How did he do it? We caught up with the 23-year-old newlywed from Conway, Arkansas, to talk about his under-the-radar journey, whether he'll be going country and what Kanye West said about his version of "Heartless."
Q: After you were announced as the winner, you said Adam Lambert deserved to win. Why did you say that?
A: I still feel that way. I feel like Adam deserved it just as much as I did. He was the most consistent person all year, he's one of the most gifted performers I've ever met, he's really just a great guy. We became great friends, and we told each other that day, "You deserve it," and he shot it back at me. I think it could have gone either way, and America could not have gotten it wrong.
Q: During Tuesday night's performance finale, the judges seemed to not really comment on your performances of the coronation song, "No Boundaries." Why do you think that was?
A: After that last song, I don't think me or Adam were happy with our performances at all. I think that they were not trying to judge us on that song, more than anything, and just judge us on the year, which was kind of nice. It felt great to be judged on what we've done throughout the year and not exactly what we'd done on that song.
Q: Do you have any plans to change up "No Boundaries" to make it fit your style a little more?
A: The track is out for sale right now, so there's not much we can do for it. The track actually sounds really good; I listened to it. But doing the live performances, I've kinda been doing them just acoustically, just on guitar and maybe piano. It fits me a little bit better. The song is good. They kind of have some stipulations on what they're supposed to do with these songs. They have to write the words a certain way. It's supposed to be this nice feeling. To have your first single not be something you were a part of writing, it's a little bit weird, but I can't complain.
Q: What kind of music do you see yourself putting out?
A: For me, I felt like I did exactly what I wanted to do on the show that I would want to do on a record. ... When I went on the show and did "Ain't No Sunshine," I felt like that's the kind of stuff I wanted to do, stuff that kind of has that feel, stuff that kind of moves people.
Q: After your duet with Keith Urban on Wednesday, are you thinking about going in a country direction with your debut?
A: I was actually afraid of that. For me, I don't feel like I would go that country way. That's not my type of music and that's not the feeling that I want in my album. But we had a great time together. He was a great guy, and I respect him so much as an artist and musician.
Q: How did you decide to rework Kanye West's "Heartless"?
A: We got to do whatever we wanted to do, as long as it got cleared. I was listening to the Kanye album, because I think it's great, and the song came across, and I was just like, "What if I did this song and made it my own?" And I was just like, "You know what? I'm not gonna ask anybody about it, I'm just gonna go for it and be bold and be risky." I did it, and I think it got a lot of good reviews. I was really excited that I got to do something like that, because I think it showed people what I could do.
Q: Did you hear anything about Kanye's response to your version?
A: I haven't heard from him, obviously. But I have heard some other people say that he blogged about it and put the video up of me on his blog. That really meant a lot.
Q: Was your wife angry after Simon said you should have hidden her away to garner more female fans?
A: Absolutely not. She had actually been saying that kind of stuff before. She was like, "I don't know if you need to mention me." She was trying to look out for me as well.
Q: Your top 36 performance was one of the first times we saw you on the show. Were you frustrated by your lack of exposure in the audition and Hollywood rounds?
A: I think there's a little bit of, "Wow, they're not showing me." But it was more shock than anything, because I felt like I had done my thing and a lot of other people had gotten shown. For me, that's kind of the way I live my life. I'm kinda laid-back and low-key, and every once in a while, I'll stick my head out. So that's kind of how I did the competition, and it seemed to work out, so I can't be mad at that.
Q: What is your goal as an artist?
A: For me, the only thing I really want to do is just be respected in the music industry and my music be respected. Whether that means selling albums or winning Grammys or just people liking your music, that's all I really wanna do.
Are you an "American Idol" expert? Take our ultimate "Idol" quiz to find out! Plus, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.