HOLLYWOOD — Taylor Hicks redefined the "American Idol" title on Wednesday night (May 24) when the gray-haired, 29-year-old soul singer beat out more traditional pop singer Katharine McPhee to cap the show's fifth season.
As Simon Cowell and most of the "Idol" pundits predicted, the Soul Patrol managed to log more votes than the McPhans, crowning Hicks in a star-studded finale that featured surprise performances from the likes of Mary J. Blige, Clay Aiken and Prince.
"What a night!" Hicks told MTV News backstage. "What an amazing journey this has been for me. I'm so excited. This is such an awesome experience. This is the American dream, and I'm living it."
Before revealing the results Wednesday night in front of more than 3,000 fans at the Kodak Theatre and an international television audience of more than 200 million, "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest revealed that more than 63.4 million votes had been cast for Hicks and sultry 22-year-old Californian finalist Katharine McPhee. That's "more [votes] than any president in the history of our country has ever received," Seacrest noted.
"Soul Patrol!" Hicks screamed upon learning he'd won the competition and a recording contract to boot (see "Taylor Unveils New Game Plan: Stare At Trees, Eat Lettuce, Record LP"). Hicks' devotees have picked up his trademark chant — an homage to the music that the singer thrives on — as their nickname.
"I just think it's a different aspect of music that people have lost to a different degree," the Alabama native said of his unique appeal. "I'm just doing what I do, dancing and singing and having fun and feeling the music. That's what it's all about."
After winning, McPhee hugged Hicks, smiling and clapping for him as he celebrated. It didn't appear that the news was too surprising for McPhee, whose performances failed to earn as positive a reaction from the judges the night before (see " 'American Idol' Recap: Taylor Has The Advantage After Neck-And-Neck Finale").
"I've been so peaceful this week, I even said to one of my close friends, 'I'm not really sure if winning is going to be the best thing for me,' " McPhee told MTV News backstage (see "Katharine Congratulates '39-Year-Old' Taylor, Calls Meat Loaf Duet 'Interesting' "). "So after that, I was like, 'You know what, I really am calm with whatever happens.' And people have been saying that to me all day, that I am so together."
The road to pop-star status was an uncertain one for Hicks, a contender Cowell derided during his first audition and said would never advance to the finals. His spastic dancing style, which Cowell likened to a drunken uncle at a wedding, became one of his trademarks and helped Hicks stand out from the pack. A live shot from Hicks' Birmingham hometown at the beginning of Wednesday's two-hour finale showed several young children who had dyed their manes gray in tribute to the hometown hero.
Wednesday night's all-star finale began with a performance from last season's winner, Carrie Underwood, who was on hand for the passing of the guard (see "Carrie Underwood Wins 'American Idol' "). She was joined onstage by both Hicks and McPhee. Finalist Chris Daughtry took the stage with his favorite performers, rock band Live, while Paris Bennett performed "We're in This Love Together" with music icon Al Jarreau.
"This is the last time you're going to see me so dressed up, so get a good look," Bennett joked outside the Kodak on the red carpet, where she and Kevin Covais strolled the press line, bumping into former finalists like Jennifer Hudson and Justin Guarini and "Idol" fans like David Hasselhoff and Lance Bass.
Wednesday's finale also featured duets between McPhee and Meat Loaf ("It's All Coming Back to Me Now"), Elliott Yamin and Mary J. Blige (U2's "One"), Hicks and Toni Braxton (Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto") and Aiken and rejected "Idol" aspirant Michael Sandecki (Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"). There were also appearances by Prince and Dionne Warwick, medleys of various tunes performed by the male and female finalists and a series of humorous vignettes featuring chef Wolfgang Puck educating finalist Kellie Pickler on the art of fine dining.
Hicks and McPhee teamed up for a closing duet of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," originally performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack to the 1987 film "Dirty Dancing."
"The Soul Patrol rides on," Hicks said backstage. "Whoo!"
[This story was originally published at 10:56 p.m. ET on 05.24.2006]