Why Dancing With The Stars Needs To Add An Audience For The Semi-Finals

dancing with the stars season 29 derek hough judge abc
(Image credit: ABC)

Spoilers ahead of the "Icons Night" episode of Dancing with the Stars Season 29.

Dancing with the Stars is fast-approaching the end of Season 29, which has been the first in show history to go without a studio audience. The change was made due to pandemic protocols, which also included spacing out the judges (including one replacement) and quarantining the dancers. I actually was a fan of how the show was able to take advantage of more space without an audience filling up the studio. After "Icons Night," however, I'm ready for Dancing with the Stars to get back to business as usual with an audience.

Well, sort of business as usual, anyway. The COVID-19 pandemic is still a very real problem, so packing an audience full of spectators like in previous seasons would obviously be a very bad idea. That said, shows like America's Got Talent and The Voice adapted to include a studio audience via video, and The Masked Singer found a way to include an audience as well, although some found the Fox series' methods more unsettling than reassuring. At this point, I'd even take unsettling over what Dancing with the Stars delivers, and certainly Zoom over nothing, especially now that Season 29 is heading toward the semi-finals and then finals.

Unlike other shows, Dancing with the Stars has been more or less piping in audience sounds with no actual shots of any people. Not even recycled shots of an audience from a past season, like what The Emmys did earlier this year! The result is a show that feels artificial, and the cheers and boos just don't work because we don't see anybody making those sounds and are left to assume that DWTS producers chose the reactions.

It was one thing when it was just cheering when the dancers finished their numbers for the night, but it's the boos that really get me, because nobody seems to be actually booing, and I feel like the show is trying to get me to feel a certain way without showing me any reactions other than from the judges. Now that the celebrity dancers have all hit their stride and know how to strut their stuff, the reactions (or lack thereof) are more important. Boos vs. cheers can sway voters from home, and those boos and cheers just don't feel organic.

It's entirely possible that ABC is piping in the audio from people who are watching live, but seeing is believing in my book when it comes to DWTS. A solution could be as simple as showing off a wall of Zoom screens with fans watching and reacting from home. I just want to see where some real sounds are coming from now that the stakes are higher than ever with the semi-finals on the way.

Every little variable can make all the difference, especially when even the judges are making their decisions based on more than just technique. I prefer thinking viewers are reacting organically rather than the reactions are being chosen by producers.

Just take the "Telephone" dance-off between Kaitlyn Bristowe/Artem Chigvintsev and Justina Machado/Sasha Farber during "Icons Night" as an example. Kaitlyn and Artem clearly had the edge when it came to technique, while Justina and Sasha brought flair and charisma to the stage to go with their moves. Or, as the judges said, Kaitlyn and Artem's sugar vs. Justina and Sasha's spice. The result was the judges voting for Justina to get the two bonus points over Kaitlyn, despite Kaitlyn's technique. If voting is going to be subjective rather than technical, then the "audience" reactions matter and should therefore be visibly real.

All of this said, I'm guessing Dancing with the Stars will finish Season 29 without a visible audience. Any potential changes might have to wait for Season 30, assuming ABC is still operating under pandemic protocols whenever the next season rolls around. For now, you can look forward to new episodes of Dancing with the Stars on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Backstreet Boy AJ McLean and pro partner Cheryl Burke (who sustained a scary head injury this season) were voted out of "Icons Night" despite AJ channeling his inner Freddie Mercury. Tune in next week to see who is voted out next! For more of what to watch, check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).