
Willis: I think I was just most surprised by the passion that I have for this. I love dancing now. I think that I found a love for something that I’ve always wanted to do, but I never in a million years thought I could. The thing that was most surprising was just, after I did the first dance and I watched it, I never knew that I could do that or create something like that. I’ve always been a singer, but to be able to have a different outlet and expression, and a different way to appreciate music and be creative with it was amazing.
What did you most appreciate about Val as a partner?
Willis: (Laughs). One of the best things about Val is that he has such a passion for just dancing in general. But the belief and the support that he had for me and in me is incredible, because there are times when you get frustrated and I didn’t believe in myself, or I would question myself or feel like maybe I can’t do it. But he knew that I could, and kept pushing me, and made sure every week that when it came time to get on the dance floor that I felt confident and that I knew what I was doing, because we had worked on it and worked really hard. I think that’s the reason that we won.
Had you set a goal for yourself when you started the competition? Did you want to make it to a certain week, or did you always have your eye trained on the Mirrorball?
Willis: Oh no, for sure. I wanted to win from Day 1.
Chmerkovskiy: Culturally, it’s sometimes politically incorrect to say things like that, but I don’t know anybody that would go into a competition and not at least somewhere in their minds have the desire of winning. Obviously you want a broader spectrum of incentives to doing the show. You’re not just driven by a $25 Mirrorball trophy. I would hope not. But most definitely you’re driven by the thought of potentially winning this thing. And I’m glad that she had that type of approach, because she was willing to put everything else on hold and give her undivided and unconditional effort into this thing, which is what really it takes to win.
What’s next for both of you? Val, are you coming back next season?
Chmerkovskiy: Yeah, for sure. Just don’t tell Rumer I said this, but I’m very excited to be back next season and hopefully do it again. Before that, I’m going on Dancing with the Stars tour this summer.
Willis: I’ll be there for a few days too.
Chmerkovskiy: Yeah, Rumer’s going to come on for a couple of shows. It’s a 40-city tour. I believe we have close to 60 shows for the next two months. It starts June 3 in Atlantic City and goes until August 10.
Willis: I’m going to obviously keep dancing a little bit, but also I’m going to try and work on music a little bit more. I’d love to be able to possibly do some Broadway in the future.
Speaking of music, it was cool that you guys got to dance to your own cover song for the freestyle.
Willis: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s on iTunes right now, the full version. You never know - maybe Val and I will make some more music together as well.