On May 21, 2013, Kellie Pickler and dancing partner Derek Hough won Season 16 of Dancing With the Stars. The pair won the season thanks to perfect 30-point scores on all three of their final dances: a quickstep set to Ludovic Bource’s “Peppy and George;” a freestyle dance soundtracked by Labrinth feat. Emeli Sandé’s “Beneath Your Beautiful;” and an instant jive to Little Richard’s “Keep-a-Knockin’.”
“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” Pickler told Us Weekly after her win. “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.
“I was shocked to have made it this far,” she added. “We’ve made so many memories out here on this dance floor and in the studio. We’ve all worked so hard to be here, and it’s just overwhelming. But in a great way.”
Pickler is used to the reality show spotlight — after all, she finished sixth during Season 5 of American Idol — which may have given her an edge in the poise department. However, as she told Country Weekly during the season, her athletic upbringing also helped.
“I was a cheerleader in seventh grade and in my sophomore and junior year in high school,” Pickler explained. “It’s been quite some time, and cheerleading is a lot different than ballroom dancing, but the thing that has helped me the most, my greatest strength, is my flexibility.”
With this foundation, it’s no wonder that Pickler and Hough were quite consistent throughout the entire season, averaging scores of 27.4 points across 15 dances. In fact, the couple received perfect marks for the Argentine tango, quickstep, freestyle and jive, and only faltered by scoring a 21 for a cha-cha-cha. Pickler herself also received high marks in individual dance styles: She was the top-ranked competitor for the quickstep (30), jazz (26) and Viennese Waltz (28), and tied for first in several other styles.
“It’s been so much fun. But we rehearse every day, and it’s very grueling,” Pickler shared with Country Weekly. “We have no say over our dance style; they tell us each week what we’ll be dancing next. They give us the music and [Derek] creates the choreography based on the music.
“All the professional dancers have been dancing their whole life,” she added. “They’re trying to teach us everything they know in a week, which is impossible! But I think that’s the thing that makes the show so great, watching everybody learn and struggle through it, and then get out there and do it anyway.”
In addition to winning Dancing With the Stars‘ customary mirror ball trophy, Pickler received another gift, courtesy of her husband, Kyle Jacobs: a puppy.
“We were sitting out there on the dance floor after everything was over,” she told Xfinity at the time, “and [Kyle] comes over, and he’s carrying this little bag, and he opens it, and there’s this little Maltese, in there and I was like, ‘What’s this?’ And he’s like, ‘It’s for you.’ I was like ‘Awww!'”
Pickler resumed her music and TV career post-Dancing With the Stars. She later made a guest appearance during Season 17 of the show, performing a jive to her then-new single “Little Bit Gypsy.”
LOOK: Country Artists Who Have Competed on Dancing With the Stars
WATCH: Country Stars Share Their Go-To Dance Moves