LOS ANGELES, May 20, 2009 (AFP) - The finale of US television's reality show "American Idol" ended in a shock upset Wednesday as a clean-cut underdog defeated a glam-rocker seen as the overwhelming favorite.
In a result that stunned viewers of the singing contest that has become a pop-culture phenomenon, Kris Allen, a 23-year-old from Arkansas edged out Adam Lambert, a quirky, make-up-wearing actor-singer from California.
US media had hyped the showdown as a smackdown between contestants from conservative "red states" in the shape of Allen, versus the liberal attitudes of "blue states" personified by the flamboyant Lambert.
An estimated 100 million viewers dialed in votes to settle the contest following a special on Tuesday where both singers performed a series of songs.
Wednesday's finale saw guest performances from stars such as Rod Stewart, Cyndi Lauper, Carlos Santana and the Black Eyed Peas.
Allen went back to his country roots in a performance alongside Keith Urban while Lambert reveled in the opportunity to play alongside Kiss.
Just before the results were announced, the two finalists sang together in a performance of Queen's anthem "We Are the Champions."
Yet while it was Lambert who had been expected to be crowned champion, it was college student Allen who walked with the prize that will see him given a recording contract.
The show's panel of four judges had appeared to be leaning towards Lambert in Tuesday's show, with notoriously critical Briton Simon Cowell unusually effusive in his praise of the 27-year-old from San Diego.
"The whole point of doing a show like this is that you hope you can find a worldwide star and I genuinely believe with all my heart that we have found that with you," Cowell told the singer. "American Idol" was exported to the United States from Britain in 2002, quickly establishing itself as a television ratings giant.
The program aims to unearth the next big singing talent and past contestants such as Carrie Underwood and Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson have gone on to forge successful careers in the entertainment industry.