ET exclusively spoke with the professional dancer on Friday, where he candidly reacted to being cut as a pro from season 28 (along with fellow fan-favorite Sharna Burgess). He also discussed how he's staying positive with help from his girlfriend, Nikki Bella, and what types of projects he hopes to take on next.
After competing on Strictly Come Dancing from 2010 to 2013 (and even taking home the mirrorball with Kara Tointon during series 8!), Artem appeared on Dancing With the Stars, where he's been since 2014. He first joined the show as a member of the troupe before being promoted to pro for season 19. His celeb partners have included everyone from Nikki (season 25) to Patti Labelle (season 20) and Nancy Kerrigan (season 24), and over the years, he has undoubtedly won the hearts of viewers thanks to his professionalism, stellar choreography and passion for ballroom dance.
Now, after first reacting to the news on The Bellas podcast, Artem is ready to share further details about how he's feeling with ET.
ET: Hi, Artem! How have you been doing since all of this news broke? What have you been up to?
Artem Chigvintsev: I've been doing good, but it's kind of hard to digest, especially after being with DWTS for so long. My goal for the last week has been just trying to come up with a future plan, coming up with ideas for what I want to do. But [it's hard] seeing what all my fellow pros are doing on social media. It's kind of like always in your face in a way, you know? It's like a reminder of what could have been, and what it is at the moment. So it's kind of a bittersweet feeling right now. I'm slowly getting used to the idea that there are other things in life, and other things I'd like to pursue.
Talk to me about the exact day you got the call from producers, Friday ahead of the GMA reveal on Wednesday. Where were you when you heard the news?
Long story short, I got a phone call from my brother back in Russia, he was so excited to find out who my partner was. I was like, "Look, I have no idea who my partner is, I haven't even heard what's going on, I haven't really gotten the final confirmation." We were texting back and forth with executive producers who were telling us like, "Guys, this week be ready, we might have promo shoots," and then it was canceled.
There was kind of always talk between the casting producers and all of the dancers -- we've all been in a big group text. They were kind of letting us know what was going to happen, how soon the promo shoots were, the announcement, etc., but I never got an official letter. So I was like, "OK, today's Friday, I still haven't gotten an official letter." And usually, dancers talk between each other, like, "Hey, did you hear anything?" So I texted a couple of people like, "Hey guys, have you heard anything?" I haven't gotten a response from any of them, so I was like, OK, this is really strange, usually you get a response ... and no one was, like, ignoring my texts, but they hadn't gotten back to me in like three or four hours. So I was wondering, like, am I the only person who hasn't heard anything? So I called producers and said, "Hey, can you guys let me know what is happening? I want to know what's going on." I got a response back saying like, "Hey, we'll let you know tonight by the end of the day what's happening."
Usually, they'll kinda say, "Don't worry, we're just trying to figure out logistics," so that was kind of the first red [flag] that something was really off. I had been waiting the whole day and no one called me, and then I was just sitting in bed, I think it was like 8 p.m., and I got a text from an executive producer, saying like, "Hey, could you give me a call?" That's when I kind of knew it was not going to be good news because that's not how it usually works. On the call it was just, "Unfortunately I have bad news for you. You're not going to be a part of this season." I didn't really expect it to go that way.
Did the producers explain why you and Sharna weren't going to be coming back? Did they give you any type of explanation?
No. Usually, we get an explanation of what the executive reasoning was behind it. I kind of got the generic one, like, "Hey, we tried to pair you up with the [celebs] but unfortunately we couldn't pair you up with who we think would go best with [you]." I don't know, it was just kind of like -- I don't want to say an excuse -- but the typical thing they say normally, from what I heard in the past [from former pros].
I was a bit... not hurt, but when I saw the cast, I was just like, OK, this really doesn't make any sense in my mind, but whatever. I've had a pretty huge variety of people [as partners] who I've danced with, so I'm pretty sure that I could have worked with anybody on the show. It just felt like they could have done a little better [with an] excuse for why I'm not coming back. Like saying, 'Hey, we did some research and you're unfortunately the less popular guy, or you're the oldest pro, we're trying to make it younger." I'd be cool with that. I just wanted to hear the reasoning that made sense in my mind, and I didn't.
Through that phone call, do you feel like they left the door open for you to come back in the future?
