EXCLUSIVE: 'DWTS' Pro Lindsay Arnold Says Calvin Johnson's 'Family Matters' Routine Almost Didn't Happen - Her
By Desiree Murphy
Photo: Getty Images
Calvin Johnson was a clear standout during Monday's Dancing With the Stars "TV night" -- wowing the crowd with his best Steve Urkel impression! -- but according to his partner, Lindsay Arnold, the fun, highly energetic Family Matters routine almost didn't happen.
While chatting with ET on Tuesday, Arnold explained that the former NFL pro was "bummed" when producers originally told him he wouldn't be able to portray his favorite TV character.
"When they asked us what TV show we wanted to do, we submitted Family Matters, and that was the only one we were interested in doing -- we really wanted it," she confessed. "Calvin loves the show and I loved the song, so we were really pushing for it. But then on Monday, when they usually give us our music, we got 'I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.'"
"I immediately called them and was like, 'What happened?'" she continued. "They were like, 'We're so sorry, we couldn't get the song cleared.' That actually happens all the time. There are times where you will literally have taught your celebrity the entire routine, and then they can't use the music anymore, so you have to switch up your routine. Thankfully, it wasn't too late in the game."
The next morning, Arnold headed to her creative meeting, where she started to let the crew know what she was envisioning for the costumes, lighting and set for the Popeye-themed performance.
"I walked in and they go, 'Lindsay, we have a surprise for you, Family Matters cleared!'" she dished. "I was obviously so excited, but then in my mind I said, 'OK, erase everything you just did and start completely brand new.' It was perfect for Calvin. I'm so glad we were able to do that one!"
Despite the excitement, the former Detroit Lions wide receiver was really feeling the pressure prior to their performance on Monday night.
"It was so funny, we kind of had a rough run in the dress rehearsal," Arnold revealed. "Calvin wasn't super crisp with everything, and he was SO mad about it! When he left our rehearsal, he went to his hotel room to chill for a little bit. When he came back he was like, 'Lindsay, I just practiced our routine over 30 times in my room by myself.'"
"He was like, 'I was sweating!'" she added. "I thought that was so cute and so funny. I wish I could have seen that video of him alone in his hotel room, practicing Urkel moves. I think that's so awesome."
"This week, it wasn't just about the steps -- it was about playing a character," Arnold continued. "I pulled up videos of Urkel and told him to go home and watch them 20 times before he went to sleep every night to get that character in his brain. He went above and beyond in doing that. I really love that about him. Even though he's not a dancer, he always wants to be the best in anything he does and you can see that. He's really putting everything into this opportunity."
Clearly, all of Johnson's extra hard work paid off. The pair received sevens across the board from the judges for their fox trot, and a "straight 10" from Urkel himself, Jaleel White, who surprised the duo backstage.
Julianne Hough praised the 30-year-old athlete for having an "unexpected spark," while Bruno Tonioli gushed, "Watching you dance gives me joy."
"Hearing that meant a lot," Arnold told ET. "When I look at the rehearsal footage back at home, it makes me so happy. You see this guy who is obviously so completely out of his comfort zone, doing something brand new. He has to work hard -- it does not come natural for him. So for me to see the payoff, to see that everyone enjoys it, it makes me feel really honored to be his partner and teacher."
And according to Johnson, he's ready to "win it all."
"This show is all about the journey," Arnold explained. "For Calvin to prove he can take home the [mirror ball trophy], he just needs to keep doing what he's been doing -- he's improving every week. The first two weeks, fans have seen him be fun, happy, playful. I'm excited for them to see him be intense, sexy and serious -- that's going to show a whole new side, and prove that he deserves to be here."
So when the cameras aren't rolling, how exactly do Arnold and Johnson spend their day? The blond beauty broke down what a typical week looks like for her and her partner, exclusively to ET:
Monday - Show Day!
6:30 a.m.: Wake up and head to set. I go straight to the makeup chair and get my makeup done. I sit there for about an hour, getting full glam. 7:30 a.m.: Once my makeup is all good, I move on to the hair chair, where I get my 'do done up. 8:45 a.m.: Time for blocking! I go onstage and rehearse with Calvin for about 20 minutes. We go over our dance two or three times. On show days, we're not continuously running our routine, so it's kind of stressful, because that's what you want to be doing on show day -- you want to continuously be keeping your partner's head in the game. Luckily with Calvin, he's extremely focused. 9:10 a.m.: Back to hair and makeup for touch-ups, and time to get into full costume. 11:00 a.m.: Lunch! 12:00 p.m.: Once lunch wraps, we go straight into a full dress rehearsal -- meaning, we perform as if it's the live show -- they play the commercials, they do everything the same way it's going to be on the show. Immediately following that, we go back to hair and makeup for final touch-ups. 5:00 p.m.: Live show starts!
Tuesday, Post-Show Day
8 a.m.: The show on Monday is literally my entire day! The next morning, I wake up around 8 a.m. 9 a.m.: I head straight to a pro rehearsal for three hours. 12:30 p.m.: As soon as that's over, I'm in my mind and in a dance studio, choreographing next week's dance. I'm thinking of costume ideas, set ideas, listening to music 50 times in a row. My husband [Sam Cusick] wants to die sometimes, because I'll sit in the car with him and I'm just listening to this song over and over. I want to make sure I understand it, so I can choreograph to it. I'm choreographing straight up until I see Calvin. 3:30 p.m.: We rehearse for about five hours, and in that rehearsal, it's just constant learning -- especially for the first couple days, because you want your partner to get the choreography and know it so they're not stressing about that. You're doing it over and over again. Teaching them the moves. I like to get the choreography on their body so they have time to process it, so the rest of the week we can focus on technique.
4 a.m.: With Calvin and I, we actually have to fly to Detroit every week. So the next morning after a Tuesday rehearsal, we wake up at 4 a.m. 6 a.m.: We fly five hours to Detroit! 3 p.m.: Once we touch down in Detroit, we head straight to the dance studio and rehearse until 9:30 or 10 p.m. 11 p.m.: Finally, we go to sleep, wake up the next morning and do it all again!
The DWTS pro will be chatting with ET every Tuesday throughout the competition, and taking over ET's Snapchat (@etnow) each Monday. Got a question for Arnold or Johnson? Tweet me @desireemurphy_!