Chynna Phillips Chynna Phillips

Before joining the Dancing with the Stars cast, Chynna Phillips had never seen the show. Perhaps that's working in her favor: Phillips is this season's front-runner. After her first week's performance, judge Carrie Anne Inaba described her dance as "magical" and "perfection." Since then, Phillips and partner Tony Dovolani have received the season's first 9 out of 10 score from the judges. Last week was particularly poignant for the singer: teams were required to express the most memorable year of their lives through dance. Phillips chose 1990's "Hold On," the hit single from her former band Wilson Phillips' debut album — a markedly significant turning point in her life. "I had a lot of abandonment issues. I ended up turning to drugs and alcohol as a teenager," she says. "Eventually I sort of pulled my life together ... I wrote the song 'Hold On' because of all the trials and tribulations I overcame." See what else the singer has to say about that experience, her practice schedule, and what she thinks about Kristin Cavallari's shocking elimination.

So you've never seen the show before?
Chynna Phillips:
I've never seen an episode ... All my friends were like, "Oh you need to order all the back episodes!"  And I said, "You know? I don't think that's a good idea. I think it's better for me to just do my job, go there dance and learn." That's really paying off for me, because I didn't have any expectations going into it.

So was the intense practice schedule a total shock to you?
Phillips: Right now I'm practicing about 4-5 hours a day.  Before this ... honey, my workouts consisted of sitting in front of Oprah Winfrey and doing step between commercials. So this is something I was just not prepared for mentally or physically. It's been like boot camp for me.

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You and Tony have been spending so much time together. How is he as a partner?
Phillips: Well, he's Albanian so he's pretty intense! [Laughs] He's really pushing me out of my comfort zone, which I appreciate ... but in the moment I don't appreciate it. In the moment, I'm just frustrated and I want to smack him. But I can't. Because I know I'll get booted off the show if I start abusing my partner.

Were you surprised by Kristin's elimination?
Phillips: Let's call a spade a spade. She did a fantastic routine, and everybody was shocked. It's a voting game unfortunately and she just didn't get the votes that Chaz or Nancy grace got. And I'm not singling anybody out, but the fans have to vote for their favorite people or they're gonna get booted off. The show's a high-wire act — nobody is ever safe and I think that's why people love the show.

Last week you performed to "Hold On"when is the last time you danced to one of your own songs?
Phillips: Never! I never have! I can't believe it took 20 years. It was a really unique and special experience that I'll take with me for the rest of my life. It was definitely emotional; it was a tough week for me. I think there were some underlying, subconscious feelings going on that week. Just knowing that I was dancing to that song and what that song meant, and what my "memorable year" was all about. And it makes me want to cry right now just talking about it.

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That emotion really translated into your dance. Can you talk about the song's significance to you?
Phillips: I wrote the song "Hold On" because of all the trials and tribulations I overcame. My relationship — or lack thereof — with my dad, really impacted me as a child. I had a lot of abandonment issues, and I just didn't understand why I couldn't have a father around like some of my other friends did. At the time, everyone was keeping me from the big secret: that my dad had this massive drug addiction. I felt so hurt and scarred on the inside, that I ended up turning to drugs and alcohol as a teenager, to put a bandage on my emotions. I didn't know how to deal and that was just me trying to cope. Then I dropped out of school and it just wasn't a good scene. Eventually I sort of pulled my life together and met Billy [Baldwin]. It was perfect timing to have met such an amazing man. I met him when I was 23 and have been with the guy for 20 years!