Exclusive: Julianne Hough Reveals Which 'DWTS: Athletes' Team Really Caught Her Eye

Julianne Hough's Dancing With the Stars days may be behind her, but that doesn't mean she didn't pick her favorite team in the most recent season of the competition show.

The all-athletes season of the ABC dancing show concluded with a Mirrorball trophy for Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon and pro partner Jenna Johnson Monday, and Tuesday, Hough opened up to PopCulture.com exclusively about her thoughts on the season.

The professional dancer hadn't had time to catch the finale live, but said that Team Just Friends walking away with the title was "awesome."

Her top pick to win the season, however, was a different team — one that garnered a lot of controversy from the start.

"I actually really loved [pro Sasha Farber] and [former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding]," Hough told PopCulture. "I thought they were great. I just felt like she has such a willingness to do well and worked really hard, and I just love Sasha so much and how much effort he puts into his partners and stuff. So just from the outside, I was like, 'Oh I hope they do well, I hope they make it to the finals and stuff.'"

Team Axecellent did manage to make it to the finale with rave reviews throughout the shortened season but didn't quite earn the score/vote combo to send them home with the title.

The 4-week condensed season of the show frustrated many fans, as well as judge Carrie Ann Inaba, and the dynamic of the shortened schedule was something Hough took notice of as well.

"It was so interesting only watching four weeks though. It was so quick," she told PopCulture. "I mean, obviously I like the longer season, because I like to really see somebody's journey and growth."

Having left the show behind as a pro after Season 8 and as a full-time judge after Season 24, Hough also reflected on some of her favorite times on the show, as well as the changes it has undergone through the years.

Eleven years ago Tuesday, Hough recalled that she and Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno took home the Mirrorball trophy themselves. Time has flown since then, she said.

"I can't believe it's been 11 years," she told PopCulture. "That was such a fun time when I was on the show, because it was in the beginning when there wasn't a lot of production, you weren't allowed to use props, we didn't have dancers behind us, it was just the two of us … and it was very technical."

As to whether she prefers the more basic roots of the dancing show or where it is today, the Grease Live star saw the merit to each style.

"I like both," she told PopCulture. "I think that sometimes performance can outweigh the dancing, and that's totally fine, but sometimes I feel like you just want to see it stripped down for what it is. I like both things and you know what, we have to keep moving with the times. If you're not moving with the times you're going to be left behind."

She continued: "But I think there's also something to be said for holding onto the importance of why and getting back to basics … and that's actually connecting people to their bodies so they feel like they know how to dance at the end of the show."

Outside the ballroom, Hough and her husband, NHL player Brooks Laich, are preparing for a summer of major milestones, including their first wedding anniversary, his 35th birthday and her 30th.

"It's actually all in one month, so we're like oh my gosh, there's a lot of celebration happening," she said, adding that the two plan on traveling quite a bit with the help of the newly-launched Chase and Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card. "I think for us we're just kind of open to exploring what's out there, and obviously with the Mariott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, you get so many benefits, just like the points, and the resources are incredible. We've got a choice between 6,500 different properties and 127 different countries and territories, so I think for us it's now just trying to choose because there are so many options."


She continued: "It's great, because we really just want to celebrate with our friends and family, and it's about having accessibility for everyone and being able to choose a place that everybody has access to, and obviously with the credit card can help them get there."

Photo credit: Instagram / @Julianne Hough