“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Kellie Pickler told reporters after winning the season 16 “Dancing with the Stars” mirror ball trophy on Tuesday night.
The singer, who first won fame as a competitor on “American Idol” and has since established a successful country career, thrilled judges, fans, and audience members on Monday night when she and partner Derek Hough performed a powerful freestyle that left the other three finalists—Zendaya Coleman, Jacoby Jones, and Aly Raisman–in the dust.
With Derek by her side, however, Kellie insisted she was surprised about becoming DWTS champion. “I’m kind of speechless for the first time. Usually I can’t be quiet. Usually I’m just spitting out words left and right and now I don’t know what to say.”
In fact, Kellie couldn’t hear when her name was announced as the winner and Derek had to tell her it was true that she had beaten out Zendaya Coleman and Val Chmerkovskiy, the second place couple. “I was shocked to have made it this far and just standing there, and there was just two of us, I was kind of playing the whole journey through my mind and kind of visualizing every dance,” Kellie said. “We’ve made so many memories out here on this dance floor and in the studio. We’ve all worked so hard to get here.
“It’s overwhelming—but in a great way,” she said.
Kellie’s husband, songwriter Kyle Jacobs, was teary-eyed on Monday night watching her freestyle. “He was so proud and the first thing he said tonight was, ‘Baby, I love you and I’m so proud of you. You did it!’ ”
The country singer also recalled she almost regretted the decision to even do the grueling reality show in the first place. “I remember going home after they announced [us season 16] contestants on Good Morning America. I went home and I’m laying in the bed and I’m looking at my husband and I’m like, ‘Baby, what have I gotten myself into? It’s too late to back out, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘Yep! It’s too late. Just enjoy it!’ “
And she thoroughly DID enjoy the entire experience. “Behind the curtain, it’s a family,” Kellie gushed. “It’s amazing the chemistry that we have backstage, from the crew, the lighting guys, wardrobe, all the people behind the scenes that y’all don’t see, they’re the best at what they do and I was just blown away at how close and tight everyone is behind the scenes.”
She also admitted getting a case of déjà vu on the set, as American Idol shoots on the stage next door to DWTS. Kellie said at one point she looked at Derek when they visited the Idol set where her stardom began and said to him, “How do I hug this room and say thank you? [Now] you fast forward to this side of the building and I want to hug this [DWTS ball]room and everybody in it.”
Meanwhile, Derek said of Kellie, his incredible fourth partner to have won the show, “She was amazing. We never really thought about or talked about winning or even the competitive side of this. My mentality for the past couple of seasons has been about doing good work and doing good dances and just trying our best and pushing [the stars] to the limit and try to bring out their full potential. I really feel like she reached this sort of amazing pinnacle last night with her freestyle. It was her moment, her dance, and I was so proud of her. It was incredible. Not only was she an amazing dancer but an amazing soul and person.”
Kellie will now go back to her busy music and touring schedule – but she promised to keep dancing! She told reporters that she’s put Kyle on notice: “if he didn’t take dance classes with me, then I was going to have to find a rent-a-husband!” she laughed.