NEW YORK (AP) - The "American Idol" season finale is tonight with Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis the last contestants standing.
Before the third and last song of last night, the "American Idol" judges were of a mind that the title still was up for grabs — and then Jordin Sparks, all of 17, blew everyone away.
Simon Cowell and Co. — who have no vote in deciding whether Sparks or rival Blake Lewis, 25, ends up the winner — couldn't contain themselves.
"You were the best singer tonight. You deserve it all, baby!" Randy Jackson gushed Tuesday.
"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."
After the two "Idol" finalists took their last turns on stage, the choice facing viewer voters was crystallized: the most talented singer or the better entertainer.
Sparks, the voice, and Lewis, the stylist, had their legions of fans in a frenzy all night at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
Lewis, of Bothell, Wash., opened the show with a reprisal of his infectious interpretation of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name." The crowd was delirious but the judges were less impressed by Lewis' voice than 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.
Sparks then crooned Christina Aguilera's "Fighter." Cowell was happy that the teenager from Glendale, Ariz., chose a song that suited her age, even, he noted, if "the vocals were actually a bit shriek-y."
Round one, the tough judge decided, went to Lewis.
But Lewis ditched his beatboxing and other performing flourishes in the second act for a straightforward cover of the Maroon 5 hit "She Will Be Loved." He pleased Jackson and Paula Abdul, but Cowell thought he'd played it too safe.
All the judges swooned, however, over Sparks' soulful take on Martina McBride's "Broken Wing."
"Now, THAT was good," Cowell said.
Round two to Sparks.
In their final turn, both performed "This Is My Now," the tune picked by viewers in an online "American Idol" songwriting contest introduced this season.
It was clear during Lewis' performance that the feel-good ballad — sample lyric: "As I look around, I can't believe the love I see" — was not his style.
"I thought it was all a little odd... It's just not a song that you would normally sing," said Cowell, who suggested that Lewis should be judged on his earlier performances.
Then Sparks took the stage, tearing up as she delivered the last line, "This is my now." Classic.
Round three, by unanimous decision of the judges, went to Sparks.
Whether viewers will validate the decision will be learned Wednesday night with the crowning of the new American Idol.
Earlier on Tuesday, Cowell told The Associated Press he thought the two remaining contestants were the most evenly matched finalists yet and that either could end up the winner.
The tipping point, Cowell shrewdly predicted, could come down to the new online-contest song.
Cowell added that his thoughts Tuesday night — and likely those of many viewers — would be with arguably the best "American Idol" contestant yet to miss out on the finale, Melinda Doolittle.
"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."
AP Television Writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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