Dark horse Lee DeWyze was crowned “American Idol” on Wednesday, beating front-runner Crystal Bowersox in an upset result on America’s most-watched television show.
DeWyze, 24, won the coveted title and a recording contract after millions of Americans cast their votes for the bluesy guitarist despite what “Idol” judges had deemed a better showing by Bowersox in Tuesday’s performance finale.
“I have never been happier in my life,” said an emotional DeWyze, who worked in a Chicago paint shop before auditioning for the Fox TV singing contest a year ago.
Initially shy and ill at ease, he blossomed in the later rounds and emerged as a serious threat to rocker and single mom Bowersox after he delivered an emotional version of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah” in the semi-final last week.
On Tuesday, “Idol” judges all but anointed Bowersox the winner. Outgoing judge Simon Cowell described her final song, “Up to the Mountain” as “outstanding.”
But Americans felt differently and after the counting of votes cast by text and telephone, DeWyze was pronounced the winner at the end of a two-hour finale that featured performances by Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson and Joe Cocker.
Past “Idols” — as well as former judge Paula Abdul — returned to give Cowell an emotional send-off on his last appearance on the show. The British music executive is leaving to launch a U.S. version of his “The X-Factor” talent show on Fox in the fall of 2011.
DeWyze’s cover version of U2′s hit “Beautiful Day” will be released as his first single. His debut album, on a Sony Music Entertainment record label, will likely follow in the fall.
Now in its 9th season, “American Idol” is still America’s most popular TV show, but has seen audiences slip by about 9 percent this year to an average 23.9 million viewers per episode.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant and Alex Dobuzinskis)