EXCLUSIVE: 'Dancing With the Stars' Pro Lindsay Arnold Teases Calvin Johnson Will 'Surprise' Fans, Laurie Hern
By Desiree Murphy
Lindsay Arnold is already calling dibs on the coveted mirror ball trophy.
ET caught up with the 22-year-old Dancing With the Stars pro on Friday, where she gave us some insight on how rehearsals with her season 23 partner, former NFL player Calvin Johnson, have been going ahead of the series premiere Sept. 12 on ABC.
"I think this could be my season, I really do," Arnold says. "I think Calvin is going to surprise a lot of people with what he has to offer, and I'm excited to know that it can only get better from here. I'm ready to push him every week, and take America along the journey of Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions football player turned dancer."
Last season, Arnold was partnered with Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris, finishing in fourth place. Despite receiving the highest scores of the night, the duo was eliminated during the semi-finals.
"I really thought we were going to make it to the finals. I was extremely shocked," she recalls. "I had one of, if not the best, dancers on the show. What I'm excited about this season is that Calvin is not going to come out as the best dancer week one. But what I'm excited for America to see is his improvement -- I think sometimes that is more important than being the best dancer."
The blond beauty was ecstatic when she found out she was paired with the 30-year-old football pro (nicknamed Megatron by his teammates), as past athletes have been very successful in the competition. Arnold says it's all due to their work ethic.
"They treat every single day, whether its football, soccer, anything that they're doing, they're working so hard and they love to see results and that's what they thrive off of," she explains. "I feel like we can thrive off of the fan base that he has, and turn some of those football fans into dancing fans."
To help Johnson be the best he can be, Arnold exclusively tells ET she's changing up the way she teaches -- by bringing football equipment into the studio! With any type of dance, it's important to be aware of your spacing, but even more key if you're dancing with a partner. It's similar in football, where players are constantly keeping track of the yards they have to travel down the field.
"[That mentality] has actually been extremely helpful," Arnold admits. "I had him bring in -- you know the ladders that they use while training? They're like rope ladders, and you put them on the ground. I actually had him bring those to the studio for rehearsals. We're doing the cha-cha week one, so we practiced some of the moves inside of the ladders."
"It was so helpful for him, because it gave him this sense of, 'OK, this is how big my step needs to be, and this is the kind of the pattern I'm doing,'" she adds. "It was fun! I'm incorporating what he already knows, and then bringing it to the dance floor."
While it sounds like Johnson has had no trouble mastering Arnold's expert moves, there is one thing he needs to work on: his confidence.
"I want to be sure he really comes across as a dancer, and not just a football player that's doing the cha-cha," Arnold dishes. "A lot of times, people who aren't performers will get the steps and be like, 'Awesome, I've got it, it's perfect.' And you're like, OK, right, you're doing the steps right, but it's also about telling a story, showing your emotions while doing that."
"He is having so much fun with it," she continues. "He is really going there, which is hard to do, because sometimes they'll feel like they look dumb or awkward, and they'll be embarrassed to enjoy it. But he's let himself go -- it's not hard to get him to smile -- but I think the biggest thing is, he'll do the dance, and then he'll be like, 'Oh, I messed up here.' I tell him he's just got to be confident. The confidence, we're working on that."
When it comes to the competition this season, Arnold says she and Johnson aren't too worried, but there is one competitor fans at home should "keep their eye on."
"I think the one to beat is Laurie Hernandez," the dancer says, referring to the 16-year-old Olympic gymnast paired with Val Chmerkovskiy. "She had such grace and control when she was competing on the gymnastics floor, and you can see that she knows how to listen to music and how to perform. And on top of that, she's the sweetest little girl ever. So, I think she has a really good shot!"
Arnold also tells ET that like Hernandez's fellow Olympian, Ryan Lochte (who is paired with Cheryl Burke), Johnson isn't too thrilled about the glitzy get-ups, specifically, rhinestones.
"He is not so sure about those things," she admits, laughing. "But he tells me he'll do whatever I tell him to do, so we're going to ease him into it. Week one, we're going to go kind of neutral with the rhinestones and hopefully just get more and more on him after that. It's funny hearing him talk about it. I think if anything, he's the most nervous about that."
An accessory Johnson would be down to rock? A pair of Yeezy dance shoes! Arnold jokes with ET that after seeing DWTS alum Von Miller sport the first-ever pair of Kanye West Yeezy cleats during Thursday night's NFL kickoff game, she and her teammate would totally be down to take them to the dance floor.
"If I could make it work, I would definitely wear [Yeezy dance shoes]," she spills. "I would imagine those would look pretty cool. Kanye should make some, and I'll get all the [contestants] on Dancing With the Stars to wear them one night."
Read more from ET's exclusive interview with Arnold HERE.
Season 23 of Dancing With the Stars kicks off Monday, Sept. 12 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. As we patiently wait to see Arnold and Johnson in action on the dance floor, watch the video below to get a sneak peek look inside one of Amber Rose and Maksim Chmerkovskiy's rehearsals.