Out of the 10,000 pop star hopefuls competing to become an overnight “American Idol,” one shone brightest: Kelly Clarkson.
The 20-year-old Texan with a booming set of pipes beat out rival Justin Guarini based on more than 15 million telephone votes. Clarkson’s win, however, was no landslide; she captured 52 percent of the vote, defeating Guarini by a slim margin.
The two hugged after the winner was announced, and Clarkson held back tears as she belted out her final song for the night, her rendition of “A Moment Like This.”
For the first time since the show debuted on June 11, judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell all agreed on one thing: Clarkson was most deserving of the title.
“Kelly, your voice makes grown men cry and young boys wish they were grown men,” Abdul gushed.
There was no argument from Guarini. “Kelly Clarkson deserves it,” the 23-year-old from Doylestown, Pa., said backstage. “I can’t sing those songs nearly as good as she can.”
Wednesday’s two-hour finale featured the 10 finalists singing ’60s and Motown-inspired medleys, peppered with hits like the Temptations’ “My Girl,” The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk” and Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart.” Clarkson and Guarini also performed a duet of “It Takes Two.”
In fact, Clarkson said she and Guarini are planning to write a song together that they will perform as a duet on her debut album slated for release Sept. 26.
Clarkson now walks away with a recording contract with RCA Records, a management deal with 19 Management–the British agency behind the show and a lot of British pop stars–and an upcoming American Idol tour. She will also join the show’s 30 finalists for a live performance in Las Vegas on Sept. 23 and her debut single, “For Your Love,” is set for release Nov. 17. Not bad for a former cocktail waitress from Burleson, Tex.
Other finalists may also land recording deals, but are barred from releasing any music until three months after Clarkson releases her album.
All of them are also contractually bound to record for Cowell’s label, S Records, and be represented by 19 Management. The finalists, however, will be free to record for other labels if Cowell and 19 Management don’t exercise their options after a given grace period.
Here’s an update on the other nine American Idol finalists.
Justin Guarini: In addition to his duet with Clarkson, Cowell also has said that he would work with Justin, provided RCA agrees. He’ll join the upcoming American Idol tour and the live performance in Las Vegas on Sept. 23.
Nikki McKibbin: When Nikki got tossed, the judges basically all said, “Good luck and good for you for getting this far.” To date, McKibbin has not had any recording contract offers. McKibbin will take part in the upcoming American Idol tour and the live performance in Las Vegas on Sept. 23.
Tamyra Gray: When Gray was voted off, all three visibly upset judges said they would help her in any way. Obviously they meant what they said: Just a week after her exit, Gray signed a management deal with one of the show’s producers, her first step on the path to a music career. 19 Management has picked up an option to manage Gray, who was once considered by fans and the judges to be a shoo-in for one of the final slots, if not the winner. Gray will take part in the upcoming American Idol tour and join the show’s 30 finalists for a live performance in Las Vegas on Sept. 23.
RJ Helton, Christina Christian (pictured right), Ryan Starr, A.J. Gill, EJay Day, Jim Verraros: All will take part in the upcoming American Idol tour and join the show’s 30 finalists for a live performance in Las Vegas on Sept. 23.