Zap2it: With Season 22 of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ starting Monday [March 21], do you do any research on the new group of celebrity contestants before the competition begins?

Carrie Ann Inaba: Sometimes — just like everybody else at home — I go, “Who’s that?” What I judge, and what I give numbers to, always has to be the dance. That is what we’re there for, and that’s what my area of expertise is. We do get to know the people on the show, though, and that is the heart of it … learning about them and being inspired by their stories.

I do think it’s an important part to comment on, so I like to involve the person and their journey, because I think that’s what engages the audience. I speak with my heart, but the numbers have to be based on technique, and more of a cross-section of all the elements of a performance. But I never ignore the emotional aspect.

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Zap2it: This season, Julianne Hough isn’t returning as a judge, but Len Goodman is. Does it make a big difference to you who else is on the panel?

In my mind, we are a family. Len didn’t stop being a part of the family when he took a break, and Julianne will never stop being a part of the family just because she’s moving on to do other things. When people come to see the show, they’re really impressed that it does have that family feeling. And not a lot of shows do.

I think what’s great about our judging panel is that all of us are very supportive of the pros (the pro dancers). They’re the unsung heroes of our show. Most of our commentary is toward the celebrities, but the pros really are the ones who take them on this journey, and it’s magical.

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Posted by:Jay Bobbin