But the 20-year-old reclaimed some of that glory Monday night as she returned to the ballroom for the all-stars season of Dancing with the Stars.
Judge Carrie Ann Inaba easily summarized the former champ's 22-point foxtrot to Owl City's "Good Time" with pro Derek Hough: "This is what all-star season is all about!"
The premise may be switched, the rules tweaked (introducing … half points!), but the level of competition is just as fierce for the other 12 returning dancers hoping for a shot at redemption – or feeling the pressure to upstage their Dancing track records.
Taking on Johnson: actress Kirstie Alley, bombshell Pamela Anderson, Cheetah Girl Sabrina Bryan, Indy 500 champ Hélio Castroneves, 'N Sync's Joey Fatone, 98 Degrees' Drew Lachey, actor Gilles Marini, soap star Kelly Monaco, Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno, reality star Melissa Rycroft and retired NFL running back Emmitt Smith.
Fatone kicked off the night with his showmanship on display for a 20.5-point cha-cha-cha to Michael Jackson's classic "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" alongside original partner Kym Johnson. And it was Bryan, the last-minute addition, who was the first to oust Johnson from the top spot. Partnered with Louis Van Amstel, the couple's feisty cha-cha-cha to One Direction's bubblegum jam "What Makes You Beautiful" earned 22.5 points.
"You are on fire," Inaba said to Bryan, whose elimination back in season 5 was a dance floor shocker. "There's nothing like a woman scorned, and you came back here with a fire under your booty."
But the night's best score was ultimately awarded to the last (but certainly not least) couple who performed: Smith and Cheryl Burke, who inched ahead with a 24.5-point take on the cha-cha-cha to Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools."
Who's the Sexiest?Anderson's cha-cha-cha with new partner Tristan MacManus to Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" brought the sex appeal – but it lacked mass appeal at the judges' table and only earned 17 points. (Also scoring low: Alley and original ballroom bud Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who clocked in 19 points for their foxtrot to Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" – which judge Bruno Tonioli said "needed refining.")
"It was a bit like a kid on a bike when you take the training wheels off," explained judge Len Goodman.
Successfully sexy: Marini and new partner Peta Murgatroyd, who snagged one of the evening's higher scores with a lusty 24-point foxtrot to Frank Sinatra's "Call Me Irresponsible." (And, clearly lusting was Inaba, who remarked, "I missed you.")
And speaking of sexy, season 4 champ, speed skater Ohno, returned to the ballroom "3,000-times sexier," according to Inaba. And his 22-point cha-cha-cha to LMFAO's "Party rock Anthem" with new partner Karina Smirnoff wasn't so hard on the eyes, either.
But it was another highlight performer, Palin, who earned what was arguably the night's highest honor.
"I vote you the most-improved since last time we saw you," praised Inaba after Palin and Mark Ballas laid on the sass with a 19.5-point cha-cha-cha to Pink's "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)."
Before her ballroom comeback, Palin – whose family, including mom Sarah Palin and 3-year-old son Tripp, sat in the audience – made a promise based on her often-criticized season 11-reputation: "I'm going to shake my butt," she said. "I'm going to have a smile on my face."
Tuesday night though, one of the couples will hang up their dancing shoes. Tell us in the comments below: Who gets your vote to stay in the ballroom?