Kelly Clarkson Crowned 'American Idol'

Clarkson's first single will be released on September 17.

The girls still screamed every time former bar mitzvah singer Justin Guarini

flashed his pearly whites, but it was soulful girl-next-door Kelly Clarkson

who took home the title of "American Idol" Wednesday night.

Coming off her bravura performance on Tuesday, the 20-year-old Burleson,

Texas, cocktail waitress brought down the house moments after being crowned

the champion of the talent contest. "I can't believe it's happening to me,"

Clarkson sang, as fireworks rained down behind her during a performance of

her soon-to-be-released first single, "A Moment Like This."

A choked-up Clarkson blew a line during her command performance (one of her

first of the competition) and could hardly contain her emotion as she worked

through the lyrics to the love song, which, for that moment, might as well

have been her theme song. "I may be dreaming/ But until I awake/ Can we make

this dream last forever," she sang.

Moments before, mop-topped Guarini flashed his signature perma-grin and

hugged Clarkson as hosts Brian Dunkleman and Ryan Seacrest announced the

results of Tuesday night's voting, which was not as close as many had

predicted. The hosts said more than 15.5 million "Idol"-izers cast their

votes, with 58 percent going to Clarkson and 42 to Guarini. Gracious in

defeat, Guarini said, "No one deserves it more."

"How am I going to sing this next song while I'm crying?" Clarkson said after

the announcement, which followed nearly two hours of audition clips, skits by

the hosts, medleys of Motown and '60s songs by the show's 10 finalists and

visits to Guarini and Clarkson's hometown high schools. Judges Simon Cowell,

Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson — who took the back seat to the finalists

during the series' final shows — each cast their vote for Clarkson before the

results were read.

"I didn't actually hear them say I won," Clarkson said after her victory,

according to a Reuters report. "Justin just hugged me."

Clarkson emerged victorious among the 10,000 entrants in the competition,

which became one of the biggest television hits of the summer, with more than

100 million votes cast over its run, according to the hosts. The series

reached its ratings peak during Tuesday's final showdown, with 18.2 million

viewers; Wednesday's show will likely top that number.

Having won the coveted recording contract with RCA, Clarkson will release her

as-yet-untitled debut album on November 26, which will include "A Moment Like

This" and the other ballad she performed on Tuesday's show, "Before Your

Love." Clarkson told the Associated Press that she plans to write and

sing a song with Guarini for the album.

Clarkson won't miss the rest of her "Idol" gang for long. The top 10

qualifiers on the show — Clarkson, Guarini, Nikki McKibbin, Tamyra Gray (see "Ousted 'American Idol' Tamyra Gray Gets Another Shot"), RJ

Helton, Christina Christian, Ryan Starr, A.J. Gil, Ejay Day and Jim Verraros

— will hit the road on October 8 for a six-week U.S. tour that begins at Cox

Arena in San Diego and winds down on November 20 at Key Arena in Seattle (see "'American Idol' Finalists Plan Arena Tour, Compilation Album").

The album featuring all 10 finalists will be released on October 1;

a 64-page quickie book, "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar," by

Marissa Walsh, has already hit shelves.

The top 30 contestants will also be brought together one more time on

September 23 for a two-hour television special tentatively titled "American

Idol in Las Vegas," which will feature performances from all the crooners, as

well as Clarkson singing "A Moment Like This."