NEW YORK (Reuters) - Country singer Kellie Pickler won the 16th season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” on Tuesday night, winning over judges and TV audiences with her graceful style and high-jumping jives with partner and professional dancer Derek Hough.
Pickler, who first grabbed attention as a contestant on “American Idol” in 2006, screeched and jumped up and down when she learned she had won.
“This is amazing! Oh, my God!” she exclaimed, before fellow finalist and NFL player Jacoby Jones hoisted her on his shoulders to celebrate.
Pickler beat out Jones, former Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, and Disney Channel star Zendaya, who goes by her first name. The show began with 12 celebrity contestants including singer Wynonna Judd and former Olympic skater Dorothy Hamill, who were paired with the show’s professional dancers.
Raisman and her dance partner Mark Ballas were eliminated early in the two-hour finale after failing to garner enough judge points and audience votes for their performances on Monday night’s show, leaving Pickler, Jacoby, and Zendaya to compete in an instant dance round.
The instant round, which allowed less than an hour for preparation, was scored by the show’s judges, and helped determine the winner along with Monday’s scores and votes.
All three remaining contestants earned perfect scores in the instant round, but fan votes and strong scores from Monday’s show pushed Pickler over the top. She and her partner were also selected by audiences via Twitter to do an encore performance of their Monday freestyle dance.
Judge Carrie Ann Inaba called Pickler’s freestyle performance “one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”
The barefoot routine was meant to tell the story of a tormented couple, and was noted for its focus on grace and simplicity instead of flashy tricks.
Pickler and Hough brought back the energy on Tuesday with their upbeat jive to the song “Rockin’ Robin,” which included lifts and spins but was praised by judges for its precision.
The finale also featured musical performances by former contestant Judd, Korean pop star Psy, and recent American Idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez.
Dance numbers by past contestants and professional dancers entertained audiences as finalists worked on their instant routines, and montages of practices and backstage chitchat gave a look into the preparation behind the performances.
Hosts Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke Charvet also encouraged viewers to donate to the Red Cross to help the victims of the Oklahoma tornado before diving into the dancing.
Inspired by the British show “Strictly Come Dancing,” “Dancing With the Stars” has remained popular with American TV audiences since its debut in 2005, though its ratings have slipped over time. The show’s judges award points to the couples based on their dance routines, which are weighed equally with audience votes to select the winner.
ABC is a unit of Walt Disney Co.
Reporting by Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Elaine Lies, Eric Beech and Lisa Shumaker