Exclusive Interview: Dancing with the Stars Judge, Carrie Ann Inaba
Exclusive Interview: Dancing with the Stars Judge, Carrie Ann Inaba
With the Dancing with the Stars finale upon us, BuddyTV had a chance to catch up with Dancing with the Stars judge, Carrie Ann Inaba the other day to talk about both her career and the show.  Carrie Ann - professional dancer, singer, actress, and choreographer - tells us what is most difficult about her job as a judge on Dancing with the Stars, some of her favorite moments from the show, and her thoughts about the final three celebrity dancers.

Read the full interview transcript and listen to the mp3 audio after the jump.  

BuddyTV: So Carrie Ann, I don’t know if a lot of people already know this about you but you actually began your career as a pop star in Japan…

Carrie Ann: (Laughs) Yeah, you dug way back, huh? Yeah I started my career as a pop star in Japan. I released three singles, and Kenny Loggins was actually one of the people who helped kind of get me started.

How do you think that affected the direction of your career from that point on?

Well you know I’m very grateful to that experience because I learned very quickly that show business is a business. And a lot of times a lot of entertainers get it confused with a place to really express all of your art and it really isn’t. And I think that’s what makes it hard for a lot of artists. And in Japan at that time, it was very much kind of like a showbiz factory and they would create pop stars, and I was one of them. They’d create the image and they’d sell your image almost as if you were like a logo, and your face became a logo. And I found that so disturbing cause I grew up in the times of like Prince and Madonna and Michael Jackson and you know, the big stars. And I really thought it had to do with…your talent and being incredibly creative. So I was a bit disheartened but I realized and it has helped me tremendously that business is business, when you’re hired to be the entertainer or when you’re hired to be the choreographer, you’re hired to be the dancer, you’re part of somebody else’s bigger picture and somebody else has a vision, you’re there to help that person create and manifest that vision or that creation. And it’s never gonna be your creative expression, until you are either the producer or the director. And I tell you that that has saved me a lot of heartache because I see so many of my fellow artists out there struggling with each job, trying to make that job when they’re hired to be their creative, kind of, fulfillment of their destiny. And they throw it all in there and they get disheartened when things are kind of cut up and things end up in the editing floor and this and that. So it’s a really great lesson.

Well you know, in your career, you’ve had some pretty cool gigs; In Living Color, touring with Madonna, Austin Powers, obviously now being a judge on Dancing with the Stars…do you have any favorites?

Yeah, those that you’ve mentioned. In Living Color was great cause it was my first big job, and it was five girls getting together and we just had such an amazing time. That show was fun, it was groundbreaking at the time and being around those talented comedians was wonderful. We had a great time. My other favorite job was the tour with Madonna, cause I got to shave my head bald and do some pretty racy things and it was really quite a challenge and I really felt honored that Madonna had chosen me. And to tour the world first class, I mean they don’t do tours like that anymore. We had a private jet for just the dancers and the band, it was first class travel and I really, truly got to see the whole world and it was an eye opening experience.

Later in your career you seem to drift a little bit more towards behind the scenes choreography over performing. Was this an intentional transition for you and do you prefer one over the other?

Actually you know, I love them both. And I’m the best and most at peace with myself when I’m doing both. I actually, after touring with Madonna, I had done In Living Color, which was you know, my dream and then I toured with Madonna which was my other dream. And after that I really didn’t know what to do. I booked a film called Showgirls, and was disheartened at that whole project, it was a very strange project to be a part of and after that I kinda just decided I wanted to go back to school. So I went back to school to UCLA, got my BA in world arts and cultures and studied ethnographic film making and movement of culture and studied movement as sort of a language and I loved that so I got into digital film making and while I was in school, people started calling me for jobs in choreography. So I just…I kinda…I walk through this business very often because this business is very intense, it takes a lot out of you and almost on a personal level, and I found myself walking away but it always calls me back and truly, I love it because it’s an incredible medium. You have a platform to speak to a lot of people in many, many different ways whether it be through choreography or through dancing or through acting or through comedy, and I guess this is really my home, and so whether I’m behind the scenes or whether I’m in front of the camera, this is my home.

How did you become involved as a judge in Dancing with the Stars?

Well I had worked with Conrad Green, who was the executive producer on our show – on another show, one that was called All American Girls. Well, All American Girl actually. And got to know him then, and actually on that show I also worked with Nigel Lythgoe. And it’s an interesting story because when I went on to work a lot with Nigel Lythgoe who’s producer for American Idol and did a lot of his shows including American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, the first season. And at that time I was called in to audition for a show called Dancing with the Stars and I was like okay. My agent was like, “When you see the tape, you might find it a bit strange.” I watched the tape and actually fell in love with it. So I went in to audition, I met with the producers and it was a long series of auditions. They kept having us come in and do fake judging and in the end I actually ended up being paired with Leonin Bruno whom I’ve never met before throughout all my auditions so it was really kind of an incredible experience cause no one expected it to work the way it does but somehow we have a pretty decent chemistry. I think we all balance each other out on the panel and it’s a nice blend of personality.

What would you say is the most difficult part about your job?

The most difficult part is seeing somebody get hurt by our comments, you know, our comments are meant to be constructive. I know for myself whenever I speak, I’m trying to help. I mean, that’s what I do, I’m a choreographer, I coach people and I specialize in working with people who are not trained dancers, and I’m always trying to bring out the best from them. Sometimes I know they work so hard and even though I may be trying to help them, they don’t hear it that way, and I don’t blame them at all. But it breaks my heart to see them, it really breaks my heart to see them hurt or taking any of it personally cause it’s not…it’s just about their dancing.

