Derek Hough and Maria Menounos

How good is this season's Dancing with the Stars cast? So good that Derek Hough changed his upcoming quickstep with partner Maria Menounos after Monday's high-scoring Season 14 premiere. "I had to," he tells "Everyone was incredible, so I knew we had to step it up a little bit, especially with no elimination this week." So what did he do to their routine? And was he surprised at how well everyone performed? Keep reading to find out.

Dancing with the Stars' Tom Bergeron: It's a very feel-good season

How nervous was Maria about having to go first?
Derek Hough:
Oh, so nervous! I was too. It's nerve-wracking to go first. I tell her it's the biggest learning curve. We rehearse, rehearse and rehearse, but the live show is when you learn the most. But she did great. We got a 21 and we're happy with that. Also, the cha-cha is probably my least favorite dance to do. I don't know why. It's not really my forte. I think she did fantastic. Everybody did fantastic. It seems like it's gonna be a good show.

Can you think of a past premiere that was as good as this one? No one even scored in the teens.
I can't. But that's what's so great. I'm really looking forward to the season. Everybody's great. That just makes for a better show all around. We did a Show and Tell last week and saw each other's routines here and there, and I immediately knew people would be good. Some people aren't technically good, but they make up for it for having a lot of charisma, a lot of personality. Everybody has something they're bringing to the show.

Fans were moaning about how there are no "stars" this season, but would you rather have big names or all-around good dancing?
I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't over the moon about the cast either when I first heard. But I think from my standpoint, it's better to have better dancers. You can have a big celebrity or whatever, but if you're gonna just walk them around the floor, what's the point of that? But even in the past, with people like Gilles Marini, people were like, "What? He showed his penis in a movie and that's why he's on the show?" But when you watch the show, you're like, "Wow! He's really good!" Now everyone's like, "Who's that William [Levy] guy? Who's that Katherine Jenkins girl?" and look how awesome they did. They're the people everyone will learn to love. It's definitely better to have a higher quality of dancing than it is to have a higher quality of celebrities.

Some betting sites had you guys as the favorite before the season started.
Yeah, it's crazy, but I can see why they would do that. I'm a three-time champ and I think I've taken every one of my partners pretty far. Maria's a beautiful girl, she's in good shape and things like that. But like I was telling her, it's a double-edged sword. When you are in shape and you look like she does, there's an expectation. And when you watch the show with an expectation, it's hard to meet them. But with people where you don't have expectations, you're allowing them to surprise you. It puts a little more pressure on her in that sense, but every single person this season is a contender. I think this season will be the hardest one to pinpoint. I don't think there is a favorite this season.

I can't even predict who will go home next week.
Right, which is extremely exciting. That's the problem with the show sometimes — when it becomes more predictable, it becomes less exciting. So, this is good.

Dancing's Maria Menounos: Don't call me the favorite

How's the quickstep going?
Everybody's looking great. We worked on it during the three weeks before the premiere, but I was watching the show and saw how amazing everyone was and I thought, "OK, I gotta change a little bit of our routine."

Did you make it harder?
Well, it was already ambitious, but I had to change my strategy. I'm one of those people who paces it out, like, "We won't do this this week, but we'll save it for next week." You used to be able to sort of gauge what you would have to do each week to hopefully make it through. But with this season, you can't do that. You've gotta bring it every single week, so I just tweaked something a little bit.

What are Maria's strengths and weaknesses?
I don't know if there are any weaknesses per se. Her strengths are that she's an incredibly hard worker. She wants to do well. She has the capacity to do fantastic. But the flip side is when she does do well, it looks amazing, so if she doesn't do well, it looks even worse because you're comparing it to her best performance. What the show does is humble you. You're competitive, but you just want to do the absolute best you can absolutely do. Scores are important, but in the long run, I just want her to look back at the videos and say, "I loved that dance!" We're having such a great time. Yesterday, we literally could not even rehearse because we were laughing so hard. We literally had to stop practice because we couldn't even dance. It was about stupid stuff. I think we were delirious. I don't think I've laughed like that in years.

You're used to her laugh then?
[Laughs] Oh yeah! Her laugh's insane! It's like a cackle. But stuff like that is so important. You work with these people every single day and you want to enjoy yourself, and I'm having a great time with Maria.

Read Maks' Dancing blog

You said you want a fourth Mirrorball to go along with your four chest hairs.
[Laughs] I'm just not a hairy person!

You managed to grow a goatee.
This has taken me four years! It's never going away! People are like, "Shave it!" I'm like, "You don't understand how long this has taken me to grow."

So if you win a fourth, does that mean you won't go for a fifth? Do you need a fifth chest hair to go for five?
Hopefully by then, I'll grow some more. I think I have a fifth one growing right now.