McCreery of Garner, N.C., and Alaina, 16, of Rossville, Ga., represent the first all-country finale and the youngest duo ever to compete on “Idol,” which is in its 10th season.
The exuberant, big-voiced Alaina performed on Tuesday’s final sing-off despite a vocal cord injury that needed medical treatment. She received raves from the judges, who said she won the night.
But the consistently popular McCreery, who’d never been at risk of elimination, claimed the title and a record contract.
The teenager seemed overwhelmed as he took the stage for a celebratory version of “I Love You This Big,” halting to embrace his parents in the audience, Alaina and others. Then he playfully stuck his tongue out, trying to catch falling confetti.
“It felt like a dream,” McCreery said backstage in his dressing room. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet, and I don’t think it will for a while. I’m on top of the world right now.”
He expected the contest would be close after Tuesday.
“Lauren Alaina just went out there and did her thing, especially that last song,” McCreery said. “I thought she took it there. It’s been a nerve-wracking day, I can tell you that much.”
His victory continued a recent pattern: He’s the fourth male in a row to win the Fox TV contest — with 2007’s Jordin Sparks, 17, the last female “Idol.”
Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, two of the four female winners, have proved the winners with the most successful recording careers.
This season’s vote total was more than three-quarters-of-a-billion, Seacrest announced Wednesday. For Fox, it’s affirmation there’s still life in the series that’s had a long ratings reign as No. 1 but has steadily dipped in weekly viewership and seen its audience age — something that makes advertisers balk.
Last year’s season-ender, which included Simon Cowell’s farewell, drew 24 million viewers. Through 2008, the winner’s crowning routinely drew more than 30 million viewers.