Kellie Pickler Heats Up the Competition on Dancing with the Stars

From left: Derek Hough and Kellie Pickler, Sean Lowe and Peta Murgatroyd

Adam Taylor/ABC (2)

updated 03/25/2013 AT 10:00 PM ET

originally published 03/25/2013 AT 10:30 PM ET

It’s only the second week of competition but Monday’s episode of Dancing with the Stars was tense and emotional. That’s because season 16’s 12 celebrities are just a day away from the first elimination.

But Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough, the last couple to perform Monday, pulled out all the stops for their contemporary jazz routine, which earned 26 points.

“You are a dancer!” judge Carrie Ann Inaba said. “That was friggin’ amazing!”

“Last week was a spark,” Len Goodman added. “This week was a fire.”

They weren’t the only ones to thrill the judges. Early frontrunner Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy ignited the ballroom for the second week in a row with their incredibly fast-paced jive routine, which also earned 26 points.

“A star is born big time!” Bruno Tonioli told to the 16-year-old Disney Channel star.

Hot on their heels with 24 points were gymnast Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas. Carrie Ann declared their performance the “best quickstep of the night.”

NFL star Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff were also dazzling as they performed what Carrie Ann called a “rocking” jazz routine.

“It had wit, charm, energy,” Bruno said. “It was outstanding.”

Comedian D.L. Hughley, who admitted he was “humiliated” after receiving the lowest scores last week, rebounded nicely with a solid, 16-point quickstep.

“You still have a long ways to go but you are on the right track,” Carrie Ann said.

Here’s how the rest of the pack fared:

• Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill’s jive was hampered by an ankle injury and a cyst on her lower back, resulting in a clunky performance, tears and the evening’s lowest score of 15.

• General Hospital star Ingo Rademacher and Kym Johnson charmed the audience with their 20-point quickstep. “Bingo, Ingo! Much improved,” Len said.

• Boxer Victor Ortiz and Lindsay Arnold’s jive didn’t impress the judges. Carrie praised his charisma but warned that he needs to work on his footwork. The pair received 18 points.

• “It was like the engine was running but you never got out of first gear,” Len said of the law enforcement-themed quickstep that handcuffed Wynonna Judd and Tony Dovolani. They earned 18 points.

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