Amber Riley is bringing something extra-special to her Thanksgiving celebration this year — the Mirrorball Trophy from season 17 of Dancing With the Stars! On Tuesday, Nov. 26, the Glee actress quickstepped her way to victory over fellow finalists Corbin Bleu and Jack Osbourne, earning a perfect score from the judges for her final routine with partner Derek Hough. Us Weekly caught up with Riley, 27, after her win.
“I’m so excited! I’m very proud of myself,” she gushed. “I can’t believe…Well, I guess I can believe I endured to the end, because I worked very, very hard and I’m really happy.”
The star and her pro — a five-time champion — were consistently great all season, but Riley says winning never entered her mind until the last few weeks. “Even at the beginning I didn’t think I was going to win! When we first started, that wasn’t the goal — it really wasn’t,” she told Us. “I was like, ‘Okay, this will be cool. It’ll be great exercise, I’ll gain confidence, I’ll learn dances…I love dancing — maybe I’ll experience something new.'”
There were ups and downs along the way, she added. “As the weeks progressed, it got harder, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to compete anymore,” she confessed. “There was a point where I was putting needles in my knees…and I thought, ‘If I’m going through this pain every week, I obviously want this more than I’m willing to admit.’ Toward the end I was like, ‘Let’s go for it. It’s okay if I want to win.'”
Going for it paid off — and she has the Mirrorball Trophy to prove it! Asked how she plans to display the well-earned award, the singer quipped, “It’s going to be the centerpiece at Thanksgiving! No turkey!”
The Glee star also spoke with Us about her fellow finalists, whom she called “amazing,” and about her partner on the dance floor. “He can be stern. But he’s supportive, and he doesn’t let you rest on your laurels,” she told Us of Julianne Hough‘s brother. “He definitely wants to see the best of what you’ve got.”Hough, for his part, couldn’t be prouder of Riley. “Tonight, my favorite part was that little package with Amber thanking me. That’s why I do it,” he told Us. “That human connection — that was awesome. This [trophy] is amazing, but that was awesome.”