When the first season of Dancing With the Stars premiered in 2005, Christine Chiu would enter a lottery each week for a chance to win tickets to sit in the live studio audience. She had to submit her application at just the right time to be chosen, and after weeks of submissions, she made it. She received her ticket and stood in line outside the DWTS studio in Los Angeles for three hours before she was seated inside. Then, the show started.
“Scoring that seat in the audience was like Christmas to me,” Chiu, 38, tells STYLECASTER. “I was so overwhelmed and transformed by the beauty, the stories and the magic of ballroom dancing. I was mesmerized. I was sold. It was love at first sight.”
Fast forward to sixteen years later, and Chiu, who still has her ticket from her first DWTS show, has made it from the audience to the ballroom. “I wake up every day at five to go to rehearsal. I still can’t believe that it’s happening. It’s one of those dreams that you never want to wake up from,” says Chiu, who even performed a choreographed DWTS-inspired dance with her husband, Dr. Gabriel Chiu, at their wedding in 2006.
Chiu, a cast member on Netflix’s reality TV series Bling Empire, is one of 15 contestants on DWTS season 30, which premiered on Monday, September 20. Despite her past formal ballet training, Chiu knows she’s the underdog of the season, but that isn’t stopping her from DWTS’ coveted Mirrorball Trophy, even if she already has more than enough bling at home.
“I want to do well enough to entertain the audience,” she says. “I want to do well enough to make my husband, Baby G, and my dance partner proud. I want to do well enough to stay until the very end. I have a lot of bling at home, so it’s not like I need the Mirrorball Trophy. But, of course, I wouldn’t turn it down if it came up.”
The current season of DWTS is the second to premiere since the COVID-19 pandemic started. While Chiu jokes that there “wasn’t a second” she was home before the pandemic, she also looks at the time as a learning moment.
“I appreciate the slow down of the pandemic,” she says. “The beauty of growth is editing. The pandemic forced us to edit, reevaluate and recalibrate. In retrospect, I didn’t need to be at every party all the time. It brought out a lot of new adaptations in my life.”
Ahead, Chiu talked to STYLECASTER about what it was like to meet her partner, Pasha Pashkov, for the first time; filming DWTS and Bling Empire season 2 at the same time; and what she’s learned after losing her mother during the pandemic.
On when she got the call to be on DWTS
“My agent was like, ‘You got an offer.’ I have chills right now talking about it! It was silent for, like, five minutes. He was like, ‘Hello? Are you there? Do you want to do it?’ I cried because I never would’ve imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be dancing on that dance floor.”
On meeting her partner, Pasha Pashkov, for the first time
“At first, I was a little intimidated. Between the two of us, I think he’s the star. It’s funny they call us the pro vs. the star. But he is the pro and the star! When I first met him, I was grateful because he’s a great instructor. I’m grateful because he’s an incredible competitor having held so many titles. I also was grateful because his manner of teaching and instructing was something I never had before in my dance experience. He’s incredibly positive but firm. He uses positive affirmations to teach. In my somewhat limited ballet training in the past, my instructors always used very harsh criticism. I always left every class, every performance, every recital feeling worse about myself. While dance is my love language, it also became a place of insecurity and sadness. Being paired with somebody who teaches and instructs dance in such a different way is really beautiful.”
On JoJo Siwa being the first contestant in DWTS history to have a same-sex partner
“JoJo doesn’t break character. She’s a disco ball all the time, every time. She’s full of energy. That amount of enthusiasm is contagious, and I love it. Especially during these times when people are experiencing loss and struggles, and there’s political unrest, she’s a shining light. It’s a very timely and commendable move for Dancing With the Stars to have this type of pairing. It’s about time. I know that the audience will fall in love with that pairing.”