So do you and the other judges sit down and create some sort of sliding scale for the less talented dancers compared to more talented dancers? For example, Mario Lopez’s ceiling is way higher than Jerry Springer’s, so how does all that work?

Well I think for me, the judges and I…we all don’t discuss scoring, we all do our own thing. And I kind of look at everybody’s 10 is going to look slightly different. I don’t really put them against each other, does that makes sense? I don’t compare, it’s not a comparison. It’s about each person finding their personal best and making the biggest amount of transformation. On our show, you know, it’s a dancing show but it’s also a transformation show. It’s about people kind of going outside their comfort zone and trying something brand new. It just happens to be ballroom dancing. Now what you wanna see is you wanna see how far they push themselves and how much they’re able to achieve in a very short amount of time. You know they have to have…there’s a lot of levels as far as what I look for when they’re dancing. There’s a long list of things I look for. I look for the technical side which involves so many aspects that it would take me forever to go over how many aspects there are and techniques; you know, there’s sway, there’s footwork, there’s fore craft, there’s dynamics, there’s pendulum action, there’s Cuban hip motion, I mean there’s so many things that we look at for each dance that it’s a lot but ultimately it’s how are they really kind of measuring up to their own potential. They’re really battling themselves.

So are you involved with Dancing with the Stars anywhere outside of judging? Do you go to practices or do you come to each show fresh?

You know…we don’t do anything with them. The most direction I had with them was I directed the tour that went out over the winter. And that was the first tour and I kinda created the map for all these tours that are gonna come and I created something a little bit more special and something great for people at home who don’t get a chance to come down to the studio to watch it. A chance for them to kind of experience this wonderful thing called Dancing with the Stars. And during that experience I got a lot of interaction with the dancers and the celebrities in a non-competitive arena, and it was really wonderful. I enjoyed it. This time I’m passing on the tour because I’m…I need a little time off for myself. Sometimes you gotta take care of yourself. But it was a truly wonderful experience. But no, during the season we had no interaction.

Who have been some your favorite celebrity dancers over the last four seasons?

I loved Drew Lachey, I just thought he was incredible. He had such a…I don’t know he just had so much integrity with the way he approached the competition and his dancing. He really tried to master each dance and didn’t go for just shock value or just entertainment value. He really tried to learn the technique which was so admirable. As far as some really great entertainers that I loved, I loved Jerry Springer, he just brought so much heart to the competition. I loved Billy Ray this season because he was just trying so hard and really kind of represented the everyday man that isn’t really a dancer but is still willing to give it a try, and I always go back and give credit to Mr. Evander Holyfield because you know we have a lot of men on our show dancing and this show has brought dancing back out for men. It’s something that men can do. Big, burly men, all different types of men without any sort of worries about stereotypes and I think the first person who did our show when our show was a nothing show and was off the radar, was Evander Holyfield and I think he really kind of set the bar and allowed other celebrity males and sports athletes to come and be on our show and be proud of it.

What would you say had been the most shocking elimination?

Most shocking elimination. Of all series? Of all series, Rachel Hunter. Do you even remember her? (Laughs) You’re like which one? I believe that was in season two. Yeah and she was so incredible! She was such a beautiful dancer. Her feet! I mean, any dancer would look at her feet and die to have her feet. And her extension was gorgeous, and she got cut right away! Bruno and I were so upset we talked about it and we were just…we were heartbroken.

What did you think about last night’s results show? Were you at all surprised at the outcome?

I don’t think that I was that surprised but Ian knowing he’s had a tough time in this competition, but I’m really, really happy that he was able to get three 10’s before he left. I think he’s got to be very proud of that and he’s got nothing to be ashamed of in the way he approached this competition because he was so gracious and really had a lot of fortitude.

So you know we’re finally down to the finals. Do you have any predictions?

This year I won’t even try to make a prediction. I think anyone could win it. You know Laila could win it cause she’s got this incredible self confidence and power and sophistication and elegance that the boys don’t have, and then maybe Joey could win it because he’s so entertaining and so much fun and he’s such a showman, you know. And then maybe Apollo can win it because he’s got this…he’s so in touch with his like…physicality and so able to bring all the nuisances of each dance kind of so precisely that he creates magic on the dance floor on the physical level and he’s got something very special—him and Julianne have incredible chemistry. And actually all three of our couples that are remaining have great chemistry with their partners and that’s what helped bring them this far.

Well a couple of more quick questions. You mentioned earlier that you’ve been involved with choreographing different reality TV shows, American Idol in the past. Did you have any involvement with American Idol this season?

You know this season, this is the happiest point in my life is that my assistant who has assisted me for many, many years took over my spot as choreographer. And her name is Mandy Moore and I’m very, very proud of her, she’s doing a great job, better than I could do.

Well do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like your fans to be aware of?

Well yeah I’d actually love for them to keep kinda posted. There’s a huge project that’s maybe coming up in January for me where I will be dancing and singing and performing, and I think it’s gonna be great. And over the summer, it looks like I might be hosting an entertainment show that I’m not quite sure…I can’t…we haven’t signed the deal yet so I’m not at liberty to say but it’s a…go on my website, which I will fix soon. (Laughs) There will be a lot of information because I’m gonna be busy over the summer.

Thanks again for your time, Carrie Ann. That was great. From all of us at BuddyTV, we just want to wish you the best of luck!

Well I love BuddyTV, thanks very much. Thanks for having me. 

(Interview conducted by Royce Yuen)