Jordin Sparks, the 17-year-old Christian phenom from Glendale, Ariz., became the youngest "American Idol" champion following Wednesday night's live results finale, showing that America preferred the "singer" more than the "entertainer."
Sparks was one of several Christian vocalists who were backed by the Gospel Music Association (GMA) on this sixth season of America's most watched show. She had been the Overall Spotlight Winner at the 2004 GMA Academy and grabbed top prize in the Country/Southern Gospel category. With her latest win, the Arizona native has now nabbed a recording contract with BMG Music Group.
"I can't thank you [enough] for keeping me around and thank you so much for everything," explained the ecstatic Arizona teen after the vote was revealed.
Sparks and fellow "Idol" finalist Blake Lewis, 25, were both described by judges as having fairly even shots of winning, during the live two-hour climax. They had argued that Sparks was the stronger singer while Lewis was the better entertainer.
"What I love about this show is that it's American Idol: Search for the Next Superstar. It is a singing competition bar-none," commented judge Randy Jackson, who seemed to favor Sparks this season, after her final performance of "This is My Now" Tuesday. "You were the best singer tonight. You deserve it all baby! That was fire right here! That's what it's all about! You are what it's about."
Following her strong performances on Tuesday night, Sparks was given a slight edge by the judges over her Washington competitor. Each contestant performed three songs: one they previously performed; one they had never performed; and a song chosen through "American Idol's" songwriting competition called "This is My Now."
Although Sparks started out the night a bit shaky, the GMA favorite began to pick up some steam as she moved into her second song of the night. All three judges praised her rendition of "A Broken Wing," which she had performed earlier in the season during the Top 7 performance.
"I still believe you're probably the most talented 17-year-old singer I've ever seen," commended Jackson. "I mean age ain't really got nothing to do with it. You've got to know tonight…You can blow. That was flawless. That was unbelievable. I think better than the original."
The Arizona teen seemed to seal her victory with her final performance, even swaying the "Idol's" most frank judge, Simon Cowell.
"Jordin, last week, I'm going to be honest with you, I didn't think you were good enough to make the finals," critiqued the British music mogul. "And I want to say to you publicly now, I was wrong. Because this is, in case we forget sometimes, it is a singing competition and you just wiped the floor with Blake on that song."
Cowell added that his thoughts Tuesday night — and likely those of many viewers — would be with arguably the best "American Idol" contestant yet to miss out on the finale, Melinda Doolittle.
"I'm pleased for the two of them," Cowell said of Sparks and Lewis. "They're nice kids. But I would have liked to have seen one of them up against the big singer."
Doolittle, like Sparks, had been followed the entire season and backed by the GMA and was consistently among the top vote-getters. Her vote-off last week came as a shock to many.
"Idol" ruled TV ratings throughout its entire season, making it clearly the most popular show in America this year.
A record 74 million votes were cast for this season's finale.
The sixth season's final show was littered with performances from some of the nation's most recognizable stars, including Gwen Stefani, Green Day, Bette Midler, and Tony Bennett. All of the previous "Idol" champions, with the exception of Fantasia Barrino, graced the stages for their own presentations as well.