There’s a reason Val Chmerkovskiy is one of our favorite Dancing With the Stars pros — and no, it has nothing to do with his older brother Maks. Like it or not, Val is 100 percent himself on the hit ABC show, and we have to admire someone who doesn’t play into the smoke and mirrors of reality TV. Did we mention he and his partner Zendaya are the ones to beat on Dancing With the Stars 2013?

Wetpaint Entertainment recently caught up with the chatty pro in his New York studio, and he insisted that just because it looks like choreography comes easy to 16-year-old Zendaya, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t work hard. Val also dished on his chemistry with former partner Kelly Monaco and the pros he’s closest to off camera.

Wetpaint Entertainment: Some say you have an advantage because Zendaya is a dancer. Do you think its an advantage?

Val Chmerkovskiy: Well, I think I have an advantage every season. I’m a dancer. I think this time around, I’ve figured myself around the show a little bit better. I definitely feel like I have an advantage every season. I have a very positive, optimistic outlook on every partner that I have. Everyone holds certain talents and certain capabilities, and it’s my job to bring the best out of them. So do I have an advantage? Aly Raisman is an Olympic gymnast and Kellie Pickler is a singer with a lot of fans. I think everyone has an advantage on Dancing With the Stars. And I’m not trying to weasel my way out of the fact that Zendaya is an incredible dancer.

Kellie and Derek look like they might be your biggest competition at this point. 

[Kellie] looks good, but I think I have an incredible talent in Zendaya. She has a great attitude, and she wants to put in the work. At first, I was hesitant with this partnership because I’m a very passionate dancer. For me, ballroom dance is about a man and a woman and all of the chemistry between those two. So being partnered with a 16-year-old teen sensation was difficult in the beginning. But then, I realized that dancing is an art form and you have to use your imagination whenever you do anything creative, so I understood that I had to recreate myself. It’s been a challenge, but I think it’s been great. I love working with Zendaya and dancing with her. The friendship that we’re building is great. 

Is it also a relief to be partnered with a younger dancer? Because now it’s about the dance, and it’s not about the showmance. When you look at you and Kelly [Monaco] last season or Victor [Ortiz] and Lindsay [Arnold] this season, the chemistry kind of overshadows the dance. 

We need to give Victor a heads-up about Lindsay being a Mormon because I don’t know what kind of romance could happen there. You know it’s a showmance then! You know nothing is happening. Now, with me and Kelly. I’m a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, and Kelly is a Philly chick, so that was up in the air. You know nothing is happening with Lindsay — trust me, I tried! [Laughs] I’m just joking. I was hesitant to come back and to be labeled the heartthrob. I think I am that, I guess, but I didn’t want the backlash. Last season’s chemistry with Kelly was so magnetic and so huge that it’s still fresh. But I think me and Zendaya have great chemistry. Clearly, it’s in a completely different form, but I am who I am.

The first two seasons were very difficult for me because I didn’t transition into television very well. I have a very successful competitive dance background, but I have no experience in television. So all of that energy, and all of that popcorn and BS that people do on TV, I didn’t have that. I didn’t possess that, so the audience didn’t really take me in. I didn’t get as much exposure, and I was eliminated quite early. I was still considered “Maks’ brother.”

The audience didn’t know you.

Yeah! But I’m glad I stuck with it, and production stuck with me, so now I don’t have to act. This is me. I’m exactly who I was since day one. I’m glad I was paired up with Zendaya, so I’m not in that category where the audience is like, “Well, he’s a little slut. He jumped from one chemistry to another!” We have a different story to tell this season, and my priority is always the dance. I know everyone says it’s not a dance show — that it’s about the personalities and the chemistry and the relationships — but for me, it’s always been about the dance. If the audience doesn’t want to vote for us and doesn’t want to vibe with us, then that’s on them. This time, I was given a younger individual, someone with a hip-hop background. She’s not a hip-hop dancer, she’s a hip-hop choreography dancer. She’s given the choreography, and she remembers it and she does it. For hip-hop week, maybe she’ll kill it! Then I won’t know what the hell I’m doing.

Credit: DWTS Twitter Photo: Zendaya, Val, and Tony at the DWTS Week 2 Results Show

The Brooklyn comes out when it’s hip-hop week!

Oh, yeah, we’re going to kill it. The point is, the more talent you give me, the more work I’m going to put in. So it’s really motivating for me to have someone who can do the choreography, but I want the fans to know she’s not picking this up in 20 minutes. She puts in four or five hours a work every day. We’re not taking any short cuts. None of this is easy for her. My priority isn’t to take what she’s good at and build a routine around that, it’s to completely erase that from her vocabulary. Let’s challenge ourselves and recreate her completely. When they see her hit a pose or a ballroom line, they will be blown away. I know she is this teen hip-hop sensation, but maybe she picked the wrong genre because she looks incredible dancing ballroom.

You all spend a lot of time together behind-the-scenes. Is there anyone you’re closest to? Giggy, perhaps?

I almost sat on Giggy, and that was nearly the end of Giggy.

What about newbie Gleb Savchenko?

Gleb is an awesome guy. I’ve known Gleb for a while. I’m probably the only one on the cast that really knows him because I’ve been competing longer than others. He’s from Ukraine, but for the past 10 years, he lived and trained in Hong Kong. So when I was out there, we chilled in Hong Kong. He’s a great guy. He’s a very positive guy.

So Derek and Mark have a bromance and Maks and Tony had a bromance. Do you have a bro on the show?

I’m not about to have a bromance with anybody! I’m a romance guy. I don’t have a bromance, but Tristan [MacManus] is my homie. He’s just an amazing kid. And Sharna [Burgess] is an amazing person. She’s badass.

To vote for Zendaya and Val, call 1-800-VOTE4-06 or text VOTE to the couple’s number. Catch Dancing With the Stars on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.