As a two-time “Dancing With the Stars” champion, 25-year-old Cheryl Burke has gone from pretty professional to break-out star in her own right.
Burke is one of the hottest stars of the ABC reality series, one who is often sought after by the competitors that join the franchise, including her partner this season, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
The two have been gearing up for the show’s ninth season, which begins on Sept. 21, rehearsing their cha-cha to “Wild Thing” (that will be their first dance), in Sugar Land, Texas.
Access Hollywood’s “Dancing With the Stars” producer Bryant Huddleston caught up with Burke during a spot of ballroom downtime and found out how rehearsals have been going for this unlikely pair. Burke opened up about how the two are getting along and how she thinks a conservative like DeLay will handle Hollywood. Plus, the outspoken dancer got candid about her love life, how she’s become a hero to normal-sized young women around the country, and what she really thinks about ABC’s talks with Paula Abdul.
Access Hollywood: How are things going in Texas? Are you having fun?
Cheryl Burke: Yeah! It’s fun because it’s completely different and I’m getting to know this politician, this Republican, who I really had no idea who he was about in the first place like every partner I have… I have to Google them and he was no exception. So it’s been interesting getting to know him and his politics and his beliefs. He’s 62 years old; he’s got a great family, a very supportive daughter and a grandchild. He just loves to play golf and have dinners and be with his wife that he’s been with for like 45 years.
Access: Were you as shocked as everyone else when you found out who your partner was?
Burke: Yeah… You could have said Tom DeLay was an old actor. I wouldn’t know… I called my dad right away. He had definitely heard of who Tom DeLay was and I think everyone is still shocked to find out someone like him is doing the show.
Access: How are you two doing?
Burke: We’re getting there. Slowly but surely. But at the end of the day, this is something completely out of his element and I think he’s such a brave man for going out in front of millions of people… You know, he’s not going to be the best dancer of the bunch. That’s for sure. But hopefully he’ll bring something new and different. Bring out his personality. Hopefully it’ll change what his image is all about.
Access: Now, be honest: Do you ever talk politics?
Burke: Not really. You know, I’m very open-minded and liberal. I’ve danced my whole life. I’m just so open with me and with … I’m not one side or the other.
Access: A number of folks that work behind the scenes on “DWTS” are gay. Has it been difficult for DeLay to get comfortable in that Hollywood environment?
Burke: You know, he hasn’t been to L.A. much. But he’s been totally fine wearing the heels he has to wear and moving his hips (laughs).
Access: How’s your love life? Are you still with (model) Maxwell (Zagorski)?
Burke: Yes. He’s actually sitting right next to me.
Access: What makes this relationship work?
Burke: Because he’s supportive and I’m supportive of him … and we try and make things work. Even though he lives in New York and I live in L.A., we’re never more than two weeks apart from each other … When I’m on the show he knows how intense my schedule is so he comes and supports me.
Access: A few seasons back you were criticized for your weight and you handled that with class. Do you still have young women and little girls coming up to you to talk about their struggles?
Burke: Yeah, absolutely. I get tons and tons of e-mails every single day about it and you know, it’s just important for me to really reach out to them and tell them to be beautiful in their own skin especially in this type of world. In the Holly-world, the Hollywood type of world, you’ve got to look a certain way and I think you know, (me) being on the show and (them) being able to relate to women my age or older women (is great). I think it’s important for me to go out there and tell them and show them just to be strong in whatever you do.
Access: When the Paula Abdul news broke — that ABC was interested in possibly getting her on as a guest judge or a contestant — what were you thinking?
Burke: You know what, I like the idea of having guest judges on the show. I think it brings something new. I mean, Carrie Ann (Inaba), Bruno (Tonioli) and Len (Goodman) are great judges but I think it’s nice to hear what other people think and having guest judge — having Paula as a guest judge would be a great idea.
Access: Do you think that could happen in the future? Not just Paula but another celebrity guest judge?
Burke: Yeah. I hope so. I hope we get people like Liza Minnelli. People with (a) dance background. Even like Patrick Swayze would be a great judge. They don’t necessarily have to know ballroom dancing … Ballroom dancing, like anything you do, you need to have charisma and personality and I think it would be important to hear what other people have to say.