In a rain of confetti and tears, Jordin Sparks, who was turned away from her first audition on American Idol, left the stage last night the winner of the show's sixth season -- a household name and an instant recording artist. With 74 million votes cast, the 17-year-old from Glendale, Ariz., edged out Blake Lewis, the 26-year-old beatboxer from Seattle.
Here's how it happened:
How she won --Until the final song, things were only slightly in Sparks' favor. Lewis played it safe, which worked on the first two songs. Sparks was strangely meek on "Fighter" and viewers had heard her sing "Broken Wing" earlier in the season. But the Idol song -- an inspirational-type ballad that hasn't changed much since Kelly Clarkson won Season 1 -- was Sparks' salvation. She slowly built the song up. She finished at the top and -- timed perfectly just as the song ended -- welled up in tears.
Where she ranks --While not the strongest Idol ever, she definitely beats out last year's aberration Taylor Hicks and Season 2's ho-hum Ruben Studdard. She probably could give Season 3's Fantasia a run for her money, but will be hard-pressed to match the star power of Clarkson and Season 4's Carrie Underwood.
Best of the rest --The celebrity performers may have lacked spunk this year, but the Golden Idols (Idol's excuse to bring back freaks from the auditions) didn't disappoint. Among the winners: the Chicken Lady (she got to make out with Ryan Seacrest), and even Kenneth "the Bush Baby" guy and his sidekick, Jonathan. And you gotta love Sanjaya making an Elvis entrance.
Her shining moment --During British invasion week, Sparks emerged victorious in a three-way Shirley Bassey smackdown -- outsinging and upstaging the show's vocal powerhouses Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones. While many may say Doolittle was this year's best singer, the young Sparks more than anyone grew into a pop star before our eyes -- and that's what Idol is really about.