In the end, country-fried cute trumped Southern rocker soul.
Carrie Underwood, the 22-year-old college senior from Checotah, Oklahoma, was declared the winner of the fourth season of American Idol Wednesday, beating out Bo Bice, 29, of Helena, Alabama.
With her wholesome good looks and her strong vocal chops, Underwood was a fan favorite from the beginning, winning crowds over with her renditions of Nashville classics.
The newly crowned Idol walked away from the show with a record contract and a shot at musical stardom, joining the ranks of Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino.
“That was incredible,” an emotional Underwood said after learning of her victory. “I have no words to describe what I feel right now.”
Instead, she expressed herself with song, belting out “Inside Your Heaven,” which both she and Bice had performed the previous night.
Though the judges said they preferred Bice’s version of the song Tuesday, the sore-thumbed Idol fans of America made it clear they disagreed by casting their votes for Underwood.
The two-hour live finale episode featured plenty of padding to keep the audience guessing as to who the next Idol would be.
Both Underwood and Bice were presented with new red Ford Mustangs in a nod to one of the show’s biggest sponsors and video clips from both finalists’ hometowns were shown, as well as montages of their Idol journeys.
The finale also poked fun at the controversy that dogged this Idol season after former contestant Corey Clark went public with allegations that he had carried on an affair with Paula Abdul while he was a contestant on the show.
In a spoof sketch called “Bad Judgment”, Idol pretended to reveal the shocking allegation that acid-tongued judge Simon Cowell was having an affair…with himself.
Randy Jackson, wearing a shirt reading “Buy My CD,” performed a song mocking Cowell, called “Dogatics”–combining his most-used word, “dog,” with the title of the song Clark performed in the ABC Primetime special–“Paulatics.”
“We won’t let the truth get in the way of our ratings,” the spoof’s tagline promised, clearly taking a dig at ABC.
An outraged Clark rapidly issued a rebuttal statement through his spokesman, chastising Fox for making light of the situation.
“By choosing to spoof such a serious situation on last night’s final episode, Fox and American Idol have collectively made a complete mockery of their viewers, their sponsors and the FCC,” the statement read.
“Instead of honoring their promise to conduct a proper investigation, Fox and American Idol continue to waste valuable time and energy on juvenile diversion tactics when they should be pursuing the truth.”
Fox responded to Clark’s statement Thursday, saying the clip was one that “no one would take seriously,” and that the network continues to investigate Clark’s allegations.
Controversy aside, the Idol finale also featured, as expected, musical performances.
Ousted finalists including Vonzell Solomon, Anthony Fedorov, Nikko Smith, Scott Savol and Anwar Robinson returned to perform with guest artists including Kenny G, Billy Preston and George Benson.
Underwood sang “Bless the Broken Road” with country trio Rascal Flatts, while Bice teamed with Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynard for “Sweet Home Alabama.” The two finalists also teamed up for the first time for a rendition of “Up Where We Belong.”
Bice and Underwood were the final two of more than 100,000 Idol hopefuls who auditioned for the show last summer. Over the course of the season, more than 500 million votes were cast for contestants.
In the end, more of those votes went Underwood’s way to the joy of her fans and the disappointment of Bice’s fans, known collectively as the “Bice Squad.”
Capitalizing on her win, the flaxen-tressed crooner will release her first single, “Inside Your Heaven,” on June 14.
All is not lost for Bice, however. Just last week, record mogul and guest judge Clive Davis told the rocker he had “a feeling we’re going to be recording a very special album soon.”
Backstage after the show, the rocker indicated that such a deal may already be in place.
“We can look forward to an album coming out soon, so keep your eyes open,” Bice told reporters.
Meanwhile, Underwood basked in the glory of her win.
“This is the best night of my life. And it’s going to get better,” she said.
Underwood also pledged to stay true to her fans and go for a career in country music.
“That’s where my heart is. I feel like that’s the music that’s the most pure. And the people, the artists, are so nice. … Those are the people I want to be among,” she said.
This season of American Idol has pulled in monster ratings for Fox, averaging 27.3 million viewers each week. According to Nielsen Media data, 30.3 million viewers tuned in for the finale.
Auditions for the fifth season of the show are due to begin this summer in Austin, Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver and Boston.