Folksy singer Kris Allen is the new "American Idol," turning judges' favorite Adam Lambert into an also-ran.
Host Ryan Seacrest said on Wednesday's finale that nearly 100 million votes were cast for the finalists. The 23-year-old Allen, a student from Conway, Ark., bested the 27-year-old Lambert, a theater actor from San Diego.
The two-hour finale included performances by the Black Eyed Peas, Cyndi Lauper, Carlos Santana and Rod Stewart. Lambert performed with Kiss and Allen dueted with Keith Urban.
Before the announcement, the two finalists dueted on "We are the Champions" with the surviving members of Queen.
Allen gets a record contract along with his "American Idol" title.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — "American Idol" viewers showed they really care whether Adam Lambert or Kris Allen won the crown.
As the finale got under way Wednesday, host Ryan Seacrest said more than 100 million votes were cast after Tuesday's singing showdown between Lambert and Allen. A record-setting 624 million votes were cast over the season.
Although Lambert has been a judge's favorite, the contest could be close. When he and Allen were declared the finalists last week, only 1 million votes separated the pair out of 88 million viewer votes.
According to DialIdol.com, a Web site that tracks phone call traffic on vote nights, the contest was too close to call. The site said it's the first time it couldn't predict a winner.
The matchup has the potential to be a reprise of last year, when David Archuleta appeared to outduel David Cook. "You came out here tonight to win, and what we have witnessed is a knockout," judge Simon Cowell told Archuleta — who then proceeded to lose to Cook.
Could Lambert, cooed over by Cowell and the show's other judges Tuesday, as he has been all season, be another front-runner who falters? Could low-key Allen swipe victory from the bold theater actor who brought "guyliner" to family TV?
The answer may be found among Danny Gokey's supporters, according to Paula Abdul: Gokey's elimination after making it to the top three sent them in search of a new favorite.
"After the third one leaves, you wonder where do the votes go from that third contestant," the "Idol" judge said backstage after Tuesday's singing showdown.
Allen and Gokey seem more aligned than Lambert, in both style and substance. Allen, 23, of Conway, Ark., and Gokey, 29, of Milwaukee, shunned Lambert's elaborate staging and wardrobe when they performed, and both have traditional public images.
Allen is a married college student and has worked as a church worship leader. Gokey, a widower, is a church music director.
Lambert, 27, of Los Angeles, has largely kept his life under wraps, saying "I know who I am" when asked to dish. His talent, however, is there for all to see.
"That was the best I've ever heard you sing — ever!" Abdul exulted Tuesday.
Allen said Monday that he hoped the outcome isn't decided by "having the Christian vote."
"I hope it has to do with your talent and the performance that you give and the package that you have. It's not about religion and all that kind of stuff," he said.
Lambert concurred, saying, "It's about music. That's really important to keep in mind."
Allen got respect from the judges Tuesday on that score, even if Cowell's praise for his version of "Ain't No Sunshine" sounded like a consolation prize.
"When your name was announced last week, I wasn't sure that America had made the right choice," Cowell said. "I absolutely take all that back now after that performance."
Will the acerbic Brit find himself recanting again after the final audience vote?