The extraordinary sixth season of American Idol came to a spectacular conclusion tonight as 17-year-old Jordin Sparks was crowned the competition's youngest-ever winner during the live two-hour season finale on FOX. Sparks from Glendale, AZ, emerged as America's choice in a competition that began with over 100,000 hopefuls who auditioned in San Antonio, Minneapolis, Memphis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle. Over the course of the season, viewers cast a record-breaking number of votes - almost 610 million - in support of their favorite contestants. Amazingly, 74 million votes were received after Tuesday's performance show, shattering the previous world record of 70 million set April 24 following the Idol Gives Back fund-raising special.
The broadcast from the legendary Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, CA, featured a number of headline performances. Fifteen-time Grammy Award winner Tony Bennett crooned "For Once in My Life"; Gwen Stefani sang "4 in the Morning"; Green Day performed John Lennon's "Working Class Hero"; Bette Midler sang her classic "Wind Beneath My Wings"; and the African Children's Choir, encoring their appearance on Idol Gives Back, delighted the audience with "Abataka."
Also returning to the American Idol stage were past winners Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks. Clarkson performed her new single "Never Again"; Studdard duetted with Sparks on the Motown classic "You're All I Need to Get By"; Underwood reprised her Idol Gives Back performance of "I'll Stand By You"; while Hicks belted his new single "Heaven Knows."
Honoring the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' legendary "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the returning Idols joined with this season's Top 12 to sing a medley of the iconic album's hits.
The Top 6 guys were joined by Smokey Robinson for a medley of his hits, specially arranged by David Thomas of Take 6, while the Top 6 girls joined Gladys Knight for a medley of her chart-topping songs.  Lewis and Doug E. Fresh had the audience on its feet as they performed "The Show." Third-place finisher Melinda Doolittle had the house jumping with her rendition of "Hold Up the Light" featuring gospel duo BeBe and CeCe Winans. Finalist Sanjaya Malakar joined Aerosmith's Joe Perry on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Sparks and Lewis kicked off the show with a duet of another Beatles tune, "I Saw Her Standing There."
Sparks is the sixth American Idol to be crowned, joining Clarkson, Studdard, Fantasia, Underwood and Hicks as winners of the coveted title, a major recording contract and a management contract.
On Tuesday night's final competition, Sparks and Lewis each performed three songs. Both co-finalists sang "This Is My Now," Scott Krippayne and Jeff Peabody's winning entry in this season's American Idol Songwriting Contest. In addition, Sparks sang "Fighter" and "Broken Wing," and Lewis sang "She Will" and "You Give Love a Bad Name." The night was capped by a special performance by Daughtry, the band fronted by 2006 American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry, of their hit song "Home."
Sparks capped her coronation on Wednesday's finale by reprising "This Is My Now." The song is available for digital download exclusively on Americanidol.com and iTunes.com.
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