The fan-favorite judge spoke with ET on the phone over the weekend, where he gave us the scoop on what it's like filming two competition series just days apart -- DWTS in Hollywood, California, and Strictly Come Dancing in London, England -- and how he gets ready before a live show.
Plus, the 62-year-old entertainer fills us in on what to expect from Monday's Disney Night, his advice for the nine remaining contestants and more.
ET: Hi, Bruno! You have quite the busy schedule flying back and forth every week. How do you do it? Does it ever get tiring?
Bruno Tonioli: It is full-on because the U.K. show is a longer season, it goes until Christmas. The show is live on Saturday and after the show is aired, we pre-record a results show that goes out on Monday. So, I finish quite late, then I go home and get myself together, get on the flight to Los Angeles the next day. And then film Dancing With the Stars here [in L.A.] on Monday. It does take a lot of energy out of you, but it's a great position to be in. Doing these international flights every week, you start to go a little gaga...
How do you keep yourself entertained on all those long flights?
I try to sleep on the overnight flight, and then usually on the daytime flight, when I come from the U.K. to the U.S., I just basically keep up with movies I haven't seen. And reading the newspapers to see what's going on in the world.
When you land in L.A. each week for DWTS, what's your day look like before each live show? From the second you wake up to the moment you're in that judges' chair, give us the full rundown.
I wake up in the morning, I go get my coffee, get my things together. Then I go to the studio to get the running order because I really have to know who is dancing what, and what the music is, so in my mind, I have an idea of what the show is going to be like. And then obviously every dance has certain points you'll be looking at -- like if it's Rumba, you're looking for hip action -- so you want to have it down what everyone is doing.
Before the show, I also kind of exercise, "What am I going to say?" I'm as nervous as any of them. But it really is reacting to what comes to me, and thinking of a picture, and hopefully, it works. Quickly we also get our hair and makeup done, get ready, have something to eat, talk with the producers. Then, because the show goes live at 8 p.m. New York time, 5 p.m. [in Los Angeles], we're all ready to go by 4:30 p.m. PT.
I think all Dancing fans can agree that you have the best lines on the show. How do you come up with such creative critiques on the spot?
I think it's because, more than anyone, I kind of go into character. Almost like a Disney character, I become like an expanded version of myself. And what I do is, usually, I see a picture or an image that reminds me of something that's related to what they do.
At the very beginning [of DWTS] I was like, "How are you going to do this? How are you going to be a judge?" Everybody at the time when we started the show in 2005, the template from judge to judge was coming from [American Idol's] Simon Cowell, really. He's a friend of mine and I just can't do it that way -- it's already been done, you know what I mean? But if I [judge] almost as a character, you still do what you have to do, but in an entertaining way. Just give them something to think about and entertain at the same time.
Well, speaking of entertaining, we have Disney Night coming up on Monday...
Oh, it's always my favorite! Disney magic! Spectacular, something you will never forget. Because Disney is part of us all. It's everybody's granddad, you know? We all have favorites, and it never fails to produce gems. It's good to have all these dances inspired by Disney movies and Disney songs. It always is one of the best shows. And we have Andrea Bocelli and Mateo Bocelli, singing a song from the new The Nutcracker and the Four Realms movie. It will make you cry, it's beautiful.
Disney Night is always a fun one because we get to see the pro dancers be a little more creative with their choreography and have fun with their visuals. In addition to technique, what will you personally be looking out for in the dances?
I think you still have to look at the dance in full -- how good it is, if there are any mistakes, etc. -- but it has to be inspired by the movie, so obviously you have to respond to the potential of the theme. Nevertheless, you still have to be doing the correct dance, no mistakes. I mean, you really judge it as a dance, still. It's a competition, so some may do better than others, but there are some very, very good people at the moment, that each week are fantastic. I mean, Milo Manheim [last week] was amazing, Juan Pablo Di Pace the week before, DeMarcus Ware is very solid. Alexis Ren is getting better and better, and Evanna Lynch is doing well. But really, anything can happen.
Is there a theme that hasn't been done on the show that you'd like to see happen in a future season?
Yes, actually. But one that we have done that I'd love to see us do again... I love Motown. I think Motown has become so influential over the years and has so many options. And the '80s, '90s, Prince, Madonna. All the people I worked with, Duran Duran, Freddie Mercury and Elton John. That would be quite nice, it would be a fun night. I also love when you have people that actually wrote the songs come in and perform it [live] -- I think it gives it extra excitement.
We're going into week five of the competition... what advice do you have for the remaining contestants regarding what they should be doing now in order to make it to the Semi-Finals?
Eventually, once it gets closer to the end, they'll have more dances to do. They have to be very, very aware of every mistake -- every error in the combination will be [noticed] by us. They still have to produce very exciting routines, to capture the attention of the public, but as the weeks progress, the judges are actually looking even more into the technique and the quality of the dancing. As they get better, we want more, don't we? The more the merrier.
We've only seen one perfect score so far this season: Juan Pablo Di Pace and Cheryl Burke during Most Memorable Year Night. Do you think we'll get another perfect score on Disney Night? Are you feeling it?
Of course, until I see it, I don't know, but usually, these big theme nights bring out the best in everyone. I remember a few years back when Riker Lynch [and Allison Holker] did a Pirates of the Caribbean piece. Oh my god, that was just out of this world! They really get inspiration, so it could easily happen...
Last week's elimination was shocking -- Tinashe and her pro partner, Brandon Armstrong, went home despite being frontrunners from the beginning. There's been a lot of frustration about that on social media. What do you have to say in response?
Oh my, I was extremely surprised. To be honest, I really thought she had the chance to make it to the Finals. She was getting 9s! She's such a beautiful girl and a great dancer. For me, she was a shoe-in for the Finals, but it's happened before, years ago, with Sabrina Bryan. It's just one of those things ... like with the election, I usually stay out of these things, but it's not really worth complaining after. You [as a fan] have a voice, you can make things happen. But if you don't vote, don't complain, because it really is your responsibility to back the people you want to stay in the show. If you don't vote, then these things happen. That's the way it is!
Since you brought up Elton John earlier, it's been about 35 years since you starred in his "I'm Still Standing" music video. What's been the key to you still standing so prominently in this industry after all this time?
I thank God every day that I'm still here and still doing this, and being employed and doing something that I love. It's a blessing. And because I'm not one of those people -- I don't have managers, a publicist -- from the beginning, I always handled my own [schedule]. My first job was in September 1974. I always said, and I think it's valid for everyone, "Do something you love and always give everything you've got." Of course, it doesn't matter how far you go, you have to expect to be knocked down constantly. But regardless, when you do your best and you deliver everything you have the best you can, somebody will notice and it will keep you going. I always give it 100% and that's all you can do. It's hard work but I'm still going, I'm still standing! And there will be more things to come.
Dancing With the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.