Andrea Billups and Michele Stueven
May 22, 2013 10:45 AM

While Kellie Pickler says she had no sense she would win the mirror-ball trophy Dancing With the Stars, her fellow contestants said there were clues all along the way that she would be a star on this season’s show.

Country singer Pickler, 26, who rose to fame on the fifth season of American Idol, said her ballroom strategy was to focus on being in the moment each week, not on the long-term outcome.

“I just tried to take it one week at a time, one dance at a time,” the North Carolina-born Pickler told PEOPLE after her victory, with her partner Derek Hough at her side.

“I’m not a competitive person at all, so I didn’t know if that would help or hurt me,” Pickler said. “I’m not an athlete, I’ve never done anything like this in my life.”

Others begged to differ.

“I did say in the beginning that Kelly was going to win,” contestant Lisa Vanderpump said. “I just felt her technique, her commitment And they were all brilliant, but wow!”

Olympic champion skater Dorothy Hamill concurred, saying: “I think from the beginning we all thought that Kellie was just flexible and precise and crisp and clean. And Derek can make a burlap sack look fabulous.”

Hough admitted that he nearly didn’t come back to dance this season, but said partnering with Pickler was one reason he did. “This little angel face is why,” he said. “I am so thankful and so proud.”

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