NEW YORK (AP) — Derek Hough has made it to the finals of the 16th edition of "Dancing With the Stars," which wraps Tuesday, but he almost didn't return to the ABC show this season.
"I was gonna sit this season out," Hough said in a recent interview. "My mom hurt herself and she was in the hospital (but) I had this overwhelming feeling, 'You know what? I feel like this isn't the season I should be taking off. This isn't the one.' Now looking back, I'm really glad I made that decision because it's been one of my favorite seasons as far as creating and working with people."
Besides teaching his celeb partner, country singer Kellie Pickler, how to ballroom dance, he's also performed with a blind dancer and danced in a rotating room.
Hough, 28, pushed for these opportunities to keep challenging himself.
"For me, I like to push myself ... I hate feeling complacent or that I'm not learning," he said.
His sister, Julianne Hough, also a professional dancer, left "Dancing With the Stars" in 2009 to focus on her music and acting career. She said Derek is "the most talented person" she knows.
"He has an insane ability to create. I don't know what special gifts God gave him, but he can pick up any instrument and self-teach himself. He plays guitar, drums, piano," she said.
"He's one of the most amazing photographers I've ever seen. We'll take the same exact picture in the same exact spot and there's something amazing and beautiful about what he's taken. He's got an incredible voice. He is an amazing actor. I think the sky is the limit for my brother."
Hough said he wants to do everything.
"It's such a cliche thing to say," he laughed. "I want to choreograph, I want to direct, I want to act, I want to write music, I want to play music, I want to sing. For me, it's never-ending. I want to do it all, really."
Hough has won the mirror-ball trophy three times since he joined the show in 2007 (he sat out one season), but said he hasn't always been happy with his performances.
"There've been seasons where I've looked back and maybe been proud of one routine the entire season," he said. "That bothered me for a while, so that's why a couple seasons ago I started doing my own thing I suppose. I didn't want restrictions and I didn't want to restrict my ideas and choreography and concepts because I was afraid I was gonna get a seven or an eight or a six" score from the judges.
He decided what mattered most is the dance itself.
"I said, 'You know what? Whatever happens, when the show finishes, the season's over, the judges' comments and the scores disappear, all you're left with are the dances.'"
Hough's celeb partners, who have also included Ricki Lake, Nicole Scherzinger, Brooke Burke, Jennifer Grey and Maria Menounos, tend to look back and marvel at what they were able to do.
"When I signed up ... I was praying I would get Derek," said Lake, who danced with Hough in season 13. "I love all of them (the pro dancers) but he's hands-down one of the most talented people I've worked with in my life. I watch the show now and I cannot believe what he's able to do all day, every day. He's a genius."
Hough said he loves being on the show, but he's not sure he'll return next season.
One problem is the time commitment. Hough said dancers don't get a single day off because of rehearsals. "It's been a huge factor in me not being able to do other certain projects."
Another problem: "I've been offered certain roles on certain shows that would've been fantastic but unfortunately they were (on) competing networks. It's been difficult to juggle both things but I feel like it's coming to a point now where there's a lot more support" from ABC.
One project in the works: Derek and Julianne will co-executive produce and choreograph a scripted series for Starz. Julianne describes it as the "Black Swan" side of ballroom dancing.
Hough recalled something his mother told him.
"We were at a gas station getting the oil changed and the guy did a terrible job and (my mom) looked at me and said, 'Derek, whatever you become, just be the absolute best at it.' That's kind of stuck with me for all my life. I always want to be the best at what I do. That doesn't mean compared to other people but just in what you do."
The season finale of "Dancing With the Stars" will air at 8 p.m. EDT Monday and 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday on ABC. Other celebs and their partners: Olympic gold-medal gymnast Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas, actress-singer Zendaya Coleman and Val Chmerkovsky, and pro football player Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff.
Alicia Rancilio covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow her online at http://www.twitter.com/aliciar