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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Singer Nicole Scherzinger tangoed and jived her way to ballroom stardom on Tuesday, winning a tight contest on "Dancing With the Stars" and ending a season that by most measures was the TV show's best yet.
Olympic gold medalist skater Evan Lysacek wound up second and sports reporter Erin Andrews trailed in third.
The results might have seemed predictable to some fans because Scherzinger, a member of the Pussycat Dolls, was the clear front-runner throughout most of the season and Lysacek was a close second.
But Andrews and her partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy came on strong in Monday's performance round with a season high score of 55 points to tie Scherzinger and Hough for the lead. And all three couples made Tuesday's finale the closest yet after an initial round of Argentine tangos that wowed judges.
"In 10 seasons, judging these three tangos is the hardest job we've ever had," said judge Len Goodman.
So, when host Tom Bergeron announced Scherzinger was the winner, she seemed genuinely surprised, jumping up and down and screaming and hugging Hough.
She blew a kiss to her rival Lysacek and his partner Anna Trebunskaya, and he graciously accepted second place saying he was "totally satisfied with everything we gave."
In its 10th season, "Dancing With the Stars" featured contestants including former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, reality TV star Kate Gosselin and one-time Playboy model Pamela Anderson.
The ABC show averaged 21.6 million viewers a night and competed for the title America's most watched show with juggernaut singing contest "American Idol" on rival Fox.
"This has been the best season of 'Dancing With the Stars, ever," said judge Bruno Tonioli.
Andrews was dubbed the most improved as week after week she increased the passion and emotion in her dancing. She joined the program after becoming the victim of a sex stalker before season 10 began, and after being eliminated she said she had come to the show seeking to put that episode behind her.
"This experience has meant everything to me," she told host Tom Bergeron after being eliminated midway through the show.
"I came here under really crummy circumstances, and I just wanted to get my life back together and my smile back," she said, fighting back tears.
After Andrews was eliminated in the initial round of tangos, the remaining couples danced a second routine with Lysacek and Trebunskaya failing to impress the judges with a quickstep as much as Scherzinger and Hough did with their jive to the up tempo song "Proud Mary."
"You set this place on fire," said judge Carrie Ann Inaba, "It has been nothing but amazing."
Scherzinger and Hough ended the night with a perfect score of 30 and a total of 115 for the two final nights, Monday and Tuesday. Lysacek and Trebunskaya had a 28 on their quickstep and ended with 108 points over the two nights.
Combined with audience voting, the night belonged to Scherzinger and Hough. They lifted the mirror ball high above their heads and rode the shoulders of the other dancers off the ballroom floor.
Other highlights of the finale included dances from eliminated contestants such as Anderson, Aldrin and Gosselin, and the judges gave a mirror ball trophy to a collegiate team of dancers from Utah Valley University.
Editing by Jill Serjeant