We all knew that no one was guaranteed to have a spot on the show, and I guess there's no exception. It's happened to people in the past, and sometimes they've come back afterward [like Mark Ballas and Maksim Chmerkovskiy], but unfortunately, this was with previous producers. It's a whole new executive team right now, so I don't know how that team thinks.
I just got a generic conversation, nothing specific. I think at the time I just didn't know what to say because it was a shocker. There was nothing said like, "Look, I think this season might not be good, but next season we're obviously still considering you for the show." That was not part of the conversation, that was not said at all. Maybe I should have asked, but at time I wasn't feeling like having a conversation about what the future was going to hold; I was just trying to digest what I heard.
If they did ask you back in the future, let's say as early as next season, would you want to do it?
I will stand for the campaign for all the dancers to be in the position where they know months ahead of the show whether they'll be on. That's something that I think producers should consider, changing the contract. Because, overall, I'm not upset about not being on the show or the decision that they made. I understand they do what's best for the show, but at the same time, you cannot let people sit and wait five days until the announcement to let them know whether they'll be part of the season or not. A lot of us have invested years and years into the show, and I think that's the respect we deserve as dancers.
During the podcast interview, Nikki brought up how you were holding out for DWTS since March. Under contract, were you not allowed to take any other jobs? Were there any opportunities that came up that you had to say no to?
I think people should know the truth because, just in general, it's not fair. For example, any jobs we take anywhere else, we first have to ask permission and get approved. They still could deny any job we [wanted to] take, no matter what it is -- an acting gig, dancing gig, especially.
I think it's a little bit one-sided and I think the contracts should be overlooked, with some adjustments made in favor for dancers on the show. Because at the end of the day, that's all they really have. This show consumes so much of your life, that you don't really see yourself doing anything else.
There's so much risk. I look at myself, how I've dedicated to the company of DWTS overall worldwide for 10 years, and now I've been left to the position where there's no compensation. You're kinda just left out, like, "OK, cool, now you go and do your thing."
I feel like Dancing should take some responsibility if that happens to dancers. It'd be different if you signed a contract from year to year, but you sign a contract for like five or six years, with the option for them to [cut], and you really have no kind of say in that.
A lot of people on social media seem to think the show wants to focus more on the celebrities now than ever before. Do you think that you now being in the spotlight with Nikki more, or fans thinking Bobby Bones only won last season because of Sharna, had anything to do with it? Because at this point, the pros are celebrities in their own right.
I'm probably going to sound crazy, but I'm saying, get bigger celebrities than dancers -- it's not that difficult, I would think. The dancers have been there for so long, obviously, people know their names and are going to fall in love with a specific dancer, and follow them from season to season. It's kind of become a journey about the dancers, but dancers are the reason why this show is so successful. They are the choreographers, they are the teachers and if not for their hard work, there would be no Dancing With the Stars.
The dancers will be the faces of the show, no matter how you try not to make them, it's just going to happen. Asking the dancers to take a step down, I think, is a big mistake.
For me, in America, I've never been looked at, like my own identity [as a celeb], and obviously, with Nikki's involvement, people became curious about me. [Laughs] I think DWTS would have gained so much this season from me being on it. I'll be honest, with the exception of one or two partners, there was no potential of me winning the show, ever. I'm sorry, but people who win, only literally win because of the popularity and the capability of their celeb partner. You can't take a person who's never danced in their lives, and are completely terrible, and turn them into the mirrorball trophy holder. That just doesn't happen. We kind of more or less know who's going to be in the finals and who's potentially going to win.
I've never really been given the opportunity from the producer's side, and I felt like this season could have been one of the times where I would have been given someone who had the potential of even being in the finals. I'm looking back at my time on the show like a track record, like, "Wow, I've actually never even been given a chance."
Have you talked to Sharna at all? How is she doing?
Yeah, we had a conversation when everything happened, and then she left [for a place with] no reception, she's like, "I'm going to escape this world for a bit." She's in the same position I am, but the crazy thing is, she won the mirrorball. How can you not bring back the person who won last season? I'm just so shocked.
I don't understand how this decision was made, but if we're looking to get better ratings, why would you not want people on who are currently in the media? That's more publicity for the show. To me, that makes no sense whatsoever.
But, hey, they're trying to revamp the show completely from what it used to be. I honestly do wish them the best of luck because the show gave me so many opportunities that I'm working on now. Whatever decisions they make they obviously think is for the best, and I respect that, and I hope that's going to be the case. Because I want this show to continue going on for many years. I would love for other people to experience the opportunities of being on this show, too.
