Forget that Emmy — Derek Hough has five mirrorball trophies. The newly crowned five-time "Dancing With the Stars" champion scored his latest bling with partner Amber Riley on the Season 17 finale, firmly solidifying his place in the "DWTS" record books. No other pro dancer has even come close — the most mirrorballs any of his peers has won is two.
Hough's partners have included everyone from "Dirty Dancing" alum Jennifer Grey to a pre-"DWTS" hostess Brooke Burke-Charvet, and his victory with Riley marks the first time an African American woman has won the TV dancing competition. But while this pro dancing powerhouse has racked up an impressive roster of routines in the process, Hough's also got a rock-solid fan base, and it seems to be growing, which some critics think gives him a hefty edge. A recent Buddy TV article put it bluntly: "The point is that Derek has become bigger than the show and it seems like an unfair advantage. Whichever celebrity gets him as a partner is almost guaranteed to make it to the finale."
True, that — Hough almost always makes it to the finals, and he's never landed below sixth place on the show. (And that was back in the old days; in more recent seasons he's either won or been runner-up.)
The fan-driven show is just as much about the contestants' popularity as it is about the dancing (the latest example: Bill Engvall made it to the finals despite a steady dose of low judges' scores), and the pros come with a built-in following. So, is Hough becoming too popular, or is he simply the best choreographer this TV dancing competition has ever seen?
You be the judge! Here's a look at Hough's five mirrorball trophy wins and some of his best dances.
Brooke Burke-Charvet (Season 7)
Back in 2008, new kid to the show Hough couldn't contain his excitement when he won his first "DWTS" championship with partner Brooke Burke-Charvet, but five years later the co-hostess of the show still plays favorites. Burke-Charvet told the Las Vegas Sun, "Derek and I have so much history, and he's like family. But aside from that, he is the most brilliant choreographer ever. He has this way of making his partners look amazing ... He'll always be my personal favorite, for sure. That's not the politically correct answer, but that's the truth!"
Nicole Scherzinger (Season 10)
Some cried foul when Pussycat Dolls alum Nicole Scherzinger joined the competition in 2010 with an extensive résumé of pop-star dance moves under her belt, and Hough didn't pretend it wasn't an advantage. He told TV Guide, "I hate when people say, 'No, it's a totally different monster. It doesn't help at all.' That's ridiculous. Of course it helps! ... It's definitely a struggle, but I think her dance experience has allowed us to up the ante as far as choreography." (Hey, at least he's honest!)
Jennifer Grey (Season 11)
Hough's third mirrorball win came after a "Dirty Dancing" tribute with partner Jennifer Grey, complete with the expected Patrick Swayze comparisons. Hough told Entertainment Weekly that the "Dirty Dancing" homage had to happen and said he was "extremely flattered" by the comparison to one of his idols. Grey later said that Hough would "make an amazing Johnny Castle" in a "Dirty Dancing" remake. "He's the best dancer I can think of, and he belongs in the movies," she said.
Kellie Pickler (Season 16)
Hough almost skipped Season 16 of the competition, but a sudden change of heart had him signing on at the last hour with Kellie Pickler. Pickler told People, "Having Derek as my partner is an answered prayer. Right before I left Nashville for L.A., my Grandpa Ken, who is a huge fan of the show, told me he was praying that Derek would be my partner, because that's his favorite male dancer on the show." The duo's undeniable chemistry continued when Hough choreographed and starred in Pickler's "Someone Somewhere Tonight" video earlier this year.
Amber Riley (Season 17)
Riley dedicated her win to "women of all sizes" and declared, "It doesn't matter what size you are, what color you are, you can do whatever, whatever, whatever you put your mind to!" But in a teary taped piece, she gave Hough full credit for helping her push through. "You have the biggest heart," she told her pro partner. "You always pushed me to be better."
Hough's Best "DWTS" Dances:
Where do we start?
Hough came in second place in Season 15's All-Stars season, but he and partner Shawn Johnson still pulled off the most memorable dance of the season: a flipped-out quickstep filled with trampolines, aerials, and all-around epic Olympian moves. The judges dinged the duo for breaking the rules, but Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba still deemed the daring routine "the best dance ever" seen on the show. Hough won an Emmy for his choreography for this dance.
See Hough and Johnson's quickstep:
And speaking of his Emmy, another winning routine came the following season with Hough's Macy's Stars of Dance number that channeled Fred Astaire's famous ceiling dance from the 1951 movie "Royal Wedding." Hough told Variety, "Fred Astaire had months to prepare and weeks to film that one scene. I was given three days ... I would wake up at six in the morning and rehearse with the box — the rotating room — for a couple of hours and work with Kellie Pickler [on my other routines] all day and go back and work on the box routine. It was like 16- or 17-hour days that week and pretty intense, but when it all goes through, it's a wonderful feeling."
Watch Hough's Emmy-winning gravity-defying dance:
And in Season 16, instead of using fancy props or effects for his supersized freestyle, Hough chose to "undersize" his final dance with Pickler to showcase her flexibility. After the emotional routine, he told On the Red Carpet that it was a special experience. "There are only a handful of those moments," he said. "It was pretty extraordinary to be aware that I was in one of those moments and how proud I was of [Kellie]. There's so much that could've gone wrong in that routine ... I looked over and I saw my mom bawling her eyes out behind the judges, and [Kellie] was hugging Carrie Ann [Inaba], and I'm sitting there going, 'Don't cry, Derek!' So it was a very, very good moment."
Check out Hough and Pickler's Season 16 freestyle: