May 21, 2009 — -- In what may go down as the biggest upset in the show's history, Kris Allen won "American Idol," beating out Adam Lambert, the season-long favorite.
Host Ryan Seacrest said on Wednesday night's finale that nearly 100 million votes were cast for the finalists. The 23-year-old Allen, a student from Conway, Ark., bested the 27-year-old Lambert, a musical theater veteran from San Diego.
It seemed even Allen couldn't believe the outcome. Breathlessly taking the mic after Secrest announced he won, Allen said, "Adam deserves this. I'm sorry."
"Idol's" two-hour finale included performances by the Black Eyed Peas, Cyndi Lauper, Carlos Santana, Rod Stewart and last year's "Idol" winner, David Cook. Lambert performed with Kiss and Allen dueted with Keith Urban.
Before the announcement, the two finalists dueted on "We are the Champions" with the surviving members of Queen.
Tuesday night, Lambert showed off his vocal prowess by making good of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," while Allen belted out "Ain't No Sunshine" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."
Both contestants also sang a song penned by newbie "Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi, "No Boundaries." Allen performed it again after scoring the "Idol" title tonight.
Hanging over the finale was the overwhelming speculation that Lambert would win it all.
In recent weeks, Lambert emerged as the favorite of the "Idol" judges, guest performers and critics. The usually snarky Simon Cowell came out in full support of Lambert earlier this month, telling Oprah Winfrey that there's no way Lambert won't win because he's fearless, he's unique and "he's got swagger." Paula Abdul called Lambert the Michael Phelps of the current competition.
Last Wednesday, pop star Katy Perry wore a cape bearing his name for her "Idol" performance of "Waking Up in Vegas," the same week Entertainment Weekly gave him a cover.
Did Gokey Fans Go for Allen?
One factor that may have tipped the scales in Allen's favor: Fans of Danny Gokey, who was eliminated from "Idol" last week, putting their votes toward the underdog. Some 88 million votes were cast in that round, with only 1 million votes separating Lambert from Allen, according to host Seacrest. Nearly 100 million votes were cast in the final round.
Playing into Lambert fever was the speculation over whether he's gay and his coy refusal to address that question.
"A lot of people were trying to tear him down based on his personal life, and that maybe helped sway the voters in the other direction," said US Weekly magazine senior editor Ian Drew.
Lambert dodged questions about his lifestyle outside of Los Angeles' Nokia Theater Monday, telling reporters that he doesn't think the competition "has anything to do with your religious background, what color you are, your gender. It doesn't have anything to do with that. It's about music."
Allen echoed his competitor's sentiments — the 23-year-old college student from Arkansas gained support from Christian fans in part because he worked as a worship leader for his hometown church.
"For me, I hope that having the Christian vote doesn't help with anything," he said. "I hope it has to do with your talent and the performance that you give and the package that you have. It's not about religion and all that kind of stuff."
In the end, apparently Allen had the right stuff. In addition to the "Idol" title, he scored a recording contract with 19 Entertainment and a place in pop culture history.
Winners Among the Losers
But being crowned "The American" Idol isn't always worth its weight in platinum.
Former champions Taylor Hicks and Rubin Studdard were dropped from their respective labels after weak album sales.
Studdard was eclipsed by the success of the second season's runner-up, Clay Aiken.
And the fifth season fourth runner-up, Chris Daughtry, had the fastest selling rock album in history when his debut album "Daughtry" was released in 2006.
In Idol's latest class, Drew said there may be a winner among the show's losers.
"There's a million Krises out there in pop music," he said. "Regardless of what happened, Adam will still have a career whether it's be putting out records or, most likely, on Broadway."
Reporting contributed by The Associated Press.