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Sparks flies on finale

Jordin Sparks, a teenager with a big voice and big dreams, was crowned Wednesday as the newest and youngest "American Idol." Sparks, 17, of Glendale, Ariz., prevailed over beatboxer Blake Lewis, 25, of Bothell, Wash., after a triumphant performan...

Jordin Sparks reacts

Jordin Sparks, a teenager with a big voice and big dreams, was crowned Wednesday as the newest and youngest "American Idol."

Sparks, 17, of Glendale, Ariz., prevailed over beatboxer Blake Lewis, 25, of Bothell, Wash., after a triumphant performance Tuesday that wowed the show's judges and the viewers who gave her a majority of the record

74 million votes cast.

"Mom, Dad, I love you," Sparks, the daughter of retired NFL player Phillippi Sparks, said tearfully after a bear hug from Lewis.

The contest came down to either the stronger singer, Sparks, or the better entertainer, Lewis.

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"Wasn't it incredible?" Sparks' great-grandmother, Gladys Rutherford of Fargo, said of the results.

Her husband, Jim Rutherford, said he wasn't too surprised. "It went the way we wanted it to go."

"I think the audience saw what a sweet girl she is," Sparks' great-aunt, Glenna Wiedmann, also of Fargo, said. With Sparks, "what you see is what you get," she said.

The finale pulled out the stops, and the stars, with Gwen Stefani, Smokey Robinson, Tony Bennett, Bette Midler, Green Day and more performing.

The two-hour show opened with Lewis and Sparks performing a duet on The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There," quickly followed by a touring Stefani singing "4 in the Morning" via satellite from Massachusetts.

Midler took the stage as the show came toward its close, singing "The Wind Beneath My Wings."

Past "Idol" winners and this season's contestants got a hefty share of attention, starting with first-season winner Kelly Clarkson. She performed her new single, "Never Again."

Carrie Underwood, the fourth-season "Idol," sang "I'll Stand by You" and was honored by legendary music mogul Clive Davis for reaching

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6 million in sales for her debut album, "Some Hearts."

Taylor Hicks, last season's winner, also had his moment, as did Ruben Studdard, the winner from Season two.

Robinson, a Motown great, performed "Being with You" after the top six male contestants, including fan fave Sanjaya Malakar, sang "Ooh Baby Baby," a hit for Robinson and his group, The Miracles.

Blake, whose beatboxing scored with viewers, performed with rapper Doug E. Fresh on his old hit, "The Show."

Gladys Knight took the stage with the six female finalists, and Bennett performed "For Once in My Life."

Forum reporter Benny Polacca

contributed to this report

"A true idol, Tony Bennett, ladies and gentlemen," Seacrest gushed, with good reason.

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Melinda Doolittle, arguably the best "Idol" contestant to miss out on the finale, returned to impress the crowd again as she sang "Hold Up the Line" with gospel stars BeBe and CeCe Winans.

"She has proven in the last few months to be spectacular," BeBe Winans said backstage of Doolittle.

The show took a serious turn when Green Day performed "A Working Class Hero is Something to Be," a single from "Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur," a fundraising album for the embattled region.

The finale also had its share of filler, including bits such as the "Golden Idols," an award saluting the oddest of odd auditions, or the worst. The winners included Margaret Fowler, who proudly accepted her trophy and recited poetry after smooching Seacrest.

Hundreds of "American Idol" fans lined Hollywood Boulevard leading up to the theater before the show.

"I'm obsessed with the show. I auditioned for it this past season. I'm just coming out to show my love," said Sarah Blackmon, 19, who drove more than two hours from San Diego County to attend the finale.

"I don't like picking favorites. They say it's a music competition, so Jordin's going to win," Blackmon said, but added, "I think Blake's really hot."

One of the series' executive producers, Cecile Frot-Coutaz of FremantleMedia North America Inc., said Tuesday she'd be happy with either contestant as the new "Idol."

"These are some of the most commercial finalists we've had since Carrie Underwood," Frot-Coutaz said. "Either one will make a great winner for the show and the brand. They both have the potential to sell many records."

For their final performances, both contestants sang "This Is My Now," the tune picked by viewers in an online "American Idol" songwriting contest introduced this season, along with two other songs of their choice.

On Tuesday, judges Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson made their choice clear. Diplomatic Paula Abdul kept her counsel as usual, praising both singers. Although the judges didn't have a say in the decision, their opinions have the potential to sway voters.

"You were the best singer tonight. You deserve it all, baby!" Jackson told Sparks.

"You just wiped the floor with Blake," added Cowell, who then told Sparks he was wrong for initially thinking she wasn't good enough to win the Fox talent show.

"I would say the best individual performance of the night was Blake on the first song," Cowell said. "But, based on overall singing -Jordin."

Lewis opened the show Tuesday with a reprisal of his infectious interpretation of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name." The crowd was thrilled that the judges were less taken with Lewis' voice than with his performance as a whole.

"Blake, you're not the best singer in this competition. But you're the best entertainer I think we've had," Cowell said.

He later chose to sing the Maroon 5 hit "She Will Be Loved."

Sparks crooned Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" and offered a soulful take on Martina McBride's "Broken Wing."

Lewis stumbled over the contest song, "This Is My Now," while Sparks soared on the ballad.

Before the finale, Cowell spoke warmly of Doolittle and what wasn't to be.

"I'm pleased for the two of them," Cowell said of Sparks and Lewis. "They're nice kids. But I would have liked to have seen one of them up against the big singer."

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