Dance-off has female champ
Finally, after four male winners
LOS ANGELES - After four consecutive male winners on
Dancing With the Stars
, it was finally ladies' night.
Kristi Yamaguchi was named the new Dancing champ on the show's season finale Tuesday night, becoming the first woman to win the ABC dance-off since its inaugural season. The figure skater came into the final contest Tuesday with a perfect score and bested fan favorites Jason Taylor and Cristian de la Fuente to claim the mirror-ball trophy.
"This is definitely for all those women out there to continue to be strong," she said after the show, hoisting the prize above her head.
The Olympic gold medalist was clearly the most talented dancer on this season's competition, regularly landing atop the judges' scoreboard. But viewer votes count just as much, and with the audience 75 percent female, men have had the edge. Last season ended with a shocker when race-car driver Helio Castroneves upset Spice Girl Melanie Brown.
"Obviously, the fans are the deciding factor here," Yamaguchi said, "and I can't say enough to thank them."
She also had plenty of fans among her fellow competitors, who said she deserved the title.
Taylor, the massive but graceful pro football star, called Yamaguchi "just perfect," adding that he "grew up watching her compete for our country." Model and actor de la Fuente, who was eliminated early in the two-hour season finale, said, "It was impossible to beat her."
His professional partner, Cheryl Burke, agreed. "Kristi deserved it more than any other woman in any other season," she said. "It's about time that a woman wins."
Yamaguchi's athletic background helped make her a winner, said judge Carrie Ann Inaba, because athletes know how to channel criticism into competition.
"She was technically great, and she was doing incredible choreography," Inaba said, adding that Yamaguchi's performance personality emerged throughout the season. "She was able to really develop her crowd-pleasing skills, and that's what set her over the top."
The judge acknowledged on Monday's show that men often fare better in the ballroom, saying, "They have a natural tendency to be more crowd-pleasers."
"When men get on the floor, and you're watching the male power, it's unbeatable," Inaba said after Tuesday's show. "It generates this sort of excitement on the dance floor that's really hard to touch."
Winning the Dancing crown doesn't quite compare with winning an Olympic gold medal, Yamaguchi said, but it's still "a fun, amazing experience."
"It's not just this [trophy], but what it represents," she said. "It's all the hard work and the time spent together and the friendships made, challenging yourself and learning something new."