They auditioned together in Chicago last summer, and they've become good buds in the nine months since. They're both 24 years old and were vying to be the first Midwesterner to win the "American Idol" title. One, Ohioan Crystal Bowersox, was the odds-on favorite to win it all for most of season nine, while the other, low-key Illinois-bred Lee DeWyze, came on strong down the stretch and threatened to pull out an upset victory.
On Wednesday night (May 26), when all the hoopla, oldies acts and teary goodbyes to departing judge Simon Cowell were finally said and done, it was DeWyze who emerged victorious in an "Idol" upset for the ages.
While Bowersox hugged him and looked loose and relaxed, DeWyze seemed gripped by nerves as he awaited word from host Ryan Seacrest. When the verdict was read, the former paint-store clerk and high school dropout with a musical dream bent over and looked like he was going to be sick. He was quickly swarmed by the top 12, emerging with a smile and the outburst: "Oh my God!"
When Seacrest asked how it felt to be the new American Idol, DeWyze laughed nervously. "I don't know! This is amazing. Thank you guys so much for everything. Thank you. Thank you," he said breathlessly, gesturing to the crowd with tears in his eyes and then hugging Bowersox and telling her that he loved her. "I've never been happier in my life," he added before breaking into his coronation song, "Beautiful Day," as a rain of sparks, confetti and lasers filled the air in the Nokia Theatre.
It was an unlikely ending to an uneven season with what many considered the shallowest "Idol" talent pool in memory and which suffered from a nearly 10 percent decline in viewership — but is still the #1 show on TV. Season nine saw the addition of fourth judge Ellen DeGeneres, whose quips and twisted food metaphors sometimes fell flat, as well as the departure of Cowell, considered the heart and soul of the judging panel.
But before DeWyze could celebrate the realization of his long-sought musical dream, the two-hour show trotted out the usual assortment of time-fillers. The battling finalists first took the stage in burgundy Hogwarts-style school uniforms, which made sense a short time later as former Michael Jackson guitarist Orianthi shredded the opening licks to Alice Cooper's season-appropriate summer anthem "School's Out," which the top 12 lip-synched alongside a kids' choir with dead eyes and the Coop himself.
Last year's champ, Kris Allen, came by to sing his new ballad, "The Truth," and one of the show's biggest stars, Carrie Underwood, showed the newbies how it's done with her sassy new single, the Kara DioGuardi co-written country rocker "Undo It."
Third-place finisher Casey James got one of the most plum assignments of the night, singing Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," with accompaniment by none other than surprise guest Bret Michaels, making his first stage performance since a string of recent health crises including a heart scare and a nearly fatal brain hemorrhage.
Some of this season's castoffs got one more chance to shine, with shaky vocalist Siobhan Magnus teaming up with Teflon teen Aaron Kelly for the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," which featured a cameo from the living Gibb brothers, Robin and Barry. Michael "Big Mike" Lynche hooked up with Michael McDonald for the Doobie Brothers' "Takin' It to the Streets," while the top five girls joined Crystal for Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" which morphed into the grinding "Stronger." Aguilera herself showed up halfway through and eased into her new piano ballad "You Lost Me," which she sang while standing on a pedestal covered with light bulbs and wearing a black catsuit and spangly tights.
The top 12 harmonized on Janet Jackson's "Again," with Ms. Jackson herself strutting out in flowing black Elvira dress and her new short hairdo to take center stage and sing the hushed balled "Nothing." She later stripped off the dress to reveal a skintight black bodysuit for a strut through her signature hit "Nasty."
DeWyze drew the relatively long straw by leading the top five men in a medley of Hall & Oates songs, including "I Can't Go for That" and "Maneater," before the real-deal duo came out and killed it on "You Make My Dreams Come True." DeWyze later joined the band Chicago for a medley of their hits, including "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," "If You Leave Me Now" and "25 or 6 to 4."
But the night's breakout moment began with Bowersox singing Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" in her blues-mama voice before Morissette herself emerged and the two women circled each other and snarled out the lyrics to Alanis' breakthrough 1995 hit "You Oughta Know," on which their powerful voices perfectly meshed.
The night's final performance found Bowersox and DeWyze harmonizing on the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" with an assist from the man whose cover of the song is the second-most definitive version, '60s rocker Joe Cocker.
And on Cowell's final night, former right-hand lady Paula Abdul came via tape to participate in a montage honoring Cowell's top moments on the program. Comedian Dane Cook debuted "The Things That Simon Said," a touching acoustic ballad that strung together some of his most famous insults, including, "You came across like a background singer for a background singer." He almost got the whole song out before a parade of the show's most famous rejects came out and loudmouth head loony Ian Benardo stole the microphone from the joke man.
There was also the obligatory visit from one of this season's freak-show wash outs, General Larry Platt, who sang a beat-infected version of "Pants on the Ground" accompanied by a troupe of pants-sagging hip-hop dancers and, of course the ultimate "Idol" joke, William Hung.
Later on, Abdul took the stage and gave an extended monologue about her relationship with Cowell, who she said brought "immeasurable joy" to her life, saying the show would not be the same without him — but that it will go on.
Original Idol Kelly Clarkson also made an appearance, teaming up with fellow winners Underwood, Allen, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Jordin Sparks and Taylor Hicks for "Together We Are One," which featured backup from a cavalcade of past top 12 finishers paying tribute to Cowell, who smiled as Abdul snuggled in his lap.
The acerbic judge then took the stage, admitting he was more overcome with emotion than he expected to be. "What Paula said is true: The show goes forward. It will be different," he said. "But I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support, the fun and your sense of humor." Cowell then kicked it back to fans in the audience, saying they were the ultimate judges of the show and that they've done a great job over the years. "It's been a blast. Thank you."
As much as Cowell's exit dominated the conversation, the night ultimately belonged to DeWyze, who kept the three-season streak of male winners alive. And, like small-town good-guy singer Kris Allen's victory last year over power vocalist Adam Lambert, DeWyze's coronation proved once again that sometimes it's slow and steady that wins the race. As Simon said Tuesday night, America loves an underdog story, and even after being vocally lapped by Crystal on Tuesday, and for much of the season, the win went to the humble paint-store clerk — and nobody seemed more surprised by the outcome than Lee himself.
What did you think about Wednesday night's finale? What was the highlight? Did Lee deserve to win? Leave your comments below!
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