On how she was cast in Bling Empire
“I’ve known Jeff Jenkins, the creator and executive producer, for more than a decade. We’ve worked on several TV projects and developments. A couple successful ones, and some that didn’t go too far. But we built that creative relationship. Even before Bling Empire, there were many attempts by different production companies to put together an all-Asian American cast, whether it was all-female or it was family-oriented or young, thriving and The Hills-like. For a variety of reasons, that cast never came together. One day, Jeff approached myself and Dr. Chiu for the production end of [Bling Empire.] When he first asked us, we were like, ‘Of course!’ To move Asian American diversity on big or little screens is an incredible opportunity we couldn’t pass up. But then it came with a hook. It was: ‘We want you to be a part of producing this project, but we also want you to be on camera.’ That was the tricky part because my husband’s family is incredibly private. Even though I have a public persona, I’m actually very introverted. The thought of showing my flash and my lifestyle didn’t feel right to me. You weigh the pros and the cons. We talked about, maybe we open with the glitz and the glam but use this platform to open dialogue about more important matters, like family, adoption, identity, infertility. All these things that are difficult to discuss in your own personal lives let alone on television. When I looked at it from that perspective, the pros outweighed the cons of losing our privacy and opening our lives for global judgment. We took a gamble, and here we are.”
The pandemic forced us to edit, reevaluate and recalibrate.
On what her husband’s family thinks of Bling Empire
“That is a sore topic. We don’t talk about the show. I’m sure they’re upset about the show. I’m sure that they’re still coming to terms with how we could possibly jeopardize their privacy. In that respect, I do feel regretful because they didn’t sign up for the show. And propelling Asian American diversity and inclusivity may not be a part of their personal motivations and agenda. I do feel bad about throwing them into it. But we avoid that topic at all costs.”
On Bling Empire season 2
“Season 2 is broken up into two parts. We’re filming 16 episodes. The first is done. We are deep into the second part. I don’t know if it will all be season 2, or season 2 and 3. But in any case, prepare to have your minds blown because there are things you would’ve never imagined. Twists and turns and holy shit moments. I’m getting chills just talking about it. The audience and the viewers are definitely in for a treat. Of course, aside from those shock and awe moments, the deeper purpose, at least for me, is to have more dialogue about difficult things. I think of Bling Empire as a Trojan horse and to hook people with all of the shiny but deliver a stronger, more heartfelt message.
I just filmed last night. Unfortunately, I had to drink. Well, not unfortunately, but they served a $15,000 bottle of Petrus, and although I promised my partner I would not be drinking during this time. I was like, ‘Oooh, if I’m going to make an exception, I think it’s the night I’m going to do it.’”
On the new cast members in Bling Empire season 2
“There are definitely some new faces. I don’t think we’re necessarily throwing new people, though, because the bond and the dynamic between the existing cast is still so strong and there are so many layers to each cast member we have yet to unpeel and learn about. The main focus will still be the core cast. But there are definitely new faces, personalities and fun stories that will be thrown into the mix.”
On her response to criticism over Bling Empire’s portrayal of the Asian community
“I don’t think Bling Empire was meant to represent all Asians across the board. There’s no way, and no show should ever endeavor to represent all people. I give kudos to the producers for compiling a cast that has a diversity even amongst Asians, ranging from Vietnamese to Taiwanese to Chinese to Korean to Japanese to Filipino. Just in westernized storytelling, there are those who are very affluent, and we can dive into and explore those stories. But then there are those who are from a different walk of life, and their stories are nonetheless interesting. This past year, we had movies like Nomadland and Minari and The Farewell. Even in television shows, we had Awkwafina From Queens. More is more. There are so many stories to tell, and so many facets of this kaleidoscope of Asian Americans.”
On what she’s learned from the pandemic
“I’ve learned so much. My mother passed away during the pandemic. Not to COVID, but because she had breast cancer. The loss of my best friend and the closest person in my life, coupled with a time to really reflect and reevaluate, it’s made me a much more grounded and appreciative person. Yes, I have a lot of fancy things, and I’m very fortunate to have everything we need. But what’s really important to me now and forever is family and health, because when my mom was passing away, there was no amount of money that could’ve saved her. No amount of bling, popularity or prestige. None of that mattered. It really boiled down to family and health. So that’s my biggest lesson from the pandemic.”
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