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'American Idol': A night full of good feelings, but for Jordin, this is her now

May 23, 2007 |  9:34 pm

La_et_jordinfinale_450_2 It was the friendliest of fights for these gladiators of song, all the way to the finish.

After a season-long climb out of obscurity, 17-year-old Jordin Sparks was crowned Season 6 champion of "American Idol" Wednesday night in front of a raucous crowd of 4,000 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood and tens of millions viewing on television. The Glendale, Ariz., native won out over Blake Lewis, the good-natured beat-boxing specialist from Seattle, who seemed as happy over Jordin's victory as he would have been for his own. More than 74 million votes were recorded, an "Idol" record.

Jordin's rise to the championship came after perhaps the most unpredictable season in "Idol" history. Early handicapping put the high school student and former model deep in the second tier of contestants, behind two early favorites, shy-backup-singer-coming-out-of-her-shell Melinda Doolittle and soulful-single-mother LaKisha Jones. Jordin and Blake landed in the final two after demonstrating that most potent and elusive of "Idol" virtues -- growth, rising to the foreground with a consistent string of showstopping performances.

Since the season's early days, Jordin and Blake became heavy favorites of the sign-wielding children attending the live tapings. But Jordin's victory demonstrates a return to classic championship form for the series. After a detour last year with the victory of Taylor Hicks, an oddball salt-and-pepper-haired singer of R&B classics, Jordin is the sort of youthful pop star, with a girl-next-door demeanor hiding formidable vocal powers, that the contest was designed to discover.

She was crowned in a finale show that lacked the drama of previous seasons but was nonetheless studded with numbers by big-name acts such as Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson and -- by remote -- Gwen Stefani and Green Day. Also present were all past "Idol" winners minus Fantasia Barrino, now a Broadway star. The show also showcased the big stories of the season, giving cult icon Sanjaya Malakar a solo backed by Aerosmith's Joe Perry as well as allowing former backup singer Melinda to enjoy a moment in the sun along with the act she once supported, BeBe and CeCe Winans.

Accepting her title, among a shower of confetti and her adoring former co-contestants, Jordin was at a loss for words before launching into a fireworks-studded reprise of her soon-to-be single, and a grammatically jarring new catchphrase for a nation, "This is my now."

Since January, the show has taken us through an audition tour that tested America's tolerance for cruelty toward the untalented (along with introducing us to new heights of delusion). Then came the first unpolished and unaccompanied glimpses of the singers who would ultimately emerge from the masses. We moved onward to the tears and catfights of Hollywood week (the momma's boy, Sanjaya's sister, etc., etc.) and the tension of the Green Mile episode, during which the contestants, one by one, learned whether they were on the path to fame or a lifetime of obscurity. Then there was the Antonella Barba porn kerfuffle, the crash and burn of Sundance Head, Sanjaya, Howard Stern, votefortheworst.com, the ponyhawk, the crying girl, the "Idol Gives Back" show, Gwen Stefani, J.Lo, Bon Jovi, the Melinda-versus-LaKisha battle fading as two new faces slowly rose from the pack and supplanted both, to the final cliffhanger battle and coronation.

What other show in a four-month season gives its viewers so many story lines to feed on? What other show sees so many twists and so much controversy, uproar and hoopla even in a season roundly criticized as representing a drop in quality?

The show's producers say that without the audition weeks, "Idol" would not work, that if viewers had just met Jordin and Blake on the Idoldom stage, they would not have been invested in their journey. We traveled an epic road with our finalists. And with the battle done and the armies pausing to gather their dead, we can look back and know that what history will record is not just who won this day but the valor of those who fought.

And for them -- as Season 6 fades into history -- the rest is not silence, it is "Idols on Tour," Summer Camp, Season 7 Idol talk shows, records, movie deals, Broadway, "Today" show visits....

The real battle begins today.

(Photo courtesy Fox)

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