Derek Hough and Kellie Pickler
Two weeks after Kellie Pickler
and Derek Hough were declared the winners
of season 16 of Dancing with the Stars
, the sassy blonde country singer brought her mirror-ball trophy home to Nashville, where she opened the Tuesday night show of the Grand Ole Opry – and got a hero's welcome.
After her torchy performance of "Stop Cheating on Me," members of the audience mimicked the DWTS
panel by holding up paddles with the No. 10, prompting a delighted laugh from Pickler, who said, "I wish y'all could have been the judges!"
At a party backstage, she was presented with a caricature of her dancing on the Opry stage, a pair of Music City flip-flops, a mirror-ball cake, keys to the city and the surprisingly heavy trophy handed over to her by Hough, who was on hand for the celebration.
"We never got to really celebrate because we jumped on a plane that night to fly to New York for media," Pickler said. "It was kind of a blur and it's just beginning to hit me."
Hough couldn't stop bragging about his protégé: "People come onto the show for all kinds of reasons, but she came on because she really wanted to learn," he said. "She was totally open to trying anything and whatever happened, happened."
There was one consequence of the show that Pickler had not anticipated. "I have always said that I love shoes so much because no matter how much weight I gain or lose, my shoe size stays the same – a size 6½," the "Red High Heels" singer said. "But by the final week [of the competition] my feet were so swollen, I was a size 8! They're back to normal now, but I was pretty nervous because I have a lot of size-6½ shoes."
Though Pickler – who will present Wednesday at the 2013 CMT Music Awards Wednesday (8 p.m. ET) – is back in the studio recording a new "pure country" album, she hasn't quite hung up her dancing shoes.
"The show is so intense, it's kind of hard to put the brakes on. You bury yourself in it and it's go, go, go all day long," she says. "I've had a hard time being still. [My husband
Kyle Jacobs] noticed I've been moping a little bit around the house, so he surprised me and took me to a dance class at a local studio. We tried a little swing together and it was so much fun."
Pickler's new single, "Someone Somewhere," is the first release from a fall album on her new label, Black River Entertainment. "I'm so excited to have a new song for radio and fans," she said. "I had so much fun on the show, but I missed Kyle, Nashville, my friends, my dogs and my porch swing. I'm glad to be home and loving being in the studio. I've just never been happier!"