LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - More than 24 million Americans watched "Dirty Dancing" actress Jennifer Grey triumph over Bristol Palin to win TV's "Dancing With the Stars" in what network ABC said on Wednesday was the show's biggest audience in three years.
Grey's victory on a combination of judges' scores and public votes ended one of the most contentious and politically-charged seasons of "Dancing with the Stars" in its history.
Palin, 20, the daughter of conservative politician Sarah Palin who reached the finals despite get low judges' scores for six weeks, said on Wednesday that prayer had got her through the controversy, which included an anthrax scare on the set.
"It is faith that got me through this and just praying all the time and just relying on God and knowing that He is on our side and we'll get through this," Palin told People magazine.
But in a comment on Tuesday's broadcast, Palin said winning the contest and the glitzy mirrorball trophy "would be a great middle finger to all the people who hate my mom and me."
Palin's survival on "Dancing" took on political overtones after critics of her dance skills suggested she was benefiting from the popularity of her mother -- a polarizing Tea Party favorite who is weighing a run for U.S. president in 2012.
Last week, an envelope containing what turned out to be talcum powder was delivered to the Los Angeles studio where "Dancing" is broadcast.
Votes from viewers count for half of the final tally in deciding who is eliminated each week. Producers said the public voted in record numbers for the three finalists, briefly crashing the show's website, but that each of the remaining contestants were equally affected by the outage.
Time magazine TV writer James Poniewozik commented wryly on Wednesday that the "Mirrorball Primary is over."
Television network ABC said that Tuesday's results show was the most-watched TV program in America, attracting 24.1 million viewers. That number -- the biggest "Dancing" audience since November 2007-- grew to 26.4 million in the last 30 minutes as the winners were revealed.
Disney Channel star Kyle Massey, 19, was voted runner-up to Grey, with Palin taking 3rd place.
Grey, 50, is best known for starring opposite the late Patrick Swayze in the 1987 coming-of-age film "Dirty Dancing".
She said she had resisted pressure to reinvent the movie's iconic final dance scene for the TV show.
"I knew everybody wanted us to do something with 'Time of My Life', there was a lot of pressure for that. But I knew that was a dance for Patrick and me, and I wanted to leave it as such," Grey told "Good Morning America" on Wednesday.
Swayze died of pancreatic cancer in September 2009 at the age of 57.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte