Kelly is crowned 'American Idol'
(CNN) -- Just a few weeks ago, Kelly Clarkson was just a young woman waiting in line with thousands of other wannabes, hoping for a chance to audition for a show that promised a shot at stardom -- but that no one had really heard of.
That show, "American Idol," quickly became the hottest show on television. And when the millions of viewer votes were counted Wednesday night, that young woman -- 20-year-old Clarkson -- won the show and the $1 million recording contract that goes with it.
Clarkson, from Burleson, Texas -- about 10 miles south of Fort Worth -- was almost speechless after the announcement, letting out a squeal as she hugged runner-up Justin Guarini.
Guarini, 23, accepted the result graciously, saying that no one deserved to win more than Clarkson did.
Clarkson's voice broke with emotion as she sang the song that will be her first single, "A Moment Like This."
She won't have to wait long to hear herself on the radio. The single is expected out in less than two weeks, and an album will follow before the holiday shopping season.
Whether those releases will be successful -- and whether being an American Idol promises any more than 15 minutes of fame and glory (minus the exposure already given on the show, of course) -- is anyone's guess. Even the show's co-executive producer acknowledges that fact.
"This program or programs like it are great platforms for a career, but they don't guarantee any career," the show's Nigel Lythgoe told The Associated Press last week. "Their music, at the end of the day, and where they take their music and the quality of their songs is going to do that."
Guarini's fans have not seen the last of him, either. All 10 "American Idol" finalists will be going on a nationwide tour over the next few weeks.
Building an audience
Still, it's been quite a ride, with a bigger audience than most had imagined.
At its heart, the show is an old-fashioned talent contest, in the mold of "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour," "The Gong Show" and "Star Search." But it added a few twists for the new millennium, noted Robert Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
"This is to 'Star Search' what modern quantum physics is to Newtonian gravitational equations," he said. "It's big, so much more sophisticated and so much more conscious of how you gather an audience."
The series started with a nationwide talent search in which three judges -- '80s singer Paula Abdul and record producers Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson -- watched thousands of acts. (Click here to find out more about the judges.) The pool was soon narrowed down to 30 competitors.
Each finalist performed on a Tuesday night episode. Then, instead of the judges getting the final say, viewers were allowed to call in on toll-free lines and vote for their favorites. On Wednesday night, the person with the fewest votes was cut.
Cowell, who was imported from "Pop Idol," the British version of the show, became "American Idol's" first star, with his delightfully nasty comments regarding contestants' singing prowess. He has a good reason to be interested: The BMG Records executive is also the record mogul offering the prize contract to the show's winner. BMG stands to make quite a bit of silver off the arrangement; in England, the final three contestants all had Top Ten singles.
The field of contestants moved into a mansion in Los Angeles, where -- in time-honored reality-TV style -- documentary footage was shot so viewers could watch them live their lives. Then the group was reduced to 10, and the real jockeying began. (Click here to see the final 10 contestants.)
As the show carried on throughout the summer, it built its audience week by week -- particularly in the demographic group of adults 18-49 much desired by advertisers. For the week of August 19-25, the Tuesday and Wednesday shows finished Nos. 1 and 2 in the Nielsen ratings. And phone companies have been happy, too: Fox claims that more than 14 million people have cast votes each week.
With popularity, of course, has come criticism.
Some fans dislike "power dialers," people who have manipulated phone technology to allow them to cast thousands of votes. The show's producers maintain the impact has been minimal, however.
Many viewers were incensed when Tamyra Gray, an early favorite, was voted off the show two weeks ago. Some announced they would boycott the remaining episodes. (Not that they need to worry about Gray's future: She's already picked up a manager and will appear on a September 23 "Idol" finalist reunion special.)
Then there are cultural commentators, who lament the show's slickness and inch-of-its-life marketing.
"The open secret that the show's creators and fans choose to ignore is that the music and arrangements are trite, full of wannabe Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder wails," wrote The New York Times' Caryn James on September 1. "Originality is a losing strategy."
Teen pop might be a loser as well. Given that tightly managed pop singers and groups such as Britney Spears and 'N Sync have seen album sales decline, industry observers wonder if the teen-idol phase has run its route. But if the show's message boards are any indication, fans insist that they'll be waiting in stores to buy Clarkson's merchandise.
And there will be plenty, of course -- and not just about the winner. A DVD and book about the show is due in October. A compilation CD of the 10 finalists, called "American Idol: Greatest Hits," will also be released next month. There's also that national tour of the entire group. And, given the show's success, you can expect Fox to start auditioning for "American Idol 2" before long.
"It's a beloved show for so many people," Fox reality show head Mike Darnell told Daily Variety. "It's the broadest show I've been involved with. It appeals to everyone from kids to grandparents."
Fox hasn't slated a time for the next series. Variety reports that some industry insiders believe the network should wait until next summer, but mid-winter is more likely, given that CBS and USA Network are already planning "Idol"-like talent shows of their own.
One star will be returning: Cowell, who is close to signing a new contract, Variety reports.
Now, Kelly has to face her newfound star status.
"I feel a little bit of everything -- anxious, excited ..." she said an hour after she was selected, reported the AP. Then she clenched her hands, tried to ponder her emotions, and grinned.
ENTERTAINMENT TOP STORIES:
Kate Winslet defies expectations
MSNBC axes Phil Donahue
60,000 Romans honor comedy hero
Potter author to appear on 'Simpsons'
Review: Chronicling Jordan's 'Last Shot'
|Back to the top|