Yamaguchi crowned new 'Dancing' champ

5/20/2008 LOS ANGELES The figure skater's victory Tuesday over pro football star Jason Taylor broke the string of four consecutive male winners. She was the first woman to claim the "Dancing" crown since the show's opening season.

"This is just the icing on the cake," Yamaguchi said after her victory Tuesday night. "I honestly thank all the fans out there ... everyone who's made this a dream experience."

Said Taylor: "I never, ever thought I would get to this point ... Kristi is so deserving."

Cristian de la Fuente was the first to be eliminated during the season finale. The actor, who ruptured a tendon in his biceps while performing on the show April 28, delayed the surgery necessary to repair it so he could continue on the hit ABC dance-off.

"I would never have the feeling of going into the final after an injury if it wasn't for (partner) Cheryl (Burke)," he said after being voted off. "She's been the best partner I could have. She's been a real friend, not only a dance partner but a support when I really needed her."

Burke wiped away tears as she said goodbye. "Of all my five seasons being on this show ... I've had one of the best times with Cristian," she said. "I love you and I'll miss you and your family so much."

Yamaguchi was clearly the most talented dancer on this season's show, but it's been hard for women to take the "Dancing" crown. With a viewership that's 75 percent women - a fact not lost on Taylor and de la Fuente, who never shied from brazen displays of bare skin and sex appeal - the hit ABC show still had plenty of suspense for the final episode.

"You obviously have to get the technique, but (also) compete with the personalities that all the boys have," Yamaguchi told The Associated Press after Monday's performances. "I think their smiles and their personalities melt hearts across the country."

Figure-skating champ Yamaguchi got a perfect score of 60 on Monday's show, and has regularly topped the judges' scoreboard throughout season six. But viewer votes count just as much, and the combination is what determines the winner.

Taylor landed in last place with 51 points Monday. His partner, Edyta Sliwinska, maximized Taylor's sex appeal - and perhaps his votes - by tearing off his shirt at the end of their final dance Monday.

"The majority of the audience are females and they probably vote a lot more than guys," Sliwinska said. "I guess those beautiful bodies and gorgeous guys make them easy to vote for."

Past winners include race-car driver Helio Castroneves, Olympic speed-skater Apolo Anton Ohno, NFL star Emmitt Smith, 98 Degrees singer Drew Lachey and actress Kelly Monaco.

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