The final day had a big surprise and a departure in store for the fans.Former paint salesman Lee DeWyze was the surprise winner of American Idol on Wednesday, beating front-runner Crystal Bowersox on a night that saw all the talent show’s former champions reunite to bid farewell to Simon Cowell. DeWyze, a 24-year-old Chicago native, won the coveted title and a recording contract after a nationwide phone and text vote based on the contestants’ performances the night before.
Idol judges had all but anointed Bowersox the winner after her three songs on Tuesday outclassed a nervous DeWyze. But Americans made up their own minds and chose DeWyze. I have never been happier in my life, said a stunned DeWyze, choking back tears after the result was announced at the climax of a two-hour finale that featured performances by Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson and Joe Cocker. Initially shy, he blossomed in later rounds of the show, and emerged as a serious threat to Bowersox after a rousing version of the Leonard Cohen classic Hallelujah last week. His cover of U2′s Beautiful Day is expected to be released later this week. His debut album, on a Sony Music Entertainment record label, will likely follow in the fall. Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees and Alanis Morissette were also among the guest performers on Wednesday, while Poison rocker and Celebrity Apprentice winner Bret Michaels played his first live gig since suffering a brain hemorrhage in April and a mini-stroke last week.
DeWyze and the show’s high-wattage guests had to share the spotlight with both Cowell, whose departure was described by host Ryan Seacrest as the end of an era, and former Idol judge Paula Abdul. Abdul, who quit last year after a contract-renewal dispute, got a standing ovation from the 7,000-strong audience at the Nokia Theatre when she appeared on stage to bid her old sparring partner a teary farewell. My darling Simon. I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years…but none of them holds a candle to you, my friend. I have loved all the fun we had together. ‘American Idol’ is not gonna be the same without you. But as only I can tell you, it will go on, she said. Every Idol winner since 2002 — from original champion Kelly Clarkson to 2009 winner Kris Allen — appeared on stage singing Together We Are One in tribute to Cowell’s part in making them stars.
Pulled on stage after a series of flashback video clips of his funniest moments and most insulting remarks, Cowell seemed genuinely moved. I didn’t think I was going to be this emotional, he said. I am going to honestly, honestly miss you. Cowell announced in January that he would be leaving Idol at the end of this season to launch a U.S. version of his The X-Factor talent show on Fox in the fall of 2011. His replacement has not been announced. American Idol remains America’s most popular TV show of the last seven years. But this year audiences have slipped by about 9 percent to an average 23.9 million viewers per episode, compared to a 2006 high of about 30.8 million.