Now that his victory has had a few days to sink in, we caught up with the 25-year-old from Blue Springs, Missouri, to see what his debut album will sound like, whether winning will hurt his rock cred and how the show changed him (or didn't).
Q: Have you recovered?
A: Hopefully never. [Laughs.]
Q: Earlier in the season, Simon called you "smug," and then on the final performance night, he said you were one of the nicest competitors ever on "Idol." What changed?
A: You know, I didn't really change much of anything, as strange as it is. You know, I went into this with kind of a different perspective from everybody else. I didn't have any expectations as to what the show was going to do for me or what I was going to do for the show. And so my confidence level really never wavered, and maybe that's what seemed cocky or arrogant. But I think as the season went on, I think maybe he saw the work I was putting in — not just on my own stuff, but really just to make it a positive working environment for everybody.
Q: Did you understand how huge the show was before you got involved?
A: I think I understood what the show encompasses, but I just don't think I chose to get wrapped up in it. You know, I think for me, I wanted to not just experience the experience, but enjoy the experience.
Q: What will your debut album be like?
A: I think it's going to be a mixture of my writing and hopefully writing with some other people. But the bottom line is, I just want to come out of the gate with a solid record. If I can do that, I'll be happy.
Q: When do you think it will come out?
A: Well, the ideal release date is as soon as possible, if you're asking me. You know, these things take time. And as for the type of the record, you know, it will probably be a rock record, but I think that is a pretty vague generalization. I just want to make a record that is going to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Q: What do you think about your instant fanbase?
A: Well, you know, it doesn't feel bad! [Laughs.] I can't believe the level of support that has come out of me doing this crazy TV show. So all I can do is try to embrace it and make all the effort of ... people supporting me worthwhile, and that is going to start with a record and, hopefully, moving down the road, a tour and a lot of success. The sky's the limit right now.
Q: Did all the different theme weeks on the show have an effect on your musical style?
A: Well, I don't see myself putting out a record of standards or anything like that. [Laughs.] For me, I'll probably end up putting out a rock record, because I just feel like that is the kind of music that I enjoy playing. That was the exciting thing for me about this show. I loved knowing that there were things that I could do that people would never expect that I could do. Andrew Lloyd Webber night was fun for me. I loved the fact that everyone was like, "What?"
Q: What did you look for when you were choosing your songs?
A: Actually, there was a short article that Debbie, our stage manager, hung up ... midway through the season. It talked about Frank Sinatra and how he would go about the song process, about recording a song. And before he listens to the music, he would read the lyrics and basically try to tune into what the lyrics were saying and what the song was about, and then he would go into the music aspect of it and figure out the melodies and all that. And so for me, that was really an eye-opening article, because it made me think I just really need to step back, and before I even try to learn this song, I just really need to read the lyrics.
Q: According to the numbers announced on the finale, you got 12 million more votes than David Archuleta. Did you have any idea throughout the season that you were leading the pack by that much?
A: I think that number is actually really misleading. Obviously, within the bubble of "Idol," it's hard to get a vibe on what's going on. I thought Archie was probably a little bit ahead of me, if I'm being honest. ... I attribute the finale vote discrepancy to my fans just being awesome. I don't really know how else to explain it. My hat's off to Archie for the whole scenario. I think he handled himself with a lot of grace. And, more importantly, he's just an amazing human being. I was just honored to share the stage with him.
Q: Since a lot of people are comparing you to season-five finalist Chris Daughtry, are you worried that winning the show might make you lose a bit of credibility in the eyes of rock fans?
A: Did it cross my mind at any point during the competition? I mean, sure — but only as an objective point. I think to go into this with the idea that you don't want to win is a huge slap in the face to the 103,000 people who auditioned this season that really wanted to win. ... As far as having more success by not being a winner, I think that's something that'll get played out hopefully in the next couple of years. I think Daughtry's success is amazing. And so for me, right now, I'm not trying to be Daughtry. I'm just trying to put out a solid record. Even if it doesn't do well commercially, at least I can say I put out a record that I'm proud of. That's the goal right now. Hopefully, if I can do that, the success would follow.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions. And relive six seasons of "Idol" hot messes and high notes in six minutes with our video timeline.