Bachelor’s Melissa Rycroft Dazzles in Dancing Debut

03/10/2009 at 12:00 AM EDT

Bachelor’s Melissa Rycroft Dazzles in Dancing Debut
Scott Kirkland/INF; Craig Sjodin/ABC

If Melissa Rycroft had an inkling of a doubt that she made the wrong decision to join the cast of Dancing with the Stars, it was erased the minute she stepped foot onto the stage Monday night.

“She was radiant. She owned the place,” judge Bruno Tonioli gushed to PEOPLE after the live show. “She embraced the whole feeling of the show.”

The Dallas beauty, whose engagement to The Bachelor’s Jason Mesnick ended unceremoniously on television just a week earlier, was embraced by the supportive crowd as she and partner Tony Dovolani took her mark during the commercial break before she performed. After she and Dovolani danced an elegant Viennese waltz, the crowd leapt to their feet. The thunderous applause was much deserved, especially considering Rycroft had only two days to rehearse while her other fellow competitors had four weeks. With 48 hours of practice, Rycroft managed to earn one of the highest scores of the night: a 23 out of 30.

The warm response brought tears of joy to Rycroft’s eyes, and made the judges gush.

“You’re just a beautiful dancer,” an awestruck Carrie Ann Inaba said.

Perhaps head judge Len Goodman summed it up best, telling Rycroft, “The Bachelor’s loss is Dancing with the Stars’ gain.” --Monica Rizzo

Scott Kirkland/INF; Craig Sjodin/ABC

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