Dancing With the Stars had already aired three seasons before Julianne Hough joined the show, and it was only after she won her first season that her older brother Derek Hough and their childhood friend Mark Ballas joined as pros too.
As Derek explains in his new book, Taking the Lead (via an excerpt in Parade), Julianne convinced him to join the DWTS Season 3 tour, dancing with others from the show. Afterward, Julianne was offered, and accepted, a spot as a competing pro on DWTS Season 4, which she would ultimately win with Apolo Anton Ohno. While she was competing, Derek returned to London, where he was focused on his band with Mark, called Almost Amy.
However, Derek did go to L.A. to do a guest number with Julianne during Season 4, and then-producer — now showrunner — Rob Wade came up to him and asked if he had any interest in joining the next season. As Derek put it, in his book:
I didn’t even need a minute to think it over. “Nope,” I replied. “Thanks, but it’s not really what I want to do."
Derek said he didn’t want to just go off to the U.S. without Mark, since they were very much a team working on music.
But a few months later, the producers called Derek again. So he talked to Mark about it, knowing it would be a huge transition. The good news on that front is, while he was considering his options, Mark got a call too. He had sent in an audition tape and the producers were interested in him as well. Derek shares what happened from there:
“Dude, if we’re going to do this, then let’s do it together,” I told him. So that was it. We literally just packed our guitars and one suitcase apiece, and boarded a plane. I was aware that being on a live TV show in front of millions of people every week would likely change my life forever. I went into it very excited but also nervous. I knew a lot of the pros already through the ballroom circles, and I knew how good they were. I was coming in as a world youth champion — which is a big step below being a champion in the amateur or professional divisions. But on DWTS, the playing field was leveled.
The rest is history. Derek’s first partner, on Season 5, was Jennie Garth of Beverly Hills, 90210. Mark had the infamously robbed Sabrina Bryan. Julianne won Season 5, her second in a row, with Helio Castroneves. Mark won Season 6 with Kristi Yamaguchi. Derek took his first win on Season 7 with Brooke Burke. Then Mark won again with Shawn Johnson. Julianne left the show after Season 8, but Derek went on to win Seasons 10, 11, 16 and 17, giving him more trophies than any other pro.
So, yeah, it’s safe to say DWTS changed their lives forever. And it’s not done changing them — we hope to see all three of them back in the ballroom, even if they aren’t all competing as pros. The three stars are now busy with other side projects, but hopefully they get such a thrill out of performing live for millions of viewers that they follow the siren call back to the DWTS ballroom. There are worse ways to make a living!
DWTS Season 19 premieres Monday, September 15 from 8 to 10 p.m. ET on ABC.