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Dancing with the Stars: Julianne Hough Picks Her Favorites to Win It All

The host also talks her return to the dance floor and expectations for Heather Morris

Tim Surette

Just the fact that Julianne Hough, Dancing with the Stars' ebullient judge and former contestant on the pro side, has the time to hop on the phone to answer some questions is an impressive feat. Besides her role as peace keeper and motivator on ABC's dancing competition show, Hough is embarking on a full country-wide tour with her brother Derek and flying between the stops and the Los Angeles sound stage where DWTS films each week.

The Move Beyond tour kicks off April 19 in Akron, Ohio, and features the steppin' siblings telling a personal story through dance. To entice fans, both Houghs will be previewing the performance on Monday's episode of Dancing with the Stars, the first time we've these two sharing the DWTS dance floor in quite some time.

TVGuide.com spoke to Hough about the tour, what's going on between Bonner and Sharna, and who she thinks has the right stuff to be this season's champion.

Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Julianne Hough, Bruno Tonioli; Dancing with the Stars

Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Julianne Hough, Bruno Tonioli; Dancing with the Stars

This next episode of Dancing with the Stars is a special episode for you! What can you tell us about the Move preview that we'll see?

Julianne Hough: I'm super excited! My brother and I were lucky enough to perform a couple seasons ago to "Elastic Heart" by Sia, and that was such a special moment for us because I think it was the first time we'd done something really different on the show than what people normally expect to see from us. It was amazing, it was very authentic and something that was very personal to us. This performance is an extension of that. Again, it's very personal to us, it talks about family and our family dynamic and what happened in our lives. The message and the moral behind it is this is our life, we've gone through it, and it's sort of our closure now, but everything is going to be all right, basically. It's to "Unsteady," which is such a beautiful song. It tells a story about our parents getting a divorce, and we have to be there for each other even though we feel pretty unsteady at the time, but we're going to be looking at our lives in this scene we're setting, as adult versions of ourselves.

We have a resolve at the end, which is kind of what we're doing right now by reconnecting with our family and this closure -- not even forgiveness, but everything's okay and everything was supposed to happen how it did. We're in rehearsal and we're crying and figuring out our story behind it, it's not going to be super detailed in the dance moves but for us it's so great because we know the meaning behind the specific moves, which was very similar to "Elastic Heart." For me I love being able to choreograph and tell a story, it's amazing and really fun.

With the Move Beyond tour and Dancing, you're going to be awfully busy. Are you going to miss any episodes of Dancing because of the schedule?

Hough: I think there's one where it was just not possible to fly back, because we are in a city where there isn't an airport close enough to get us back in time for the show. So I think there's only one episode I'm missing. Other than that, I will be flying back every Monday morning and taking a red eye back.

Will a guest judge fill in for you?

Hough: I actually don't know. Because Len [Goodman] is back all season, they might not actually do a guest judge.

How has your brother Derek taken to not participating in this season?

Hough: Honestly, we're so busy with the tour that we're just focused on that. I think he's like, "Oh man, there are some really great contestants on this season. I think it would have been fun to do that." But literally every Monday night I come back here and start up again the next day, so we're keeping him busy for sure.

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Heather Morris raised a few eyebrows when she joined the season because of her background as a professional dancer. But you said that ballroom dancing is much different from what she's used to. Still, she has a great foundation to be a favorite. Has she met your expectations?

Hough: You know, it's funny, because I think we do have high expectations for her because she's a dancer. But like I said last week, I actually thought it was really great for her for the audience to see the difference when she does her girl breakdown, which is very hip-hop inspired and what she's really good at, she was shining, but in my opinion, I don't think she was shining as much when she was doing the jive. So it did go to show that it's very different, and as much as people want to berate her for being the dancer on the show, I still think there are challenges for her.

You sit next to Bruno, which means you are right in the crossfire between him and Charo. Do you fear for your life?

Hough: No, it is definitely a show, for sure. It reminds me of those old time variety shows, where someone would come out with one of those big canes and pull the person off. It reminds me of slapstick variety show humor, so it's pretty funny. Hey, you gotta go along with it. You gotta embrace it and go with the flow with it.

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Watching these first two episodes of the season reminded me of how much I miss James Hinchcliffe from last season, and how surprising and charming he was. I know you were a big fan of his as well. Who do you think is this year's James?

Hough: I love James. Oh my goodness, I love Rashad [Jennings], I think he's fantastic. But I feel like James' personality - David [Ross] really fits that character. He goes with the flow, he's really fun, just charming as all get out, he's just great. I love watching David, I love watching Rashad, they're sort of like the combo of James, I think.

Last week, you wondered aloud if something was going on between Bonner Bolton and Sharna Burgess. Do you see something we don't, or are you just curious like the rest of us are?

Hough: I mean, hey, they are two very beautiful people. At the same time -- I mean, I know it's a show and it's fun to get everyone riled up. Sometimes those comments are fun to just stir it up a little bit. Just to see their reaction to it, see if they'll play into it. I like to throw things out there and see if it sticks. We'll see.

If you had to pick a favorite to win, and a sleeper who could surprise everyone this season, who would it be?

Hough: Oh my goodness, I think it's too early to tell. Normani [Kordei] and Simone [Biles] have similar qualities but different strengths. Simone's technique and ability i just outstanding, and Normani's performance is otherwordly. So of the girls, I think they're very strong, they're a good balance if they were one person. And for the guys who are really strong, I think Rashad and David are really strong, but I don't know. That's just in the first few weeks. My favorite part of the entire show is that you get to really see the people come alive and grow, and you get to find these people who are not necessarily the shoo-in and they surprise everyone, I think there's a couple in there that can do that. For instance, Nick Viall, I think he started out wanting it so much at the beginning and I think calming down and easing into it he might grow even more. Same with Bonner, there are a few guys who could really surprise us for sure. And Erika [Jayne]! She's a little sassy thing, I love her.

Dancing with the Stars airs Monday nights at 8/7c on ABC. For more information on Julianne's Move Beyond tour, visit the web site.