American Idol is, once again, a singing competition.
In the end, Jordin Sparks rose to the top of a season more crowded with stories about Antonella's photos, Haley's short shorts and Sanjaya's faux-hawk than about who had the most impressive range or who was the most deserving successor to Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks.
The 17-year-old Glendale, Arizona, resident, dubbed The Singer by the judges, beat out "The Entertainer," 25-year-old Blake Lewis of Bothell, Washington, Wednesday night, becoming the sixth—and youngest—American Idol and thereby restoring the most watched show on television to its ballad-happy roots.
"I can't thank you enough!" an emotional Sparks told the audience at Hollywood's Kodak Theater, happy tears streaming down her face, after learning she had received the majority of a record 74 million votes.
While beatboxing specialist Lewis had what Simon Cowell called the best performance of the night Tuesday, with an energetic reconstruction of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name," it was Sparks whose vocals repeatedly blew 'em away throughout the evening, especially when it came to the new single "This Is My Now," which won Idol's inaugural complementary songwriting competition.
"You just wiped the floor with Blake on that song," Cowell told Sparks, comparing her easy-on-the-ears performance with the three minutes of discomfort that constituted Lewis' take on the schmaltzy ballad. (It, by the way, was written by contest winners Jeff Peabody and Scott Krippayne of Seattle. Congrats, guys.)
Sparks even created her own photo-finish moment, tearing up as she sang the tune's final few notes, an image evocative of Kelly Clarkson's victory-sealing performance of "A Moment Like This" back in 2002.
Although the Jordin-versus-Blake finale didn't have quite the nail-biting factor that, say, a Jordin-versus-Melinda face-off might have had, Sparks' road to the championship had its bumps.
Lewis brought the crowd to its feet right off the bat Tuesday with "You Give Love a Bad Name." Sparks, however, was perhaps still trying to shake the nerves and just kinda stood there during what could have been a rousing rendition of Christina Aguilera's "Fighter."
So, round one to Blake.
But the teenager's soulful performance of the Martina McBride ballad "A Broken Wing" put her back in the running after Lewis sang Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved," a vocal Randy Jackson deemed "natural and pure" but which Cowell thought was a safe choice.
For the record, Paula Abdul loved everything and everybody last night and called both finalists winners.
Then "This Is My Now" became Sparks' coronation anthem and Lewis' lament—until the runner-up inks that inevitable record deal and heads out on tour this summer with American Idols Live, of course.
Still, Sparks is the one who's guaranteed that $1 million contract with Sony BMG's Arista Records, and it will be her brightly smiling face looking up at you from all the magazine covers in the next few weeks.
Before Ryan Seacrest & Co. got down to business, Wednesday's finale featured the usual assortment of live performances and kudos, including the second annual Golden Idols, in which select members of the freak show better known as the Idol audition rounds are awarded for their particularly bizarre behavior.
Pros ranging from Gwen Stefani and Green Day to Tony Bennett and Bette Midler took the stage to show this year's troop of aspiring stars how it's done. Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight joined this season's top six guys and top six gals for medleys of the Motown icons' greatest hits—and Aerosmith's Joe Perry had the honor of accompanying Malakar on "You Really Got Me."
Lewis dueled Doug E. Fresh in a beatboxing tour de force on "The Show," while Doolittle got a moment in the limelight, belting out "Hold up the Light" with gospel stars BeBe and CeCe Winans.
All of Idol's previous winners, minus Fantasia Barrino (who's appearing on Broadway in The Color Purple), were on hand as well, performing their latest singles. Arista Records boss Clive Davis took the stage to present Underwood a commendation for selling an Idol-best 6 million copies of her debut album, Some Hearts.
The whole Idol crew teamed up for a 40th-anniversary tribute to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, doing a medley of songs from the classic album. This after Lewis and Sparks opened the show with "I Saw Her Standing There." (After six seasons of trying, the Idol producers finally managed to secure permission to use the Fab Four's tunes and were apparently making up for lost time.)
Sparks' debut single, "This Is My Now," is now exclusively available for download on the Idol Website (americanidol.com) and iTunes. The Idols Live road show, featuring the top 10 finalists, launches July 6 in Sunrise, Florida.
And the cultural juggernaut that is American Idol begins its search for the next superstar, with auditions in August. The show's seventh season kicks off on Fox in January.