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From Waitress to an 'American Idol'

Culture: Texan Kelly Clarkson beats Justin Guarini as a viewer poll logs 15 million calls.


In a glitzy Hollywood production accented by fireworks, red, white and blue confetti and wild applause, Texas cocktail waitress Kelly Clarkson was crowned "American Idol," the winner of the Fox Television talent show that has become a cultural phenomenon.

Clarkson beat out runner-up Justin Guarini by 58% to 42% in a viewer poll that registered more than 15 million calls Wednesday night after a singing showdown between the two.

During the nationally televised variety show broadcast live from the Kodak Theatre, an overflow, wildly enthusiastic audience roared with approval as Clarkson was named winner. Her eyes welling with tears, Clarkson said, "I don't know what to say," then let out several shrieks of delight as she belted out one final song.

The two faced off with each taking a turn singing the two songs slated for the first single--the ballad "Before Your Love" and the more up-tempo love song "A Moment Like This"--as well as a song of their choice. The showdown was witnessed by a capacity crowd at the venue, and a national TV audience of more than 18 million, the show's largest audience since its June debut.

Though the performances by Guarini and Clarkson were greeted with loud cheers and standing ovations, Clarkson appeared to have the edge. The 20-year-old Texan received the lion's share of praise from the show's three judges--music executive Simon Cowell, singer/choreographer Paula Abdul and record producer Randy Jackson. Cowell declared near the end of the show that Clarkson should be named "American Idol."

For the season, the interactive show generated more than 100 million calls from viewers voting for their favorite singers.

Despite the popularity that has recently surrounded the show, "Idol"-mania is expected to ramp up even further in the next few weeks with the release of the winner's first single and a national tour featuring the 10 finalists. Numerous other "Idol"-related ventures also are planned.

Plans for the inevitable "American Idol 2" are being finalized, although executives at Fox and FreemantleMedia, which produced the show, hope to get it on the air as early as January.

Some contract details still need to be worked out.

Fox had only limited expectations for the show when it went on the air in early summer. Although its predecessor, "Pop Idol," was a sensation in Britain when it aired this year, spawning a handful of No. 1 hit singles, Fox executives had slated the series as a youth-oriented, low-cost stopgap during the summer.

They didn't think they could dare run it during the more competitive TV season from mid-September until about Memorial Day each year.

But it didn't take long for "American Idol" to take off, adding viewers each week and gradually rising in the ratings until it became the most watched show the last couple of weeks.

The show benefited from its combination of telegenic contestants, popular songs, a harsh British judge (Cowell) and a call-in poll that drew viewers into the process.

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