When you talked to Sharna, do you think she felt just as blindsided by the news as you?
She was, honestly, probably like even more shocked than I am. Because when you win the last season, you would think you'd have a guaranteed spot. In the past 27 seasons, this was the case -- you won, you're obviously in, you're the reigning mirrorball champion!
I don't think she had any thought in her head that she wouldn't be back, simply because of the winning situation. But I also understand that there was so much controversy with Bobby winning. I don't know if that somehow affected it, but if that were the case, I'd be even more upset for her. Because she didn't choose her partner, she was given her partner, and she did the best she could [with him] during the show. She did her job with what was expected of her, and if she weren't part of the show because of Bobby? That would be really bad.
When did the other pros find out you and Sharna wouldn't be on this season? Did you guys break the news to them, or did they find out from producers?
It all feels so weird. I keep waking up like it's a bad dream. It's just awkward.
The last thing you want to do is call your fellow pros and be like, "Hey, guys, I'm not part of the show." Because they're happy to still be on it, you know? They're going to be in an awkward position. When they had to rehearse for the GMA performance, they obviously realized we weren't there, so I think that was the first reality for them.
I'm really surprised, I'm not going to lie, that so many people have spoken out about Sharna and I not being part of the season. But I'm happy this is the case because it shows people really enjoyed watching Sharna and myself dancing and creating numbers.
All that being said, be honest -- do you think you'll be able to still tune in this season? Or is there a chance fans could still see you in the ballroom as an audience member?
I think as far as right now, definitely no.
Not because I'm not supporting the show or all the people who are there, but I think if I were to [watch], all of the feelings of not being there would just flood back.
I might watch some clips on YouTube but I don't think I'll be tuning into every show, no. It's just simply, I think it's going to be a little hard right now. It'd be negative energy and I don't want to feel that; I'm just trying to find like a good place in my life right now, where I can concentrate on the positives.
Well, everyone is rooting for you and your next chapter. What projects do you currently have lined up?
We're filming Total Bellas soon and I'm going to be part of the main cast of that show, and I've done two projects in the U.K. on my break.
I've also had so many ask me about why I left Strictly for DWTS, because on Strictly, I was one of the top dancers. I won the show and I've been given amazing partners. Right now, I'm thinking about going back to those roots where I came from and where I was successful and people didn't quite doubt my ability on the show. I'm probably going to reach out to them and see if there's a potential for me coming back there ... maybe for next season. Or maybe another version of Dancing With the Stars, becauseI still feel like I have a drive in me to do that show.
Me and Nicole are still going to do dance videos, because we love doing it, and I'm also working on a project in Vegas for a potential show with MGM. This is kind of in talks right now and I'm trying to figure it out. There's a few people involved -- well, I would talk to Sharna to be involved, because she's in the same shoes, and previous executive producer Ashley Edens. Trying to make something happen, all the rejects! [Laughs] I know that sounds terrible, but it's kinda funny.
Has retiring from dance and performing ever crossed your mind? Like, do you think you could ever have a job that didn't involve dance?
That's what I'm trying to figure out right now. I'll be honest with you, being 37 years old, I'm thinking maybe it is time to do something behind the screen. Something more on the creative side than being a talent.
It's a really tough place to be because I don't know how I can translate dancing into something else. Ballroom dancing is so specific ... it's so unique in its own way, that there's not really a lot of outlets where you can utilize that. But something will show up.
Nikki has been such a tremendous support through all of this it seems. What exactly has she been doing to help?
I think Nicole came into my life at the right time. She's been nothing but supportive, and is the most positive person! I've been so down for the first couple of days, it really was like my world was turned upside down and she's never seen me like this. This job was always there for me, for so many years. My personal life has always been up and down, but I could always rely on work because it's always been there for me.
She's been constantly giving me advice, like pep talks, from her own experiences. She's been like, "Look, it's not the end of the world." I left my family when I was 15 and I never had a person next to me that kind of had an interest in me to succeed and be better. I think she's the first person that's given me that feeling.
Longtime fans of the show were devastated to learn that Artem and Sharna would not be returning in any capacity for season 28. Many of them have been vocal on social media ever since, urging ABC to "rethink" their decision and "bring them back."
A source told ET at the time that it's not uncommon for dancers to take a season off and then come back for another season, adding that Sharna and Artem will still remain a part of the DWTS family. ET has reached out to ABC for comment.